Britain's Major Warns Against Military Intervention in Bosnia
Grim images depicting the plight of Bosnian rufugees are fueling calls for military intervention. Western leaders disagree over how best to respond to this crisis.
LONDON — BRITAIN and the United States appear to be at odds over how to respond to the deepening crisis in Bosnia.
Over the weekend Prime Minister John Major, current chairman of the European Community Council of Ministers, placed heavy emphasis on the need for humanitarian action. According to Downing Street sources, in a telephone conversation late Friday, Mr. Major told President Bush that direct military action would be counterproductive and dangerous.
In his 20-minute conversation with the American president, Mr. Major advocated the creation of secure land corridors and safe refugee havens and urged the president to be circumspect in his approach to the crisis. The British leader claimed support from France and other European countries for his policy.
Britain is using the run-up to the international conference in London, scheduled for Aug. 26, to gather support for its stance. This conference, to be chaired by the prime minister, aims to bring together UN and European peace efforts. All leaders of the warring former Yugoslav republics have been invited.
But the Major government is having to deflect calls from leading British political figures for direct armed intervention. Heading the campaign for a military approach are Lady Thatcher, Mr. Major's predecessor as prime minister, and Lord Owen, a former British foreign secretary, both of whom have called for military intervention in and near the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.
Pressure on the British government intensified this weekend after the screening of TV pictures of emaciated inmates of Serbian-run camps. These reports prompted Baroness Chalker, Mr. Major's overseas development minister, to pledge to do everything possible to end the "appalling atrocities" in Serbian-run camps.
Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrat party, interrupted his vacation this weekend to fly to Bosnia "to see for myself." Mr. Ashdown said he had been "horrified and appalled" by pictures of inmates of detention camps in Bosnia.
Lady Thatcher, speaking during a vacation in Switzerland, said: "What is happening in Bosnia is not a civil war. It is a communist war of aggression. Every time we say that force will not be used we encourage the aggressor, who has already caused 2.5 million people to flee their homes. The Bosnians need military help within days unless an even greater catastrophe is to occur."
Lord Owen, taking a more moderate line, urged Mr. Major to authorize "military support for humanitarian exercises on the ground," noting: "This is a moral issue. History really is repeating itself in Europe."
BUT the prime minister in a letter to Lord Owen said he could not "detect support among members of Parliament for operations which would tie down large numbers of British forces in difficult and dangerous terrain for a long period."
Douglas Hurd, Britain's foreign secretary, said Aug. 5: "If Britain or the United Nations or anyone else thought two or three days of sharp military action would bring the horrors to an end, the argument for that would be strong. But nobody does."
The Major government has been receiving cautious support from influential military analysts for the idea of establishing land corridors in Bosnia and havens for refugees. Some military experts even spoke favorably of air strikes against Serbian tank and gun positions in the hills around Sarajevo.
Col. Michael Dewar, deputy director of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said surgical strikes against Serbian positions could "relieve pressure on the airport and make it easier to help the people in the city."
A British defense source, however, noted that for such an approach to be effective, strike aircraft would require highly reliable information about gun emplacements. "This would have to be obtained by a mixture of satellite observation and intelligence provided by men on the ground," the source said. Getting ground observers into position in hostile territory would be "a major problem."
The UN Security Council may act as soon as today on a resolution demanding immediate access for the International Committee of the Red Cross to Serb detention camps. A more controversial US-sponsored resolution authorizing use of force to protect the delivery of relief supplies may come up for Council discussion but formal action is not expected until later in the week.