The green light of failure
By Tim Luckhurst
The Times March 15, 2006
"Britain gave him 'a green light' to use force. On that point alone the butcher of Belgrade was horribly right."
SINCE Slobodan Milosevic died some familiar stereotypes have been revived. Like the one that Serbs wallow uncritically in myths of national superiority and live with their backs to the world. And that Britain despairs because Serbia lacks the maturity to accept Milosevicâ€™s guilt and to surrender his henchmen Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Yet these stereotypes conceal Britainâ€™s culpable complicity in Milosevicâ€™s crimes. It is pleasing to remember this countryâ€™s role in the events that ousted Milosevic from power. British forces performed heroically in the liberation of Kosovo. They contributed ably to the Nato airpower that stopped the killing in Bosnia. But it was all too little far too late.
The names Major, Hurd and Rifkind are spat with venomous fury in Bosnia. They are reviled in Belgrade too by the democratic minority, who said for years that Milosevic would buckle when force was deployed against him but were dismissed in Whitehall.
When Bosnian Serb shells were creating hell in Sarajevo the Bosnian Government considered taking Britain to the International Court of Justice. British influence was being deployed to deny Bosnia its UN-mandated right to self-defence. While powerful voices in Washington demanded intervention, Douglas Hurd and Malcolm Rifkind denied Serbian guilt. To them successive wars in Croatia and Bosnia were not caused by Serbian aggression directed from Belgrade by President Milosevic. They were manifestations of the age-old Balkan instinct for violence. Ancient tribal loathings were being played out. Each faction was as bad as the others.
Mr Hurd resolutely opposed international help for tortured Bosnia. Mr Rifkind fell back on the evasion that 'the furtherance of British interests ought to be the sole object of British foreign policy'. Mr Major took their advice. Between them these three are guilty of the worst dereliction of moral duty by a British government since non-intervention guaranteed Francoâ€™s victory in the Spanish Civil War.
The men and boys of Srebrenica would be alive today if Britain had supported prompt intervention. So would tens of thousands in Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia. During his trial at The Hague, Milosevic claimed Britain gave him 'a green light' to use force. On that point alone the butcher of Belgrade was horribly right.