Tribune leader, 7 May 1993

The wave of optimism that swept Eu­rope after Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, signed the Vance-Owen plan for a settlement in Bosnia could all too easily turn out to be premature.
The first real test of last weekend’s agreement is not so much whether or not the Bosnian Serb “parliament”, meeting as Tribune went to press, endorses Mr Karadzic’s move but whether or not the Serb armed forces in Bosnia stop fighting and then withdraw from their positions in accordance with the timetable in the Vance-Owen plan.
It is essential to recognise that, as things stand, the likelihood of this happening is remote indeed. Fighting is still going on and shows no sign of ending. More impor­tant, nothing that we know about the Serbs’ previous behaviour or their war aims suggests that they will easily give up the territories that they have seized in the past year.
The Serbs have occupied much land, “ethnically cleansed” the countryside and besieged the towns in pursuit of a Greater Serbia stretching from Vojvodina in the north to the Adriatic coast, including large parts of Croatia and Bosnia.
The Vance-Owen plan has many faults, the most important of which is that its goal of a Bosnia cantonised on ethnic lines, which has already encouraged the Serbs and Croats in their seizures of land, is dan­gerously close to partition. Nevertheless, by resisting partition, preserving the terri­torial integrity of an ethnically diverse Bosnia and refusing to recognise the mili­tary gains of the past year’s war, the plan is an obstacle to the Serbs’ dream – and as such is unacceptable to the Serb forces on the ground in Bosnia.
In the end, it is their attitude that counts, not what Mr Karadzic might say when his arm is being twisted by the Serbian gov­ernment, desperate to have the sanctions against it lifted or at least eased.
Put bluntly, this means that the interna­tional community is very soon likely to be faced with a choice between capitulating in the face of Serb intransigence and some­how making the Serbs stop fighting and withdraw.
In such circumstances, as Jack running, ham, the shadow Foreign Secretary, has said, it would be idiotic to send in United Nations forces in a “peace-keeping” role: there would be no peace to keep and they would simply be sitting targets. A very dif­ferent sort of military intervention would be needed to force the Serbs to comply with the Vance-Owen provisions (or indeed some other plan for a post-war settlement in Bosnia, such as a United Nations protec­torate, if Vance-Owen falls apart).
So what sort of military intervention would do the trick? Essentially, we are back to the arguments that were raging before the outbreak of optimism in the wake of the Athens conference.
As Tribune argued a fortnight ago, air strikes on Bosnian Serb supply lines, sug­gested as a last resort by the Labour front bench, would not be enough: the indica­tions are that the Bosnian Serb forces have plentiful arms and ammunition. Interven­tion by ground forces, backed by heli­copter-borne forces and with air support, would be essential if they were to be made to accept a ceasefire and retreat.
Contrary to the arguments of opponents of such a course of action, this would not take a massive army, nor would it be irre­sponsibly risky. The Bosnian Serb forces are less than formidable. Their soldiers, some 60,000 in number, are ill-disciplined, ill-equipped and inexperienced, their ar­tillery immobile and their 300 tanks mainly ancient Soviet T-55s. They have advanced as far as they have only because the Bosni­an government, with 90,000 troops under arms, has had no adequate means of stop­ping the tanks. (This, incidentally, gives the lie to claims that the wooded mountain­ous terrain makes intervention by ground troops too difficult: tanks cannot operate in wooded mountains.) It is hard to believe that, confronted by well-equipped, profes­sional intervention forces, the Bosnian Serb forces would have much stomach for a fight.
The upshot is that a relatively small NATO force of around 50,000 to 75,000 troops – the same size as the peace­keeping force envisaged in the Vance-Owen plan – could, if necessary, force the Serb forces to lay down their arms and with­draw. Once it had done this job, it could be turned into a peace-keeping force. Alterna­tively, a separate UN blue-helmet force could be introduced to oversee implemen­tation of the political settlement.
The hope that it will not come to this, that the Bosnian Serbs will meekly act as the rest of the world wants them to and that a UN peace-keeping force will be all that is required from the international community, must not be allowed to eclipse hard-headed realism. West European gov­ernments are looking for any excuse to re­vert to hand-wringing if anything goes wrong with implementation of Vance-Owen: it is up to the left to keep the pres­sure on them so that they prepare for the worst.
Policy forum offers little hope of creative thinking
The idea behind Labour’s National Policy Forum, which meets for the first time this weekend, is not a bad one. For sev­eral years now, the party’s annual confer­ence has been a wholly inadequate forum for policy-making: trade union block votes have guaranteed that just about anything dreamed up by the small group of politi­cians in the Shadow Cabinet and the Na­tional    Executive    Committee    has    gone through on the nod. Labour needs some sort of body in which a wider group of people, including ordinary individual members, can have a real influence on party policy.
Unfortunately, there is little hope that the National Policy Forum as currently consti­tuted will fulfil any such role. Because of Labour’s financial crisis, it has – been slimmed down to just 100 members and will meet only annually instead of quarterly.
This weekend’s meeting will have only four hours of open debate – which works out at two-and-a-half minutes per member. That would be a great formula for a radio quiz game, but it is hardly the way for a serious political party to behave.
It will be a miracle if the forum is the source of creative thinking and constructive debate that the party’s spin-doctors claim it will be.
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