General Sir Michael Rose
The former Commander of Bosnia
On: General Writes Own Statement for Peace
20 December 2000
General Sir Michael Rose, and the role of peacekeeping in the Balkans. United Nations officials told General Sir Michael Rose during the Bosnian crisis in the early 1990s to “just do something.” The former UN peacekeeping force commander in Bosnia said on 20th December 2000 that this “is not a mission statement for a General.” He reminded the European Atlantic Group’s attentive members that Generals expect to receive orders. General Sir Michael therefore, he explained, went on to write his own job statement.The conflict in Bosnia by the end of 1992 had claimed 130,000 lives. Therefore General Sir Michael aimed to cut the death toll. He set about his task even though the UN peacekeeping mission had collapsed by 1994. Britain’s involvement to restore stability in the Balkans was initially dismissed. According to him Lady Thatcher was told, when asked what Britain should do: “We should send them some blankets and beans!” Many others thought that British involvement was not in the national interest. After all, unlike during the Falklands conflict, British sovereign territory had not been invaded. The Iron Lady, Lady Thatcher, took a more hard-line view, and backed a bombing campaign. “The answer lies in between using force and providing humanitarian aid,” commented General Sir Michael Rose. Force was therefore backed up with humanitarian aid in Bosnia. With this aid and a 25,000 strong UN peacekeeping force under his command, the death toll dwindled to 30,000. He also added that too much attention was paid to what was broadcast on CNN. The General went so far as to accuse CNN of distorting the facts. “The turning of the truth in favour of political ends is wrong,” he argued.“The UN peacekeeping force created windows of opportunity,” he added. It effectively challenged the right of sovereignty for the sake of peace. The Gulf War repelled Saddam Hussein, and under international law there was a legitimate cause. Saddam had invaded another country, Kuwait. The conflict in the Balkans was different. It firstly stood on the backdoor of the European Union, and secondly it is a traditional hot spot. Some historians argue that WWI began as a Balkan war. Therefore it was subsequently feared in the early 1990s that the crisis could spread in a similar way to the crises that sparked war at the beginning of the 20th Century. With UN backing a peacekeeping force in Bosnia became a vital component for restoring stability, and preventing a wider European conflict. A similar rationale was used in Kosovo a couple of years later. However, he criticised NATO actions in Serbia and Kosovo. He said that in contrast to the UN force in Bosnia NATO acted illegally. His reasoning lay behind the fact, he explained, that NATO did not have the necessary UN backing. Therefore the Alliance did not have the right to intervene in an internal conflict on sovereign territory. The intervention also broke and rewrote NATO’s own charter, under which the Alliance was created as a defence force. As a result NATO gave a certain amount of legitimacy to Serbian defiance during the Kosovo crisis. Rather than writing the epitaph of the now deposed President Milosevic, NATO’s actions made him more popular than ever. It allowed Milosevic to claim victory in the propaganda war. General Sir Michael Rose also believes that NATO’s bombing of the Serbs in 1995 did not make much difference. “The [Bosnian] war was not won by NATO bombing,” he said. Instead the Serbs and Croats made the difference. The use of troops should also have been considered more seriously during both conflicts. In 1999 the bombing left the image of a half-hearted attempt to repel the Serbs from Kosovo. It also failed to topple Milosevic who only fell from grace last year. The irony is that Milosevic helped to broker a peace settlement during the Bosnian crisis.Moving onto the question of a European Rapid Reaction Force, he said that under the “US leadership of NATO reflects the better instincts of the American people.” General Sir Michael welcomes the advent of such a force, while maintaining that its leadership should remain under the Supreme Allied Command In Europe (SACEUR). He also feels that George W. Bush will be a more robust president that Bill Clinton. General Sir Michael’s comments prompted a member of the audience, Iain Lee of the Ministry Of Defence to dismiss speculation in the press that a European force, which Euro sceptics call a European Army, would be separated from NATO’s command structure, support, logistics, and contingency plans. Lady Limerick also posed the question about what the criteria are for intervention into future regional conflicts. General Sir Michael Rose said, “There should be a clear set of priorities, and the UN should be the authority of deployment.” The UN, he said, is the only international body that can legitimise interventions into internal conflicts for the maintenance of peace and stability.He then briefly referred to his previous comments about CNN’s coverage of the campaigns in Bosnia and Kosovo. The priorities should not, he argued, be set by what is viewed or shown by CNN on television. General Sir Michael stated that the priorities should consider the humanitarian impact, and the potential dispersive dangers of such Balkan conflicts as those of Bosnia and Kosovo. General Sir Michael Rose otherwise believes that NATO fought the wrong war in the wrong way in Kosovo.