|Return of the
by Francis Wheen
Television seldom pays much attention to the wider world, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a 90-minute discussion about Kosovo on Channel 4 last week, even if the programme, Jon Snow's Weekly Planet, did go out at an hour when only drunks or insomniacs were watching. Surprise turned to astonishment, however, when I saw the two experts lined up to explain British policy in the Balkans.
They were General Sir Michael Rose and Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, billed respectively as 'head of UN operations in Bosnia, 1994-95' and 'political director of the Foreign Office, 1994-96'. The descriptions scarcely do justice to the careers of this gruesome twosome. Though the programme never examined their credentials, someone should þ if only because those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. As Neville-Jones said of Kosovo in last week's TV programme, 'I have that terrible sinking feeling of watching something happen again...'
General Rose presented himself as a humble soldier at the mercy of politicians. 'In Bosnia I was working for the United Nations, and I was constrained by UN Security Council resolutions,' he said. His tasks had been to alleviate suffering, stop the war spreading and create the conditions for peace. 'I did not have any other agenda while I was there.'
Too modest, my dear fellow. Under Security Council resolution 836, for instance, Rose had a mandate to 'deter attacks against the safe areas'. But when the Serb artillery launched a fierce bombardment against the safe area of Gorazde, in April 1994, he seemed remarkably unconcerned. It was, he insisted, no more than a 'minor' and 'tactical' operation by the Bosnian Serbs, who had 'no serious intention' þ even though his HQ in Sarajevo received daily reports from UN military colleagues in Gorazde warning that the death toll was rising fast. 'If this is not serious, I hope I don't see a serious situation develop', one UN monitor complained to Rose. 'Saying it is a minor attack into a limited area is a bad assessment, incorrect and shows absolutely no understanding of what is going on here.'
While Rose twiddled his thumbs, scores of people were killed and hundreds wounded. He then suggested that the Bosnian troops defending Gorazde had not fought hard enough: 'a strange comment,' as the historian Noel Malcolm has pointed out, 'from someone who both supported and enforced an arms embargo against the Bosnian army, the ultimate aim of which was to prevent them from fighting at all.'
More insultingly still, a few months later he claimed that most of the damage to buildings in Gorazde had been caused by the Bosnian forces themselves, whom he accused of driving 12,500 Serbs out of the city and destroying their houses. To quote Noel Malcolm again, 'Since the entire administrative district of Gorazde, an area covering 383 square kilometres, had contained only 9,844 Serbs, and since half of these had lived in villages outside the city itself, it seemed reasonable to conclude that General Rose was acting here, however unwittingly, as little more than a conduit for Serb propaganda.' Like so many people who ostentatiously declined to 'take sides' in Bosnia, he failed to realise that his spurious neutrality made him, in effect, an accomplice of Serb aggression. Pauline Neville-Jones's performance last week was even more shameless and disingenuous. Why, Snow wondered, had Britain done nothing sooner about Kosovo? 'I don't hold responsibility for that,' she said, apparently forgetting her earlier admission that the Foreign Office had been well aware of the looming conflict throughout her term as political director. When Snow asked if the Foreign Office was now worried that the fighting in Kosovo would spread to Macedonia and elsewhere, she reminded him that she had retired from Whitehall some time ago: 'I don't honestly know precisely what they think today.' Yet I have it on excellent authority that Dame Pauline was given a thorough briefing by the FO only hours before the broadcast.
Still, let's give her credit for something: Dame Pauline has noticed, at long last, that President Milosevic is a menace. 'Primarily I have to say I blame the authorities in Belgrade,' she admitted. Why then, Snow inquired, do we want Milosevic to remain in power? 'I've never actually put that proposition down on the table.'
Actually, that is just what she has been doing for years. Throughout the war in Bosnia, she and her colleague Douglas Hurd treated Milosevic as a moderate and necessary middleman, refusing to accept that he was in fact the genocidal thug who had instigated the violence. At the Dayton peace talks, where Neville-Jones was the chief British representative, she argued energetically and successfully for an end to sanctions against Serbia.
What no one at Dayton knew, but Hurd has since confirmed, is that at the same time she was 'in touch with NatWest Markets' about the possibility of a job in the private sector. Hurd himself had become deputy chairman of the bank shortly after resigning as foreign secretary, and Neville-Jones joined him as managing director in July 1996,whereupon they jetted off to Serbia to cash in on the abolition of sanctions. At a 'working breakfast' in Belgrade, Milosevic signed a lucrative deal whereby NatWest Markets would privatize Serbia's post and telephone system for a fee of about $10million. For a further large fee, they agreed to manage the Serbian national debt.
Hurd and Neville-Jones claimed that this hideous partnership with the Butcher of Belgrade was 'in the interests of the West', since it committed Milosevic to a process of 'liberalization'. Two years on, he is now so liberal that he uses tanks and heavy artillery against his own citizens. When Snow asked if Britain should take some of the blame for encouraging Milosevic, Dame Pauline sounded suddenly nervous: 'No, well, look, er, er, well, you can always beat your own breast, but...' But indeed. Pauline Neville-Jones and General Sir Michael Rose have never beaten their own breasts, nor even rapped themselves lightly over the knuckles. Instead, Rose has just collected a hefty advance for his self-congratulatory memoirs, while Neville-Jones is feted and honoured by a grateful Establishment. Only a few months ago she was appointed a governor of the BBC, 'with special responsibility for the BBC World Service'. If these are the rewards of failure, who needs success?
This article was first published in The Guardian on 24 June 1998