bosnia report
No. 4 February - March 1994
Irish Policy

Last summer the poets Nuala Dhomhnaill and Chris Agee wrote to Dick Spring (Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs), voicing concern over the Government's policy on Bosnia and asking for a meeting to put forward arguments for a new approach, a request which was granted. On 9 September 1993 they met two Foreign Affairs officials, Eugene Hutchinson and Richard Harrington, for several hours, before having a meeting of an half-hour with the Tanaiste (Deputy Prime Minister). Since then, still concerned at the great gulf between the stated policy of the Government on Bosnia and the actual practice of European Union diplomacy by Lord Owen, they have written a summary of their conclusions, Memorandum: Irish Policy on Bosnia, which aims to set out in plain language the actuality of the Government's position. We reproduce here the text in full, along with extracts of their two letters to Dick Spring (below).

The following is our understanding of Irish Government policy on Bosnia as set out to us in our meeting on 9 September with the Tanaiste, and Mr Richard Har- rington and Mr Eugene Hutchinson of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Our summary below uses the headings of the Memorandum on which the discussion during the meeting was based.

  1. Rejection of the Geneva plan for de facto partition.

    The Government claims to support a unitary state in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is unwilling to voice a lack of confidence in the current Geneva plan negotiated by Lord Owen, either at EC or UN level (whether publicly or discreetly). The Government does not believe that current proposals for three exclusivist ethnic mini-states amounts to "de facto partition". It is unclear how this official reading of Lord Owen's current plan squares with the further proposal (subsequent to our meeting) that each mini-state shall undertake a referendum on partition within two years of the implementation of the plan. We therefore conclude that the Government - by supporting, or at least not opposing, the current Geneva plan through its endorsement of the common EC foreign policy position on Lord Owen's negotiations - does in fact support the eventual "de facto partition" of Bosnia; ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ̼and hence cannot be considered to be in support of a unitary state, despite its claim to the contrary and its alleged commitment to the Lon- don Conference principles.

  2. A new EC pro-Bosnian policy and diplomacy.

    The Government declines to argue within the EC for a new pro-Bosnian policy and diplomacy. It appears not to support further concrete non-military EC action to bolster the legal Bosnian Government against the aggressor and illegal states of Republika Srpska and Herzeg-Bosna. It countenances, via a common EC foreign policy, Lord Owen's at best neutral, at worst anti-Bosnian, approach to the Geneva negotiations. In short, the Government rejects a "tilt" towards the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, despite its recognition by the United Nations and the well-documented genocide directed mainly against its Muslim citizens.

  3. Defensive arming of the Bosnian Government.

    The Government opposes the controlled lifting of the pre-independence arms embargo on the Bosnian Government, despite Article 51 of the UN Charter (which enshrines each member state's right either to self-defence, or defence by the United Nations) and Article 8 of the Geneva Conventions (also relating to self- defence). It is unclear whether the Government would consider supporting the lifting of the arms embargo on the Bosnian Government if the current Geneva plan fails.

  4. Credible threat of ultimatums and military intervention.

    The Government supports the threat of military action against the aggressor states only as a last resort, as reiterated in the recent EC Foreign Minister declaration on Bosnia (3 September 1993). It argues that diplomacy behind the scenes is more effective than the threat of ultimatums and military action, and further claims that such diplomacy has achieved considerable success during the Bosnian war. Generally speaking, then, the Government does not support a more robust threat of military intervention by the UN and/or NATO in order to deter further Serbian or Croatian aggression, even to enforce existing UN resolutions, and despite the success of such threats in lessening the siege of Sarjevo in August.

  5. The removal of Lord Owen.

    The Government will not say whether it will support the replacement of Owen if the current Geneva plan fails. In the view of the Tanaiste, Lord Owen is doing an "excellent job", though he is loathed by the Bosnian side and often praised by the Serbian. Here, as with its entire Bosnian policy, the Government seems content to echo British policy on Bosnia, although this latter is widely considered to be the position most hostile to the Bosnian Government within the EC.

  6. Instigation of a new negotiating framework.

    The Government will not say if it would advocate a new international negotiating framework, of the sort we outlined, if the current Geneva plan fails. It appears not to have even considered this course of action.

  7. Establishment of secure aid corridors.

    The Government does support the opening of the quite viable Tuzla airport, the use of which has been scandalously vetoed by the UN. It is unclear, however, what steps the Government has taken, or proposes to take, at UN or EC level to ensure that the airport is opened. More generally, the Government appears not to support a more robust use "of all necessary means" by the UN and/or NATO to ensure the supply of humanitarian aid thwarted by Serb and Croat forces, although the appropriate UN resolutions for dealing with such breaches of the Geneva Convention exist.

  8. The raising of the siege of Sarajevo and other ghettos.

    The Government appears to oppose the active defence of the "safe areas" by the UN and/or NATO, or the extension of UN protection to other besieged ghettos. If the war once again explodes, the Government is apparently willing to see the UN stand apart while further genocide is launched against the Muslim or multi-ethnic Bosnian ghettos.

  9. A policy of permaÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ̼nent non- recognition towards "ethnically cleansed" or partitioned lands.

    The Government claims to support the non-recognition of lands which have been ethnically cleansed or partitioned through force of arms. It does so by referring to the recent EC Foreign Minister declaration on Bosnia (3 September 1993) which reiterates support for the London Conference principles. But this professed policy is intellectually dishonest in two respects:

    1. there are potential opt-out clauses (points ix and xiii) within the London Conference declaration which can be used to overturn this and other principles set out therein;

    2. the actual plan brokered by Lord Owen, the official representative of the EC and therefore of Ireland, constitutes a repudiation of most of the London Conference principles, including non-recognition of lands "ethnically cleansed" or partitioned by force of arms.

    We thus repeat our charge, made in our original letter to the Tanaiste, that "the profession of principle and good intention by the Community is belied (and this is clearly revealed at Geneva) by what is now indubitably de facto Western collusion with the two tribal fascisms, the two imperia, intent on a carve-up of the ancient multi-ethnic land of Bosnia". Nothing said at the meeting convinces us that the Tanaiste, on behalf of the Government, is willing to dispatch with the bad faith of professing one thing and condoning the opposite.

  10. A long-term EC strategy for Bosnia and the wider Balkan region.

    Neither the Government nor the EC appears to have a clearly formulated strategy of action in relation to Bosnia and the Balkans. Both appear content to react to events. Indeed, to our astonishment, it was put to us that the EC should be chary of formulating such a long-term strategy, in order not to appear to usurp the foreign policy prerogatives of the member states. Yet the Government, unlike other EC states, appears not to wish to exercise those prerogatives. Illogically, therefore, the Government neither sees the need for a more comprehensive long-term EC strategy for Bosnia and the Balkans, nor feels it appropriate (in light of the common foreign policy imperative) to formulate its own independent view of what such a long-term strategy ought to be.

  11. Reversal of population transfer and expropriation.

    Again, the Government claims to support the above by referring to the recent EC Foreign Minister declaration which reiterates support for the London Conference principles. But the same argument made in relation to (ix) above applies here: the outright contradiction between the profession of principle and the actuality of the Geneva plan negotiated by Lord Owen, the EC's envoy - a plan which (no matter what is said) will both finalise existing "population transfers" and expropriation, and trigger new waves of expulsion and dispossession under UN auspices (as acknowledged by Lord Owen).

  12. Seizure of Yugoslav assets overseas and the expulsion of rump Yugoslavia from the UN.

    The Government appears to have no position on this proposal, which is equivalent to support for the status quo (ie, no seizure and no expulsion).

  13. Recognition of the Republic of Macedonia.

    The Government has recognised Macedonia under its UN name "The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia". It appears unwilling to recognise simply the "Republic of Macedonia", thus bowing to the absurd demands of Greece, the only overt EU ally of Serbian aggression.

  14. Sanctions against Croatia.

    The Government appears to have no policy on this issue.

  15. Commitment to UN decisions on Bosnia-Herzegovina.

    The Government acknowledges that the poor functioning of the UN bureaucracy is impeding its ability to translate Security Council resolutions into action. It appears to have no detailed policy on how these problems can be overcome vis-a- vis Bosnia, though since our meeting the Tanaiste has outlined someÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ̼ important general areas of reform in his speech to the General Assembly. It fully supports the War Crimes Tribunal, yet does not share the apprehension of many that the war crimes process may be thwarted by political and/or economic calculations. Since our meeting this apprehension has been further substantiated by the resignation of one director of the War Crimes Tribunal, who cited obstruction of the Tribunal's work by Britain and France.

  16. A full statement of Irish policy towards Bosnia-Herzegovina.

    The Government declines to issue such a full policy statement, on the grounds that it would be inconsisü tent with the EC common foreign policy.

  • As is well known, there are considerable divisions between EC member states over the current Owen-Stoltenburg plan, with Holland, Germany and Spain voicing opposition and/or grave reservations. Irish policy on Bosnia, however, seems closely aligned with that of Britain, which strongly supports the Geneva plan and the role of Lord Owen generally. Britain has also been instrumental, it is widely acknowledged, in maintaining the arms embargo on the Bosnian government, dissipating the threat of military intervention, and generally resisting other measures which might have thwarted Serbian aggression and bolstered the Bosnian Government.

  • It is clear that the Government no longer believes it needs to formulate a detailed policy on Bosnia independent of the EC Council of Foreign Ministers. In this area, and no doubt others, Irish independence has in effect been ceded to the EC.

  • The high EC profile Ireland has adopted in regard to the GATT negotiations contrasts with its coat-tailing approach to EC policy on Bosnia. Despite Ireland's own experience of partition, it would appear that the Government is content to adopt an independent and high-profile position on the interests of Irish farmers, but not on the creation of a racialist apartheid at the heart of Europe.

Nuala Dhomhnaill
Chris Agee


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