Friday, 26 March 1999
Seanad Éireann Debate
Minister for Defence (Mr. M. Smith): I wish to set out the basic approach of the Government to the crisis in Kosovo. In the first place, the Government has consistently supported a peaceful solution to this problem. The means to achieve this are clear and are available through the interim agreement evolved in the talks in France which were worked out by international mediators and signed by the Kosovar Albanian delegation. The Kosovars compromised in terms of postponing their goal of independence and accepting provisions to disarm the KLA. Serbia has shown no spirit of compromise, despite the benefits which this agreement could provide in terms of safeguarding the integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and ensuring the future of the Serb minority in Kosovo.
In tandem with Serb rejection of this basis for peace, we have witnessed the prospects of a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo increase as Serb units, in clear disregard of the Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement of last October, continue to repress the Kosovar Albanians. More than one quarter of a million Kosovars are now homeless because of the repression carried out by Belgrade's security forces. Some 65,000 have been driven from their homes in the past month – 25,000 since the peace talks broke down in the Paris last Friday. While the Kosovar Albanians signed the Rambouillet Accords, Belgrade's forces poured into Kosovo to start a new offensive. Since the outbreak of hostilities in Kosovo in March 1998 approximately 440,000 people, more than one fifth of the population of Kosovo, have fled or been displaced. There are new victims every day. The civilian population is the target of the hostilities.
The terms and demands of the UN Security  Council Resolution 1199 of 23 September are valid and apply in full. The Belgrade authorities must end the use of excessive and disproportionate force in Kosovo, and they must withdraw their army and special police forces to pre-crisis levels.
The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has regretted that, in spite of all the efforts made by the international community, the Yugoslav authorities have persisted in their rejection of a settlement which would have halted the bloodshed in Kosovo and secured an equitable peace for the population there. He has commented that it is indeed tragic that diplomacy has failed, but there are times when the use of force may be legitimate in the pursuit of peace. The Security Council remains seized of the issue and is debating the matter further again today.
The Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs will report to the Dáil on the outcome of the European Council discussions in Berlin earlier this week. The European Council in Berlin has issued important statements reflecting the views of Ireland and all our EU partners. The common objective of Ireland and its EU partners is to persuade the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to accept a ceasefire in Kosovo and a political solution to the Kosovo conflict.
The international community has done its utmost to find a peaceful solution to the Kosovo conflict. In Rambouillet, and most recently in Paris, intensive efforts were made to negotiate an agreement for the self-government of Kosovo which is fair for both parties to the conflict and which would ensure a peaceful future for Kosovo Serbs, as well as Kosovo Albanians and all other national communities. The draft agreement, which was signed by the Kosovo Albanians in Paris, meets these requirements. On the basis of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia, it assures Kosovo a high degree of self-government, guarantees the individual human rights of all citizens in Kosovo according to the highest European standards, envisages extensive rights for all national communities living in Kosovo and creates the basis for the necessary reconstruction of the war-torn region.
In Berlin on Wednesday of this week, the European Union, including Ireland, expressed its conviction that, on the threshold of the 21st century, Europe cannot tolerate a humanitarian catastrophe in its midst. The European Union restated its commitment to secure peace and co-operation in the region which will guarantee the respect of basic European values, including the respect of human and minority rights, international law, democratic institutions and the inviolability of borders.
The policy of the Government, in common with our EU partners, is neither directed against the Yugoslav or Serb population nor against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia or Serbia. It is  directed against the irresponsible policy of the Yugoslav leadership. It is directed against security forces cynically and brutally fighting a part of their own population.
The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is now facing the severest consequences of its failure to work with the international community for a peaceful settlement of the Kosovo crisis. The way forward lies in an immediate cessation of Serb aggression in Kosovo and in acceptance of the Rambouillet accords.
I want to correct an impression of divergences among the neutral members of the European Union. The Minister for Foreign Affairs had the opportunity in Berlin to meet his Finnish, Swedish and Austrian colleagues. Each regretted resort to force but there was understanding of why it had been resorted to. It would have been better to have situated the use of force within the context of the UN Security Council, as the UN Secretary General has recognised.
Faced with the humanitarian and refugee crisis, I assure the House that we are co-ordinating closely with the international aid agencies to respond to the extra demands made on them by the additional recent refugee crisis.
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I thank the Leader of the House for affording us an opportunity to discuss this matter. It is one of the most serious scenarios to arise in Europe during this century, apart from the two world wars. We must view this crisis very seriously. When we look at the history of Europe we realise that disturbances in that part of Europe have usually had very serious long-term consequences for the rest of Europe.
I join the Minister in totally condemning the terrible sins that have been committed in that part of the world against the human race and the serious infringements of human rights. The European Union has been very remiss in how it has dealt with this scenario over the years and is still in a state of flux, with no common policy on this matter.
In Berlin on Wednesday of this week, the European Union, including Ireland, expressed its conviction that, on the threshold of the 21st century, Europe cannot tolerate a humanitarian catastrophe in its midst [with which we all agree]. The European Union restated its commitment to secure peace and co-operation in the region which will guarantee the respect of basic European values, including the respect of human and minority rights, international law, democratic institutions and the inviolability of borders.
The Minister referred to the fundamental right of international law. There is a very serious question mark over NATO's legal right to take military action on this issue. We, as a neutral state, should raise that question. However, we do not have a response from the neutral EU member states. The meeting of the four Ministers in Berlin yesterday was a glorious opportunity for them to offer something constructive to the scenario but, instead, as the Minister stated:
Each regretted resort to force but there was also understanding of why it had been resorted to. It would have been better to have situated the use of force within the context of the UN Security Council, as the UN Secretary General has recognised.
The UN Security Council Resolution 119, which was passed on 5 October 1998, is very clear in what it demands of all the parties, both in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Kosovo. It is a long and extensive resolution but it is in the Library and everyone knows what it involves. Nothing in that resolution authorises NATO to take the action it has taken. It is quite different from the situation in 1995, when the air strikes on Bosnia were authorised by the United Nations. We have a responsibility, under international law, to at least question at international level the legality of what has occurred. The Government has a responsibility to raise this fundamental question at international level.
The crisis appears to be that the deadline for signing the peace agreement was not met, which was added to by the departure of 1,380 international monitors. That resulted in a renewed Serb offensive against the ethnic Albanian Kosovars. We have a responsibility to raise fundamental questions about international law and I request the Minister and the Government to so do.
This is a very serious situation, in which there are victims on all sides – Albanian, Serbian and Kosovar. Due to the history of the past 70 years, there are people there who have been victims at various stages and have particular problems. It is a community and religious orientated conflict. It deserves much greater consideration and greater attempts at serious negotiation. The Government could play a very serious role as a neutral state, which is what it claims to be, in bringing about more intensive negotiations to resolve the problem, rather than bombings. While genocide has killed thousands of people, bombings will kill further thousands of people in the future. Neither  scenario is desirable and we have a responsibility to take action.
Mr. Lanigan: I welcome the Minister to the House to discuss this matter which is of concern to everyone, not only in Ireland but all over Europe. It must be recognised that a major war is going on in Europe for the first time since the Second World War. It is much closer than any of the other wars that have occurred. However, President Milosevic is totally at fault and NATO had to strike. I read in this morning's newspapers that 23 aeroplanes had taken off from Great Britain to bomb Kosovo and Serbia.
However, we should look at who is to blame. The west supported Marshal Tito, following the Second World War, in his attempts to create the federal republic of Yugoslavia and western countries were satisfied that he was a bulwark between the east and the west. Of course, they did not address the major problems in the individual countries that made up Yugoslavia. When Marshal Tito's reign ended the area began to unravel and countries tried to gain independence. Every time a country in the region decided that it wanted to revert to an independent state, it was agreed by the United Nations. This is one of the major reasons that there are such problems. Marshal Tito is to blame for the current problem because he promised Kosovars that they could have their own state if they supported him. Of course, he reneged on that agreement after they supported him.
China and Russia are flexing their muscles and saying that NATO should not have attacked. The Cold War is back in a big way. Does the international community support NATO? Only 19 countries support this offensive and I do not know whether they are members of NATO. The remaining countries are neutral or very much against the NATO invasion, which will result in the murder of many civilians. Earlier the British Chief of Staff said that NATO had a successful night as its forces took out one of three targets which were attacked. However, 23 civilians were killed and we do not know which target they succeeded in destroying. The British and Americans said that they would not commit ground troops because they do not want them to return in body bags; that is cowardly. They are sending aeroplanes and pretending that they have specific targets. Television reports from the area over the past two nights resembled Star Wars or comic strips.
The European Union must be extremely strong in approaching the ongoing crisis in the area. Ireland is a neutral country but more care must be taken by all European nations to try to resolve the essential problems there, whether in Macedonia, Albania or Kosovo. If the Greeks and Turks get involved we do not know what will happen. They are full members of NATO and have  arms to burn. The big winner in this conflict will not be President Milosevic or NATO, but the arms industry. Every time aeroplanes take off for Kosovo the arms industry will gain. The British are gung ho about sending arms all over the world, with their Foreign Secretary traipsing around the world selling arms. Great Britain is arms conscious because it wants to develop its arms industry and the best way to do that is to wage a war.
We should forget about President Milosevic who is a despot of the worst nature and the Kosovo Liberation Army is no better. I appeal to the Minister to try to get the EU to address problems that might arise in future as a result of ultra-Nationalistic tendencies in middle Europe. Otherwise, the entire continent will be engulfed in a war that is not wanted.
Dr. Henry: I thank the Minister for his useful statement. It is extraordinary that problems have occurred in the Balkans throughout this century. The current situation is frightening with the massacre of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. It is serious when powerful countries illegally bomb an independent country. The UN resolution has been completely flouted and it is a cause of grave concern in Ireland. As Senator Taylor-Quinn stated, I wish that more had been said by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and his Finnish, Swedish and Austrian colleagues in Berlin this week. Of course, we understand the problems in the region but ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo are in a more dangerous situation today than they were on Tuesday because bombs are raining down from on top of them and, apparently, Serbian soldiers are shooting them. It is hard to know because every journalist has been expelled. The situation has become worse for Kosovars.
Could we have made a greater effort to encourage Russian diplomatic efforts given that it is within their sphere of influence? On the international Richter scale Ireland manages to do well because it is a neutral country. I hope that we put as much effort as possible into encouraging the Russians to deal with President Milosevic. Serbians are getting little information except what they are told by President Milosevic through state controlled media outlets.
I am involved in the Irish Red Cross and I hope it becomes active in this region quickly given that Ireland will be acceptable to the Serbians in terms of monitoring and providing aid. If I hear Irish people complaining about genocide there and at the same time complaining about refugees being allowed in here, I will be extremely angry. We make a habit of this. We do not like to see people murdered abroad but we do not want to protect them here. A little less of that attitude would be useful.
The majority of Bosnians who sought refuge here have returned home and those who did not  were unable to do so. We should get going on this as fast as possible. I hope the Irish Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies will organise relief efforts as soon as possible. The destruction of homes in Kosovo is appalling. We should send aid but should also be prepared to accept refugees if they need our assistance. The majority of refugees would be happier to go back to wherever they came from.
Mr. Dardis: I welcome the Minister's statement. This is the latest in a series of unfortunate episodes in European history. The effect on the civilian population has been terrifying. The Minister outlined the number of people who have been driven from their homes and almost one fifth of the population has fled or been displaced. That demonstrates the necessity for the European Union to advance rapidly to a situation in which it operates a common foreign and security policy. Ireland should participate in that policy as well as in the Partnership for Peace. To do otherwise would be to leave responsibility to the NATO countries, particularly the US, to take action. The EU would be the most appropriate body to act because, as was stated by the Minister and the Heads of Government in Berlin, this is a European conflict which should be dealt with by Europe. Europe's record in regard to occurrences in this part of the world over several years has been quite shameful. Our greatest shame is that the initiative to prevent a second Bosnia had to be taken by NATO with the strong support of the US. The European Union has been detached from that.
The Minister correctly stated that it would have been far better for force to have been used within the context of the UN Security Council but the reality is that each of the permanent members of the council has a veto and it is impossible to envisage any circumstance in which it would move unanimously on an issue such as this. Against a background of a dictator who has been compared to Hitler, huge numbers of casualties and the failure of successive efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement, there was no alternative but for NATO to launch an attack. Milosevic, not NATO, is to blame; he has embarked on a policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
We all feel desperately about the human consequences of the activities in recent days. However, those activities are not nearly as serious as those which Milosevic would carry out if he were allowed to continue unchecked. The Minister referred to the Kosovars who concluded an agreement and were prepared to compromise. The only person in this scenario who has not been prepared to compromise is Milosevic, in spite of the adequate opportunities offered to him. His real target is the civilian population; the KLA is simply being used as an excuse.
 As Deputy O'Malley eloquently stated in the lower House yesterday, the appeasement of tyranny is one of the greatest mistakes the world has made in the past. To have continued the way we were going would have been to appease tyranny. It is unfortunate that NATO, driven by the United States and Britain, has had to take the initiative rather than the EU. I agree with Senator Lanigan's comments on the arms trade. The action taken was neither arbitrary nor quick as has been stated in some quarters.
Ireland cannot afford to be neutral when it comes to human rights abuses, nor has it been. The record of successive Governments shows that when it comes to human rights abuses and basic human freedoms, we have not been neutral. We have spoken many times in this House about East Timor and have condemned the genocide and arms trade there. We have also spoken about the Kurds and Burma. We are not and should not be silent where people are subjected to human rights abuses.
Milosevic will attempt to broaden this conflict into Macedonia and Albania; had that happened 50 years ago, we might have been faced with a European war. No tyrant has ever been more fully warned than Milosevic. We must consider our Army's peacekeeping and peace enforcement roles as they will become increasingly important in the future. Ground troops may have to go in to protect the civilian population if Milosevic ceases his activities, or perhaps the OSCE observers will suffice. It is all very well to bluster from the sidelines on these matters. The time has come for us to become actively involved in some of these decisions; we must be ready to provide humanitarian aid on a large scale when the conflict is over.
Mr. Cosgrave: I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution on this issue. The events of recent days are regrettable although it is understandable that the time would come when decisions had to be taken. While one could argue over aspects of the NATO policy, the simple fact remains that President Milosevic brought matters to this point.
One of the most important aspects of the Minister's comments was in the last three lines of his speech when he spoke of the emergence of a humanitarian and refugee crisis. It is very hard to believe that at the end of this century people are being displaced from their homes with no possessions but what they can carry. If even a fraction of the millions of pounds being spent on arms went towards humanitarian aid to displaced people, that would prove beneficial.
Although Ireland may have a policy on neutrality I hope we will not be neutral when it comes to tyranny, murder, displacement of and attacks on innocent people. Leaving aside power  games, it is the innocent men, women and children who will suffer in Kosovo and other parts of Yugoslavia. I urge the Minister and his Government colleagues to bring every pressure to bear at European and UN level to deal with this catastrophe.
This is a crisis and I am sure we would all support the provision of any support, however limited, we can offer, be it financial, in the health care area or otherwise. As Senator Henry stated, we must not be two-faced in regard to refugees. It is hard to believe that this war is occurring not very far from here.
Mr. Costello: I welcome the Minister and acknowledge that this issue is undoubtedly an extremely difficult issue. There is no easy black and white solution. The Balkans have always been a powder keg and the current situation in Serbia has brought matters to a head. Milosevic is a tyrannical dictator who is clearly guilty of crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide. The man is a war criminal.
Having said that, we in Ireland have a responsibility to determine what stance we will take. There is nothing so disappointing or pathetic as seeing the Minister for Foreign Affairs wringing his hands helplessly and stating that he has nothing to declare other than Ireland's neutrality and the fact that we are between a rock and a hard place. If our country's representative abroad believes this, where does that leave the remainder of Irish citizens? The answer is that we have been left high and dry.
People expect better from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and they expect him to clarify the situation. What is the Attorney General doing? What is the rule of law in this situation? Surely the Attorney General is paid to determine whether there is any legal basis supporting the current NATO invasion. The rule of international law is not really more difficult to determine than that of national law. The Attorney General is paid to advise the Government and we want to know where we stand on this issue in terms of international law. The Minister for Defence was silent on that matter and merely referred to the terms and demands of UN Security Council Resolution 1199 which are valid and which apply. However, he made no reference to the response to be made in terms of the resolution. According to Kofi Annan, the United Nations has given no authorisation – good, bad or indifferent – in respect of this particular venture.
The attack on Kosovo might seem well based and credible if NATO used the same guiding principles in respect of other areas. However, NATO has never made any attempt to attack Turkey which has engaged in the genocide of the Kurds. For many decades, members of the Kurdish population have been exterminated, attacked and forcibly removed from their territory by the  forces of a NATO member, namely, Turkey. Why has NATO not engaged in similar action in respect of Turkey? It cannot pick and choose.
Why did it not choose to intervene in Chile where a dictator usurped a democratic Government? At least the invasion of Iraq had the benefit of being based on a UN resolution. It is not good enough to state that the governments in certain countries are in violation of human rights or to pick and choose the countries in which NATO sees fit to intervene. In my opinion, NATO is seeking a foothold in the European Union and this is its way of achieving that.
The problem with the current action is that it takes the form of a long distance bombing attack. It has already been stated that there is no intention of deploying ground troops. If that is the case, the situation will worsen in the near future. As the Minister stated, there is no doubt that this conflict will cause hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes as refugees, will lead to the slaughter of Kosovars and will lead to the spread of war in the Balkans. That will be the legacy of this attack. It is time we got our act together, clarified our position and obliged the Minister for Foreign Affairs to make a public statement on where Ireland stands in respect of the rule of international law. I await such a statement with interest.
Mr. Norris: The situation in the Balkans is dangerous and highly volatile. When one considers the history of this century, the extent to which Serbia has made malign interventions into European affairs is quite extraordinary. In 1914 a Serbian Nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, fired the first shot in a conflict which had repercussions throughout the world. We have been obliged to abide with Serbian selfishness which has caused hundreds of millions of casualties during the past century. It is time the Serbs began thinking in a broader context.
I blame the Serbian leadership for the current conflict. There is no doubt that Milosevic is a brute, a beast and a dictator and that perhaps something needed to be done about him. However, I wonder what we are doing. There is no doubt that he cannot be brought down by air strikes alone. There must be a commitment to deploy ground troops, an action which should have been taken long ago. I fear we are seeing a repeat of the Gulf War where action is not being taken on principle but merely to satisfy the optics or to allay the concerns of some of the larger powers.
The one hopeful aspect of this situation is that there has been a major breach of an existing principle in international diplomacy, namely, that the outside world could not intervene in the affairs of a country regardless of the tyranny of its government or the human rights abuses carried out there. Heretofore that principle was written in  stone but it has now been breached – cynically, in my opinion – which is very important. Let us see what will happen in East Timor, Tibet and many other countries where gross human rights abuses are taking place.
It was interesting that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, who is an honourable and decent man, put on record the fact that Ireland, because of its policy of neutrality, is caught between a rock and a hard place. We have not signed up to anything, we have not joined NATO and we are merely nibbling at the edges of Partnership for Peace. How much worse would our situation have been if we had been involved in Partnership for Peace, given that, with our neutrality intact, the Minister for Foreign Affairs has been obliged to state that we are caught between a rock and a hard place because we are trying to act on principle?
I am concerned that the impact of this intervention will be that Milosevic will be strengthened as a dictator within his own territory. He is a completely cynical operator who knows exactly what he is doing. The air strikes on Yugoslavia will strengthen his hand and will undermine the possible democratic developments in Montenegro.
I deplore the military strikes and I regret the fact that they will lead to casualties, death and destruction among the civilian population in Yugoslavia. I deplore the strikes because they will not have the desired effect. In my opinion, they will have the counter-productive effect of strengthening Milosevic and further isolating the Russians whose country is in a considerable state of turmoil and who is watching events with interest. The Russians are aware that if the Kosovo Albanians manage to secede it will have an impact on certain parts of their territory. The Russians are feeling vulnerable because the United Nations has been bypassed.
It is obvious that we are moving towards some kind of structure in world affairs. We are hoping to establish an international war crimes tribunal and an international court to consider situations of this nature. In my opinion that makes it intensely worrying that we are again bypassing the United Nations. If this action was necessary and justifiable and if NATO were capable of following through on it, the only decent and legitimate way it could have been carried out was through the United Nations. Once again, NATO, Britain and the United States of America have undermined and subverted the United Nations. If they are interested in human rights and in pro tecting the populations under these dictatorships, let them put their money where their mouths are. The Americans owe the United Nations huge amounts of money. Let them stop crippling and subverting a legitimate international organisation and start supporting it and its human rights initiatives.
I have no time for Milosevic; no decent person possibly could. This appalling situation is tantamount to genocide and we should intervene. However, we should do so in a way that is not  cynical, would have a clear, positive and achievable result and would not subvert the United Nations which is, alas, what this action is doing.
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