The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1992Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with Douglas Hurd in Helsinki – 10 July 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, in Helsinki on Friday 10th July 1992.


A year and a half ago at the Paris summit, all the countries present celebrated the end of communism and the re-emergence of many European democracies. We knew at that time, when that meeting took place, that a lot of ancient disputes, frozen by communism, suppression of national identity, would be likely to re-emerge. And events have shown that to be an entirely accurate judgment. Yugoslavia of course is the most vivid example but there are many others, including in the former Soviet Union. I have no doubt that other bushfires from time to time will break out as well.

The CSCE played a central role in setting human rights standards which the communist world could not ignore. It would be very good to think in the post-communist world that with the re-emergence of democracy those standards would automatically apply. But we know that is not the case so the old role of the CSCE as a human rights monitor, particularly in respect of ethnic minorities, continues and becomes more important. But it has to take on a new role as well, a role as fire-fighter.

At this meeting we have agreed a number of new roles for the CSCE, they cover the early warning of potential conflicts, a particularly important role I think; mechanisms to improve the peaceful settlement of disputes; the establishment of a High Commissioner for national minorities and of course a CSCE role in peace-keeping as well.

I would not wish to make exaggerated claims for any of those developments and I think other people would be unwise to do so as well. The CSCE is a bit like the United Nations, but it does lack the sharp edge which the Security Council gives to the UN. It can only act by consensus, its effectiveness, therefore depends upon peer pressure, upon the pressure which a majority of nations in Europe can bring upon a minority, and ultimately upon the willingness of its members to use the mechanisms that are available to it. Again, Yugoslavia provides the most vivid example.

One of the sub-plots in Yugoslavia has been whether the naval monitoring of sanctions in the Adriatic should be done by the Western European Union or jointly by NATO and the Western European Union. Agreement has been reached that it should be a joint operation. It is right for Europe to play a more prominent role in defence, but it would be dangerous and it would be foolish for any of us in Europe to try and exclude the United States and NATO from European defence operations.

As at Lisbon, as at Munich, Yugoslavia has been high on the agenda and NATO and Western European Union Foreign and Defence Ministers have been meeting in the margins to discuss what more we can do. As of today HMS Avenger is to take part in the sanctions monitoring force. Our humanitarian airlift into Sarajevo continues. We are collectively looking at the feasibility of a land corridor to Sarajevo so that food can be supplied under United Nations auspices. If, if such an operation were feasible, Britain would be prepared to consider providing air cover for it but we would not be supplying ground troops.

At the same time we must continue to support fully Lord Carrington’s efforts to bring the parties in Bosnia Herzegovina, and indeed in the other republics, closer to a political settlement in their own areas and of their own differences.

The crucial responsibility here, and I emphasise that, the crucial responsibility here is with Lord Carrington, a fact which was underlined and endorsed by the Western European Union Foreign Ministers in their discussion earlier today.

In my capacity as President of the European Community, I have had separate meetings here with Prime Minister Schluter of Denmark, the President and the Prime Minister of Finland and Prime Minister Bilt of Sweden. There will be further contacts with the Danish government over the coming weeks.

With the Prime Ministers of Finland and Sweden I set out our plans for handling the preparations for enlargement of the Community. Although the official negotiations cannot start before Maastricht ratification is complete, there is a general willingness in the Community to complete as much of the business as possible behind the scenes before the ratification.

I also have taken the opportunity of this visit here to have a meeting with Eduarde Shevardnadze of Georgia and with President Kravchuk of the Ukraine. It was my first meeting with President Kravchuk but not, of course, with Mr Shevardnadze for we were both Foreign Ministers at the same time, we were in touch during the coup in Moscow and have been so on many occasions in the past.

So both in terms of the documentation that has been signed here and the bilateral contacts that I have been able to make during my visit here, it has been a worthwhile occasion and the Foreign Secretary and I will endeavour to field any questions you may have about any of those matters.



QUESTION (Graham Leech, BBC):

If the feasibility of a land corridor is established, if the appropriate UN resolution were obtained, why would Britain not be among those countries willing to deploy ground troops to secure that corridor?


Every country must make its own contribution towards the overall UN contribution. We are making a contribution in flying in humanitarian forces, we are making a contribution at sea, we are making a contribution by air. Other people have their expertise in different areas and have indicated that they would be prepared to undertake different responsibilities.

QUESTION (George Jones, Daily Telegraph):

We gather that there has been disagreement over wording of a resolution here on Yugoslavia and that it will not be agreed, does that not rather overshadow the efforts of this organisation to try and turn itself from a talking shop into a real organisation which can play a part in resolving these ethnic disputes.


I have the pleasure of having one of the negotiators with me.


The difficulty as I understand it, this was handled by officials, was that there were some who wanted a declaration on Yugoslavia, we would have been very glad to have one, others wanted a declaration on Nogorno Karabakh, there was difficulty in agreeing the second and therefore difficulty in agreeing the first because some people linked the two. I do not think anyone expects the CSCE to be operative on Yugoslavia. The people who are operating on Yugoslavia are the Community, Lord Carrington’s peace conference as the Prime Minister just said, the UN with the UN force in Croatia, UN sanctions, and the humanitarian effort which is going ahead. So I do not think the absence of a CSCE declaration on Yugoslavia is at all harmful.

QUESTION (Charles Reiss, Evening Standard):

If we were to provide cover for a land corridor, and I realise you say it is conditional, can you at this stage say what form and what strength that might take and if not who will be doing the work and how fast do you expect it to be completed?


It is too early to give a precise answer to that, we do not know whether other people would offer to provide air cover as well or whether a substantial part of the responsibility would fall to the United Kingdom. What we have done thus far is indicate our willingness in principle, providing the feasibility of the operation is established, to provide suitable air cover. Other people may offer to do so as well, As with the naval operations, other people will offer to assist the British ships that will take part. So it is difficult to say yet, Charles, precisely how much we will need to do but the agreement that we will take part is clear.

QUESTION (Newsweek):

In the debate about whether WEU or NATO or both would be involved in, this Yugoslavia operation, of course the two greatest proponents of NATO having a role are Great Britain and the United States, if those are the two major powers unwilling to commit ground forces, if that should become necessary, does that not undercut a little bit the ability and the power of the argument that NATO should be heavily involved or should take the lead?


I do not think it does and for several reasons. If we actually look at the security of Europe over the past 40 years, it has been a NATO secured security, a security secured by the Alliance and essentially, it has to be said, by the sheer strength and importance of the American presence in Europe and the capacity of the Americans beyond Europe to cone to Europe had it been necessary. That remains the situation in terms of Europe in the future. It also has to be said that the time has come for the Europeans themselves proportionately to take a greater share of the defence of Europe and of activities within Europe. And I think it is therefore entirely right for the Europeans themselves to take a greater role, although under NATO auspices, in operations that take place within Europe. And that of course is precisely what is happening. Different countries in the NATO Alliance have different interests in Yugoslavia, different history, different contacts with Yugoslavia, a number of nations, some very close to Serbia, some very close to Croatia, some geographically very close, and it is really a question of horses for courses, we must determine who can do what best and share out the responsibilities equally and adequately. But the overall position and the overall NATO umbrella I think is quite clear.

What would be immensely difficult and dangerous for the whole of Europe would be if the Europeans’ responsibility to take a greater proportionate responsibility for defence led them to set up parallel proposals to NATO and to have two quite separate establishments dealing with the overall defence of Europe. That would be damaging, that would be dangerous, we have repeatedly said that. But the fact that within NATO different European nations should take on different responsibilities as a part of NATO seems to us to be the way ahead. The Foreign Secretary would like to add something to that.


The point was illustrated by what actually happened here today. We had a meeting of WEU Ministers this morning and we approved the declaration which you have and you will see scattered through that at several points the emphasis on consultation and coordination with NATO. And then we had a meeting with NATO Ministers which I was very keen should happen but which only lasted quarter of an hour because there was no disagreement on the statement put out by NATO about the NATO part of it, and in that there is clear reference to cooperation with the naval force established by the WEU.

So that outline, that work together which was sketched in principle, in theory, in many discussions last year, some of them very difficult discussions, has had its first test in action and the way in which decisions were reached this morning is I think reasonably encouraging although of course a lot depends on the follow through.

QUESTION (Adam Boulton, Sky News):

Prime Minister, does Britain now want to see a more strongly-worded UN Resolution and were that to come to pass, would you join President Bush in not ruling out the possibility that British airplanes could be involved in a strike against Yugoslavian insurgents?


We have never ruled out the possibility of further action. We have set out the difficulties of it; we have set out the concerns of it; we have indicated the areas where we would take part in maintaining sanctions at sea with British vessels; in providing air cover for any land corridor that might be opened; in flying humanitarian supplies into Sarajevo – a number of RAF planes have been in and out of Sarajevo and that will continue.

Those are the areas where we must continue and it may be that at some stage we will need a further United Nations Resolution. We will face that as and when it comes.

QUESTION (Marini Vijo, Athens Radio):

Another side of the Yugoslav problem is the issue of the previous federal Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. During the British Presidency, do you believe that a solution to this problem can be found and what kind of solution do you expect that this will be?


One of the difficulties of setting out what you think the solution would be is that sometimes you might make it more difficult to actually achieve the solution. That it will be a priority for us to continue to look at the problems of Yugoslavia – and it will fall particularly to the Foreign Secretary’s remit and he will wish to add something in a moment – I think there is no doubt. We will give it very high priority but I am not sure we are able to anticipate in advance of discussions and meetings that will take place what the outcome will be but the Foreign Secretary may wish to add something to that.


I agree with that. The Lisbon Summit reached a conclusion on that and I will carry that conclusion when I go to Skopje next week and I will discuss that with President Gigarov of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and I will then report back to the Foreign Affairs Council on July 20.


The WEU operation seems to lack a clear command structure. We are talking about coordinating half a dozen ships, rules of engagement, operational activities but nobody actually in charge of it. Isn’t that rather a dangerous position to be in?


The command structure will of course be worked out between the WEU and NATO and from what I gather from the experts, including Archie Hamilton our Minister of State who was helping us this morning, they do not foresee any great difficulty about that. Of course, you are perfectly right that there will have to be a command structure.


It is a problem that inevitably there is when one has collaborative ventures of this sort and if one has to develop these collaborative ventures on the hoof as occasionally proves necessary, there are bound to be technical discussions about matters like that but they can be resolved and they will be.

QUESTION (Nick Comfort, Daily Record):

In your speech this morning, Prime Minister, you said when trouble threatens new means must be found to encourage or compel recourse to peaceful settlement. Doesn’t this look like a bit of a pipe-dream, given what is happening in Yugoslavia?


No, I don’t think so. The CSCE has been quiescent one might say for a long time. It is now developing a new lease of life. We have a new Europe; we have a Europe with members who previously were wholly within the communist area. There is a great deal, I think, that can be done with peer pressure.


As year succeeds year, we all become more economically independent. Economic pressures will undoubtedly grow as between the majority of European nations and one transgressor within Europe. That is not invariably going to solve the problems but I think the prospects of them being able to bring much greater pressure on people to solve problems increase as time goes on. That is especially true of disputes between nations rather than disputes within a nation such as the problem we have in Yugoslavia which makes it so particularly intractable at the moment.


I would like to come back to the feasibility of a land corridor to Bosnia-Hercegovina. What is your position at the moment? Is it feasible or is it not?


I don’t know the answer to that, as to whether it is feasible or not; that is why the feasibility study is being carried out, to find out whether it is going to be feasible.

If you actually look at the terrain, it is a very difficult proposition indeed to actually establish these corridors and to man them and provide security for the Red Cross and the United Nations troops in blue helmets that will be there so it is acutely difficult and nobody can be certain precisely how that feasibility study will turn out. I hope that it will prove to be possible.

Clearly, bringing humanitarian supplies into Sarajevo airport is important but the humanitarian supplies also have to be distributed. Quite how quickly that feasibility study can be brought to a successful conclusion, I don’t know. I can only say I hope it will prove to be possible and we will help provide the air cover if it then seems that it a) is possible and b) requires air cover.

QUESTION (Hella Pick, The Guardian):

I wanted to ask you why nothing has been done about enforcing the trade embargo against Serbia by land and along the Danube. Is that something which is envisaged? Do you think that is feasible and will Britain be involved in that?


It is one of the areas of embargo that we will have to examine and it is only in the last day or so that we have actually got ships to sea to look at the trade embargo from the sea. They, of course, at the moment can only log the vessels going in and out and would need a new United Nations Resolution to stop them. Whether the existing United Nations Resolution would provide land action I am not immediately sure but the Foreign Secretary may know the answer to that.


I don’t think so. What the existing Resolution does is set up a Sanctions Committee which monitors the results of breaches of sanctions and there has been some discussion going on as to whether there has been some arrival of embargoed goods by land in Serbia. If that were clearly evidenced to the Security Council Sanctions Committee, then the Security Council would have to consider what action to take to prevent member states from breaching the embargo but that has not been proved yet.

QUESTION (Alistair Campbell):

Prime Minister, can you sum up for us why Britain is apparently so much more cautious than some of your partners?


I don’t know that we are more cautious than all our partners. A number of our partners are very cautious about what actually happens and what can be achieved immediately around Sarajevo.

One only has to look at the immediate land situation around Sarajevo to see the problems that immediately exist. There you have the airport stuck in the middle of hills; you have a whole series of different groups under the control of different warlords fighting and shooting one against the other; there is no proper command control. There are a vast number of people one needs to negotiate with and if you look at the terrain, it resembles nothing so much geographically as Dien Bien Phu and one remembers the difficulties that actually occurred there.

So the advice of the military – not just in the United Kingdom but a number of other countries as well – is that it an extremely difficult military operation. It isn’t simply a question of going into the area, conducting a brief exercise and then coming out of the area. It would firstly be difficult to get in; it would secondly be difficult to be effective when they were in; and thirdly, it would be acutely difficult perhaps to get out. Those are matters that the military commanders and those who study the feasibility of these operations will have to take very much into account.

We saw those problems at an early stage and that is why we expressed ourselves as being cautious about them but we are in no sense alone about that and I think it is also worth nothing the remarks that have been made by some of the United Nations personnel, General Mackenzie amongst them, on the ground that we need to be very cautious about what happens with other land troops not to put at risk the UN humanitarian operation itself. In those circumstances, if other troops are there and people start firing at troops, it is extremely doubtful that they would draw a distinction between the other troops and the United Nations troops in blue helmets who are there for humanitarian reasons and that is a point that has to weigh very heavily with Mr. Boutros Ghali, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, very heavily with General Mackenzie, the Canadian commander of the troops there and very heavily with the rest of us.

Gestures are no adequate response to putting at risk the humanitarian operation that is there and we have to face the reality of what can be done and what the price of doing it might be and it is for those reasons amongst others, why we have set out some of the problems and to borrow the phrase of the Foreign Secretary, find ourselves in land operations at the cautious end of the spectrum.

QUESTION (Edwina Morton, The Economist):

Prime Minister, there has been a lot of talk of conflict-prevention at this Summit. Some of the bitterest remarks in the Plenary Session have been directed at the problem of the continued presence of Russian troops in the Baltic States and Moldova. Is there any plan to assist in the speedier relocation of those troops? Does Britain intend to take any role in that whatsoever?


Can I just add one thing I should have said perhaps to Alistair Campbell in the last question? There is one further point:

I should have made the point – because I had in my mind the fighting troops that some people are keen to put in – that we do of course have a number of British ambulance men actually on the ground as part of UNPROFOR, I think from memory round about 300 though it may be slightly more, so we do have British personnel on the ground in and around Sarajevo contributing to ambulance operations and they will stay there.

To revert to the question that has just been asked, I think events have moved on with the peer pressure that has been created and the Russians have said they will now remove their troops from the Baltic States. What we don’t yet have is a clear indication of the time-scale with which they would do it.

I have raised that matter with colleagues in some of my discussions here today and I know the Foreign Secretary has done the same I think the right way to proceed is to continue to put pressure on Russia both to remove them and to examine whether assistance is needed to enable then to remove them – for they have their own difficulties in doing so that we must acknowledge – but I think a good step forward has been made in the acknowledgement by the Russians that these troops will be removed in full from the Baltic territories. Now that has been agreed we must act to make sure that it happens and happens within a measurably short period of time.