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 Speech to the London Conference – 26 August 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech made at the London Conference on Wednesday 26th August 1992.


May I firstly welcome you all to the London Conference, a conference sponsored jointly by the United Nations and the European Community. I think no explanation is necessary to the people present today as to why we are here or to the size of the problem that lies before us. What we are hoping from this conference is that it will prove to be a decisive turning point, that it will mark a decisive new phase in the search for the peace in the former Yugoslavia territories that all of us wish to see.

What I fear we can see daily as we look around is the tragedy of Yugoslavia unfolding and throughout the world all our fellow citizens in each of our individual countries have seen the waste, the despair and the growing danger of the continuing conflict in Yugoslavia.

In this room are the people who can stop this war, end the bloodshed, reach a lasting settlement. I do not believe that world opinion will readily forgive anyone who impedes that work over the next couple of days and beyond.

The people that we represent at this conference have been appalled by the destruction, the killing, the maiming and the sheer cruelty which has disfigured the former Yugoslavia. We all seek a just peace and against that background it seemed to the Secretary General and to me that the United Nations and the European Community should join together in holding this conference.

Fortunately, we will not be beginning our work from scratch. The European Community has given monitors and sponsored a peace conference. Lord Carrington, to whom I pay a very warm and very well deserved tribute, has made substantial progress and we should build on that. The United Nations has passed resolutions bringing in an arms embargo on Serbia and Montenegro. Ten days ago the Security Council agreed that all necessary measures could be used to deliver humanitarian aid. The UN agencies have supplied and distributed emergency aid and cared for refugees and individual countries, many represented here today, have contributed too, often by taking in large numbers of refugees.

But I think we have all felt that the time has come to broaden and to intensify our work. And let me suggest to you, as co-Chairman, how I believe we should tackle that task.

Firstly, humanitarian help. Even if peace were achieved tomorrow, hundreds of thousands of people would still be involved in hunger, sickness, desperation, and those problems are bound to worsen as winter approaches.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that some two and a half million people remain in the former Yugoslavia and over one and a quarter million of these will depend on outside help with shelter, food and medicines to see them through the coming winter. Without that help many of that 1.3 million may not survive. And this is not a natural disaster we are dealing with, it is a man-made disaster and it needs a man-made solution and this conference can make its contribution to that.

We must ensure that humanitarian supplies are distributed to the victims of this conflict, particularly those victims still trapped in the war zones in Bosnia. I believe that the humanitarian agencies have done an outstanding job, they have put their lives on the line to assist in the survival of others. The Security Council Resolution 770 is a guarantee the international community have given that we will not leave the United Nations and its agencies without help and protection in the task they have overtaken.

It cannot be done by force but it must be done in safety. And that is why my country and others are willing to provide armed escorts to help the relief convoys on their missions of mercy. We have no hostile intent to any party in Bosnia, but I have to say to the conference that we will not be deflected from our determination to deliver aid wherever it is needed.

And thirdly, therefore, we must work for peace with justice with as much energy as we relieve those already suffering from war as a result of injustice. It is clear that we need a peace process and that this should be coupled with the necessary international pressure to bring success.

That peace process is vital but it must be based, I believe, on certain fundamental principles. The first is that frontiers cannot be altered by force, the international community will not accept that Bosnia can be partitioned by conquest. Those who suppose they can secure international acceptance of military advantages gained by force are mistaken in that judgment.

The second principle is that within those fixed frontiers minorities are entitled to full protection and respect to their civil rights, this applies universally whether in Bosnia, Croatia or Serbia. And those two principles go together, neither can be effective without the other.

And so the principles and how we hope to achieve them are set out in the two key documents which I hope the conference will adopt. The statement of principles sets out the basic international standards which must govern a settlement, I cannot believe after further discussion that any of us here will not be able and prepared to subscribe to it.

But what counts of course is not just the acceptance of those principles but the subsequent application of those principles and they are in reality not being completely fulfilled by any of the main parties to the crisis at present.

We must therefore help the parties to come closer to doing so and that is the purpose of the work set out in the action programme. This conference will remain in being and will remain active. Its work will be handled in partnership by the United Nations and the Presidency of the European Community and in addition we urgently need a high level international task group to tackle each main problem that we face. Those task groups will build on the work already done by the European Community peace conference and the United Nations. They must then get down to work energetically and unremittingly on the problems they have been set and we must also strive for further practical progress during the conference on various key questions – humanitarian issues, confidence-building measures and the implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions.

We shall also be looking tomorrow at two further documents. These are the draft statements, one on Serbia, one on Bosnia. I hope that all parties will be able to adopt them. Like the statement of principles, they should be uncontentious. We believe, for example, that they are consistent with Mr Panic’s recent letter to the United Nations Security Council which struck a note of realism and of moderation.

It is essential that this is followed up in deeds as well as in words and if all the Yugoslav parties at this conference, including Serbia, are prepared to subscribe to the draft statements this will be an encouraging sign. And if not, if not, the world will be entitled to doubt the goodwill of those who stand out against it and to draw the appropriate conclusions.

What are those conclusions? Those conclusions must mean bringing pressure to bear on governments or factions which do not abide by those principles. That in turn means sanctions. We need to enforce them more effectively and if necessary intensify them and that will be an inevitable issue at this conference and perhaps beyond it too.

No-one should under-estimate the anguish that is felt around the world at the events that unfold daily. The different former Yugoslav delegations, and in particular I think those from Serbia and Montenegro, must ask themselves this question: Do you wish to be considered as part of Europe? Do you wish to belong to the world community? If so, good, but that does mean accepting the standards of the rest of Europe and of the world community.

In this conference and beyond it we are ready to work with the republics of the former Yugoslavia to settle the final new constitutional arrangements in accordance with the principles set out. Our aim is to take into account the legitimate interests of all parties. Parties who choose to ignore settlement by negotiation will find no support from other governments or international organisations. All the countries and organisations who have a role to play are represented here today at this conference. They will all set out their own view but I believe there is a common determination.

For those who accept negotiation, and that means a willingness to make concessions and a genuine desire to find compromises, we have everything to offer. We will speed up your integration into the international community, we will begin with reconstruction aid, we will offer economic help through trade agreements, through export credits, through a full partnership in Europe. But if we do not get cooperation, the pressure will inexorably increase, condemnation, isolation, parties who stand in the way of agreement can expect even tougher sanctions, even more rigorously policed. No trade, no aid, no international recognition or role. Economic, cultural, political and diplomatic isolation. Those are the choices.

So I see our task at this conference as ensuring humanitarian help, restoring respect for human rights and setting in hand a process which will lead to a just and enduring peace by agreeing on the necessary principles, on the pressures needed to put those principles into effect, and on the intensive programme of work needed to bring our process to success.

That is what lies ahead of us at this conference and in the continuing work that may follow it. This I hope will prove to be a decisive break towards peace in the former Yugoslavia and that, I hope, is why everyone who is here has chosen to attend.