The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1994Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Press Conference at NATO Summit – 11 January 1994

Below is Mr Major’s press conference in Brussels at the NATO Summit on Tuesday 11th January 1994.


This has been only the 11th NATO summit in a period of 35 years and the first NATO summit we have had since the summit in Rome in November 1991. It was a summit I think with a very clear purpose and that purpose was to give a clear direction to the Alliance at a time of totally new challenges. Without question, I believe, the summit has been successful and it has given that new sense of direction, it has reaffirmed NATO’s core function to provide for our collective security. The United States have renewed unequivocally their commitment to Europe and their determination to leave a large number of United States troops on the continent of Europe. NATO is bent on bringing Europe together, it has launched what I believe is both a practical and an imaginative process in Partnership for Peace. It said that it would welcome: “Expansion that would reach the democratic states to our east as part of an evolutionary process”.

We have reaffirmed at this meeting again our support for reform in Russia, we have agreed on the new concept of combined joint task forces which is a very significant change in NATO’s military organisation. It will I hope and expect improve NATO’s ability to mount peace-keeping and humanitarian operations. It will provide separable but not separate capabilities that will help meet the requirements of a European security and defence identity. We have agreed that we will intensify our efforts for non-proliferation and the tripartite agreement announced by President Clinton on Ukrainian weapons will be a tremendous boost in that respect. And this morning, after discussion last evening, we have reached agreement on important new steps to be taken in Bosnia.

If I may just say a word about Bosnia. It is I think intolerable that UNPROFOR has recently been prevented from rotating its contingent in Srebrenica. We will be drawing up plans now to help UNPROFOR bring in a Netherlands contingent to replace the Canadians. And whilst talking of the Canadians perhaps I could say that the courage and dedication that they have shown there epitomises the very outstanding peace-keeping record that Canada has had over recent years.

We have also agreed to examine how Tuzla airport can be opened with the intention that it should serve as a conduit for humanitarian relief. And we have also looked again at the situation in Sarajevo and are seeking an urgent improvement there. The bombardment of the town has diminished over the past few days but it has been, as you will all know, the subject of some very bitter fighting..

After this press conference this morning I will be meeting the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, the Chairman of the Military Committee and a number of other top NATO Commanders at lunch. And the purpose of this lunch is to discuss how the summit’s decisions will be implemented on the military side and to benefit from their professional advice on Bosnia and on other security problems.

Quite apart from the central agenda at this meeting, I have taken the opportunity to compare notes with the Heads of Government of a number of other NATO countries. I met the Turkish Prime Minister, Mrs Ciller, for the first time yesterday, we discussed Iraq and a number of other subjects. I saw the French Prime Minister and the German Chancellor yesterday afternoon and the Italian Prime Minister this morning. At the end of our discussions this morning I had a brief discussion with President Clinton about Bosnia and Northern Ireland and we discussed the agenda that we might tackle on my arrival in Washington at the end of February.

If one looks at the declaration that we published today, one sentence of it I believe encapsulates the meeting: “The fuller integration of the countries of central and Eastern Europe and of the former Soviet Union into a Europe whole and free cannot be successful without the strong and active participation of allies on both sides of the Atlantic”.

I believe that very strongly and to make a reality of that is going to require hard work and patience and all the countries will have a part to play. I have, for example, kept in very close touch with Boris Yeltsin during his Presidency and I hope also to be going to Moscow as well as to Washington within the next few weeks.

I do believe that it is extremely important to build up our partnership with the democratic leaders of Russia, as well as with those of central and of Eastern Europe. They are our friends, they have founded new and democratic institutions, they have liberalised their economies. For example in Russia, 70 percent of small and medium enterprises have now been privatised and nearly 7,000 large firms. Inflation has come down quite sharply in recent months in Russia, entrepreneurs are increasingly beginning to appear and the benefits of reform are beginning to be seen quite clearly in many parts of Russia.

Russia has a hugely important part to play in the world. Partnership between Russia and NATO can only be to the benefit of both sides and to the benefit of the international community. What we have been seeking to do at this meeting is to build a stable framework for the most profound changes in modern history.

This summit, I believe, has made a big contribution to that objective and I think it can fairly be described as a complete success.




Are you now more willing to consider the use of air power, either in the case of Sarajevo or in the instances of ensuring the rotation of troops and the reopening of the airport in Tuzla, have you come closer to that as President Clinton and the Secretary General said that they thought there was a greater determination in these conversations to use air power?


There is a great determination, let me take the different points that you raise. As far as Sarajevo is concerned, we agreed in August in the agreements of 2 and 9 August that in appropriate circumstances NATO would use air power there. That was the situation, we have reaffirmed the fact that that could be used. As far as Tuzla and Srebrenica are concerned, it was in fact an Anglo-French proposal that we should specifically include these objectives in the declaration and I set out a moment or so ago why. I do believe it is intolerable with a United Nations UNPROFOR force there that the Canadians and the Dutch are unable to complete their rotation, I simply do not think that is acceptable and I believe therefore that it is necessary to ensure that rotation takes place, and it is quite clear from the declaration that if it is necessary to use air power to achieve that then we would be prepared to do so.

As far as Tuzla is concerned, there were some plans drawn up from Tuzla, they are not finalised, the plans, that is why the wording is precisely as it is in the declaration. We will ask the NATO Commanders, the UN UNPROFOR, to draw up final plans to see what is practicable to do to open Tuzla airport for humanitarian reasons. And the answer to your question is that there is a very real determination to carry out what is stated in the declaration and I believe it is a universal determination amongst all the Heads of Government who were present here this morning.

QUESTION (Mark Leighty, BBC):

Could you tell us whether you think that we are more likely to use force, say, in Srebrenica and Tuzla and that the British are very much less keen to use force around Sarajevo? If that is so, why are we so much more worried about shelling around Sarajevo and using air strikes there than we are about using them at Srebrenica. And what are the Canadians saying to you, they do not appear to be keen in public?


The Canadians, I have no knowledge of what Canadians allegedly may have been saying to people in private, I do know what has been said at the meetings and the Canadians have agreed to this declaration, there was no dispute about it, there were minor discussions about the clarity of the wording, I think three or four words were added in this context in paragraph 25 just to make clear that it was in the context of air strikes, and there was one other word added to make it clear that we were talking about the rotation of troops at Srebrenica. So there was no dispute about it, I do not know where these suggestions of dispute arise, but I can assure you that there was no dispute about this at our meeting last evening or in our discussions this morning.

Of course there are concerns about it, these are not easy propositions to carry out, that is why we have got to examine the plans and make sure how they can be done. But as I indicated a moment ago, there is a determination to carry out those objectives that we have set out in this declaration and that is true whether they relate to Tuzla and Srebrenica or whether they relate to Sarajevo. Of course the nature of the operations would be different and without going into lengthy treaties of that, we have to take that into account. But it is intended that what is written in this declaration shall be carried through as and when necessary.

QUESTION (John Palmer, Guardian):

You call into question any suggestions that there were divisions, but only half an hour ago President Clinton told us that while he was keen to support the Anglo-French ideas on Srebrenica and on Tuzla, he had to resist pressure to substitute the wording on Srebrenica and Tuzla for the references reiterating the position on Sarajevo, he said that 3 times that he had to resist pressure to do and refuse to do so, would we be correct in assuming that the UK was one of the member states that wished that wording as a substitute. If not, where did this idea come from?


I have absolutely no idea. The United Kingdom proposal was to add the proposals on Tuzla and the proposals on Srebrenica to what was previously agreed in August and I believe in the unaccountable fashion that occasionally occurs at these great events, what was proposed to be the final declaration was circulated and many of you will have seen it in its earlier form in which there was a reiteration of the position as far as Sarajevo was concerned. The Anglo-French proposal last night was not to delete that but to add to that the proposals on Srebrenica and Tuzia and that was agreed last evening. There was never any question whatsoever in the British mind of diluting the agreements that we had reached on 2 and 9 August about Sarajevo.


Up to now, much of the problem on the ground has been the requirement to negotiate your way through road blocks and it has led to situations where one man with a gun can stop a whole UN convoy. Do you now envision that we will force our way through these road blocks and if attacked then air strikes would be called or are you suggesting that air strikes might be called in advance of moving forward?


I don’t think it would be appropriate to go into details of that sort. Clearly, if you can negotiate your way through that is the best way. Nobody who reads this declaration can be in any doubt about out determination to carry out what is set out in the declaration. I hope that is read and I hope that is understood.


[Not translated]


We established the London Conference some time ago because we wanted to put the process towards peace to give it a firm political backing. That was the underlying reason for establishing the London Conference and from that of course the negotiating activities on behalf of all of us by David Owen and successive partners. That has always been our position.

One of the concerns we have had right from the outset, self-evidently a military concern, is the danger that the conflict would spread south down to Kosovo with the obvious danger then that it would widen and intensify quite deeply. I think our concerns about Kosovo have been made clear publicly and certainly clear privately to all the combatants on many occasions; they are in no doubt about how seriously we would view that sort of development.


Prime Minister, was your initiative on Srebrenica and Tusla launched in order to head off pressure in any measure from other Alliance members for more punitive or large-scale bombing in Bosnia?


No, it was not. It was not intended to be a joint Anglo-French initiative. When I met Prime Minister Balladur yesterday afternoon and we discussed it, we both had precisely the same idea about how we could deal with the particular problems of Tusla and Srebrinica so it was not something that was pre-cooked some time ago. we both discussed it yesterday, we both raised the matter again last evening. As a result of that we proposed some text, we agreed the text with the French and we placed the text in front of our partners this morning and it was agreed.

No, it was not an attempt to divert from anything else. It was taken on its merits. Clearly, for humanitarian reasons, it is wholly desirable to have Tusla airport open and as far as Srebrenica is concerned, I simply think it makes a nonsense of the whole operation if the natural rotation of replacing Canadian troops with Dutch troops is unable to take place and therefore we have decided to take the action that we set out in the declaration.


Prime Minister, I wonder if I could ask you how you plan to re-establish the authority of your premiership when you get back to London given that in your absence several Cabinet ministers, John Redwood, John Patten, have directly contradicted you and said that personal morality plays a part in “Back to Basics” and also given the widely reported comments of grass-roots Conservatives that they feel the Government is applying double standards to its own behaviour and the behaviour it expects of the public.


I don’t think you represent the position as I understand it at all. I have indicated quite clearly the width and depth of the programme of “Back to Basics”. People will see it in great clarity this very day for example for a central core of it, the Criminal Justice Bill, has its Second Reading in the House of Commons.


Prime Minister, John Patten did say yesterday that he had never known a time in the past fifteen years since you and he went to the Commons for the first time when things had been so difficult. Is he right?


Times are difficult from time to time, subsequently they get easy.

I recall having questions from you and Adam twelve months ago which were suggesting to me that the economy would never return to growth, unemployment would never fall and we would find ourselves in very great difficulties. What has happened over the last year is that unemployment has fallen by 180,000, the economy has begun quite clearly to grow, exports have been running at level levels. We have now taken in two successive budgets last year decisions that will bring down the fiscal deficit. So the prospect for this year, the prospect that will impact upon the lives of everyone in the United Kingdom, is for renewed and accelerated growth, a low level of inflation, lowish interest rates, unemployment continuing to fall, exports continuing to rise and investments continuing to rise. I think, had you asked me the question you just asked me twelve months ago and I had forecast that to you, you would have been dubious about whether it was likely to be accurate. Now, most people accept that it is accurate.


If I may bring you to NATO, Prime Minister, with a question concerning a remark you made about a partnership between NATO and Russia. That I presume you did not then envisage to be on the basis of the Partnership for Peace agreements because that is a comparatively low level agreement. Are you envisaging in fact a partnership whereby a political agreement is made with Russia about the importance of maintaining the values and the peace that we want to maintain?


Partnership for Peace certainly need not be at a low level. think there may be a misunderstanding there. It certainly need not be at a low level and it may be variable as between one country and another so certainly an invitation to Russia and for that matter Ukraine to participate in Partnership for Peace has been issued. We very much hope they will accept.

But I think quite apart from the normal semantics of politics and diplomacy, the reality of life is that Russia is a different nation from any others in the world. Its huge military power and its worldwide significance necessarily make it so, so in a whole range of ways – with NATO, with the European Union, with the United States, with other countries in the West – it is in all our interests to develop the best possible relationship with Russia.

One of the greatest prizes that could be handed on to the next generation and the generation after that would surely be if we were able to sufficiently support the reform process so that Russia became a genuine good neighbour, a genuine democratic country where the reformers win the argument and Russia can enter fully – as I hope to see it do – the democratic family of western nations. It is different from the others because of its size and because of its significance to all of us and I believe that is undeniable.


Do you agree with Conservative MPs who say your “Back to Basics” campaign is now in crisis and do politicians have any special responsibility to behave in a moral fashion?


I don’t believe the remarks about crisis. The “Back to Basics” policy, as I have spelt out time and time again, runs right the way across the whole thread of Government activity: “Back to Basics” in economics: I set out the changes that there now are in our economic prospects; in terms of law and order, the Criminal Justice Bill, the most wide-ranging Criminal Justice Bill, essentially based on the principle of “Back to Basics”; the changes we are proposing in education, the changes we have introduced and those we are proposing to introduce absolutely fundamental to “Back to Basics”; the changes we made for example recently in adoption law, throwing away rather silly old-fashioned theories that children should not be adopted if the adopting parents were of a different race – absurd, old-fashioned theories that really need to be thrown away if you get back to good basic, solid common sense.

I will give you another illustration: many of the fashionable thoughts of previous decades with hindsight have turned out to be wrong. It was a mistake to put so many people in tower blocks in the middle of the inner cities; it has produced very dramatic social problems. We are reversing that. We are not building any more tower blocks. Where we can, we are replacing those that exist and trying to produce communities that have a better community feel about them. Again back to basics.

All those are part of a very wide-ranging “Back to Basics” campaign and one that I believe, despite the furore that appears from time to time as people dance on the head of a particular pin, is something that appeals to the basic instincts of the overwhelming majority of people in the United Kingdom so we will pursue this programme. We will pursue it because it is right, we will pursue it because it is necessary and I believe as we go through the next few weeks and months and people see the real substance of the programme, what it is about for themselves and their lives and what it is expected to mean, then I think the very warm initial reception that it had will be maintained in the future.


Does it have a moral dimension at all?


I think there is a distinction to be drawn. Of course, it is about good standards and good values, of course it is about that. What it is not is a witch-hunt against individual transgressions but of course we want good standards and good values right the way across not just the public service but elsewhere but it is not our job as politicians to preach about that. We need to deal with the problems that arise where there are difficulties, that is clearly the responsibility of politicians. We are not in preaching mode, we do want to see high values but I am not in the business of individual witch-hunts for individual transgressions.


Prime Minister, your Government has expressed concern in the past about the threat to British troops if there are air strikes in Bosnia. Do you not have those same concerns if Srebrenica is subjected to air strikes?


That is why, if you look at the wording of the declaration, we make it clear that we have to draw up plans. Those plans will need to take account of the safety of the troops. That is one of the paramount concerns. That is not a point of difference between anyone there this morning. It is self-evident that whatever is done needs to take primary account of the security of the United Nation troops be they British, Canadian, Spanish, French, who happen to be there. That will be an absolutely central part of the plans that will be determined.


Does that mean you would want to see your troops withdrawn before air strikes take place?


No, it doesn’t necessarily mean that.