The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech at Lancaster House – 21 July 1995

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech held at Lancaster House in London, on the International Meeting on Bosnia, held on Friday 21st July 1995.


Let me first welcome you and thank you all for coming.

I called this conference a week ago because I did not believe that the international effort in Bosnia could continue as it has done in recent months.

Over the past fortnight, we’ve seen the capture of Srebrenica and, it appears, Zepa enclaves by Bosnian Serb forces. Those forces attacked lightly-armed peacekeepers, flouted UN decisions, and abused human rights. Their behaviour towards the local population was barbaric. New reports of atrocities are coming in daily. As a result, international aid agencies are having to cope with a new flood of homeless and frightened refugees.

The recent cycle of attack and counter-attack has threatened our ability to continue peacekeeping and humanitarian work. There is a clear risk that Gorazde and Sarajevo will be the next targets of Serb aggression.

Nor is the crisis confined to the Eastern enclaves. In many parts of Bosnia today, UN troops are unable to carry out their tasks. They have been fired at and threatened by all sides, taken hostage, and blockaded in their compounds. Bangladeshi troops in Bihac, for example, have seen some of the worst fighting rage around them.

UNPROFOR’s mission is being whittled away progressively by the hostility of the parties.

I believe we’ve reached a turning point for the United Nations’ mission. I invited you here because I believe new, collective decisions are needed urgently. We cannot afford different noises from different capitals.

What is at stake goes wider than Bosnia. We face a fundamental challenge to our ability to work together effectively to cope with chaos and disorder.


It is vital today to come to a united view on the way ahead, and set clear guidelines for future decisions.

By deciding to meet, we have provided a focus for fresh thinking. That needs to be translated into joint action.

I see four specific objectives for our meeting:

– first, I believe UNPROFOR should remain in Bosnia, so long as it can carry out a useful task without unacceptable risks. But we must establish the conditions under which UNPROFOR can stay. We cannot go on as we are;

– second, we must agree a way of deterring further brutal aggression, and in particular the imminent threat to Gorazde.

– third, we must think afresh about diplomatic efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement. We need urgency here. We must give more support to the, negotiators;

– fourth, we should review the work of the humanitarian organisations, and address their problems.

UNPROFOR and Aid Agencies

Let me turn now to UNPROFOR. Its role has been widely misunderstood and misrepresented.

The United Nations did not send UNPROFOR to Bosnia to enforce peace or fight a war. Its purpose has been to help the humanitarian efforts, and to keep peace where peace has been established – as it has been in much of Central Bosnia.

In 1992, before UNPROFOR was deployed, up to 400 people died in an average day in Bosnia.

By last year, that figure had fallen to 7.

UNPROFOR and the aid agencies have brought help to millions: food for the starving, shelter for the homeless, care for the sick.

They have rebuilt schools, cleared mines, opened up roads.

These achievements will be jeopardised or lost if UNPROFOR is forced to withdraw.

But UNPROFOR cannot stay if its personnel are to be attacked, captured, threatened and humiliated. It cannot stay simply to be abused as a shelter behind which the armies attack each other. It cannot stay if its movements are impeded. It cannot operate if the parties do not provide the necessary level of consent and cooperation.

So, if we wanted to stay, as I do, we must seek to agree realistic objectives. Then we must provide the means to achieve them. In the past, where UNPROFOR has failed, it has often been because it was given inadequate means or set unattainable tasks.

Deterring aggression and achieving diplomatic progress

Today we must spell out in unmistakable terms the consequences of further attacks – against UNPROFOR and against areas designated by the United Nations.

And we must mean what we say and be determined to carry it out.

In particular, we must face up to the threats to Gorazde and to supply routes.

Bosnian Serb leaders have threatened Gorazde directly. I believe we should decide today that they would pay a very high price if they tried to carry out those threats. Our response to an attack on Gorazde should be very severe. United Nations Resolutions already provide for action. Air power is available. We need to decide how it could best be used to support our objectives.

Likewise, we must consider how the United Nations Protection Force can defend itself more robustly on the ground, for example in protecting supply lines.

There are some 25,000 troops from 18 nations now under UN command in Bosnia. The United Kingdom, France and other countries have reacted to the crisis of the past few weeks by sending a large number of additional troops. We should discuss today with the Secretary General and his commanders how these extra and robust assets should be used to best effect.

Let me finally turn to the diplomatic track. It is an essential part of our strategy.

More than three years of war have shown that the Bosnian problem will not be settled by military means.

If the war now escalates, it will still not bring a settlement. It will only bring deeper suffering and greater danger to the region.

The progress made when the Bosniac/Croat Federation was established has been followed by immense frustration. Sustained effort by the Contact Group, by David Owen, Carl Bildt and Thorvaldt Stoltenberg, has brought little reward. The peace process is in danger of collapsing under the weight of military pressure.

We must use this crisis to regenerate diplomacy. Together we must provide more help to the UN and EU negotiators. I hope they will soon be able to secure the recognition of Bosnia by Belgrade.

This would be an important but we need to go further. We must think how best to confront the parties with the alternatives to war, and with the consequences of ignoring a negotiated settlement.


As I said earlier, Bosnia is at a turning point.

It is closer than ever before to all-out, unrestrained war.

If we cannot deter aggression, if we cannot secure the consent of the parties and their willingness to negotiate rather than to fight, the prospects for UNPROFOR’s continuation will be bleak.

If UNPROFOR were forced out of Bosnia – and that is possible – it would not end our involvement.

It would change it – but not end it. We all know that.

Our present involvement – saving lives and seeking a political settlement – remains the best way forward.

Today I hope we can give that a new impetus.