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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 25 Mar 1999

Vol. 502 No. 5

Kosovo Crisis: Statements.

As the House is aware, the proceedings will be brought to a conclusion at 1.30 p.m. Statements by the Minister and the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party shall not exceed 15 minutes. The statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed five minutes in each case and Members may share time.

I understand the Leader of the Opposition, Deputy Bruton, has sought to speak first because of some problem with time.

I do not need the time now. Obviously we want to hear the Government's position.

There was no agreement on the other matter.

I am happy that the Minister should speak first. I appreciate his consideration in the matter but it is most important that the House hear the Minister's statement.

I wish to restate the basic approach of the Government to the crisis in Kosovo.

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 was worked on by international mediators and signed by the Kosovar Albanian delegation. The Kosovars compromised, in terms of postponing their goal of independence and provisions to disarm the KLA. Serbia has shown no spirit of compromise and seems to be oblivious to 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 the Serb rejection of this basis for peace, we have witnessed the increasing prospect of a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo, as Serb units, in clear disregard of the Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement of last October, continue to repress the Kosovar Albanians.

The terms and demands of 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 international community remains committed to addressing the situation in Kosovo. Two days ago the Taoiseach met the Russian Prime Minister, Mr. Primakov, in Shannon. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, are attending the European Council in Berlin. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs will report to the House on the outcome of the Berlin discussions.

The European Council in Berlin has issued important statements reflecting the views of Ireland and all partners. The European Council has recalled that the common objective of Ireland and its EU partners has been to persuade the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to accept a ceasefire in Kosovo and a political solution to the Kosovo conflict. It is imperative that a humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo be prevented.

I invite the House to reflect on the fact that over 250,000 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 last month, 25,000 since the peace talks broke down in Paris last Friday. While the Kosovo 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 around 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 international community has done its utmost to find a peaceful solution to the Kosovo conflict. In Rambouillet, and most recently in Paris, intensive efforts have been made after months of preparation 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 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.

The Yugoslav leadership under President Milosevic has persistently refused to engage seriously in the search for a political solution. It has presented the Yugoslav people with a distorted picture of the issues and course of the negotiations. In addition, the Serb police and Yugoslav Federal Armed Forces have in the last few weeks massively reinforced their presence in Kosovo, thereby further exceeding the ceilings set out in the Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement of 12 October 1998. Finally the Yugoslav security forces are conducting military operations against the civilian population in Kosovo. On the threshold of the 21st century, Europe cannot tolerate a humanitarian catastrophe in its midst.

In Berlin yesterday, the European Union, including Ireland, restated its commitment to secure peace and co-operation in the region which will guarantee respect of basic European values, i.e. the respect of human and minority rights, international law, democratic institutions and the inviolability of borders.

The policy of the European Union, including Ireland, 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. We want to put an end to these outrages. President Milosevic must, in the view of the European Union, stop Serb aggression in Kosovo and sign the Rambouillet accords.

The European Council in Berlin has urged the Yugoslav leadership under President Milosevic to summon up the courage at this juncture to radically change its policy. The North Atlantic Alliance is taking action against military targets in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in order to put an end to the humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo.

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is facing the severest consequences of its failure to work with the international community for a peaceful settlement of the Kosovo crisis. President Milosevic must, in the view of the European Union, take full responsibility for what is happening. The European Union has made clear that it is up to President Milosevic to stop the military action by immediately ceasing his aggression in Kosovo and by accepting the Rambouillet accords.

The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has also 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 tragic that diplomacy has failed, but there are times when the use of force may be legitimate in the pursuit of peace.

I want to correct an impression that has grown up of divergences among the neutral members of the European Union. The Minister for Foreign Affairs had the opportunity in Berlin to meet with his Finnish, Swedish and Austrian colleagues. Each regretted the fact that resort had been had to force but there was also understanding of the reasons 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.

Faced with the humanitarian and refugee crisis, I assure the House that the EU and the Department of Foreign Affairs are co-ordinating closely with the international aid agencies to respond to the extra demands made on them by the additional recent refugee crisis.

This is one of the most saddening debates this House will have had the responsibility to undertake in recent years. I and my party supported the action by the allies in and over Kuwait to reverse the Iraqi annexation of that sovereign country. The difficulty with this debate is that Serbia is a sovereign country and its borders are recognised to include Kosovo within them. In this instance, the allies are invading by air a sovereign country. That creates a radically different legal situation from the one which obtained in regard to the allied action, which I strongly supported, to reverse the annexation of Kuwait by Iraq.

I acknowledge that times are reached in international relations when the use of force is necessary when all diplomatic means of resolving a difficulty have been exhausted. One should not, and I do not, approach this debate from the point of view that Ireland must always oppose the use of force in all situations. That is not a realistic position for us to adopt. However, Irish people understand better than most the extreme sensitivity of the position in the Balkans because there are many parallels.

The Serbian people have a deep sense of grievance going back to the start of the 1914-18 war when Serbia was extinguished as an entity by the Austro-Hungarians following a dispute over the extradition of somebody who had been involved in an assassination. A matter as small as that ignited the First World War in Sarajevo.

During the Second World War large numbers of Serbs were the victims of genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the Ustashe, which consisted of Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniacs, engaged in systematic genocide of the Serbian people in Bosnia, the result of which was that whereas the Serbs were a majority in Bosnia in 1939, they had become a minority by 1945. That is very recent. The Serbs have a deep sense of victimhood which we, in Ireland, can recognise as existing among both communities in Northern Ireland who feel put upon in one way or other by history. In the case of Serbia and the Balkans, that history is far more recent than 1690.

It is also important to add to this explosive situation the issue of religion. The Serbs are Orthodox, the Croats are Catholic and the Bosniacs and Albanians are Muslim. While one might, in one's sophisticated moments, wish to pretend that religion does not enter into these matters, it does. It enters into people's hearts.

We should have a clear understanding that at this moment the Serbs clearly feel they are the victims. The Kosovars feel they are the victims, the Muslims of Bosnia feel they are the victims and no doubt the Croats in parts of the area concerned feel they are the victims. In addition, there is an immense difficulty in that there are no effective states in the immediate vicinity capable of doing business. Albania hardly exists as a state. It exists in a state of undeclared civil war between two factions in the north and south of the country. It does not have an effective civic authority and it cannot do business.

Serbia is a centralised dictatorship, where its negotiators were largely unable to make decisions at Rambouillet because everything had to be referred back to one man, who caused the problem when in 1991 he extinguished Kosovar autonomy within the Yugoslav federation. It was that decision, which was done for entirely selfish political reasons by President Milosevic to win votes in Serbia, to reverse autonomy which had been put in place to give Kosovars a sense of dignity, which led to this dreadful situation.

It is important to recognise that the Kosovars were pacifist for a long time in the face of this provocation. The KLA only recently came into the field. For a long time the Kosovars supported a pacifist leadership seeking a peaceful resolution of this issue but they got nowhere. That is why force was used eventually by the KLA.

The difficulty is that the Serbs know the KLA demands Kosovar independence, whatever about it accepting autonomy as a stepping stone. That will mean redrawing the internal boundaries in the Balkans, creating a new state and drawing a new border. That will create a precedent for other countries, such as Macedonia, where there is an Albanian minority, perhaps even as far away as Romania, where there is a large Hungarian minority, northern Serbia, where there is a significant Hungarian minority, and of course Bosnia, where the existing settlement is extremely precarious and going from bad to worse – no doubt the bombing will not help community relations in Bosnia.

We should be honest enough to admit that UN Security Council Resolution 1199 does not authorise this operation. Whatever may be claimed by NATO, there is no mention of the use of force in that resolution. We should not stretch credibility too far in making such a claim. It is better to be honest and say that this was a political decision without legal authority than to pretend there is a spurious legal authority when none exists.

We should also not underestimate the gravity of the situation. The Yugoslav army is one of the biggest armies in Europe. My understanding is that the federal Yugoslav army is bigger than the French army and the British army. It has 115,000 men under arms, more than 1,000 tanks, 1,000 helicopters capable of transporting troops, 250 war planes, some of which are extremely modern, and a sophisticated air defence system. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia may be a Third World country in terms of the living conditions of some of its people, but it is very much a first world country in terms of its military hardware and capacity. It has highly trained people.

It is necessary to be honest in pointing out that this is not just an American-led operation. Europeans have been intimately involved in devising the strategy which led to the Rambouillet talks and the military threats which were part of the Rambouillet talks process. It is important to understand that the Rambouillet talks were called on the basis that they were backed by military threats if agreement there was not implemented. A threat of such action as is now taking place was inherent in the Rambouillet talks, which were initiated by the French and the British, that is Europeans, not Americans.

There is a real difficulty. The Rambouillet talks followed the Racak massacre by the Serbs of the Kosovars and were justified. There was a real fear of genocide in Kosovo, to which the Rambouillet talks and the military threat were a reasonable response at the time, but I do not understand how bombing alone can resolve a political situation on the ground. I accept that military means are sometimes necessary to resolve political conflicts on the ground, but I do not understand how bombing can resolve such a political conflict.

The likelihood is, as somebody told me at a meeting last night, that the bombing will aggravate the civil war and will be used as a pretext for further Serb massacres of the Kosovars. I have been told by somebody who has been involved intimately on a daily basis in seeking peace in the Balkans that we can expect, as a result of this decision, one million refugees within two weeks in this area. I have also been told that the bombing will help President Milosevic. He does not have the guts to reach an agreement with the Kosovars because he came to power by exploiting Serb nationalism, which is one of the most dangerous sentiments in any country. He cannot give up Kosovo, just as perhaps the Provisional IRA says it cannot give up arms, not that it will not but that it cannot. It is argued that he will only do so if he is forced to do so. In being forced to do so he will rally his people behind him and become, even more, the Serb victim.

It is important to remember that one of the reasons the Serbs have such an attachment to Kosovo is that it is the location of a major battle in Serb history. It is interesting that the battle is commemorated even though the Serbs lost. This gives one a sense of the psychology of the Serbs and their sense of being victims of history. The bombing will help President Milosevic. It will also help the KLA. They have no plan of what they will do if they win this war. They have no idea of an economic or social programme for an independent Kosovo. Those who have spoken to them are struck by the total absence of any social or economic thinking and the total preoccupation with militarism on the part of the Kosovars. One cannot speak of good people with white hats and bad people with black hats in this situation. There is much badness in all parties, Serbs as well as Kosovars.

My great feeling is for the damage this conflict will do to other Balkan countries such as Bulgaria and Romania which are currently undertaking a painful economic reconstruction. Macedonia is undertaking a very difficult process of reconstruction and political reconciliation. All of this will be undermined politically by this conflict, and economically by the consequence that no one will wish to invest in or trade with the region while the war is going on. The victims will be the other Balkan countries. They will find their economies destroyed by what is happening.

This House has a difficulty in adopting a high moral tone. We are not involved because we have chosen not to become involved in the making of European defence decisions and not to allow ourselves to become informed about the considerations that go to make European defence decisions. We have chosen that course. This means that we do not have the information available to other countries which have been taken into the confidence of those making these decisions. I do not know, and I do not imagine the Minister knows what, if anything, Richard Holbrook offered to President Milosevic, the rejection of which led to the bombing. Ireland does not know because we have chosen not to be involved. Therefore, we have a difficulty in luxuriating in high moral judgments about the actions of others.

It may be that this action was necessary for the sake of NATO's credibility and the maintenance of peace in Europe. Equally, it may be that there is no strategy behind it or any clear idea of what will happen after the bombing. There may be no clear sense of how, having bombed Serbia, the Serbs can be persuaded to engage in a federal arrangement with the Kosovars or how such a federal arrangement will work, given the bitterness the war will engender. Federations are difficult to operate at the best of times, as we know from our membership of the European Union. They involve compromise. In the European Union we are obliged to compromise with countries with whom we have been at peace for 50 years. How easy will it be for the new Yugoslav federation, as envisaged by the allies to include Kosovar autonomy, to function on the basis of the compromises that are necessary on mundane matters such as money, the routes of roads and so on, so recently after a bloody civil war? My main worry is that this initiative and its consequences have not been thought through. While I do not exclude the possibility that NATO may be absolutely right, even in these precise circumstances, in using force it is not evident that this action has been thought out thoroughly.

I hope it will be possible for the other Security Council members who may have the capacity to persuade President Milosevic and allow him to save face by making a concession to do so now. It is not sufficient for those who are not supporting NATO simply to stand on the sidelines and condemn. They have a responsibility to put pressure on President Milosevic to come forward with an alternative peace strategy that will work and will respect Kosovar rights. No one should luxuriate in moral condemnation at this time. We need an urgent effort to rekindle diplomacy even while the war is continuing.

I propose to share my time with Deputy Michael D. Higgins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This is a sad day for Europe and for the international community. Diplomacy has lost out and militarism has the upper hand. The United Nations has been bypassed and we have moved dangerously down the road towards a form of international vigilantism. It is also a sad day for Irish foreign policy. We have what amounts to full scale war in Europe for the first time in 45 years, yet the Irish Government apparently has nothing substantial to say on the matter. We have a Government which is seeking a seat on the Security Council of the United Nations but has nothing to say about the effective bypassing of the United Nations by NATO.

I draw attention to the Minister's speech. He merely says that it would have been better to have situated the use of force within the context of the United Nations Security Council. What does that mean? There is no comment on whether the Government believes this action is legitimate, legal or illegal. There is no statement to indicate whether the Government supports the bombing. The Minister simply says that the bombing can be stopped if President Milosevic agrees to the Rambouillet interim agreement. This is a sad day for Irish foreign policy. We have, in the words of Deputy Gay Mitchell, been neutered on the international stage. If the Government addressed itself to the issues it would be quite capable of adopting a principled position in relation to international affairs.

I accept the need for Ireland to maintain good relations with our EU colleagues who are members of NATO and with the British and United States Governments who have worked so hard to bring about a solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland. Maintaining friendly relations with other countries, however, does not mean that we must suspend our critical faculties when they take actions with which we do not agree. Countries such as Austria which have come out strongly against the NATO attack have shown that it is possible to be a member of the European Union without losing one's voice.

It is not a question of opposing NATO and lining up behind Slobodan Milosevic. I am sure no one in this House has anything but contempt for President Milosevic, who seems to be imbued with the most malignant form of nationalism. We all deplore the atrocities for which his Serb forces have been responsible in Kosovo. The issue is whether the military strikes launched by NATO are legitimate under international law and whether they will achieve the stated objective of relieving the plight of the people of Kosovo. Military action, especially in the absence of any mandate from the United Nations is a serious misjudgment. It has already shown signs of reopening cold war divisions between Russia and the West and will certainly lead to increased tension in the Balkans. There is no reason to believe it will dislodge Slobodan Milosevic, a brutal dictator, and there is a real danger that it will strengthen his domestic political position. It is hard to see how bomb or missile attacks will do anything for the humanitarian needs of the long suffering people of Kosovo and, based on similar experiences in the past, it will almost certainly lead to the death and mutilation of entirely innocent people.

I accept that exceptional efforts have already been made to broker a diplomatic solution to the crisis and that the position of President Milosevic has been difficult and intransigent. There is no doubt that the Serbian forces within Kosovo have been guilty of serious atrocities against the civilian population. However, military intervention at this stage runs the risk of setting off a chain of events that could plunge the entire Balkan region into a wider conflict. Why has there been no serious attempt to apply international pressure through effective sanctions such as those imposed and which remain in place against Iraq? Why has there been no attempt to isolate Yugoslavia? Why have diplomatic relations with Belgrade not been severed? Why has military action been the first option rather than the last resort? The aim of the international community must be to secure meaningful autonomy for Kosovo which would ensure the religious and cultural rights of its people are upheld and their civil rights respected. In their declaration following the Cardiff Summit in June last, EU leaders stated in relation to Kosovo:

The European Union remains firmly opposed to independence. It continues to support a special status, including a large degree of autonomy for Kosovo, within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

This is a position the Labour Party supports and which the Irish Government should be attempting to secure through peaceful and diplomatic means.

There are occasions when military intervention by the international community can be justified, but this must only be done in accordance with a clear and specific mandate from the United Nations. In this case, NATO has acted unilaterally and without any mandate. The issue here is further complicated by the fact that the international community, including all NATO members, recognises Kosovo as part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The rights under international law of anyone to interfere in the internal affairs of an individual country are, quite rightly, severely restrained. There is clearly a need to update international law to allow for changed post-Cold War circumstances. If international bodies are to be allowed to interfere in the internal affairs of a country in exceptional circumstances, to prevent mass killings for instance, the principles must be applied equally and without distinction.

In this case NATO is guilty of selective indignation. Tens of thousands of Kurds have been killed by Turkish forces in Turkey and regular massacres occur, yet there is no question of NATO intervention because Turkey is a member of NATO and is co-operating in the operation against Serbia. There are also endless incidents of larger countries flouting international law and ignoring UN resolutions without ever having to face the threat of outside intervention. We are now in a situation where the initial bomb and missile attacks have been launched, and all the indications are that these are the opening salvos of a campaign that may go on for weeks.

The primary policy objective of the Irish Government must now be to seek an immediate suspension of the attack. We should co-operate with other neutral countries inside and outside the EU in seeking an end to the military action. We should get off the fence and say politely but firmly to our friends in Britain and the United States that we do not consider military action to be appropriate at this time or in these circumstances.

Ireland should seek an immediate meeting of the Security Council of the United Nations and, if necessary, the General Assembly. Ireland should also join with other neutral countries in promoting a motion calling for the suspension of the military action and a renewal of diplomatic efforts to broker a peaceful solution.

When the fighting has been stopped the humanitarian needs of the people of Kosovo will have to be addressed. I hope those NATO powers, who have already spent tens of millions of pounds in launching air and missile strikes, will be willing to spend the same amounts on reconstruction and humanitarian needs.

If we have learned anything from the past decade in Yugoslavia, and from the past 30 years on our own island, it is that nationalism can be a corrosive and destructive force, especially when symbols, flags, rituals and names are allowed to take precedence over the needs and lives of human beings. We need to move beyond nationalism. Traditional enemies like Germany and France are now close colleagues in the European Union, but in much of central and eastern Europe the divisions are as deep as ever and threaten to spill over into violent conflict. We need to look at a new European collective security system where ethnic minorities, oppressed groups and the economically dispossessed do not feel they have to resort to arms and fundamentalism to have their security protected.

The OSCE played an important part in defusing the crisis in Kosovo at the end of last year and it should have a renewed role in rebuilding peace in Kosovo when the missiles are back in their silos and the war planes are back in their bases.

In the brief time available to me I want to raise a number of questions that are provoked by recent events. Before doing so, I want to comment on a complex and thoughtful contribution by the Leader of Fine Gael, Deputy Bruton. One's right to exercise sovereignty in building a civil society, as an alternative to militarism or to valorise the tool of diplomacy as an alternative to threatening military action, is not conditional on being privy to any group of people who seek to use either the threat of militarism or the possession of military capacity and force in international relations.

It is sad that there is such a sparsely attended House as we are discussing this tragedy at the end of the century. It is a tragedy which, unfortunately, is a re-run of something we have got used to in the media of lights lighting up and the sight of damage, injury and destruction in places of conflict. With no disrespect to the Minister of State, for whom I have great respect, I am disappointed there is no member of the Cabinet in the House to discuss this motion which is a matter of great importance.

The nature of the discussion we have had so far and the statements issued on behalf of the Government raise some fundamental questions, one of which has been already addressed. What is the authority for building a military sanction into the talks in Rambouillet? The talks in Rambouillet, followed by the talks in Paris, had sponsoring countries. I raise the question as to the manner in which they secured an assent that was greater than the Security Council and the right to offer as a tail to the discussions of a diplomatic kind the threat of military action. I will offer a short answer. It does not have one shred of justification in international law. It is rather the assertion of the arrogance of the strong and the abuse of might of those with the greatest military power.

Who took the decision to give a mandate to such sponsoring countries that is not being sought from the Security Council? As an aspirant member of the Security Council, Ireland should reflect on a situation in which those who anticipate that they will not get the decision they want from the Security Council decide to bypass the Security Council altogether. Is it now the Government's foreign policy to seek to amend the procedures of the Security Council to prevent the abuse of the veto, or is it its complicit assent with those seeking to bypass the Security Council? The damage done to the authority of the United Nations and to the role of the Security Council by this latest event is nearly irrevocable.

I also want to raise the question as to the manner in which the territory that has been chosen as the site for the bombing has been defined. For example, what consideration has been given to the position of Montenegro, which resists inclusion within the Yugoslav federation and which has not participated in the declaration of war? Is it because of its convenience as a military target that it has been defined as part of that towards which the bombing can be directed?

I pose this question and I want an answer from the Department. Is it now the Government's position that ethnic and religious differences can be solved only on the basis of territory? If that is not its position, what initiatives has the Government sponsored or is it seeking to sponsor within membership of the Security Council to find a resolution of such conflicts based on ethnicity, identity or religion?

What are the implications in relation to the rhetoric behind the Partnership for Peace, whose many advocates here want to take part in the military picnics in Europe of which they feel deprived at home? Are they happy with the recent actions of NATO and can they be made consistent with the diplomatic methodology being claimed to be the basis for Partnership for Peace? What would be the role of the United States as the appointed peacekeeper leading with a military spear the resolution of conflicts in different parts of the world?

Ireland's response so far has hardly been elegant and our position has been described as being between a rock and a hard place. It was a rather pathetic response given the fundamental questions I have posed. One is not required to be a member of a defence arrangement to adopt a moral position. It is interesting that member countries of NATO have been invoking a morality for their action. It is fascinating to think about how exclusive their morality is and how silent they have been on changing the definition of some of the UN charter principles to include, for example, principles of right. As Deputy De Rossa said, people such as myself who pose these questions do so while totally abhorring and condemning Milosevic's action. I do not want to hear the usual shabby response suggesting that because we put these questions, we are on the other side.

The bombing of Yugoslavia is a reckless and unjustified act in breach of international law, puts huge strains on the West's relationship with Russia and is even militarily questionable. It plays into the hands of Milosevic and the ultra nationalists and, because of the failure to deploy ground troops, will lead to reprisals by Serbs in Kosovo resulting in huge losses and perhaps even genocide. That is why I call on the Government to condemn this act of madness.

The Austrian Government – Austria is also a neutral country – has condemned it and has said it will not provide assistance and will not allow NATO airplanes to go through its airspace. What would Frank Aiken have said on this matter? It seems the Government has no backbone and this really is a lily-livered response.

This action is not ultimately about the salvation of Kosovo and the Kosovars. It is really about NATO asserting its authority in Europe. During the negotiations in Rambouillet, Milosevic was told that it was NATO or nothing. Deputy John Bruton said we are not sure what went on in those negotiations. We have a fair idea. That was what was put to Milosevic. He actually said he wanted UN forces to come in but the idea was rejected by the Kosovars and by NATO because of the tragic experience of Srebenica. To simply write the UN out of the equation is not the answer. Today I call on the parties, particularly the UN to assert what authority it has left. We must remember that in the case of Srebenica, there was no ceasefire and that the UN force on the ground was particularly weak.

The Green Party supports the establishment of a two-tier UN force – the first tier responsible for traditional peacekeeping tasks and the second tier responsible for safe areas to protect civilians with a strong military capability so that it could keep and make the peace. If this was in place, we would see no more situations like that which occurred at Srebenica and the Kosovo crisis could have been avoided. This structure is one the UN would like to put in place but, unfortunately, the Americans have continually obstructed the building of the UN. It is time the Government and the EU pushed urgently for UN reform.

Yesterday, the Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith, did not answer very important questions. I again ask if we have been asked for assistance by NATO. Have NATO planes flown into our airspace? I regard any assistance to NATO as completely unacceptable. The Minister in his response quoted UN Security Council Resolution 1199 continually and gave it as the excuse for military action. The Israelis continually breach UN resolutions but are NATO going to bomb them? I think not. We have the example of atrocities against the Kurds and nothing is done. We are being very selective.

The Government has held back on this because of our commitments to Partnership for Peace and we will see ourselves joining NATO. I notice Deputy Gay Mitchell is not with us today and the response of his party leader was far more measured. Deputy Gay Mitchell seemed to be in fairly gung-ho mood yesterday when it came to the bombing. It is important to remember we have signed up to the Amsterdam Treaty. What Deputy John Bruton said was not quite right that we have no input into European security.

The Deputy should say what he thinks and leave other people out of it.

We signed up to Article J7.2 of the Amsterdam Treaty. Part of the Petersberg tasks are incorporated into the security architecture of Europe. This gives us a fairly wide remit. It not only includes humanitarian peacekeeping missions but also tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking. This means Irish troops could find themselves on Kosovan soil, and that is something which would be very regrettable indeed.

I congratulate Deputy Higgins on his statement but nobody on this side of the House or I suspect on the other side is trying to suggest for one minute by way of shabby excuse that we approve of the use of force. There is no question of us trying to demonise Mr. Milosevic but it is important that everybody in this House is aware of his record. He is not a reputable international statesman; he is a gangster at large who has perpetrated terrible deeds against the Albanians in Kosovo. He is not a person with whom we would wish to express any solidarity and that was reflected in the statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs broadcast on television earlier this morning from Berlin. His concern is that we are caught between a rock and a hard place.

How are we to act in relation to a man like Mr. Milosevic who has shown such blatant disregard for the rights of his own people and those of other peoples? I emphasise the words "rights of other peoples" because it seems to me that – I may be incorrect in this conclusion and do not wish to be aggressive in asserting it – Deputy De Rossa talks about this being an internal problem. It is not an internal Serbian problem but a problem created by Mr. Milosevic in a determined way to trample on the rights of a free people, which he has no right to do.

The international community has had a bewildered and slow response to what has been going on in that part of the world. In fact, one of the signal condemnations of the EU is its lack of action in the Balkans where World War One started. Since the events which occurred so many years ago in Sarajevo, there has been a very weak-kneed international response. Resorting to force in this case is not the preferred or optimum response. Deputy Gormley wondered what Frank Aiken would have thought. I would draw rather more on what De Valera said about those who use and perpetrate force on occasion. He said he could not condone but that he could not pretend not to understand. That is the real politick of the situation.

We cannot condone a breach of international law in the sense that this action has not been brought before the UN Security Council, which is regrettable. We cannot pretend not to understand why it has occurred and forget what lies on the other side of this equation, that is, a person who, if given the opportunity, would have no problem trampling on the rights of people other than the Albanians. He is an openly opportunistic individual who has traded his Marxism for political opportunism and gangsterism and is a person to whom we should not give any form of moral approval or shelter for his activities.

It is a pity there has not been a mandate for this action at the UN Security Council and it may point to a weakness in the Security Council. I suppose some of the NATO countries will make a very cogent case that UN Security Council Resolution 1199 which called on Mr. Milosevic to withdraw his people from Albanian soil has been flagrantly ignored by him and on that basis, they have a mandate for the use of force. That will be resolved at a later stage.

This House should not be quick to condemn, and I understand the concerns on the opposite side of the House which were shared this morning by no less a person than Germaine Greer. Her fear was that this action might strengthen Milosevic in his domestic political set up and his form of licensed gangsterism. That should not force us to condemn this action because it is an inevitable result of Mr. Milosevic's blatant disregard for individual human rights.

(Dublin West): The people of Kosovo have an absolute right to self-determi nation and to an independent state. At the same time the Serb minority within Kosovo must have an absolute guarantee that all their rights, cultural and political, will be respected. The crude policy of bombing by NATO forces cannot and will not resolve the extremely complex issue of ethnic peoples in the Balkans or anywhere else. NATO is not even in favour of the right of the Kosovars to self-determination and it has made that quite clear. It is not the sordid and vicious regime of Milosevic that will really suffer as a result of this bombing adventure but innocent people, including Serbs opposed to the regime of Milosevic and innocent Kosovars. While the bombing of Iraq and the sanctions against Iraq have left thousands dead, including thousands of innocent children, the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein survives. Milosevic can even strengthen his dictatorship as a result of NATO's action. He can use it as a cover to further crack down on opposition within Serbia, including organisations such as independent trade unions and so on, which oppose his regime.

NATO powers do not worry about keeping dictatorships intact. The military powers that make up NATO have kept dictatorships in place all over the world. They have happily sold arms to them and continue to do so when it suits them. NATO's credibility in guaranteeing the rights of persecuted nations is nil. The barbaric repression of the Kurdish people in Turkey is passed over in silence because Turkey is a crucial member of NATO.

I am astonished at the position taken by the Government. The speak in the Minister's statement is that of parroting NATO. Safeguarding the integrity of Yugoslavia is one of the arguments put forward, which means continuing to deny the people of Kosovo the right to independence. He spoke about going to pre-crisis levels of Serbian forces within Kosovo, but pre-crisis levels will still mean horrific repression for the people of Kosovo.

It is imperative that the regime of Milosevic is overthrown, but that is not the aim of NATO. The people of the region cannot put their trust in the ex-Stalinist gangsters, like Milosevic, who rule some of those states, nor can they put their faith in the cynical military power of western capitalism represented in NATO. It is a task for the Serbian people to oppose the dictatorship of Milosevic. By linking opposition movements among ordinary people in Serbia with movements of peasants and workers within Kosovo, on the basis of freedom and respect for culture and political difference, and forming a federation, based also on democratic socialism, which means that the wealth of the area is for the people, we can have peace in the Balkans, the rights of all the people respected and an end to the nightmare that currently exists. That will not be done by bombing.

I regret I did not have the opportunity to hear the earlier part of this debate, as I had to attend a meeting I could not avoid. This is a significant debate. We are talking about the potential for major conflict. It is easy to take the view I heard expressed by some recent speakers that any form of violence and force is of itself wrong. We should begin from the premise that the appeasement of tyranny is one of the greatest mistakes the world has made in the past. The appeasement of Hitler right throughout the 1930s led to the horrors of the Second World War, to that war going on for six years, to the deaths of dozens of millions of people and appalling suffering.

We have in Europe today another tyrant, an anti-democratic dictator who is prepared to use his position to tyrannise many other people. It was painful for the Slovenian people and the Croatian people to get themselves out from under the yoke of this tyrant. He now seeks to put the Albanian people of Kosovo under the same tyranny. It is perfectly reasonable that they should resist and that the free world should assist them.

The basic question is well put in a leading article in today's edition of The Irish Times. It contrasts the question of legality based on whether one has the entire Security Council supporting one with the legality of the right, on behalf of free people and democracies, to intervene to protect those whose rights are being very seriously interfered with by a tyrant.

The Secretary General of the United Nations was in Dublin recently. I had the good fortune to meet him at a dinner given for him by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Iveagh House. In the course of conversation I raised with him the question of whether the United Nations should have a mobile force available to it that was capable of dealing with tyranny as it arose in various places. He said that, in theory, that is fine and the United Nations would like to have that available to them, but his difficulty is that he would have to get the assent of the five permanent members of the Security Council to the use of such a force and the force could well become academic because there are very few situations in which the assent of the five permanent members could be obtained. He was right, and this is one of them.

The fact that two members of Security Council dissented from this action that has been taken cannot be allowed to invalidate it. It is incumbent on the free world to try to defend human rights and it is not as if this were done arbitrarily and quickly. Diplomacy has been tried with this man, for not just months but for years. He has broken his word. He has refused to sign agreements that were entirely reasonable and the consequences of what he is now suffering are of his own making.

I wish to record in the strongest possible terms my opposition and that of my party to the attack of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation on Serbia. This is undoubtedly the most serious act of international military aggression within Europe since the end of the Second World War. NATO has carried out these attacks in violation of international law and without reference to the United Nations. All previous experience shows that military intervention by foreign powers will serve only to deepen the national and social divisions in the region and postpone the prospect of a peaceful long-term solution.

There are some people here who have been responsible for attacks and violations not of international law but of national law. What has the Deputy to say about that?

If the Deputy had anything to say on this debate he had the opportunity to come into the House earlier. I urge the Government to oppose these attacks now and to call an emergency meeting of the neutral member states of the European Union to bring forward a peaceful alternative to this international war initiated by NATO.

What is the Deputy doing to stop war himself?