April 30, 1999




Last Tuesday, in London, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher delivered a wide-ranging speech which included the following remarks:

Margaret Thatcher

Last September I went to Vukovar, a city destroyed and its inhabitants butchered by the soldiers of Slobodan Milosevic. The place still smells of death, the windows weep, and the ruins gape. Around Srebrenica, where neither I nor many other Westerners have gone, the bodies of thousands of slaughtered victims still lie in unmarked graves. In Kosovo, we can only imagine what depravities of human wickedness, what depths of human degradation, those endless columns of refugees have fled. Mass rape, mass graves, death camps, historic communities wiped out by ethnic cleansing – these are the monuments to Milosevic's triumphs.

They are also, let's remember and admit, the result of eight long years of Western weakness. When will they ever learn?

Appeasement has failed in the 90s, as it failed in the 30s. Then, there were always politicians to argue that the madness of Nazism could be contained and that a reckoning could somehow be avoided. In our own day too there has never been a lack of politicians and diplomats willing to collaborate with Milosevic's Serbia. At each stage, both in the thirties and in the nineties, the tyrant carefully laid his snares, and naive negotiators obligingly fell into them.

For eight years I have called for Serbia to be stopped. Even after the massacre of Srebrenica I was told that my calls for military action were mere "emotional nonsense," words which, I think, only a man could have uttered.

But there were also good reasons for taking action early. The West could have stopped Milosevic in Slovenia or Croatia in 1991, or in Bosnia in 1992. But instead we deprived his opponents of the means to arm themselves, thus allowing his aggression to prosper.

Even in 1995, when at last a combination of airstrikes and well-armed Croat and Muslim ground forces broke the power of the Bosnian-Serb aggressors, we intervened to halt their advance onto Banja Luka, and so avoid anything that might threaten Milosevic. Even then, Western political leaders believed that the butcher of Belgrade could be a force for stability. So here we are now, fighting a war eight years too late, on treacherous terrain, so far without much effective local support, with imperfect intelligence, and with war aims that some find unclear and unpersuasive.

But with all that said – and it must be said, so that the lessons are well and truly learned – let there be no doubt: this is a war that must be won.

I understand the unease that many feel about the way in which this operation began. But those who agonize over whether what is happening in Kosovo today is really of sufficient importance to justify our military intervention, gravely underestimate the consequences of doing nothing. There is always method in Milosevic's madness. He is a master at using human tides of refugees to destabilize his neighbors and weaken his opponents. And that we simply cannot now allow. The surrounding countries just can't absorb two million Albanian refugees without provoking a new spiral of violent disintegration, possibly involving NATO members.

But the over-riding justification for military action is quite simply the nature of the enemy we face. We are not dealing with some minor thug whose local brutalities may offend our sensibilities from time to time. Milosevic's regime and the genocidal ideology that sustains it represent something altogether different – a truly monstrous evil; one which cannot with safety be merely checked or contained; one which must be totally defeated and be seen by the Serbs themselves to be defeated.

When that has been done, we need to learn the lessons of what has happened and of the warnings that were given but ignored. But this is not the time. There has already been too much media speculation about targets and tactics, and some shameful and demoralizing commentary which can only help the enemy. So I shall say nothing of detailed tactics here tonight.

But two things more I must say.

First, about our fundamental aims. It would be both cruel and stupid to expect the Albanian Kosovans now to return to live under any form of Serbian rule. Kosovo must be given independence, initially under international protection. And there must be no partition, a plan that predictable siren voices are already advancing. Partition would only serve to reward violence and ethnic cleansing. It would be to concede defeat. And I am unmoved by Serb pleas to retain their grasp on most of Kosovo because it contains their holy places. Coming from those who systematically leveled Catholic churches and Muslim mosques wherever they went, such an argument is cynical almost to the point of blasphemy.

Second, about the general conduct of the war. There are, in the end, no humanitarian wars. War is serious and it is deadly. In wars risk is inevitable and casualties, including alas civilian casualties, are to be expected. Trying to fight a war with one hand tied behind your back is the way to lose it. We always regret the loss of lives. But we should have no doubt that it is not our troops or pilots, but the men of evil, who bear the guilt.

The goal of war is victory. And the only victory worth having now is one that prevents Serbia ever again having the means to attack its neighbors and terrorize its non-Serb inhabitants. That will require the destruction of Serbia's political will, the destruction of its war machine and all the infrastructure on which these depend. We must be prepared to cope with all the changing demands of war – including, if that is what is required, the deployment of ground troops. And we must expect a long haul until the job is done.