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Edinburgh Festival 99 Friday, 20 August, 1999, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
At war over truth and peace
Bombs illuminate the Belgrade skyline
Bombs illuminate the Belgrade skyline
By BBC News Online's Matthew Grant in Edinburgh

Nato is in danger of losing its grip on truth through its spin operation attempting to portray the alliance as the victor in the Kosovo conflict, a former UN commander in Bosnia has warned.

General Sir Michael Rose made the claim at the Edinburgh International Book Festival where he talked about his new work Fighting for Peace.

Rebuilding the Balkans
The distinguished soldier offered the packed audience a devastating critique of Nato's conduct in the war, accusing it of having learned the wrong lessons from Bosnia and cowardliness in opting for high-altitude bombing.

"You cannot solve complex political, human and military problems from a flight level of 15,000 feet," he said.

'Risk our soldiers for peace'

"We must be prepared to risk our servicemen and women on the ground if we are to prevent the horrendous events of Kosovo from becoming commonplace."

General Sir Michael Rose
General Sir Michael Rose in a relaxed mood before his talk - but he had harsh words for Nato later
General Sir Michael argued Nato's political leaders had adopted the language of waging a humanitarian war and pursuing peace-keeping missions, but had failed to grasp the military reality.

He described the Balkans as a "peace laboratory" but stressed the growing number of ethnic conflicts and displaced and dispossessed people.

"It's not possible yet to make a full assessment of the war, but it is already clear Nato was engaged in a new form of war it didn't fully understand. It did not work out the implications of what it should have done.

"Rather than engage in propaganda campaigns saying somehow that Nato won, I think we should try to learn the true lessons. If we don't Nato will continue to lose credibility.

"Nato is in danger of losing its grip on truth as it desperately tries to get us all to agree that it won the war."

'Objectives must be defined'

Edinburgh Festival 1999
General Sir Michael, who led the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina for exactly a year starting on 24 January 1994, said the scale of the atrocities being carried out in Kosovo had made it essential for the outside world to intervene in the affairs of a nation state.

"No-one can possible believe we should stand aside and hope political disasters in the world can be solved without intervention," he said.

General Sir Michael Rose
Sir Michael said that Nato was held back by political weakness
But he pointed out 36 million people in the world were currently unable to live in their homes as a result of civil wars and a further 22 million had died in such conflicts since World War II.

He raised the question of the groups of nations made decisions about when to get involved and backed the increase in different regions taking the lead in their own areas.

Despite this, he condemned Nato's decision to go ahead with its action in Kosovo without authorisation from the UN Security Council.

He called on political leaders to provide more tightly defined criteria of military action in so-called humanitarian wars, stating the limitations as well as the aspirations.

"We need to do something is not a proper mission statement," he said.

The mistake the allied leaders made after the Bosnia conflict was to believe air attacks had forced the Serbs to back down, General Sir Michael argued. In his view, it was ground attacks by Croatian forces that had proved crucial.

The correct response to growing reports of ethnic violence inside Kosovo would have been to station increasing numbers of troops on the province's borders as a clear warning to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, he said.

Instead, both US President Bill Clinton and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair initially made it clear they would not contemplate sending in their troops.

The key event that led President Milosevic to buckle, General Sir Michael said, was the Nato 50th anniversary summit, when it became clear the allies had decided they would resort to a ground invasion if all else failed.

The bombing itself achieved next to nothing as so many of the targets hit were dummies, he said.

"It was shameful to see the most powerful nations on earth held back by political weakness," he added.

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