19 AUGUST 1995, Page 25


Bosnian Waugh

Sir: Jasper Elgood's gentle reply (Letters, 12 August) to Auberon Waugh is fine so far as it goes, but it does not deal with the basic failure of understanding which, I believe, Mr Waugh's comments on Bosnia exhibited.

There is a syndrome which is especially common among Conservative commenta- tors and politicians, consisting of a failure to distinguish between two quite different lines of argument.

Argument A says: 'We should not send British troops to fight in Bosnia; it is not our war, and we have no direct or vital national interest in it sufficient to justify risking the lives of British soldiers.'

Argument B says: 'Anyway, it is just a Bosnian civil war; Serbia is not involved; we cannot choose between the warring parties in any way, because they are all equally to blame; nothing like genocide has occurred in Bosnia, only population transfers; the war is an inevitable consequence of ancient ethnic hatreds, and/or memories of the second world war; the Serbs have a justified fear of an Islamic fundamentalist regime in Bosnia, etc.'

Argument A is, I believe, essentially cor- rect, Argument B consists of a mass of errors, some of which seem to have surfaced in Mr Waugh's article. Of course people who want to put forward Argument A may feel attracted by the claims made in Argument B, imagining that those claims will strengthen their case still further. But a good argument is not strengthened by falsehoods.

I understand that Mr Waugh's basic point is the non-interventionist one. The Bosnian government has, in fact, never asked for British soldiers to go and fight in Bosnia; it is willing to defend its own people with its own soldiers. Had Britain pursued a genuinely non-interventionist policy from the start, her record would at least be a defensible one. But our active enforcement of an arms embargo, which is massively one-sided in its effects, is a form of intervention which has actually prolonged the war and increased the suffering of the Bosnian people.

Noel Malcolm

6A Huntingdon Street, London Ni