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Foreign Affairs & Defence debate on the Queen's speech: Liam Fox worries about the stability of the Balkans and our capacity to deal with it

Liam Fox: "Right now we might be on the verge of the biggest crisis in the Balkans since the early 1990s. The negotiations over Kosovo will come to the crunch on 10 December, but the struggle over its future is already spilling out into the region. Serbian secessionists in Bosnia took to the streets last week in the entity of Republika Srpska to oppose the high representative’s proposals to reform Bosnia’s cumbersome decision-making process. The protestors brandished placards of the Russian President, President Putin. Serbia has rushed to support their cause. The senior US official in the office of the high representative told Congress last week that this was a “vital moment” in the history of Bosnia-Herzegovina and that its very survival could be determined in the next few months, if not the next few weeks. The commander of EU forces in Bosnia has sounded a stark warning, announcing that EUFOR was setting aside “a minimum of forces for a possible intervention, in order to be sure that we can intervene again in the event of another outbreak of war”, and calling on the international community to “pay full attention to the problems” in the region.

If history is anything to go by, there is cause for concern. The crisis in the Balkans in the early 1990s cruelly exposed a capabilities-expectations gap between the EU’s rhetoric and its ability to act effectively. Europe’s hour, as it was called, had come, but the EU, unable to keep a peace that did not exist and unwilling to involve itself in conflict, failed to live up to the challenge."

Robert Walter: "My hon. Friend has struck on an important point. Will he tease out from the Secretary of State whether the EU’s battle groups, which were heralded as the answer to such a crisis in Bosnia, could be deployed to meet any crisis that arises; otherwise, the battle groups are of no possible worth whatever?"

Liam Fox: "General Dannatt said that we had no reserves for the unexpected, which is one of the main problems that we could face if a further crisis emerges in the Balkans. When EUFOR took over security responsibilities from NATO in December 2004, roughly 80 per cent. of the military contingent serving in the NATO force were also members of the EU. That made the transition of authority virtually seamless. Essentially, the transfer of power from NATO to the EU simply required the troops on the ground to remove the NATO flag from their sleeves and replace it with that of the EU.

EUFOR’s current strength of 2,500 troops, of which only 580 come from the core multinational manoeuvre battalion, which has real fighting capability if the security situation deteriorates, is operating in an area roughly twice the size of Wales. What is the plan if Kosovo’s declaration of independence creates further instability in the region?"

More from Hansard here.


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