Read Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia by Brendan Simms Online


A polemical account of Britain's disruptive and damaging role in the break-up of Yugoslavia. For most of 1992-1995, Britain stood aside while an internationally recognised state was attacked by externally-sponsored rebels bent on a campaign of territorial aggression and ethnic cleansing. It was her unfinest hour since 1938. Based on interviews with many of the chief partiA polemical account of Britain's disruptive and damaging role in the break-up of Yugoslavia. For most of 1992-1995, Britain stood aside while an internationally recognised state was attacked by externally-sponsored rebels bent on a campaign of territorial aggression and ethnic cleansing. It was her unfinest hour since 1938. Based on interviews with many of the chief participants, parliamentary debates, and a wide range of sources, Brendan Simm's brilliant study traces the roots of British policy and the highly sophisticated way in which the government sought to minimise the crisis and defuse popular and American pressure for action. We all continue to live with the results of these shameful actions to this day....

Title : Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia
Author :
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ISBN : 9780140289831
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 496 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia Reviews

  • Nicholas Whyte
    2019-03-05 19:15 book, written in 2000 and revised in 2001, is an excellent polemic against the awfulness of British policy on Bosnia for most of the duration of the 1992-95 war. Simms describes with vicious accuracy the unwillingness of the Major government to intervene in the conflict, and its success in blocking other international actors from doing so. He convincingly points the finger at three senior figures - Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary for most of the war; David Owen, the EU's mediator; and General Sir Michael Rose, the UN commander in 1994-95 - as particularly culpable in fostering an intellectual and political climate where using the troops to change the political situation on the ground became unthinkable. The damage caused to Britain's credibility as a serious international player had not been reversed (certainly not by Iraq and Afghanistan), and the Bosnians remain certain that the international community will at some point betray them again.For all that his case is good and fundamentally in line with my own views, Simms goes over the top on occasion. In the introduction to the paperback edition, he acknowledges being too kind to the Croats and too tough on Paddy Ashdown. I think he is also too kind to the Americans, particularly the Pentagon which on my understanding resisted using the largest military force in the world to actually fight until far too late; too uncritical of the Bosnian government; and too harsh to Misha Glenny, whose commentary has always been rooted in empathy for all sides, even those who may not be flavour of the month. He is also simply wrong to see the development of the EU's security capabilities as a dark and sinister conspiracy, and I note the irony that Graham Messervy-Whiting, who Simms consistently praises for his sane (but ignored) security advice to David Owen, was actually the first commander of the EU's rather virtual army. However Simms also performs useful services in skewering a couple of the pernicious myths about Bosnia: that the Germans killed off the 1991 process by recognising Slovenia and Croatia (it was already dead, and the Germans recognised the fait accompli with great reluctance), and that the Vance-Owen Peace Plan was killed off by the Americans rather than by the Bosnian Serbs (a myth which rather mystifyingly is peddled, despite the clear facts of the historical record, by none other than David Owen).Those are minor points against the big background question of why John Major's government was so crap, and why there was so little questioning of it at the time. Simms rightly excoriates the performance of parliament, the media, and the intellectual community in failing to expose the inactivity and aggressive indolence of official policy. I was not observing Bosnia closely in those days, but it's actually a coherent pattern with Northern Ireland policy under Sir Patrick Mayhew during the same time period: do nothing in particular, and hope nobody notices. The British under Major and Mayhew were woefully unprepared for the IRA ceasefire in 1994, and the peace process ran into the sand until Labour came to power. There was a general air of uselessness about the Major government which the latter years of Labour probably exceeded, but for a shorter time.Major's government was equally unprepared for the shift of international mood in 1995 on Bosnia which compelled intervention at last; but to be fair to the troops, under the new leadership of General Rupert Smith, they played their part in ending the war and keeping the peace. It should be pointed out that eighteen British soldiers lost their lives in the line of duty during the 1992-95 period of policing humanitarian aid but looking away from the politics; since 1995 I don't think there has been a single British combat fatality in Bosnia. These days, post-Iraq and Afghanistan, the pendulum has probably swung against intervention in the next crisis wherever it may erupt. It's worth remembering that the case for intervention in Bosnia was far stronger, both morally and legally, than the case for intervention in Iraq, and that the international community as a whole and Britain in particular got it wrong in the early 1990s; Simms' arguments will need to be dusted off when the next time comes.

  • Elliott Bignell
    2019-03-14 01:15

    It's taken me a long time to get around to reading this book, so I have the advantage of a little more hindsight than was available when it was written. It has largely stood this test, and is liable to provoke the reader to some degree of anger. Simms himself clearly experiences great disgust at the conduct of the Major government during the years covered, which comes across as all the more telling for his measured prose.The facts of the matter are that Europe experienced a security crisis of proportions unprecedented since the Second World War; that this crisis led to scenes also unwitnessed since that time, such as the creation of concentration camps, shelling of civilian populations and large-scale massacres and expulsions of populations on ethnic grounds; that the balance of responsibility is on the side of Serbian nationalists and the then government of Serbia; that for several years no effective action was taken to end the conflict; that when military action was finally taken it achieved its aims in a matter of weeks as the Serbs essentially folded.Setting aside the usual US nationalist claptrap that one sees online about the US having to do everything, it comes across very strongly in the book that this was a British rather than a European failure. "Failure", however, is not the proper word, since our conduct appears to have been deliberate. The French for some time also obstructed action, but it was later French alignment with Washington which seems to have left Britain isolated and finally got us on board. Moreover, superficially it appears to be not merely a British failure but a Conservative failure, as British policy reversed abruptly with the election of Blair's government in 1997, making Britain a policy driver in the campaign over Kossovo, while the "liberal" Clinton Administration were convinced much earlier. Simms, however, provides more than merely superficial details, and the failure seems to have taken in more than just the government. The climate of wilful defeatism in dealing with the Serbs sucked in all the major press organs, the diplomatic service and involved elements of British military command as well.How could we have got it so wrong? The reasons seem to be partly honourable and partly perfidious. It was genuinely believed that the Serbs would prove an invincible guerilla foe, but a case was confabulated to fit this preconception where required. It was genuinely believed that air power could not provide a decisive victory. It was genuinely believed that huge casualties of British troops could be expected. It was to some extent genuinely believed that all sides in the conflict were guilty. On the other hand, the British were motivated by pro-Serbian sympathies, by smouldering resentment of the USA going back to Suez, and by remember-the-Blitz terrors of a resurgent, unified Germany dominating Europe. The legitimate government of Bosnia were portrayed as "Muslim" or as no better than the Serb militias. One thing that Simms makes quite clear, however, is that the policy of obstruction seems to have been unquestionably intentional. The British government did not merely fear to act; they actively obstructed any prospect of anyone else acting.The US role appears more honourable, but if I have one criticism of Simms it is that he comes across as congenitally pro-US and I think that this colours his judgement. In terms of short-term benefit, the US seems to have got it right. The Serbs folded when bombed. What Simms does not address is whether strategic bombing of a weaker adversary turned out to be right in the way that a stopped clock turns out to be right now and again. 20-odd other crises were going on at this time, but the US insisted on fixing this one. That's not a dishonourable choice, but it reflects an agenda of the US's own, including the Administration's domestic political need to get Bosnia off the front page and its strategic agenda of extending NATO influence eastwards.At any event, the British projection of the consequences of this kind of action was utterly wrong, and the US projection was right, at least in the short-term. Since then we have seen an ethnic cleansing precipitated by further bombing in Kossovo, a reverse-cleansing in return and possible Russian retaliation in the form of recognition of South Ossetia. We may be seeing slow-burn negative consequences of the determination to bomb, but at the time of writing all we can say is that the benefits appear to be equivocal. What is not equivocal is that the concentration camps are no longer to be seen, that war criminals have been seized or are being pursued, and that the war is quiescent or finished.Simms makes a strong case. This episode is by no means over, so I recommend you read his account.

  • Will James
    2019-02-27 19:43

    I can honestly say this is one of the finest books I have ever read. A stunning indictment of narrow-minded and mendacious attitudes of Britain's political, diplomatic, military and media establishments during the 1990s, in the face of brutal and unjust Serbian aggression. A well-sourced and fantastically polemical attack on the effects of unthinking and unsophisticated realpolitik, that should be a lesson to all British policy-makers.

  • Alma
    2019-03-10 18:26

    A must for anyone who is interested in the whys and hows of the military and political decisions regarding Bosnia in the Western countries!