BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO said Friday its Libyan intervention showed it had learnt the lesson of Srebrenica, when international intervention failed to stop the massacre of 8,000 Muslims by forces of arrested war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic.
“What happened in Srebrenica, the worst atrocity in Europe after World War Two, shows how important it is to protect civilians who are under attack by their own authorities,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said, when asked if NATO had failed in Srebrenica.
“NATO has acted much, much faster than it was able to in the 1990s, to rally consensus and start this operation,” she told a news briefing.
“In the 1990s it took NATO months to decide to intervene in the Balkans, this year it took NATO days to set up Operation Unified Protector in support of people of Libya.”
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Thursday that Mladic’s arrest, announced earlier in the day, ended one of the bloodiest and darkest chapters in the history of the Balkans and of Europe as a whole.
NATO’s failure to prevent the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica in what was its first combat mission remains one of the darkest chapters in the history of the 62-year-old alliance.
In 1995, NATO provided the air strike capability for a U.N.-led international military operation, UNPROFOR, which was supposed to protect “safe areas” such as Srebrenica.
Yet NATO jets dropped only two bombs on Ratko Mladic’s attacking armor at Srebrenica on July 11 that year.
When Mladic responded by threatening to kill Dutch peacekeepers he had taken hostage and to shell the Dutch base in the town, historians say then Dutch Defense Minister Joris Voorhoeve called for an end to the NATO strikes, which ceased, allowing the massacre to begin. According to the official Dutch report on Srebrenica, the decision had already been taken to end the strikes before the request was made.
Lungescu stressed that the international military operation in Bosnia was under U.N. command, but many have blamed NATO for failing to use its power more forcefully.
NATO officials blame the “dual-key” arrangement in Bosnia, which required the agreement of both the United Nations and NATO for provision of close air support — as well as a U.N. desire to appear impartial.
The experience has led the alliance to reject such arrangements, and the Libya mission, while backed by a U.N. mandate, is commanded by NATO itself.
“We have indeed learned many lessons from other places that NATO has been operating and we have used these lessons from the Balkans, the lessons in Afghanistan, the lessons in the Mediterranean. We are using all of these and learning these lessons,” NATO’s Libyan operation commander, Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard, told the briefing.
Any changes in the NATO rules of engagement during the Libyan operation still need to be approved by all 28 alliance states, and NATO faces other limitations, having been accused by some, including Russia, of already going beyond its U.N. mandate in Libya.
Without mentioning Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi by name, Lungescu said there was a message in Mladic’s arrest for other leaders.
“International justice will be done,” she said. “It is a message for others who may be attacking or planning to attack their own people: to think twice.”
Editing by Tim Pearce