Tea & Bosnia With Lady Thatcher

Like Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, Margaret Thatcher told me that Milosevic also needed to be confronted in his assault upon Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH). Besides being consistent in confronting marauding despots, I do think that there was a long streak of principle in her advocacy. Unfortunately when we first met in the early 1990's, Lady Thatcher had already been deposed as UK Prime Minister and she was already an outsider to a new Conservative Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary.


Lady Thatcher invited me to her home as the Special Envoy as well as BiH UN Ambassador. The home, conversation, and the tea served was what one would expect: neat, direct, and English. Denis Thatcher was polite but largely stayed out of the discussion, except for an introduction and polite welcome to his home. I had the feeling that he was more than capable, but opted to make certain all knew who was the politician in the house.

Iron Lady but No Cliche:

We shared tea on more than one occasion, and I found Lady Thatcher both an eager talker but also good listener -- she though always spoke first. She offered that the UK, Europe, and U.S. were committing a grievous error but then Conservative UK Prime Minister John Major and Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd "will not listen to me."

Major and Hurd had ostensibly supported Thatcher in the power struggle within the Conservative Party that eventually deposed her. Lord Parkinson described her rise to Prime Minister as a "peasants' revolt," contrary perhaps to Margaret Thatcher's image as establishment. Few from the inner circle had supported her rise, according to Parkinson in recent interview for the BBC. It was a palace coup though that eventually dethroned the Iron Lady -- even her presumed supporters Major and Hurd during the palace revolt were in fact positioning themselves as the loyal guard that would become the new leaders of a badly divided Conservative Party. Once secure in their offices, they gave little heed to Lady Thatcher's views on Bosnia.

Euro-Atlantic Alliance at Stake in Bosnia:

The future of the Euro-Atlantic alliance was being imperiled in the response to Bosnia, or lack thereof. Francois Mitterrand was working on a European alternative to NATO. Mitterrand was also a bigot who saw Bosnia as purely a "Muslim cause." Mitterrand was not so much a friend of Serbs or Milosevic though. He saw the Bosnian Muslims as no more European than France's own Muslim citizens of North African background. (Bernard Henri-Levy, then a long-time supporter, also parted company with Mitterrand over Bosnia and the evident bigotry.) Mitterrand perceived Bosnia as a test case for his plan to marginalize US role in Europe. Contrary to Thatcher's efforts to strengthen the Euro-Atlantic ties with the US in deflating the "Evil Empire", in the new post Soviet Union era Major and Mitterrand coordinated a non-response to the conflict and genocide in BiH. It all might have worked except the Bosnians/Herzegovinians frustrated all predictions of their demise and refused to disappear. In the end, NATO had to act, more to save face for Washington, London, Paris and Brussels - the Bosnians had already done the hard work.

Milosevic would have to be Confronted for Europe's Sake?

Lady Thatcher in our conversations foresaw that Milosevic would not stop at BiH and Croatia - Kosovo was in her mind an almost inevitable target even after the signing of the Dayton Accords. What Richard Holbrooke and many in the Clinton Administration as well as perhaps John Major and Douglas Hurd did not see, Lady Thatcher sitting in the living room of her private residence saw as inevitable. Milosevic would have to be confronted like Saddam Hussein sooner or later for the sake of Serbia, Bosnia, and the future of Europe and the Euro-Atlantic family.

Lady Thatcher was a political pendulum and fulcrum for action. Perhaps in her direct style and image as Iron Lady, people lost sight of a perceptive leader and a gracious personality. Undoubtedly though, Europe, the Euro-Atlantic family, as well as Bosnia would have been better served if her advice had been heeded.


UN PHOTO/ Yutaka Nagata