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British Intervention in Rwanda?

Simon

Oblivious
John Major has a reputation as being fairly boring as Prime Ministers go, so I got to wondering what sort of point of departure could you come up with after his becoming PM to most decisively change that? One idea I had was his deciding to launch a military intervention in Rwanda during the genocide and publicly call it such. So the immediate question is did the UK at the time have the capability to send even a small-ish force? Aside from that you need the diplomatic heft to get at least one neighbouring country to allow you transit, which considering how messy the regional situation was could be interesting.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
At the time, we're committing a lot of men and resources to the UN's Bosnia mission so I don't think we'd have enough capacity on our own and we'd need other countries. Major would need a motive to go there as well, so you'd need to change something to give him that and some degree of public support, which would probably require something bad happening to British nationals or in front of them.
 

Stateless

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In The Utility of Force, General Rupert Smith summarises the debate that occurred between the MOD and Foreign Office on intervention in Rwanda:

FCO: What can we do in the face of events in Rwanda?
MOD: What do you want us to do?
FCO: We ought to act. Something must be done. We can't have people being massacred. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council we cannot be seen to be doing nothing.
MOD: So you want us to use military force?
FCO: Yes.
MOD: To do what? To stop the killing?
FCO: Yes. Exactly.
MOD: Who do you want us to fight? We are not clear who is doing the killing: is it tribe on tribe, or is it a force found from a tribe? And Rwanda is a big country. Where do we start? Kigali, presumably, it's the capital and we'd want an air-head.
FCO: Well, there must be an international force, of course.
MOD: And what would be the British aim in joining the force?
FCO: To play our part as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
MOD: Is Britain to lead the force?
FCO: No, it should be led by the UN - a proper UN mission.
MOD: That will take some time to assemble, so it will probably be too late to stop the killing.
FCO: Then the mission should be aimed at bringing post-conflict order.
MOD: OK. But we need to be clear how many British troops are currently available. Given our deployments in Ireland, Bosnia, and a few other places, not many.
FCO: What do you suggest?
MOD: What are our government's priorities? Is contributing to this force a higher priority than these other tasks we are already undertaking?
FCO: Probably not.
MOD: In that case, these UN forces always lack expeditionary logistical support. And if we want to speed up deployment of this force, offering a logistic unit would probably be the most valuable contribution.
FCO: Will that put our soldiers at risk?
MOD: Hardly any.
 

Stateless

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Given there were 254,500 British service personnel in 1994, and the number deployed in Northern Ireland and Bosnia was about 20,000 in total, and that the largest portion of the British Army abroad was in Germany, I'm not convinced that there wasn't actually sufficient troops available, though realising that not every single member of the British armed forces could be deployed to Rwanda, even if there was the political will.

That said, if Britain had to be part of UNAMIR its mandated strength was only 2,500, reduced to 270 in April 1994. And then increased to 5,500 in May 1994. Even if Britain did provide all 5,500 it still wasn't clear what the rules of engagement allowed in terms of preventing genocide.
 

Milo

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My understanding of Rwanda is the genocide took every by surprise in the West, also has it was never a British colony the FCO probably won't have any particular special insight or to be following develops too closely. If Rwanda was a former colony could see something happening but as is I cannot see Major doing anything outside of a wider pan national coalition
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
It's been something like a decade and a half since I read Shake Hands With the Devil but IIRC the UN forces on the ground were warning their headquarters in New York about a possible genocide two or three months before it occured.
IIRC, this is true but sadly so is multiple Western governments going "what's happened?!" when the balloon went up.
 

Simon

Oblivious
IIRC, this is true but sadly so is multiple Western governments going "what's happened?!" when the balloon went up.
Oh yeah it's not mutually exclusive, I was simply pointing out that some people in the West had a pretty good idea what was going to happen but that they royally fucked up.
 

Coiler

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Given there were 254,500 British service personnel in 1994, and the number deployed in Northern Ireland and Bosnia was about 20,000 in total, and that the largest portion of the British Army abroad was in Germany, I'm not convinced that there wasn't actually sufficient troops available, though realising that not every single member of the British armed forces could be deployed to Rwanda, even if there was the political will.
Don't know the specifics of what units went where so can't comment on that particular situation, but in general terms...

The difference between the paper number of troops in a force and the number of actual ones in actual fighting units is very large. The difference between that and the number of short-notice deployable forces is even larger. The difference between that and what can actually be deployed, especially to an area as far away and logistically difficult as Rwanda, is bigger still.
 
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