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Dutch outraged over retired U.S. general’s comments linking Srebrenica to gays in the military

The Dutch prime minister, Peter Balkenende, today upbraided a retired U.S. Marine general "as beneath contempt" for partially blaming the integration of gays into the Dutch military for the 1995 mass killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men by Bosnian Serbs near Srebrenica. Ret. Gen. John J. Sheehan, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, ...

The Dutch prime minister, Peter Balkenende, today upbraided a retired U.S. Marine general "as beneath contempt" for partially blaming the integration of gays into the Dutch military for the 1995 mass killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men by Bosnian Serbs near Srebrenica.

Ret. Gen. John J. Sheehan, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, told a Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that the Netherlands’ policy of allowing gays in the military had contributed to the lack of discipline and combat readiness that contributed to the worst mass killing in Europe since the Second World War.

The remarks have set off a major international dispute with the Dutch, whose lightly armed peacekeepers were overrun by Bosnian Serb forces during a 1995 offensive that led to the deaths of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men.

In response to questioning by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich), Sheehan said European militaries, including Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium, have established militaries that reflect their countries’ more liberal social policies, including acceptance of homosexuality in the ranks, and a preference for engaging in peacekeeping instead of war-fighting.

Sheehan said that the Netherlands’ former military chief of staff told him that this "liberalization of the military, a net effect of basically social engineering," had combined to create a force that was unfit to respond to Serbian aggression.

"It is astonishing that a man of his stature can utter such complete nonsense," said Roger van de Wettering, spokesman for the Dutch defense ministry. Balkenende said Sheehan’s remarks were "outrageous, wrong and beneath contempt."

"I take pride in the fact that lesbians and gays have served openly and with distinction in the Dutch military forces for decades, such as in Afghanistan at the moment," the Netherlands’ ambassador to the United States, Renée Jones-Bos, said in a statement after the meeting. "The military mission of Dutch U.N. soldiers at Srebrenica has been exhaustively studied and evaluated, nationally and internationally. There is nothing in these reports that suggests any relationship between gays serving in the military and the mass murder of Bosnian Muslims."

Here’s the back-and-forth between Senator Levin and ret. General Sheehan in Thursday’s Senate hearing:

General John Sheehan: "That led to a force that was ill-equipped to go to war. The case in point that I’m referring to is when the Dutch were required to defend Srebrenica against the Serbs. The battalion was under- strength, poorly led, and the Serbs came into town, handcuffed the soldiers to the telephone polls, marched the Muslims off and executed them. That was the largest massacre in Europe since World War II.
Senator Carl Levin: Did the Dutch leaders tell you it was because there were gay soldiers there?
General Sheehan: It was a combination.
Senator Levin: But did they tell you that? That’s my question.
General Sheehan: Yes.
Senator Levin: They did.
General Sheehan: They included that as part of the problem.
Senator Levin: That there were gay soldiers among the Dutch.
General Sheehan: That the combination was the liberalization of the military, a net effect of basically social engineering….
Senator Levin: And can you tell us what Dutch officers you talked to who said that Srebrenica was in part caused because there were gay soldiers in the Dutch army?
General Sheehan: Chief of staff of the army, who was fired by the parliament because they couldn’t find anybody else to blame.

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

Tag: Europe

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