A retired U.S. general said Thursday that the Dutch policy of allowing openly gay soldiers to serve in its military led, in part, to its failure to halt the massacre of Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995.
Immediately afterward, the Dutch ambassador to the United States issued a sharp denial.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, "nations like Belgium, Luxembourg, the Dutch, et cetera, firmly believed there was no longer a need for an active combat capability in the militaries," John Sheehan, former supreme allied commander – Atlantic, told a Senate hearing on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy under which gays are not allowed to serve in the U.S. military openly.
"As a result, they declared a peace dividend and made a conscious effort to socialize their military," he said. "That includes the unionization of their militaries. It includes open homosexuality demonstrated in a series of other activities, with a focus on peacekeeping operations, because they did not believe the Germans were going to attack again or the Soviets were coming back."
"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 poles, marched the Muslims off, and executed them," Sheehan said. "That was the largest massacre in Europe since World War II."
Asked if Dutch leaders had told him that the Dutch military's performance was linked to its gay soldiers, he said, "Yes ... They included that as part of the problem."
In a written statement, the Dutch ambassador to the U.S., Renee Jones-Bos, said about Sheehan's comments, "I couldn't disagree more.
"I take pride in the fact that lesbians and gays have served openly and with distinction in the Dutch military forces for decades, including in leading operational positions, such as in Afghanistan at the moment," she said.
"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."
They were referring to the incident that began on July 11 1995, when Serb forces overran the United Nations "safe zone" of Srebrenica and systematically executed men and boys while expelling the rest of the Muslim population. In all, 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed.