A former top U.S. and NATO commander says the Netherlands' inclusion of gays in their military rendered Dutch peacekeeping troops unable to prevent the slaughter of thousands of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995.
Retired U.S. Marine General John Sheehan led the U.S. Atlantic Command and served as the top NATO commander in the mid-1990s, the height of ethnic cleansing in former-Yugoslavia.
He told the Senate Armed Services Committee that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military would breed friction and undermine unit cohesion in the armed forces. Asked by Senator Carl Levin whether other nations, like Britain and Israel, had suffered as a result of ending their nation's bans on gay military service, the general said "yes."
Sheehan pointed to the Netherlands, which he said embarked on a process of social engineering in the Dutch military once the Cold War ended. "They declared a peace dividend and made a conscious effort to socialize their military. It included open homosexuality. That led to a force that was ill-equipped to go to war," he said.
In fact, the Netherlands was among the first nations to end discrimination in the military based on sexual orientation, affirming the right of gays to serve years before the fall of the former Soviet Union.
Sheehan backed his contention that gay soldiers undermined Dutch combat readiness by pointing to the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995. Four-hundred Dutch peacekeepers protecting the area were overwhelmed by Serbian forces, which killed an estimated 8,000 Muslim men and boys.
Linking the massacre to the Netherlands allowing gays in the military prompted this exchange with Senator Levin, who seemed perplexed by Sheehan's assertion.
SHEEHAN: "That [Srebrenica] was the largest massacre in Europe since World War II."
LEVIN: "And did the Dutch leaders tell you it was because there were gay soldiers there?"
SHEEHAN: "It was a combination ..."
LEVIN: "Did they tell you [that gay soldiers were to blame], that is my question."
LEVIN: "They did?"
SHEEHAN: "They included that as part of the problem."
Asked for comment, Dutch military officials expressed astonishment. The spokesman for the Netherlands Ministry of Defense, Roger van de Wetering, told VOA Sheehan's assertions are "total nonsense" and that he "cannot believe that a man of that rank is stating such a thing." He added that he had never heard Sheehan's allegation before from any source in the Netherlands or anywhere else.
Many historians have argued that Dutch peacekeeping forces in the Balkans were under-equipped and hampered by operational limitations imposed by the United Nations.
The Senate hearing is being held two months after President Barack Obama called on Congress to repeal a law mandating the U.S. military expel gay service members who do not keep their sexual orientation a secret.
Since then, many of the nation's top military officials and commanders have voiced support for changing the policy after a thorough review process. Some have expressed their personal opposition to repealing the law, but have pledged to enforce any new rules set forth by Congress.