A ‘federation’ between Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs was mooted by the Clinton Administration in autumn 1994
[…]Prevented by Congress, NATO allies or its own disinclination from putting pressure on either side, the Clinton Administration [in autumn 1994] hinted at still more concessions both to the Bosnian Serbs and to Serbia in the hope of coaxing them to end the war. Up until the UN-hostage crisis of late May 1995, Washington was offering to lift sanctions against Belgrade if the latter recognized Bosnia and Croatia. Throughout the Bihac crisis, the Clinton Administration remained officially opposed to a confederation between the Republika Srpska and Serbia, according to officials in the State Department. On 29 November, leading US Contact Group member Charles Thomas told Bosnian leaders in Sarajevo that the United States did not support such a confederation. Yet that very day, Perry stated that ‘One thing that would be considered is allowing a federation between Bosnia Serbs and Serbs [of Serbia].’ Galbraith had in March 1994 spoken of the Federation of Bosnia-Hercegovina as a step towards the reunification of Bosnia through its eventual inclusion of the Serb-held areas. McCurry now, in November, spoke of the Federation as a precedent for Bosnia’s partition, suggesting a ‘federated formula’ for the Bosnian Serbs modeled on the links between Bosnian Croats and Croatia established through the Washington Agreement. Lake euphemistically put it to Alkalaj that the parties to the conflict should be ‘free to negotiate their own alliances.’ Christopher, when asked whether a concession to the Bosnian Serbs of this kind did not amount to ‘appeasement,’ argued that it ‘wouldn’t be appeasement’ if it were ‘agreed to by the parties,’ perhaps forgetting that the Czechs had ‘agreed to’ the Munich Agreement of 1938.
Such rhetorical twists reflected the Clinton Administration’s attempts to pursue its own conciliatory policy while paying lip service to the harder line demanded by Congress. Contrary to previous promises, in early December US ambassador to Bosnia Charles E. Redman did indeed offer a confederation between the Republika Srpska and Serbia to Karadzic during talks at Pale. The memorable oxymoron used by Administration officials to describe the main aim of US policy, to ‘preserve Bosnia as a single state within its existing borders while providing for an equitable division of territory between the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serb entity,’ encapsulates this approach. The Administration not only ‘talked unity and acted partition,’ as one Senate source told the The Christian Science Monitor, but it talked unity and talked partition in one and the same sentence. This principle was to be enshrined in the text of the Dayton Accords, which stated ‘Bosnia and Herzegovina shall consist of the two Entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska’ and ‘The Entities shall have the right to establish special parallel relationships with neighboring states consistent with the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.’
Contradictory statements of policy by different individuals within the Clinton Administration, or indeed by the same individual at different times, were not purely a reflection of cynicism on the part of the leadership. They reflected also genuine differences between different branches of the Administration. Harris and Walker, two State Department officials who resigned in protest at what they saw as Clinton’s betrayal of Bosnia, have described the State Department before the policy shift as sympathetic towards the Bosnians, cynical of the Administration’s policy and supportive of strong intervention and a lifting of the arms embargo. According to them, officials in the Pentagon were more opposed to military intervention, though Walker argued that this derived more from obedience to Clinton than to their own convictions. According to Harris, top officials in the Pentagon would have been comfortable with a Serb victory that would have brought the war to a quicker conclusion, whereas the working levels of the State Department feared this would result in further destabilization of the region.
Continue reading at Journal of Slavic Military Studies, vol. 24, no. 1, January 2011, pp. 88-114
Sir Malcolm Rifkind, as Defence Secretary until July 1995 and thereafter as Foreign Secretary, was one of the architects of Britain’s disastrous policy toward the war in Bosnia. For over three years, on the basis of this policy, Britain obstructed all meaningful intervention to halt Serbian aggression and genocide in Bosnia, pressurised the Bosnian government to accept the dismemberment of its country, and – most notoriously – mercilessly upheld a UN arms embargo that seriously restricted Bosnia’s ability to defend itself. It was, in effect, an intervention on the side of the aggressor and against the victim. As a direct result of that policy, Bosnia remains a mess to this day.
Yet Sir Malcolm has had time to reconsider. Monday’s edition of The Times published a powerful piece by him calling for intervention in support of the rebels in Libya, in which he argues the following:
‘First and most important should be an open and urgent supply of the necessary weapons to the insurgents so that they can fight Gaddafi on equal terms. The UN has imposed an arms embargo and some have suggested that this makes illegal any supply of weapons to either side in Libya. The UN Resolution, however, refers to a ban on arms supply to the Libyan “Jamahiriya”, which is Gaddafi’s invented name for the state he controls. It need not prevent supplies to those trying to bring him down. Otherwise, we will repeat the mistake of the Bosnian war – when the UN embargo had much less impact on the Bosnian Serbs who were, already, heavily armed. Having been Defence Secretary at that time I have, in retrospect, felt that that was the most serious mistake made by the UN.’ [emphasis added]
Indeed, there had likewise been no legal obligation on the part of UN member states to enforce the arms embargo against Bosnia, since UN Security Council Resolution 713 had been imposed on the state of Yugoslavia, not on the state of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Those enforcing the embargo against Bosnia did so because they wanted to, not because they were legally obliged to. So it is with the Libyan rebels today.
As Jesus said, joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. Former US president Bill Clinton has similarly admitted his error in failing to intervene to stop the genocide in Rwanda: ‘I feel terrible about it because I think we could have sent 5,000, 10,000 troops there and saved a couple hundred thousand lives. I think we could have saved about half of them. But I’ll always regret that Rwandan thing. I will always feel terrible about it.’
One wonders whether Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will one day regret the shameful policy they are pursuing toward Libya today.
NB As The Times operates a paywall, non-subscribers are unable to read Sir Malcolm’s article.
Western policy during the break-up of Yugoslavia and the wars in Croatia and Bosnia of the 1990s was contemptible not merely for its moral bankrupcty – for its collusion with the dictator Slobodan Milosevic’s genocide and aggression – but also for its sheer blindness to the way that history was going. It should have been obvious when the war broke out in Croatia in the summer of 1991, both that Yugoslavia was finished as a state and that Milosevic’s attempt to replace it with a Great Serbia was a deeply regressive and destructive project that could only end in disaster. Western interests would have been best served by looking to the future and defending the Yugoslav successor-states of Croatia and Bosnia. Instead, the Western powers continued to support a united Yugoslavia that was already dead. This rapidly mutated into a policy of appeasing the Serbian strongman, which continued for four sorry years. Western diplomacy twice rescued the collapsing Serbian forces from defeat – in Croatia in late 1991 and in Bosnia in the autumn of 1995 – while calls for military action to halt Serbian aggression were fended off. In the end, the policy of appeasement was abandoned and Milosevic was militarily confronted and eventually put on trial for war-crimes. But only after the Western alliance had been seriously jeopardised and discredited, Milosevic had embarked on yet another round of ethnic cleansing in Kosova, and irreparable damage had been done to the Western Balkans.
In the Egyptian crisis today, Western leaders face another Bosnia moment. Mubarak having launched his violent assault on the Egyptian revolution, they can now take decisive action to halt him – through demanding that he step down immediately in favour of a broadly based caretaker administration and permit free and fair elections, and by making clear that all US and European economic assistance will be withdrawn from Egypt unless he does. It makes no sense to say that the West should keep out of Egypt and mind its own business; the huge economic assistance and political support Mubarak has received from us up till now mean that we are already deeply and inextricably involved and responsible.
Or Western leaders can wring their hands and continue to vacillate, thereby effectively giving Mubarak the same green light they once gave Milosevic. In which case, they will be responsible for the bloodshed and repression that will follow, but they will not achieve the much vaunted ‘stability’. Mubarak’s violence and repression may start a civil war, or may simply warp and poison Egyptian and Middle Eastern politics for years to come, as domestic opposition to his regime, denied the chance to express itself through a normal democratic process and justifiably angry at Western betrayal, is channelled toward extremism and violence – think Algeria or Chechnya. Instead of an Egyptian democratic revolution starting to lift the Middle East out of its cesspool of dictatorship and religious extremism, a more repressive, violent and unstable Egypt under a crumbling, desperate regime will drag the region further down into the depths.
The most murderous acts of state violence are often the work of remnants of decaying regimes that had previously, in their prime, appeared relatively moderate and benign. So it was in Bosnia, where the genocide was spearheaded by the Yugoslav People’s Army that had once served Tito’s enlightened despotism and, before that, had been born from a liberation struggle against the Nazis. So it was in Rwanda, where Juvenal Habyarimana’s dictatorship, previously stable and relatively benevolent in its treatment of the Tutsi, collapsed in a genocidal orgy that (almost certainly) first claimed the life of Habyarimana himself.
The Egyptian crisis has already forced us to confront some painful truths. I have long greatly admired Tony Blair, but his praise for Mubarak as ‘immensely courageous and a force for good’ – even if it was in relation to Mubarak’s input into the Israeli-Palestinian peace-process rather than a general description – was simply disgraceful. Reminiscent, in fact, of Blair’s unfinest hour back in 1999, when he endorsed Vladimir Putin’s fledgling tyranny while its murderous assault on Chechnya was at its height. And look what that got us – a vicious autocracy more hostile to the West than any regime in Moscow since the Cold War.
Unlike with regard to Blair, one expects very little from a hardline-nationalist brute like Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu, who has not only aligned himself with, but actually outdone, the monstrous Saudi regime in his support for the Egyptian dictator and his opposition to Egyptian democracy. The idea of Israel as a ‘beacon of democracy’ in the Middle East has always been wishful thinking on the part of its admirers – essentially the mirror-image of the myth, put about by the other side, of Israel as the root of all evil in the region. Israel is neither an angel nor a devil; it is a flawed democracy whose political classes are in the grip of an obnoxious nationalist mind-set, putting it roughly on a par with contemporary Turkey, Greece or Serbia. Of couse, the Israeli government has legitimate security concerns regarding how a post-Mubarak Egypt will behave, but there is also the rather less legitimate concern as to how its ongoing criminal policy of colonising the West Bank will fare without Mubarak to guard its rear. Hence, not so much a ‘beacon of democracy’ as a beacon for beleaguered tyrants. Arab oppression and Israeli oppression are two sides of the same coin and will fall together; both Israeli security and Palestinian independence will best be achieved by the democratisation of the Arab world.
The Middle East is at a historic crossroads, and Western policy toward the Middle East is at a historic crossroads. Barack Obama and David Cameron have been less than glorious in their reaction to the crisis so far, but nor have they discredited themselves totally, as Bill Clinton and John Major did over Bosnia. There is still time for them to choose the right path. History will judge them.
William Montgomery, former US ambassador to Bulgaria, Croatia and Serbia-Montenegro and former advisor to President Clinton on Bosnia, has an article in today’s International Herald Tribune, arguing for the partition of Kosova and Bosnia:
In both Kosovo and Bosnia, we need to consider different solutions — ones which we may not like and which will have complications of their own, but which will be really…achievable. This is the only way the international community can bring its involvement in the Balkans to an end. In Kosovo, this probably means some form of partition between the Albanians and the Serbs combined with joint recognition, pledges of full rights for minorities and a variety of sweeteners from the EU. Bosnia is more complicated. There, a solution probably involves shaping a different relationship within Bosnia and permitting the Republika Srpska, the Serbian portion of the divided country, to hold a referendum on independence. This would have to include a lot of guarantees about future relationships, and be done as a complete package led and implemented by the international community.
Montgomery admits that adopting this position represents a policy turn-about on his part. He justifies it thus:
The reality is that no amount of threats or inducements, including fast membership in the European Union or NATO, will persuade the Bosnian Serbs to cede a significant portion of the rights and privileges given them under the Dayton Agreement to the central government, as the Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and the international community are determined to bring about. The Bosnian Serbs are determined to have full control over their own destiny, and fear that if they continue to transfer authority to a central government, the more numerous Bosniaks will end up in control. The end result is continued tension between the two Bosnian entities, a dysfunctional country, and the prospect of many more years of efforts by Western politicians — like Vice President Joe Biden on his recent visit — to pound a square peg into a round hole. I know of what I speak: For more than 15 years, I was one of these pounders. I finally came to understand that the historical experiences in this region have implanted a mind-set very different from our own. We keep expecting the people in the Balkans to think and react as we do: It is not going to happen.
The last two sentences are worth re-reading:
I finally came to understand that the historical experiences in this region have implanted a mind-set very different from our own. We keep expecting the people in the Balkans to think and react as we do: It is not going to happen.
In other words, Montgomery is saying that the Balkan peoples are oriental savages who will never accept the values of civilised humanity. This being so, he feels that their problems can’t be solved by civilised solutions, and the only option is to let the savages wear their grass skirts and bones through their noses, and to enjoy their traditional right to dance round idols and cook other savages in large pots.
It was ever thus. The supporters of appeasement/partition have long tended to justify their abandonment of principle with reference to the fact that the Balkan peoples are supposedly ‘not like us’ and don’t think like ‘we’ do, but are just a bunch of savages in the grip of ‘ancient ethnic hatreds’, to which civilised standards of right and wrong cannot be applied.
But who is this ‘we’ ? In Montgomery’s case, the ‘we’ is the former servants of the Clinton Administration in the US. It is this group of people that bears a very large share of the blame for the mess that Bosnia is currently in. In defiance of mainstream US opinion, Clinton sided with the pro-appeasement Europeans over Bosnia. In the autumn 1995, he rescued Republika Srpska from the jaws of defeat and imposed the Dayton settlement on Bosnia that gave the Serb nationalists most of the territory and autonomy they wanted, and that has ensured Bosnia has never been able to function as a state since. After Dayton, the Clinton Administration refrained from arresting Radovan Karadzic and other war-criminals, being basically content to let the country rot. This was probably related to the fact that Clinton’s envoy Richard Holbrooke made a deal with Karadzic, promising he would not be arrested, and also because Clinton viewed Milosevic, right up until Milosevic’s rejection of the Rambouillet Accords in March 1999, as a partner in maintaing order in the Balkans.
First Clinton’s people create a mess in Bosnia. Then, after the mess has remained a mess for over thirteen years, they blame it on the fact that Balkan peoples don’t ‘think like we do’.
But Montgomery is wrong: there are plenty of people in the Balkans who think like ‘we’ do. In Bosnia, they are Republika Srpska Prime Minsiter Milorad Dodik and the Serb nationalists, who share Montgomery’s thinking about allowing Republika Srpska to secede. Just as the indicted war-criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic shared Clinton’s thinking about the need to establish Republika Srpska in the first place.
Montgomery’s ‘we’ is not the ‘we’ of the principled democratic West. It is the ‘we’ of the war criminals and their appeasers.
- Basque Country
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- Marko Attila Hoare
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