U.S/EU Policy Fomenting a New Bosnian Crisis

By James Bissett
Saturday, 20 Feb 2010

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The Republika Srpska (RS) passed a "Referendum Law" on February 10, widely seen as a step to an eventual independence vote. The U.S. condemned the step while EU foreign affairs chief declared that the EU would "never" accept the break-up of Bosnia. The Serbs see the Assembly vote as a  reaction to various steps taken by "the international community" over the past year to undermine the RS and erode the legacy of Dayton. James Bissett examines the implications.

American renewed interest in the region is bad news. The American record in the Balkans since the break up of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s has been disastrous. In March 1992, the Portuguese foreign minister, Jose Cutileiro, acting on behalf of the European Union, was able, through skillful diplomacy, to arrange a peaceful settlement of the Bosnian crisis by getting the Muslims, Serbs and Croats to agree to a peace plan that would give autonomy to the three groups and allow Bosnia to exist as an independent state.
Not willing to accept this sensible solution the United States sent their Ambassador in Belgrade to Sarajevo to persuade the Muslim leader, Alija Izetbegovic, to renounce the agreement and to declare unilateral independence. The Ambassador promised that after the announcement the United States would immediately recognize the new state. Izetbegovic seeing his opportunity to become the leader of the first Muslim state in the heart of Europe acted accordingly. What followed was, as to be expected, a ferocious three-way civil war that cost 100,000 Serb, Croat and Muslim lives and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from their ancestral homes.
During the course of the war the Americans prolonged the conflict by sabotaging every effort of the European Union to arrange a cease fire and peaceful settlement. In addition, the Americans supported the Muslim cause by secretly providing them with arms and equipment and arranging for the entry into Bosnia of several thousand veteran Mujihadeen to fight against the Bosnian Serb forces. Later in the conflict it was US pressure that obtained UN approval to conduct NATO air strikes against the Serbs.
Following the end of the conflict and the peace agreement signed in Dayton in 1995, the Americans again intervened in Balkan affairs. This time it was in Kosovo where an armed rebellion had taken place by Albanians led by a terrorist group calling themselves the Kosovo Liberation Army [KLA] who were trying to break away from Serbia. The Americans again supported the rebels and through allegations that genocide and ethnic cleansing was taking place in Kosovo bombed Serbia. The bombing was done by NATO forces led by the United States and was done without consultation with the United Nations and in violation of NATO’s own Article 1 that unambiguously stipulated the Alliance would not threaten or use force in the resolution of international disputes. Later the United States and most of the NATO countries recognized Kosovo independence, despite the declaration being a violation of international law and contrary to the principals of territorial integrity and sovereignty. The independence of Kosovo was resisted by the Russians who feared this blatant violation of international law would set a dangerous precedent for other groups around the world who desired to gain independence .The Russian President also warned that if Kosovo gained independence, Russia would recognize the independence of Abkhasia and South Ossetia. The Russian warnings were simply dismissed out of hand.
Blaming the Serbs – In addition to consistently breaking all of the international rules and violating fundamental principles that have governed the relationship between states for hundreds of years the American conduct in the Balkans has been further tarnished by their attempt to justify their extraordinary behavior by demonizing Serbia. This has been accomplished by an organized and highly successful media campaign to blame the responsibility for all of the tragic events that occurred after the disintegration of Yugoslavia on Slobodan Milosevic and Serbia.
Today throughout the globe this simplistic view is accepted and remains unchallenged. Academics, politicians, journalists, entertainers, authors… claim the Serbs are the perpetrators of all of the crimes, the violence and the bloodshed in the former Yugoslavia.
The U.S.-backed and financed International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [ICTY] has also played a major role in portraying the Serbs as the villains in the Balkan tragedy. Almost all of the sentences handed down by the Tribunal have been against Serbs. Several of the most serious convictions have relied on the dubious charges of “joint criminal enterprise and command responsibility,” concepts designed by the Tribunal to convict individuals of crimes of which they themselves did not commit. In contrast, some of the most notorious Muslim and Albanian Kosovars charged with crimes they did commit have been released by the tribunal or have received light sentences.
The ICTY has been hailed as a major step in bringing war criminals to justice and to ensure that those who commit crimes against humanity will not go unpunished. In fact the Tribunal at the Hague has acted more in keeping with the processes followed by the Stalinist show trials of the late 1930’s.The Tribunal has been used as a propaganda machine and a convenient cover for the misguided and damaging policies followed by the US led NATO powers and because of its shameful record it has, ironically, dealt a serious blow to the very concept of international justice.
Double Standards – An objective anaysis of U.S. policy in the Balkans since the early 1990’s will observe that it has been based on the assumption that the countries of the Balkans and the peoples living there are not quite worthy of being treated as equals under the normal laws of the community of nations. Serbia and its citizens have been accorded the status of what Rudyard Kipling, the English poet and writer, described as, “lesser breeds without the law.”
This false assumption has persuaded American politicians that the United Nations Charter, The Helsinki Final Accords and the norms of international law do not apply to the Balkans. It explains why Washington was so shocked when the Russians repulsed the Geogian assault on South Ossetia in August 2008. The U.S. government bitterly complained at that time that Russia had violated Georgian sovereignty and its territorial integrity. Only six months earlier the United States had recognized the independence of Kosovo – a clear violation of Serbia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Yet the hypocrisy of such protests seemed not to be noticed either by US political leaders or by the Western media.
Evidently the Americans believe they can get away with anything in the Balkans and do so without worrying about the consequences or of the dreadful damage they have done to the framework of peace and security in the world. The bombing of Serbia in 1999 was a historic turning point because it showed that the principles of the UN Charter were no longer respected by the world’s most powerful nation. Furthermore, the bombing enabled the United States to co- opt NATO into becoming, in effect, an instrument of US military power as opposed to its original role of defending Europe from Soviet aggression and operating in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter.
The subsequent recognition of Kosovo independence was simply the logical extension of policies carried out by US policy makers without regard to the fateful consequences such policies might have elsewhere or in the future. Sadly, the public conditioned by a compliant media continues to believe the rhetoric of their political leaders and intellectual elite that America still stands for democracy, the rule of law and equal treatment for all nations.
Decline of American Power – At the heart of the problem is the hubris that accompanies unrivaled power based primarily on military supremacy. In the 1990’s the United States stood alone as the greatest military power in the world. It could do as it wished, not only in the Balkans but anywhere. It could act without fear of reprisal. However, that power supremacy is now being challenged.
The events in Georgia in August 2008 showed that a resurgent Russia will no longer stand by and allow the U.S. to do as it wished in areas of Russia’s national interest. The growing economic power of China, India, Brazil and the critical economic and financial crisis now faced by the United States must inevitably force the United States to withdraw from its dominant position as the only world power.
Moreover, added to the critical financial disaster facing the U.S. is the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the possible collapse of Pakistan, the continuing threat of a terrorist strike at home and the challenge of a nuclear armed North Korea and perhaps Iran. These developments have radically changed the geopolitical landscape. One might hope that American leaders will realize that they cannot be dealt with by the use of force or by the threat of force.
The sudden and renewed interest of US policy makers in Bosnia would indicate that there are many in Washington who are not aware of the changing balance of power in the world. How else can one explain the “re-engagement” in Balkan affairs? As history shows, this can lead to problems that reach far beyond the Balkans. After the catastrophic results of American intervention in Bosnia in the 1990’s, why now risk new disaster by returning to the scene of the crime?
Is There a Bosnian Crisis? – Dayton ended the bloody conflict that had been raging in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995 and brought about a balance of disasatisfaction to the three warring sides. Over the past fifteen years the country has managed to function although it is not making much progress in terms of economic prosperity or good governance. Of course, thehe bitterness of the savage civil war with its ethnic cleansing and mutual atrocities has not been forgotten. The Muslim leadership, in particular, remains steeped in a sense of victimhood and entitlement. Nevertheless, the country is at peace and there is no indication that any of the Bosnians – whether Serb, Croat or Muslim – are anxious to have another armed conflict erupt. While it is true there are serious obstacles to overcome if the present Bosnia is to prosper and meet the requirements for entry into the EU, what is the rush? The existence of issues to overcome does not mean there is a crisis that requires urgent resolution.
The core of the problem is the insistence that foreign input is needed to resolve local problems. The office of the High Representative is clearly part of the problem. Bosnia continues to be treated as it was following the Congress of Berlin in 1878, when it was handed over to Austria-Hungary. Today, the High Representative is another Austrian, Valentin Inzko. He and those preceding him since 1995 have acted as local “gauleiters” and are quite prepared to take sides and to exercise their dicatorial powers.
The American push for reshaping the Dayton agreement or scrapping it altogether has nothing to do with helping overcome the difficulties confronted by the three sides in Bosnia. Historically, intervention in the Balkans never has been in the interest of the local people living there but always it has been to serve the foreign policy objectives of the intervening power.

If the American decision-makers hope that they can win the hearts and minds of the Islamic world by finally restoring Bosnia to Muslim rule, as it was during the long years of the Ottoman empire, they are deluded. Herein lies the real danger. Herein is the real crisis in Bosnia.

Ambassador Bissett is Chairman of The Lord Byron Foundation.