The recent history of Western intervention in the Balkans provides a deep insight into the fundamental objectives of U.S./Western foreign policy, and thus the overall structure of world order under U.S./Western hegemony. The humanitarian catastrophe that exploded in Bosnia-Herzegovina towards the end of the 20th Century is a classic example of the new form of imperialism being spearheaded by the Western powers in the modern, or post-modern, age. This paper attempts to critically examine the development of Western policy in the Balkans as per the diplomatic, military and economic intervention in Bosnia. It analyses how Western policy under U.S. leadership systematically obstructed peace and justice in relation to the unfolding crisis in Bosnia, through the manipulation of all sides in the conflict. Through a process that amounted to divide and rule in the Balkans, the Western powers effectively took control over a territory not in the name of humanitarianism, but in accordance with longstanding plans. The United Nations was at once manipulated and brushed aside in order to execute these plans. The paper thus documents the role of the Western powers in engineering a humanitarian crisis in Bosnia that would justify military intervention under the guise of peacekeeping, motivated by other more familiar concerns. It thus illustrates undeniable Western complicity in the death and destruction that swept over Bosnia, and furthermore highlights the economic and strategic interests motivating this complicity.
I.I Sabotaging Peace
“The U.S. lit the fires of civil war in the former Yugoslavia”, records specialist in European History, Professor Barry Lituchy of the City University of New York. The claim that the humanitarian role of the United Nations in Bosnia had failed was “a lie Goebbels would blush até
“There never was nor could there ever be, a humanitarian role for the UN, the U.S. or NATO in Bosnia. The role of the U.S. and its allies in the Balkans [was] to reconstitute a neo-colonial system for U.S. and German capital. Until the break up of Yugoslavia and the neo-colonial client states [were] firmly established, the U.S. and its German ally [did] not want peace.”
This historical assessment of the events leading up to the conflict that erupted in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s is borne out by a detailed scrutiny of the background and development of the conflict. It is no longer possible to honestly argue that the West’s role in the conflict, under the overall direction of the United States, was in any meaningful way conducive to peace. Many experts who have analysed the background to the conflict have confirmed the West’s complicity in effectively engineering a war by playing all sides against each other. U.S. analyst Sara Flounders, national Co-Director of the New York-based antiwar group the International Action Center (IAC) é founded and headed by former U.S. Attorney-General Ramsey Clark under the Presidencies of Kennedy and Johnson é observes that: “U.S. conduct has involved many maneuvers that have prolonged the war”. The late Balkans specialist Sean Gervasi, Professor of Economics at the University of Paris and consultant to the United Nations for 25 years elaborated that the Western powers under U.S. leadership “carefully planned, prepared and assisted the secessions which broke Yugoslavia aparté
“And they did almost everything in their power to expand and prolong the civil wars which began in Croatia and then continued in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They were involved behind the scenes at every stage of the crisis. Foreign intervention was designed to create precisely the conflicts which the Western powers decried. For they also conveniently served as an excuse for overt intervention once civil wars were under wayé It is nonetheless true that Germany and the U.S. were the principal agents in dismantling Yugoslavia and sowing chaos there.”
The steady dismantlement of Yugoslavia through the playing of all sides against each other was undertaken in accordance with longstanding Western interests in the Balkans region. As noted by former U.S. Attorney-General Ramsey Clark at a 1996 Prague Conference on NATO:
“The purposes of dismantling Yugoslavia have to be understood. Germany obviously had a keen interest. Everybody knew when it was dismantled there would be hell to pay. The United States used ways to direct the violence, and for four or five years now the violence has been directed in the way the United States likes to fight a war – ‘You and them fight’.“
The exact manner in which this occurred and the dubious intentions behind it have been discussed by a firsthand observer of the policy, James Bisset. As former Canadian Ambassador to Yugoslavia during the crisis, Bisset had direct experience of the crisis and has been extensively involved in Balkans affairs, making him a leading authority on the subject. The former Ambassador testifies that U.S.-led Western policy systematically resulted in the aggravation of conflict in the former Yugoslavia, thus directly contributing to the eruption of war.
“During my period in Yugoslavia as the Canadian Ambassador I witnessed how time and time again it was interference from the Western powers that did little to bring a non-violent and diplomatic solution to the problems of Yugoslavia. On the contrary, Western involvement complicated an already complex problem and ensured that a peaceful settlement among the several parties became impossible. American and Western European policy driven by selfish domestic issues contributed directly to the bloodshed and violence that tore the Yugoslav Federation apart. As Yugoslavia began to experience the first signs of disintegration the United States policy of indifference and later ambiguity encouraged the extremists on all sides and undermined the authority of the central government.”
In a damning indictment of U.S. policy in the Balkans, former Ambassador Bisset further reported that:
“[I]t was the United States that undermined every subsequent peace initiative that might have brought an end to the killing. The Vance/Owen and later the Owen/Stoltenberg peace plans were both subverted by the Americans so that the fighting was prolongedé It appeared that the United States was determined to pursue a policy that prevented a resolution of the conflict by other than violent means.”
Thus, the initial stage of the policy was primarily diplomatic, and seemed to focus on systematically sabotaging almost every peaceful agreement in sight. Once military intervention began in the wake of failed diplomacy, a host of new related contradictions in military strategy cropped up, contributing consistently to the exacerbation of the conflict. “From the U.S. campaign for Bosnian independence in March 1992 to the Washington-sponsored Croat-Muslim federation in March 1994, American diplomacy has fanned the flames of war”, reported The Nation. In a lucid summary of these catastrophic policies, the U.S. newsmagazine elaborated that:
“Washington started out in 1991 by supporting the unity of Yugoslavia and opposing the secessionist republics. By early 1992, the United States was supporting the secessionist republic of Bosnia. In early 1993, the Clinton Administration began by supporting the Vance-Owen plan for the cantonization of Bosnia, but then changed its mind and brought about the collapse of the plan. Later in 1993, Washington accepted the Owen-Stoltenberg plan for the three-way partition of Bosnia, a virtual duplicate of the three-way partition plan the Bush Administration had urged Sarajevo to reject in 1992, then rejected it, then accepted it, then rejected it again. Also in 1993, the United States adopted its ‘lift and strike’ policy (i.e., lifting the arms embargo on the Bosnian government and launching airstrikes against the Serbs), then abandoned this and began to characterize the Bosnian war as a civil rather than an international conflict, then returned to lift and strike. In 1994, Washington continued to blow hot and cold about lift and strike, changing its mind from one month and even one week to the next, blowing with the winds of Realpolitik.”
In this manner, the United States successfully brought about the disintegration of Yugoslavia into conflict and chaos. One of the key strategies employed in this policy, as noted by The Nation, was the manipulation of the various policies by promising one thing and then doing the very opposite. Citing one of the earliest examples of this sort of manipulation within the Yugoslav crisis, Bisset recalls:
“I was in Belgrade when U.S. Secretary of State, James Baker assured the Yugoslav Prime Minister, Anton Marcovic, that if the Slovenes attempted to break away from the Federation by illegal means then the Yugoslav army could be used to prevent secession. A few days later this is what happened but the United States then quickly withdrew its support for unity [thus reneging on its initial promise]. The West abandoned the many thousands of Yugoslavs of different ethnic or religious persuasion who believed in a united Yugoslavia. The playing field was left to the extremists and those who wished to separate.”
This was only one of many such manoeuvres that, quite predictably, directly produced a situation conducive to conflict. But the U.S. was not alone in pursuing such policies. European powers were also heavily complicit, particularly Germany. Bisset notes, for instance, that:
“Germany’s determination to reassert its dominance in the Balkans led it to encourage and support Slovene and Croatian independence. Chancellor Kohl’s insistence that Slovenia and Croatia be recognized as independent states was the death sentence for Yugoslavia. Sadly it was also the death sentence for many thousands of Serbs and Croats.”
Many such manoeuvres were conducted by the Western powers in events that were crucial in engineering the disintegration of Yugoslavia through war. One of the most particularly significant one, which will be discussed here in some detail, occurred on 18th March 1992 when an agreement brokered by the European Community was successfully negotiated in Lisbon among the Bosnian Muslim, Croatian and Serb forces. Although this agreement would have prevented the war, saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of refugees, “Washington sabotaged this original agreement by telling the Bosnian regime of Alija Izetbegovic that it could get much more – possibly domination of the whole region – with U.S. backing,” as Sara Flounders reports. “The U.S. role in destroying the carefully crafted agreement is acknowledged by all sides. The U.S. government officially encouraged Izetbegovic [head of the Party for Democratic Action] to unilaterally declare a sovereign state under his presidency”. Jose Cutileiro, Secretary-General of the Western European Union, further observed that “the Muslims reneged on the agreement” signed at Lisbon which was to be the basis for future negotiations. “Had they not done so, the Bosnian question might have been settled earlier, with less loss of (mainly Muslim) life and land.” But Cutileiro adds the important fact that the decision to renege on the signed agreement at Lisbon did not issue forth from the Bosnian President alone: “To be fair, President Izetbegovic and his aides were encouraged to scupper that deal and to fight for a unitary Bosnian state [by Western mediators]”. The Washington Times specified that: “The (Lisbon) agreement was scuttled by hapless Mr. Zimmermann [then U.S Ambassador to Yugoslavia], who encouraged the Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic, then signatory to the Lisbon Agreement, to reverse himself and withdraw”. The problem with the West’s policy was that by recognising Bosnia as an independent state under the March referendum, they immediately subjected Bosnia to war, since in the words of the New York Times: “Bosnian Serbs [had] boycotted [the referendum on Bosnian independence], warning that it was a prelude to civil war”.
Given that the Bosnian Serbs had warned that the international recognition of a sovereign Bosnian state under the Presidency of Izetbegovic would lead to war, it is clear that the original EC-brokered agreement was arguably the only alternative to a Serb attack. The New York Times reported the role of United States in sabotaging this agreement, which under the circumstances was probably the only peaceful alternative:
“Leaders of the three ethnic factions [Serbs, Croats, Muslims] agreed to [a partition of Bosnia] just before the outbreak of the Bosnian war. Meeting in Lisbon on March 18, 1992, under the auspices of the European Community, [the three ethnic leaders] agreed to partition the republic into three ethnically based cantons, which were to have been loosely joined in a confederation that would function as a sovereign state… On returning to Sarajevo, [Bosnian Muslim leader] Mr. Izetbegovic was encouraged by United States and European Community diplomats to choose instead a sovereign Bosnia and Herzegovina under his presidency, saying that this was justified by the referendum on March 1 on independence.”
On 29 February to 1 March 1992, the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina voted for independence. “The problem with that referendum”, observes America’s ‘newspaper of record’, “was that although the Bosnian Muslims and Croats overwhelmingly endorsed it, the Bosnian Serbs boycotted it, warning that it was a prelude to civil war”.
The Bosnian Serbs, who constituted 32 per cent of the population boycotted the 1st March referendum. This left another 63.4 per cent of eligible voters who participated in the elections, out of whom 99.4 per cent voted for independence. Rejecting the validity of the March referendum, the Serbs made explicitly clear that they found its terms absolutely unacceptable – so unacceptable that they were willing to initiate a war if those terms were enforced. Almost as soon as the declaration of Bosnia’s independence occurred in March, the Serbs commenced their bombardment of Sarajevo, while attacking other Bosnian Muslim and Croatian areas. Despite these obvious indications of an impending crisis, the United States pushed Izetbegovic into reneging on the original Lisbon agreement. The other Western powers followed suit in recognising Bosnian sovereignty.
However, the overall inevitability of the outbreak of conflict under Western tutelage cannot be doubted in light of the fact that the proposed peace plans repeatedly brokered by the international community, which were subverted in the policies and processes discussed above, were completely inadequate. Indeed their inherent flaws and disastrous implications for the Bosnian Muslim people in particular meant that their rejection was almost inevitable simply because they were unreasonable and in humanitarian terms illegitimate. Muslim historian Salahi Sonyel, Professor of History at the Near East University in Northern Cyprus, points out that: “The Vance-Owen plan caved in to Serbian and Croatian war aims by tacitly acknowledging Bosnia’s carve-up along ethnic lines.” Describing the later peace plan brokered by the international community, U.S. Balkans expert Francis Boyle éProfessor of International Law at the University of Illinois, and Legal Representative of the Bosnian State during the war – observes that:
“The Owen-Stoltenberg Plan would have carved-up the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina – a UN Member State – into three ethnically based mini-states, destroyed Bosnia’s Statehood under international law and practice, and robbed Bosnia of its Membership in the United Nations Organization. Furthermore, in accordance with an internal study prepared by the United States Department of State, this proposed tripartite partition of Bosnia would have subjected approximately 1.5 to 2 million more Bosnians to ‘ethnic cleansing’, which I had already argued to the World Court was a form of genocide. Both in fact and in law, the Owen-Stoltenberg Plan incarnated an agreement by the rump Yugoslavia and the Republic of Croatia to divide and partition the People and State of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina between these two more powerful states along ethnic, racial, and religious lines.”
It is hardly credible that such policies é offering unacceptable (and indeed genocidal) ‘peace’ plans as alternatives to war, and then sabotaging them thus predictably resulting in war – were motivated by humanitarian concern. In adopting the above approach at Lisbon, the Western powers had infused Bosnia-Herzegovina with a sovereignty that they knew full well would be rejected by the Serbs and responded to with outright war. This was clearly indicated by Serb threats prior to the March referendum, and the swift commencement of their bombardment of Sarajevo afterwards. Thus, as the West had been forewarned by the Serbs themselves: “After the European Community and the United States recognized the Izetbegovic Government, on April 6 and 7, 1992, the Bosnian Serbs attacked”.
Western military involvement in Bosnia-Herzegovina began at an early stage of the ensuing conflict. As the war broke out and escalated in 1992, about 100 personnel were sent by NATO to Bosnia to establish military headquarters at Kiseljak, only a short distance from the fighting in Sarajevo. That the purpose of NATO’s intervention was fundamentally based on regional strategic interests, rather than genuinely humanitarian concerns, was indicated in the candid admission of a NATO diplomat commenting on the early NATO operation in the Balkans:
“This is a very cautious first step, and we are definitely not making much noise about it. But it could be the start of something bigger… You could argue that NATO now has a foot in the door. Whether we manage to open the door is not sure, but we have made a start.”
Evidently, NATO planners at the earliest stage had intended to establish a significant presence in the former Yugoslavia, and had thus anticipated é indeed hoped – that NATO’s role in the region would be appropriately expanded. NATO clearly envisaged that the crisis presented the possibility of not merely setting a “foot in the door” é establishing a military presence in the Balkans é but of “opening the door”, or in other words, expanding that presence to secure interests within the region.
There is thus decisive evidence that the initial U.S. backing of Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic did not, in fact, constitute genuine support of the Bosnian Muslim people and their legitimate interests. This is clear from the fact that the West had been aware that the recognition of Bosnia as an independent state was a prelude to war. This is also clear from an analysis of ensuing events. It was not long after the Bosnian conflict flared into full-scale war that support for the fledgling Bosnian state ceased. As former Canadian Ambassador James Bisset observes of both these policies:
“The United States dispatched its Ambassador from Belgrade to Sarajevo, who encouraged the Muslim leader, Alia Izetbegovic to withdraw his signature from the agreement he had signed along with his Serbian and Croatian counterparts. This U.S. intervention guaranteed civil war in Bosnia and the death and displacement of thousands of people.”
That there is convincing evidence that Izetbegovic himself was not genuinely representative of the real interests of Bosnian Muslims further clarifies the duplicity of the U.S. policy. IAC analyst Sara Flounders reports that Muslim groups in two separate areas of Bosnia had challenged the government led by Alija Izetbegovic, disputing his claim that he represented the interests of the Muslim community. These groups supported “a policy of cooperation and trade with the other nationalities of the region”, and “condemned Izetbegovic for right-wing nationalist policies and reliance on U.S. military aid.” According to the elected Bosnian Muslim government in the city of Tuzla, the “U.S.-supervised rewrite of the Bosnian constitution [via the Dayton Accord] gave power only to the most extreme right-wing nationalist forces of Izetbegovic’s Party for Democratic Action and neo-fascist Franjo Tudjman’s Croatian Democratic Union. Other political forces even among Muslims were excluded.”
For example, “[A] Bosnian Muslim group in the northwest Bihac area led by Fikret Adbic had declared its autonomy from the U.S.-backed government based in Sarajevo”, most probably doubting the sincerity of U.S. motives. In response, the U.S. intervened to crush Fikret Adbik’s Muslim movement through the use of Izetbegovic’s forces as a U.S. proxy army. Accordingly, the arms embargo that had been imposed by the international community on Bosnia-Herzegovina was temporarily violated by the U.S. to siphon military assistance to Izetbegovic’s forces, which were then deployed against Adbik’s Bosnia Muslim government of northwest Bihac. Adbik’s regime had been staunchly opposed to U.S. intervention in the region. No doubt this was at least part of the reason behind the U.S.-backed attempt to eliminate his movement. Retired U.S. Air Force General Charles G. Boyd, former Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. European Command from 1992 to 1995, noted that Adbik’s government was seen as a threat to U.S. interests in the Balkans because it was “one of the few examples of successful multi-ethnic cooperation in the Balkansé Adbic, a powerful local businessman, was a member of the Bosnian collective presidency. He outpolled Izetbegovic in national elections and had been expelled from the government” when Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement under U.S. pressure.
Opposed to a possible success for Adbik’s government, the U.S. reacted by using the Izetbegovic regime to launch a military attack against these Muslim forces that desired peace with their Serbian and Croatian neighbors. “This attack on an elected Muslim Bosnian government was organized by the U.S.,” records Flounders. Six U.S. generals participated in planning the August 1994 offensive which, ironically, was in violation of the international community’s own imposed ceasefire, as well as a UN-declared safe area.
British Balkans expert Joan Hoey, a Research Associate at the UK-based Centre for Defense and International Security Studies and an analyst with the Economics Intelligence Unit specialising in Eastern Europe, reported these events in detail:
“[T]he Bosnian Fifth Corps launched an offensive in northwest Bosnia against fellow Bosnian Muslims loyal to Fikret Abdic, a Bihac politician and businessman who had made his peace with the Serbs and Croats. After concerted shelling, the towns of Velika Kladusa and Cazin both in the Bihac pocket, fell to the Fifth Corps. Some 30,000 Abdic loyalists fled to Serb-held territory across the border in Croatia.”
Though Izetbegovic’s U.S.-backed offensive in the Bihac was at first successful, the Bosnian Serbs in alliance with Croatian Serbs and Adbic’s Bosnian Muslim forces, reorganised to initiate an effective counter strategy. In response, “U.S. bombers under NATO command came to Izetbegovic’s defense. In the U.S. media, neither the U.S. role in planning the offensive nor the fact that the U.S.-backed forces were the ones to violate the cease-fire was examined.” Joan Hoey recorded the catastrophic results in some detail:
“In October, the Fifth Corps launched an offensive out of the UN-designated ‘safe area’ of Bihac, cutting a swath through Serbian territory around the enclave. The safe zone of Bihac was used as a staging area for attacks against Serb populated areas on the Grabez plateau, leading to the expulsion of about 10,000 Serbs, who escaped to neighboring Serb-held Croatia, following the tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims who had fled the earlier Bosnian Fifth Corps offensive.”
The initial U.S. support of Izetbegovic’s government – evidently accompanied by the deception and manipulation of the regime – demonstrated that the U.S. had been willing and capable of intervening in accord with furthering its own domination of the region. Yet in accordance with strategic interests, U.S. support of the fledgling state was short-lived. As the war continued and expanded, so did the West’s appeasement of war criminals responsible for the massacre and ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslim civilians.
Having exploited Izetbegovic to attack and subdue the elements in the region opposed to a U.S./Western presence in the Balkans, the U.S. had no qualms about leaving the civilian population at the mercy of Serb aggressors. Indeed, having pushed Bosnia into a precarious sovereignty whose annihilation by the Bosnian Serb Army had been imminent all along, the Western powers under U.S. leadership seemed to have little interest in defending it. The Bosnian Muslims had been abandoned by the same Western powers who had created Bosnian sovereignty in the knowledge that Serb forces would destroy it.
U.S. policy thus took an about-turn. Rather than supporting the fledgling Bosnian state established under the Presidency of Izetbegovic, the U.S. adopted a stance of indifference to the ensuing conflict, thus standing by while Serb forces attacked Bosnia. British commentator Simon Jenkins observed in an April 1993 edition of the London Times that: “During the past six months, Western policy towards Serbia has been counterproductiveé
“Every move has stoked the engine of Serbian aggrandizement, while making that aggrandizement more murderous and illiberal… We have seen some of the worst policy-making ever from the UN and its members. Ours is a game of bluff. Serbian aggression cannot be allowed to succeed, says the British Government. But it is being allowed to succeed. There can be no rewarding ethnic cleansing, says the Clinton Administration. But UN trucks race around Bosnia at our expense, moving thousands of Muslims from their villages… [It seems that] an atrocity is less atrocious when not committed on an European.”
The betrayal of Bosnia has been discussed by Muslim historian Professor Salahi Sonyel. He notes that: “It thus took just over a year for the international community to complete the betrayal of Bosnia, and the destruction of its Muslim people. In Washington, the five Powers é U.S., Britain, France, Spain and Russia – secretly buried a nation, a state that they had all officially recognized in April 1992, by making clear that they had no intention of intervening by force, which alone could have saved Bosnia.” The about-turn in policy is perhaps best demonstrated in the international community’s comprehensive embargo on arms, ammunition and even adequate food supplies to the new Bosnian state under Serb attack. As Professor Sonyel points out, the blockade was in fact illegitimate, constituting a violation of international law. Article 51 of the UN Charter stipulates explicitly that sovereign states have the “inherent right” of self-defence, which therefore should not be impaired. By illegally imposing a blockade against the fledgling Bosnian state that had been recognised by the same powers now denying its very rights as a sovereign entity, the international community had effectively supported the efforts of the Bosnian Serb army by weakening Bosnian Muslim forces.
Harshly criticising the embargo, a 1993 report in the UK-based newsmagazine Impact International outlined its ominous implications:
“‘Lifting the arms embargo will only exacerbate the conflict’, was the standard line, ‘and lead to more deaths and destruction’. Tell that to the decimated population of Cerska, who, after a year of pleading for outside intervention, are now either dead, or on the run, or in Serbian concentration camps. The question that begs an answer from the proponents of the embargo is how many lives could have been raped, and villages ‘ethnically cleansed’, had the Bosnians been allowed to defend themselves? … The guilty… lie not in Pale and Belgrade, but also in Paris, London, and Washington, for they have the means and the power to end the carnage, yet they refuse to do so.”
A statement by German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel reported by one of his colleagues confirms that such policies were motivated by less than honest concerns. Kinkel had scathingly accused that Britain and France – two UN Security Council powers – were guilty of “playing games” with Bosnia. U.S. Balkans expert Joan Hoey noted in this connection that: “Bosnia has become the theater of war in which the rivalries among the world powers are being played out. All of Bosnia is a stage and all its armies merely players. It is not really their war any longer. The people pulling the strings are in Washington, Bonn, London, Paris and Moscow.”
Yet while adopting a stance of apparent indifference, if not tacit support for the Serb onslaught, the U.S. continued to promise to eventually come to the aid of Bosnia. In mid-1994, the Washington Post recorded the testimony of senior UN officials – two of the highest ranking UN representatives in Bosnia – who blamed the United States “for the continuation of the war in Bosnia because it has given Muslim-led Bosnian government the false impression that Washington’s military support was on the way.” According to the UN officials, the U.S. was leading on Bosnian forces by promising as much as full-scale NATO intervention on Bosnia’s side. Hoey similarly noted during the war that: “[T]he United States is doing more than enough overtly to influence what is happening on the battlefield. Washington’s declared lift and strike policy has encouraged the Bosnian government to keep fighting in the hope that one day the United States will really come to the rescue.” Actual U.S. policy illustrates clearly that this was a false impression, deliberately propagated to allow the Western powers to manipulate the Bosnian regime along with the other parties in the conflict to carve up the region in accordance with strategic objectives. As Commander-in-Chief of the Bosnian armed forces, Commander Zulfikar, observed while the crisis was escalating: “If you ask me, the whole of the Western international community are bastards. Nobody is helping us. What’s more, they have sold us out and are accomplices to the extermination of our people”. The distinguished political scientist Professor John Keane of the University of Westminster é founder of London’s Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD) and Karl Deutsch Professor of Politics at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin é aptly remarks: “The bitterness expressed by Zulfikar is warranted. It should disturb the dreams of all Western democrats.”
In exemplification of Western complicity in the humanitarian crisis, the Muslim town of Srebrenica – a UN safe area – was overrun by the Serb army with Western acquiescence. The case of Srebrenica provides a classic illustration of the anti-humanitarian role of the Western powers in Bosnia. An analysis of the fall of Srebrenica to Bosnian Serb forces – arguably the most horrifying episode during the Bosnian conflict in terms of civilian death and destruction – discloses sharply the complicity of the international community in the crisis.
In July 1995, United Nations troops were stationed at the central UN base at Potacari. The Security Council had declared Srebrenica a safe area on 16 April 1993, following a massive Serb offensive against the town. UN Security Council Resolution 819, passed in April 1993, declared that the Western powers must “take the necessary measures, including the use of force” to protect Srebrenica from attack, henceforth binding the Western powers under international law to protect the people of this town “if necessary.” Three weeks later other enclaves also became United Nations ‘safe areas’.
During peacetime, Srebrenica’s population was about 18,000. Having declared the town an official ‘safe area’, the United Nations succeeded in gathering thousands more Bosnian Muslims to the town in search of sanctuary from the ferocious tide of genocide, more than doubling the population to 42,000. The international community brokered a deal between Serb and Muslim forces. The Serbs agreed not to advance on Srebrenica and other enclaves on condition that Muslim forces were disarmed in those areas. The UN had thus not only gathered as many Bosnian Muslim men, women and children as possible into these areas, particularly Srebrenica, but also ensured that they were unarmed and therefore unable to defend themselves. Under international law, the Western powers were obligated to defend them in case of any attack.
Yet on 6th July 1995, the Serbs violated the agreement and launched an attack on the UN ‘safe area’ of Srebrenica. The unconscionable response of the international community is now notoriously well known, although largely not properly understood. By 11th July, UN peacekeeping forces in Srebrenica whose mandate was to protect the town’s unarmed inhabitants violated their own mandate. The UN forces handed over Srebrenica to Serb forces, allowing them to take control of the town and refusing to defend it. UN troops further fraternized with the Bosnian Serb army, and even facilitated the separation of Bosnian Muslim males from females. Subsequently, an estimated 23,000 Bosnian Muslim inhabitants were forcibly removed from their homes – “ethnically cleansed”; up to about ten thousand Bosnian Muslim men and boys were executed, with thousands beaten and tortured prior to execution; and an undetermined number of Bosnian Muslim women were raped.
This horrific sequence of events has been commented on harshly by one of the world’s leading specialists on international relations, Andre Gunder Frank, Professor Emeritus of Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Amsterdam. Summarising the sequence of events, he writes that:
“[T]he United States and some of its… NATO partners first set up some ‘safe havens’ in Bosnia, and then ‘helplessly’ stood by to watch massive massacres and ethnic cleansing. For ‘safe’ areas were taken over by Bosnian Serbs… who massacred whole communities of Muslims in Srebrenica and elsewhere then of course to take over their properties.”
An incisive BBC documentary, A Cry from the Grave, has thrown significant light on the role of the United Nations in the Serb takeover of the UN ‘safe area’. BBC editor – Nick Fraser observes that:
“In the era of the video camera, both the Dutch [UN battalion] and the Serbs filmed the final days of the UN’s ‘safe area’. Srebrenica was effectively handed over to the Serbs, who claimed that they wanted to question the town’s Muslim male population to search for ‘war criminals’. In a documentary about the massacre, to be shown on the BBC this week, previously unseen video film shot by the Serbs shows the Dutch troops fraternising with the Serb force. They even toast the health of Serb officers and accept gifts. The Dutch are subsequently shown carousing happily in the Croatian capital Zagreb in celebrations they themselves captured on video. The impression given is that they felt they had performed a painful job adequately. The behaviour of the [UN] troops has caused an outcry in the Netherlands, although nowadays the official Dutch explanation is that their orders were ambiguous.”
British legal expert Geoffrey Robertson QC, Visiting Professor of Human Rights at Birkbeck College, accordingly notes with disgust “the astonishing fact that this rankest of crimes was committed under the noses of the UN’s ‘Blue Helmets’, and in some respects with their complicity.” Although almost every atrocity in the Bosnian war committed by the various parties was done so “under the noses” of the Western powers, it is worth noting that the massacre at Srebrenica was hitherto unprecedented in scale. The result of the UN-NATO policy was a massacre that the press has described as the worst act of genocide since the Second World War. At face value, a harsh view of the role of the United Nations would conclude that it amounted to nothing but gathering and preparing lambs for the slaughter: attracting as many Bosnian Muslims as possible; grouping them into a single easily targeted area; disarming them; and then handing them over to Serb forces to be killed. Unfortunately, an examination of the documentary record leading up to the fall of Srebrenica confirms rather than refutes this view.
For example, United States intelligence units had intercepted radio contact on several occasions between Mladic and Yugoslav Army Chief, General Momcilo Perisic, who was actively planning the offensive with Mladic. Plans for the assault had been taking place on an almost daily basis at least as early as 17 June 1995. U.S. intelligence was therefore well aware of the imminent Serb attack against the UN safe area, along with its genocidal implications. The Washington Post reports that:
“American intelligence agencies began observing a Bosnian Serb military buildup around Srebrenica in late June. There were reports that Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic was furious about a series of raids by Srebrenica-based Muslim troops on neighboring Serb villages, and that he wanted to teach the Bosnian government a lesson. U.S. intelligence analysts concludedé that the Serb aim was to ‘neutralize’ the enclave”.
The United Nations had also anticipated the Serb attack. A three-month investigation by Newsday found that “some top UN military aides had predicted the Serb attack on Srebrenica months before it occured and advised that the only defense was NATO air power.” There was also no doubt that the attack would involve acts of genocide. While both the UN and NATO had anticipated the Serb attack, the earlier record of such attacks sufficed to illustrate their genocidal nature, providing ample notice of what was about to occur at Srebrenica. Typical examples from the record include the ethnic cleansing of vast ranges of eastern Bosnia, where almost 99 per cent of the previous majority population was removed; the catastrophe of Spring 1992 in Brcko and its Luka compound; and the existence of concentration camps established by the Serb army. There can be no doubt then that the international community had anticipated a genocidal Serb attack on the UN ‘safe area’ of Srebrenica from months beforehand.
Yet, compounding the ominous implications of the above, an insufficient number of Dutch UN troops were sent to Srebrenice under the mandate of Security Council Resolution 819. The number of troops was simply not enough to fulfil their professed mandate As reported by BBC News, “Srebrenica had been named a ‘safe haven’ by the UN Security Council”, thus attracting Muslims from throughout the region into the town in search of refuge from the Serb onslaught. “The town was packed with Muslim refugees,” as a consequence. However, “member nations had declined to provide enough troops to make sense of their declaration” that Srebrenica was now a UN ‘safe area’. Due to the drastically insufficient number of troops the possibility that they would actually be capable of fulfilling their mandate was undercut from the outset. As Professor Geoffrey Robertson QC observes: “The Dutch troops’ task was doomed from the start.” In tandem with the facts discussed above, this reveals the total vacuity of the United Nations intervention. Since its very inception, the potential effectiveness of the intervention had been eliminated by the Western strategists of the UN Security Council, the United States, Britain, and the European powers. Rendering the UN force impotent from the outset, it thus appears that the whole intervention was a facade from start to finish.
Given that UN military aides had anticipated the Serb attack months in advance, advising the necessity of NATO air strikes; while U.S. intelligence had similarly predicted an imminent Serb attack to “neutralise” the enclave, closely observing the military build-up, this conclusion is accentuated. Despite foreknowledge of the Serb assault, no action was taken to strengthen the position of United Nations troops in the town; no further preparation or precautions were adopted; and the possibility of using NATO air power in response to the Serb attack was ignored. Having engineered the conditions necessary for the genocide to occur, the West stood by and watched the massacre escalate, as had been anticipated.
Indeed, the internationally contrived impotence of the United Nations force in Srebrenica was cited as justification for the UN to avoid ordering NATO air strikes. The professed fear was that the very UN force that had allegedly been sent to protect the UN ‘safe area’ of Srebrenica, would become hostage to Serb forces, thus giving rise to the risk of potential UN casualties. The Washington Post observes that the West “feared for the safety of several hundred Dutch peacekeepers in the enclave,” leading to the repeated vetoing of NATO strikes by the UN Representative on the ground and the Dutch government, “despite requests by the local Dutch commander for deterrent strikes.” But the reasoning here is flawed. As human rights specialist Geoffrey Robertson QC observes, “There is little doubt that General Mladic”, who led the Serb assault, “a cunning calculator of odds, would have retreated under aerial bombardment and would not (at least for long) have provoked the international community by holding Blue Helmets hostage.” In fact, the Dutch commander had repeatedly requested the use of air power in vain. Yet NATO air strikes were vetoed by the UN, damning the population of Srebrenice to the “neutralisation” of wholesale annihilation. The idea that it was fear of Dutch casualties that led to the vetoing of NATO airstrikes is hardly very credible considering that the UN troops fraternised fearlessly with the Serb troops.
The ‘fear theory’ is further damaged by the fact that United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan admitted that then UN chief Boutros Boutros-Ghali and all his senior advisers were “fully aware” that NATO air power was all the UN could deploy in response to an attack on the enclave. In spite of this crucial admission of awareness of the absolute necessity of air power to prevent genocide, the UN nevertheless “declare[d] repeatedly and publicly that we did not want to use air power against the Serbs except as a last resort” and “accept[ed] the shelling of the safe areas as a daily occurrence” in contradiction to the UN mandate in the region, effectively amounting to a green light for the Serbs to invade. Annan’s admission confirms the conclusions of top UN military aides months before the attack that only NATO air power would suffice to defend the enclave. But rather than preparing for the deployment of NATO air power in anticipation of the attack, the creation of a UN ‘safe area’ in Srebrenica to be guarded by an impotent UN force é so impotent that it was even unable to defend itself – was arranged in full awareness that it would not suffice, and that air strikes would be essential to protect the town. Geoffrey Robertson QC states the case against the West bluntly: “Western European governments preferred to dishonour promises and to allow Muslims to die in their thousands rather than to suffer one more Dutch casualty”. Indeed, the fact that video evidence documents the UN troops “fraternising with the Serb force” – going so far as to facilitate the handing over of Bosnian Muslim civilians to the Serbs – only adds damning weight to this case.
The overall inconsistency in an interpretation of these events that sees the West as having genuinely humanitarian concerns, but merely being too cowardly and/or blundering to actualize them sensibly, is firstly established by the fact that the entire crisis was manufactured by the Western powers under American leadership; on a secondary level, it is highlighted by the elementary fact that the UN force which had been sent to supposedly protect Srebrenica, was actually nothing other than é in the words of Robertson QC – “a fashionable gesture of sending soldiers under the impossible condition that they should not be required to fight”, whose ability to protect even themselves had been eliminated by keeping the size of the force inadequate. It simply cannot be reasonably maintained that this force was sent in to protect Srebrenica when its numbers had been consciously limited so that such protection was impossible, in the knowledge that an entirely different category of military operation é NATO air strikes é was necessary to forestall catastrophe. Clearly, this basic contradiction in the humanitarian claim reveals that the UN force was not designed to play any such protecting role. Rather, as Robertson QC scathingly observes, it was inputted to play another more appropriate role: making a “fashionable gesture”, that could meanwhile be used as justification to avoid NATO air strikes.
Indeed, if no troops had been sent to Srebrenica at all, then there would have been no possible justification for avoiding NATO air strikes. The only humanitarian options available were either to send in a UN ground force of significant size coupled with plans to rely on air strikes, or not to send in any force at all and rely on NATO air strikes alone. Yet the West ominously opted for neither: it knowingly sent in an impotent force that would not be able to protect anybody including itself, and then exploited this as a justification to avoid undertaking significant action.
The ongoing deception that permeated this horrifying event was particularly evident when writer Michael Ignatieff confronted the UN Secretary-General of the time, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, with the following question. “Why,” he asked as Srebrenica fell to the Serbs, “insist on being neutral in the face of a clear aggressor and a clear victim, when that neutrality daily undermines the UN’s moral credit?” The Secretary-General replied with a lie: “We are not able to intervene on one side. The mandate does not allow it.”
Yet this attempt to legitimize Western indifference was contradictory to the explicit tenore of the UN’s mandate in Srebrenice. Robertson QC points out that:
“NATO commanders deliberately decided not to save this ‘safe haven’ by deploying aerial bombardment, although Security Council Resolution 819 charged them with taking ‘the necessary measures, including the use of force’ to protect it from attack.”
Indeed, credible testimony from a UN source regarding the massacre at Srebrenica was issued to the United States as it occurred. In a declassified secret cable from then U.S. Ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, to U.S. officials in Washington only a short while after the Bosnian Serb army’s takeover of Srebrenica, Galbraith pleaded with U.S. officials to avoid a similar genocide in Zepa by utilising air strikes, noting:
“é disturbing evidence that the Bosnian Serbs have massacred many, if not most, of the 5,000 plus military age men in their custody following the fall of Srebrenica. If the Bosnian Serb Army massacred the defenders of Srebrenica, we can be sure a similar fate awaits many of the 16,000 people in Zepaé Again, it is not too late to prevent a similar tragedy at Zepa. Zepa’s defenders valiantly continue to hold on. Undoubtedly they realize the fate that awaits them. They should not be abandoned.”
The United States ignored the cable as if it never existed. Consequently, the town of Zepa, in turn, fell to the Serb army.
Even within the United Nations, these policies are seen as deliberate and thus unconscionable ploys, conducted without genuine humanitarian concern and to secure dubious political ends. The Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for the Former Yugoslavia, Tadeusz Mazowiecki é a former Prime Minister of Poland – who had been appointed to investigate and issue public reports on the situation in Bosnia, observed that:
“Srebrenica was a safe zone, but was given up to the Serbs… No one tried to defend Zepa at all… Srebrenica and Zepa should have been fought for. It wasn’t done, for reasons unknown… and this meant a carrying on with the inactive politics, that is, the unprotection of the protected zones.”
The UN Special Rapporteur had resigned in disgust at the international community’s complicity to “the fall of the UN protection zone of Srebrenica into the hands of the Serbs.” Speaking on his reasons for resignation, he explained:
“Shortly before the resignation, I was in Tuzla and spoke to refugees from Srebrenica. They felt betrayed rightfully. I thought that somebody should speak up, in a sharp tone, and demonstrate with a personal, radical example that such politics should not continue”.
It is noteworthy that Mazowiecki did not see these policies as a consequence of mere incompetence, as is argued by the many apologists for the international community’s complicity in the Bosnian genocide. On the contrary, he confirmed that the betrayal of Bosnia was a result of sinister “politics” that “should not continue”. The undeniable fact of the matter, clear from our analysis of the record, is that the Western powers were simply not genuinely concerned about the plight of Bosnia and its people. From the very outset of the UN intervention in Srebrenica, the design seems to have been to avoid significant action, thus giving tacit consent to genocide and ethnic cleansing.
Indeed, this is the conclusion of the independent Bosnian human rights group, the Association of Mothers of Srebrenica, whose members consist of survivors and next-of-kin of the genocidal massacre at Srebrenica. The Association has filed a criminal complaint against UN officials with the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, having concluded from its investigation of the events at Srebrenica that UN officials were guilty of deliberately allowing it to occur to secure strategic interests. Distinguished U.S. legal expert Professor Francis Boyle – Attorney of Record for Mothers of Srebrenica and Podrinja Association and member of the Board of Directors of Amnesty USA é stated to BBC News that:
“[T]hese men, these UN officials, maybe they did not actually kill the people of Srebrenica themselves but without their behaviour, Srebrenica would never have happened. This makes them as guilty, as they’re aiders and abettors to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanityé UN officials had deliberately sacrificed Srebrenice to produce the carve-up of Bosnia.”
Boyle’s conclusions cannot be taken lightly considering his own extensive experience in the Balkans. Indeed, Boyle’s qualifications and expertise on the Bosnian war have been officially determined, authenticated and certified by none other than the Prosecutor’s Office of the International Criminal Tribunal of Yugoslavia (ICTY), which called him to testify as the Expert Witness on the evolution of the Bosnian “peace plans”. He also instituted legal proceedings on behalf of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina before the International Court of Justice in The Hague against the rump Yugoslavia for violating the 1948 Genocide Convention. As the former Lawyer for the entire Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and for all its people, Professor Boyle is a leading authority on the Bosnian war. In an extensive analysis of the events of the war and the Western role therein, Boyle concludes that: “United Nations Officials, their subordinates, and others deliberately and maliciously refused to do anything to stop this genocidal massacre at the UN-declared ‘safe area’ of Srebrenica despite having the legal obligation, the legal and political authority, and the military power to do so.” The highest-ranking “United Nations Officials, their subordinates and others”, including Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan:
“é deliberately and maliciously interfered with, prevented, and impeded those individuals who wanted to do something to stop the genocidal massacre at Srebrenica and its environs during July of 1995. This was because the fall and genocidal massacre at Srebrenica during July of 1995 were part of a longstanding common criminal purpose and plan by the United Nations Organization and the above-named United Nations Officials, their subordinates, and others to carve-up and destroy the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a Member State of the United Nations Organization.”
One of the clearest illustrations of this is the 15th July 1995 meeting that occurred during the very height of the Srebrenica massacre. Attendees of the meeting included European Union mediator and Co-Chairman of the Steering Committee of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia Carl Bildt, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the former Yugoslavia Thorvald Stoltenberg, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for the former Yugoslavia Yasushi Akashi, UNPROFOR Commander General Sir Rupert Smith, Serb President Slobodan Milosevic, and the later indicted Serb war criminal Ratko Mladic, who:
“é all met together in Belgrade in order to further develop, promote and implement their common criminal purpose and plan to carve-up and destroy the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a UN Member State, no matter how many Bosnian lives would be destroyed in the process. As proven by a UN Memorandum of 17 July 1995, Kofi Annan was kept fully informed of and involved in this criminal enterprise. As a result of this criminal meeting, subsequent meetings were held between Mladic and Smith in order to further develop, promote and implement this criminal enterprise while the inhabitants of Srebrenica were being systematically exterminated by Mladic and Milosevic with the full knowledge and approval of the above-named UN Officials, their subordinates, and others.”
London-based journalist and historian Tim Judah, a specialist in Balkan affairs, similarly concludes that as part of a wider plan of population exchange designed to facilitate the carve up, the United States gave a green light to the Serb assault on Srebrenica. Judah notes that the U.S., leading its Western partners, did “nothing to prevent” the oncoming genocide. The U.S. then exploited the gruesome massacre that resulted “to distract attention from the exodus of Krajina’s entire population which was then taking place” in Croatia.
I.V Unworthy Victims: The Killing in Krajina
The anti-humanitarian character of Western intervention in the Bosnian conflict was thus manifest shortly after the Srebrenica massacre when “Croatian forces with U.S. backing” launched one of the “biggest and the bloodiest” offensives in four years of war, on 3 August 1995 at Krajina. This time the victims were innocent Serb civilians. Less than a week later, 200,000 new refugees “were fleeing the Croatian army. However, there was no coverage of these old people being driven from their homes or the chaos of thousands fleeing the bombing of their villages. There was no sympathy and there was no talk of sanctions on Croatia”, reports Sara Flounders. Alluding to U.S. complicity in the Croatian attack, then U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher blandly admitted that the brutal attack was “to our advantage”. Indeed, as Flounders points out, “Pentagon support amounted to far more than just a nod of approval.”
The London Independent, for instance, reported that: “The re-arming and training of Croatian Forces in preparation for the present offensive are part of a classic CIA operation: probably the most ambitious operation of its kind since the end of the Vietnam war.” The Times similarly observed that:
“[T]he rearming of Croatia remains one of the biggest untold stories of the Yugoslav war. American officials strenuously deny any involvement in this operation but the region is teeming with former generals who unconventionally chose the Balkans, rather than Florida, for their well-earned retirement.”
The “retired” U.S. military officers who aided what the press described as “the largest ethnic cleansing” of the war in Yugoslavia, were in fact members of a “private” U.S. organisation – Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI) – and were able to carry out their task with NATO aid, consisting of U.S. arms and planes. According to the prominent Croatian politician Stipe Mesic, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman “received the go-ahead from the United States. Tudjman can only do what the Americans allow him to do. Krajina is the reward for having accepted, under Washington’s pressure, the federation between Croats and Muslims in Bosnia.” Mate Mestrovic, the Croatian Assembly Deputy, similarly affirmed that: “[The] United States gave us the green light to do whatever had to be done.” According to Krajina Foreign Affairs Adviser Slobodan Jarcevic, NATO “completely led and coordinated the entire Croat offensive”. NATO began by first “destroying radar and anti-aircraft batteries. What NATO did most for the Croatian Army was to jam communications between [Serb] military commands”.
The result of the U.S./NATO-backed carnage was utter devastation. A member of the Zagreb Helsinki Committee reported after visiting the region: “Virtually all Serb villages had been destroyed…. In a village near Knin, eleven bodies were found, some of them were massacred in such a way that it was not easy to see whether the body was male or female.” A confidential European Union report states that 73 per cent of Serb homes were destroyed.
“Evidence of atrocities, an average of six corpses per day, continues to emerge. The corpses, some fresh, some decomposed, are mainly of old men. Many have been shot in the back of the head or had throats slit, others have been mutilatedé Serb lands continue to be torched and looted.”
Thus, while the genocide at Srebrenica – manufactured under UN-NATO auspices – drew the world’s attention, the U.S. actively supported the ethnic cleansing of Serb civilians in Croatia, all in the name of undertaking a humanitarian peacekeeping operation. There can thus be little doubt over the duplicity of U.S. policy in the Balkans. Indeed, the hypocritical policy brings up a critical question put forth by the San Francisco Chronicle: “Why can the U.S. support Croatian ethnic cleansing in Croatia but oppose Serbian ethnic cleansing? The answer likely has little to do with ‘stopping the killing’ and much to do with the expansion of NATO and its post-Cold War global role.”
II.I Establishing Suzerainty
The West’s military intervention in the former Yugoslavia has served well to secure regional hegemony. In a candid admission of the covert hegemonic objectives of the purported ‘humanitarian peacekeeping’ NATO operation, the New York Times reported in January 1996 that:
“Now, in the years after the cold war, the United States is again establishing suzerainty over the empire of a former foe. The disintegration of the Soviet Union has prompted the United States to expand its zone of military hegemony into Eastern Europe (through NATO) and into formerly neutral Yugoslavia.”
The respected British newsletter the Intelligence Digest further noted that this NATO expansion into the Balkans had been driven by fundamentally commercial interests. This is clear from an analysis of the policies of the Western powers under U.S. leadership in the aftermath of the Bosnian conflict.
As IAC analyst Sara Flounders observes, CIA and Pentagon involvement in the Balkans crisis has “successfully established a U.S. militarily presence in a strategic region, at the expense of its European rivals.” These rivals have carried “the burden of hundreds of thousands of destitute refugees, thousands of ground troops in position and the bitter acrimony of competing interests.” The apparently bureaucratic dispute between NATO and UN officials was actually the manifestation of a struggle between U.S. and European elites, each of which had “defend[ed] its right to carve up this strategic region in accordance with its own interests”. The exacerbation of the Bosnian conflict; the playing of all parties against each other; the sponsoring of bogus peace plans; and the calculated fallacies of military intervention and peacekeeping, all served key roles in carving up the former Yugoslavia, and in particular Bosnia-Herzegovina, in accordance with these interests. U.S./Western objectives in dividing the region up in accordance with their interests through the manipulation of the conflict, have therefore been successful. In the words of The Guardian:
“Humanity and peace, Europe and the UN, have been defeated in Bosnia. The Serb-Croat plan to partition this country, with international consent is simply a moral and political disaster. How many UN resolutions are now redundant, how many pledges and peace plans?”
The primarily strategic and economic é as opposed to humanitarian – nature of U.S./Western interests in the Balkans was perhaps first revealed when the imposition of sanctions on Serbia, purportedly to end the shipment of arms to Bosnian Serbs, was exploited by the United States to gain control of all roads, waterways and communications in strategic areas. Indeed, that the imposition of sanctions on Serbia was not motivated by genuine humanitarian concern for justice is clear from the fact that no sanctions were instituted against Croatia despite its devastating August 1995 attack on Serb civilians in Krajina, resulting in the ethnic cleansing of 200,000 people. As Flounders reported at the time:
“The Pentagon now controls all navigation on the mighty Danube River – major thoroughfare of the Balkans and Eastern Europe. All shipping is restricted. The Danube is more important for Europe than the Mississippi River is for commerce in the U.S. All countries of the Danube Basin – not only Serbia but Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovakia – thus effectively come under the blockade. The Western capitalist powers are the only ones that stand to benefit from the resulting economic dislocation in a number of formerly socialist countries that are now forcibly going through privatization of their major industries and resources. Entire industrial complexes, no longer able to be competitive in the world market or even to receive raw material for production or ship their goods, can literally be bought for a song by multinational corporations.”
The continuing NATO presence in the Balkans by ‘peacekeeping’ forces is therefore an inevitable manifestation of strategic and economic objectives in the region that are fundamentally hegemonic in character. Indeed, superior military control has been the decisive factor in sharing this hegemony among the Western powers:
“Ownership and control of the newly privatized industries and natural resources is at stake. In a war-torn region, all of this can be bought for a song. Who will control the markets, the rich resources, the rebuilding and the new investments? Military control of the situation will be decisive. Diplomacy is only a cover for the military struggle”.
Diplomacy ultimately resulted in the establishment of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord. By the time this agreement was signed, over one million Bosnians had been displaced within the state’s borders, and at least another million were refugees in 25 other countries, according to figures produced by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Yet the Dayton Accord was not part of an overall strategy to offer genuine justice to the people of Bosnia. News commentator Masud Enver noted that:
“An estimated 321,000 refugees and 253,000 internally displaced people returned to their homes in the three years following the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement. But there still remain around 400,000 refugees and over 840,000 displaced persons within Bosnia-Herzegovina, most of whom cannot go back to their home villages now controlled by the Serbs.”
II.II UN-NATO Complicity in Injustice
Further revealing is the fact that NATO has been largely indifferent to its professed task of keeping the peace in the region, standing by while ethnic antagonism and aggression have resulted in continuing violence, and failing to arrest indicted war criminals in territory under NATO occupation. As the London-based Muslim journal Crescent International é affiliated to the Toronto-based Institute for Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT) – reported in April 1996 in an article aptly titled ‘Serbian war criminals free, thanks to the U.S.’: “[T]he true architects of the genocide are allowed to remain in power in the lands they have conquered and ‘cleansed’, and are dealt with as international statesmen and peace-keepers by the rest of the world”, as a result of “the political interests of the UN and the people who control it.” Indeed, “Milosevic, the biggest criminal of them all”, who has been deeply implicated in supporting and orchestrating the operations of Bosnian Serb forces, was “the least likely to be tried as he holds the key to the success of U.S. policy in the region. His cooperation was fundamental to the U.S.’s successful negotiation of the Dayton Accord.” Until the Kosovo crisis that erupted in 1999, Milosevic was “still enjoying his rewards” for cooperating in the “negotiation of the Dayton Accord.”
The United States now has 6,000 troops stationed in Bosnia as part of a 20,000 strong NATO ‘peacekeeping’ force. Despite this military presence, the U.S. has failed to bring to trial indicted Serb warlords General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadjic, although they reside in a NATO-controlled district. The diplomatic appeasement of Milosevic and other war criminals has been accompanied by supporting policies directly responsible for aggravating the humanitarian crisis in Bosnia. As the New York-based rights monitor, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported:
“[I]n the former Yugoslavia, the international community’s failure to detain war criminals or to control ongoing abuses by unindicted war criminals has combined with the donation of aid to enrich and empower many of the very people most responsible for genocide and ‘ethnic cleansing’.”
Analysing Prijedor as a classic case study of a phenomenon that is occurring throughout the region despite NATO’s peacekeeping operation there, HRW found that:
“Civilian and police authorities work in tandem to prevent the return of refugees and displaced persons by organizing or inciting violence against those who attempt to return, and by orchestrating (with the assistance of the Bosnian Serb Army, according to NATO) the destruction of housesé Restrictions on freedom of movement, the destruction of property, and the ethnically-based eviction of persons through the application of discriminatory laws are further evidence that the Bosnian Serb authorities have maintained their goal of an ethnically pure entity (or as the Republika Srpska authorities put it, ‘state’) – the goal that led to massive ‘ethnic cleansing’ campaigns during the war. Most recently, according to a reliable local source, the Prijedor authorities have reportedly destroyed property ownership records, which, if true, would make it nearly impossible for refugees and displaced persons who fled under immediate threat to prove ownership of their propertyé Our research leads us to the conclusion that post-Dayton obstructionism by the Prijedor leadership is not only motivated by economic gain but represents a highly organized effort, directed to a significant extent by the Republika Srpska authorities in Pale (especially by the Ministry of the Interior), to prevent permanently the repatriation of non-Serb refugees and displaced persons to the Republika Srpska and to retain control over all municipal functions.”
NATO has yet to offer any sort of meaningful counter-response to these policies. Indeed, the indifference of the international community to these events, in spite of a professed mandate to rebuild Bosnia, protect human rights, and promote democracy there, suggests complicity. The international community’s active obstruction of independent investigations into the West’s role in the conflict only adds weight to this conclusion. The United Nations, for instance, has continued to obscure inquiries into its own role. Chairman H. Smith of the U.S. Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights (part of the U.S. Committee on International Relations), stated at a March 1998 hearing:
“Two weeks ago in preparation for this hearing, I wrote to Secretary General Kofi Annan requesting the release of communications between Akashi, Janvier, and other UN officials about the events in Srebrenica. I also invited them to send a witness to be at today’s hearing. They chose not to send a witness. The only documents they have sent have been a couple of UN press releases and other documents that were already made publicé The credibility of the United Nations is very much at stake in this matter, particularly because some of the documents that are still being kept secret were addressed to Secretary Annan himself in his former position as head of UN peacekeeping operations.”
NATO has behaved in a similarly unconscionable and dubious manner. Under U.S. leadership, NATO has refused to allow its troops to guard the sites of mass graves while investigations there continue, despite evidence of tampering by Serbs. Hasan Nuhanovic, former translator for the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Srebrenica, testified in U.S. hearings on this matter:
“American troops, when they got deployed in Bosnia, they were deployed in eastern Bosnia. The American zone of responsibility covers exactly the area where all mass grave sites, all the victims from Srebrenica are located. None of those sites have been protected from tampering. Many of them were disturbedé I contacted some American officers, trying to indicate that it will be really necessary to mark the sites and protect them from disturbance because they are being disturbed every day. Nothing has been done so far about that.”
This apparent lack of concern for protecting justice, even while having a mandate to protect it, only adds weight to the criticism that the Western powers have a vested interest in concealing ugly truths that ‘justice’ may unveil.
II.III The Dayton Accord: Legitimizing Atrocities and Legalizing Colonization
This view is vindicated by the fact that the Dayton Accord, forged in the aftermath of genocide, amounted to an attempt to legitimise Serb atrocities by the international community. The Dayton Accord set aside the Bosnian Constitution, forcing the country to accept a secession of 49 per cent of its territory to the Serbs, despite the fact that their atrocities prepondered enormously in the conflict. As a consequence, the international community has in fact overseen the installation of a colonial entity inside Bosnia, legislated for under the provisions of the Dayton Accord. This entity functions as a state under Western infiltration, remaining subservient to Western goals and policies é for all intents and purposes, a compliant puppet-regime. Newsweek described the Dayton Accord as “less a peace agreement than a declaration of surrender”, as a result of which U.S.-led NATO forces “will have nearly colonial powers”. Former U.S. Congressman Lee Hamilton – member of the U.S. House Committee on International Relations, Chair of the Joint Economic Committee, and now Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars – similarly commented on the consequences of Dayton in the New York Times: “We have completely taken over the control of the Balkans. U.S. officials exercise managing functions in all states of the former Yugoslavia. We are virtually the pro consul.”
These brutal realities have been disregarded by most commentators among academia and media, who along with politicians portray the Western intervention in the former Yugoslavia as a noble, but painfully overdue, humanitarian response to massive human rights violations. But as Canadian economist Michel Chossudovsky points out: “Western public opinion has been misled.”
In an incisive analysis of the colonial-like consolidation of U.S. hegemony in Bosnia published in 1996 by the U.S. journal edited by former CIA officials Covert Action Quarterly, Chossudovsky é Professor of Economics at the University of Ottawa é observed that:
“Now it is the turn of Yugoslavia’s war-ravaged successor states to feel the tender mercies of the international financial community… As the world focuses on troop movements and cease fires, the international financial institutions are busily collecting former Yugoslavia’s external debt from its remnant states, while transforming the Balkans into a safe-haven for free enterprise”.
The Western powers under U.S. leadership have, indeed, moved swiftly to monopolise on the prospects opened up by the war. The process of securing Western interests in the region has been pursued on the pretext of implementing a comprehensive programme of reconstruction. But this Western ‘reconstruction’ programme – in concordance with the covert aim of “transforming the Balkans into a safe-haven for free enterprise” – is specifically designed to strip Bosnia of the sovereignty with which the Western powers had initially infused it. “It consists largely of making Bosnia a divided territory under NATO military occupation and Western administrationé [T]he U.S. and the European Union have installed a full-fledged colonial administration in Bosnia,” notes Professor Michel Chossudovsky. The November 1995 Dayton Accords played an integral role in this process. Under the Accords, the head of Bosnia’s administration:
“é is their appointed High Representative (HR) Mr. Carl Bildt, a former Swedish Prime Minister and European Representative in the Bosnian Peace negotiations. The HR has full executive powers in all civilian matters, with the right to overrule the governments of both the Bosnian Federation and the Bosnian-Serb Republika Srpska. The HR is to act in close liaison with the IFOR Military High Command as well with donors agencies.”
Western support for indigenous self-determination é democracy é has thus been negligible. The Parliamentary Assembly set up under the rewritten Constitution under the Dayton Accords, “largely acts as a ‘rubber stamp’. Behind the democratic facade, actual political power rests in the hands of a ‘parallel government’ headed by the High Representative and staffed by expatriate advisors.” Chossudovsky also brings to attention the presence of an international civilian police force, directed not by Bosnians but by an expatriate Commissioner appointed by the former United Nations Secretary General, Boutros Boutros Ghali. The force consists of “some 1,700 policemen from fifteen countries most of whom have never set foot in the Balkans [and who] were dispatched to Bosnia after a five days training programme in Zagreb.” It seems clear that this is intended to strengthen Western capacity for social control over the population. Military repression by NATO to this end was reported by IAC analyst Sara Flounders in 1998:
“[T]he U.S. – through its leading role in the NATO occupation – is still exerting its military prowess in an attempt to control Bosnia and the Balkans as a whole. Its troops are intervening in municipal elections and threatening to destroy any radio or television station or newspaper that criticizes NATO’s presence in Bosnia. NATO commanders have overruled decisions by Serbia’s High Court and have overturned the very parliament whose election they presided over. Now NATO Commander General Wesley K. Clark has announced that US ‘peace-keepers’ will use lethal force against Serbians who throw stones at the occupying troops.”
This repressive military hegemony is reinforced by intense surveillance of the population. The Los Angeles Times for instance reports that: “The CIA station in Bosnia is now reputed to be one of the largest in the region.”
The new Constitution produced at Dayton also gives the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB), along with the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), “custody over economic policy”. Article VII specifies that the first Governor of the Central Bank of Bosnia-Herzegovina is to be nominated by the IMF and “shall not be a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina or a neighboring State”. Furthermore, the same article of the Constitution prevents the Central Bank from fulfilling its actual function. Chossudovsky reports that: “For the first six years… it may not extend credit by creating money, operating in this respect as a currency board”. Indeed, Bosnia will not even be permitted its own currency, “issuing paper money only when there is full foreign exchange backing”. Neither is it permitted to mobilize domestic resources. Like the other successor republics, “its ability to self-finance its reconstruction (without massively increasing its external debt) is blunted from the outset”. The IMF is thus in control of the Central Bank, and the EBRD heads the Commission on Public Corporations which supervises all public sector enterprises including energy, water, postal services, roads, railways, etc. “The President of the EBRD appoints the Chairman of the Commission which also oversees public sector restructuring, meaning primarily the sell-off of State and socially owned assets and the procurement of long term investment funds.”
In other words, the administration of Bosnia’s political, economic, social and military affairs does not rest with the Bosnian people, but instead with various Western representatives and financial institutions. As Chossudovsky writes in summary:
“Western creditors have embedded their interests in a Constitution hastily written on their behalf, executive positions within the Bosnian State system are to be held by non-citizens who are appointees of Western financial institutions. No constitutional assembly, no consultations with citizens’ organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, no ‘constitutional amendments’.”
II.IV Plundering Domestic Resources
To describe U.S./Western imposition in Bosnia as a new form of imperialism would therefore be entirely accurate. Indeed, Western policies in the region virtually amount to a full-fledged resurrection of the colonial methodology of direct control. Even the interests behind the formulation of policy are essentially the same: power and wealth.
Chossudovsky observes that under the guise of humanitarianism: “Western governments and corporations show greater interest in gaining access to potential strategic natural resources than committing resources for rebuilding Bosnia.” Documents in the custody of Croatia and the Bosnian Serbs indicate the identification of coal and oil deposits on the eastern slope of the Dinarides Thrust. Bosnian officials testify that the Chicago-based AMOCO was one of several foreign corporations that have initiated exploratory surveys in Bosnia.
Citing sources, Chossudovksy notes that: “The West is anxious to develop these regions”. For example, the San Francisco Chronicle reported in August 1995 while the conflict continued that: “The World Bank – and the multinationals that conducted operations – are reluctant to divulge their latest exploration reports to the combatant governments while the war continues”. As early as 1991, the World Bank recorded that there are “substantial petroleum fields in the Serb-held part of Croatia just across the Sava river from the Tuzla region”. The Dayton Accords stipulate that these strategic areas are part of the U.S. Military Division with headquarters in Tuzla. Thus, the territorial partition of Bosnia between the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Bosnian-Serb Republika Srpska “takes on strategic importance” under the Dayton Accords. “[T]he 60,000 NATO troops on hand to ‘enforce the peace’ will administer the territorial partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina in accordance with Western economic interests.”
These policies é and their possible future forms – were extensively reviewed by the late UN consultant and economist, Professor Sean Gervasi, at the 1996 Prague Conference on the Enlargement of NATO. Describing the division and administration of Balkans territory in the aftermath of the Bosnian war by NATO ‘peacekeepers’, Gervasi stated:
“Once Yugoslavia was dismantled and thrown into chaos, it was possible to begin reorganizing this central part of the Balkans. Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were to be brought into a German sphere of interest. Germany acquired access to the sea on the Adriatic, and potentially, in the event that the Serbs could be overwhelmed, to the new Rhine-Danube canal, a route which can now carry 3,000 ton ships from the North Sea into the Black Sea. The southern reaches of Yugoslavia were to fall into an American sphere of interest. Macedonia, which commands the only east-west and north-south passages across the Balkan Mountains, was to be the centerpiece of an American region. But the American sphere would also include Albania and, if those regions could be stripped away from Serbia, the Sanjak and Kosovo. Some American planners have even talked of the eventual emergence of a Greater Albania, under U.S. and Turkish tutelage, which would comprise a chain of small Muslim States, possibly including Bosnia-Herzegovina, with access to the Adriatic. Not surprisingly, Germany and the U.S., although they worked in concert to bring about the dismantlement of Yugoslavia, are now struggling for control of various parts of that country, notably Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In fact, there is considerable jockeying for influence and commercial advantage throughout the Balkans. Most of this competition is between Germany and the U.S., the partners who tore Yugoslavia apart. But important companies and banks from other European countries are also participating.”
Alleged humanitarian concerns thus only continue to be absent. In accordance with the policies discussed by Gervasi above, late in 1996 a London “peace implementation conference” was held to direct the course of Bosnia’s future in line with U.S./Western corporate interests. The Bosnian economy has been restructured not in terms of alleviating the plight of the Bosnian people, but in terms of securing lucrative Western economic interests. The Press Association reported that the conference “won a commitment from Bosnian leaders to reconstruct the shattered economy along free market economy lines, including significant privatization and close cooperation with the World Bank.” With particular regard to the Serbian governmental entity in Bosnia – Republika Srpska (RS) – documents from the U.S. Embassy based in Sarajevo indicate that: “In the RS, the privatization framework is being overhauled and will create more opportunities for involvement of potential foreign investors”. The overhauling was only necessary due to a single “fundamental flaw” of the previous process which “was the allocation of 47 percent of companies’ shares to seven government-managed funds” – obviously posing somewhat of an obstacle to the “involvement of potential foreign investors”. To eliminate this obstacle, the March 1998 Foreign Investment Law which administers both the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Serb entity was instituted. This law “establishes the policy standards of promoting foreign investment and protecting foreign investor’s rights”. Western corporate interests are thus fully protected under a law that “is progressive in terms of its final aim which is to promote foreign direct investment.” The law “protects the rights of foreign investors” and under its jurisdiction, “the [Bosnian] entities are directed to establish progressive and favorable tax conditions that encourage foreign investment.” Moreover, the law “expressly forbids expropriation or nationalization actions against foreign investments.” As for the people of Bosnia, they are to be relegated to the status of a cheap, convenient labour force for Western corporations who will continue to harness the profits of their copious investments. The U.S. Embassy declares that: “Foreign investors can utilize low-cost labor (the lowest in the CEE [Central and Eastern Europe]) while gaining proximity and access to important markets in the EU and the CEE.”
While professing their desire to promote democracy around the world, particularly in Bosnia, the Western powers have been imposing monumental pressure on the two governments in Bosnia to implement these policies regardless of the opinion of the people. For example, the U.S.-chaired Contact Group commandeering policy in Bosnia issued a warning on 19 November 1998 that millions of dollars in aid would be cut without swift conformity to Western requirements. A U.S. spokesperson proclaimed that: “The time has come and, in fact, is overdue for the governments of Bosnia to be making the transition – and should be making it rapidly – to a sustainable market economy.” Harsh measures would be taken against the population in the event of failure to submit to Western demands. Ordering “much more progress on privatization”, the spokesperson admitted: “We are prepared to cut off projects, programs, anything to get their attention”.
The future of Bosnia is, in other words, being written by an international elite based “in Washington, Bonn and Brussels rather than in Sarajevo”. Self-interested politico-economic restructuring, pursued under the guise of maintaining peace and rebuilding the country, “is more likely to plunge Bosnia-Herzegovina (as well as the other remnant republics of former Yugoslavia) into the status of a Third World countryé
“While local leaders and Western interests share the spoils of the former Yugoslav economy, the fragmentation of the national territory and the entrenching of socio-ethnic divisions in the structure of partition serve as a bulwark blocking a united resistance of Yugoslavs of all ethnic origins against the recolonization of their homeland.”
The notion that the international community has undertaken a humanitarian é albeit belated é intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina, accompanied by a variety of unintentional though fatal errors, is simply untenable as far as the documentary record is concerned. The conventional understanding of the Western intervention in Bosnia, as well as the ongoing NATO peacekeeping mission, does not withstand detailed scrutiny. On the contrary, an analysis of the facts demonstrates the anti-humanitarian nature of the operation. Furthermore, the NATO operation in Bosnia illustrates the duplicity of the concept of humanitarian military intervention as such in the current world order. The intervention has culminated in the delegation of Bosnia to the status of a colony, a colony that has thus been freely exploited, manipulated and restructured in accordance with Western interests. The prime function of the ‘peacekeeping operation’ is thus the securing of economic and strategic interests within the regions subject to such missions. In other words, the deliberate manufacture of humanitarian crises in strategic regions serves a crucial purpose: the provision of justification for the expansion of military hegemony to secure Western interests. This inevitably entails suppressing regional self-determination and enforcing politico-economic control with military backing, in order to restructure these regions to manufacture a climate conducive to Western investment and enrichment. As a consequence, the ‘peacekeeping operation’ inherently involves the very opposite of what it purports to be. While providing a humanitarian gloss of legitimacy to self-interested anti-humanitarian military interventions, the ‘peacekeeping operation’ in fact entails only the engineering of conflict, the systematic abuse of human rights, the institutionalization of repression, and the curbing of self-determination.