Friday, December 24, 2010

"Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" by Silber and Little [15]

Chapter 23: HMS Invincible Talks at Seas Summer 1993

This short chapter mostly concerns the ongoing talks which were held in 1993 in which the Western powers tried to push a peace plan onto the three parties they could all be coerced into signing. The theme that the international community implicitly accepted the ethnic carve-up of Bosnia continued, and the Bosnian government were increasingly being pushed harder to accept a peace plan which by this point left them with a fractured, land-locked statelet which was simply not viable as a functioning nation-state. As part of this pressure, the West had cultivated Bosniak politician/warlord Fikret Abdic as a potential rival to Izetbegovic, if only for leverage. At this point, Abdic--who had good relations with many of the nationalist Serbs in the areas around the so-called "Bihac pocket" which was his stronghold--declared his independence from the Bosnian state and established his own breakaway statelet within the borders of Bosnia.

While this was going on, the Croatian leadership was still maintaining diplomatic relations with their Serb counterparts. But while the continued possibility of a mutual Croat/Serb division of Bosnia at the expense of the Muslim plurality was ongoing, there was a contrary diplomatic track being pursued--the American pressure on the Croats to cooperate with the Bosnian government.

Chapter 24: A Question of Control The Market Square Bomb and the NATO Ultimatum February 1994

The mortar shell which killed sixty-nine people in Sarajevo on February 5, 1994 might have served as little more than a test case for how the differing parties in the war reacted. The Bosnian government was quick to express its outrage to any media outlet they could find. Radovan Karadzic was equally quick with his laughably inconsistent and illogical denials--the man had a real talent for changing his story as the facts eroded the ground under earlier disavowels of responsibility. And Canadian General Lewis MacKenzie was more than willing to lend his support for the whispering campaign among pro-Serb Westerners that Karadzic's claim that the bomb was actually planted by the Bosnian government was true. Of course, neither MacKenzie nor anyone else could come out and say such things--if they had done so, they might have been required to provide evidence. Evidence for a claim that the Bosnian government would have--indeed, could have--launched an inaccurate mortar shell into a crowded market square on a quiet day (mortars are not very accurate weapons--getting a direct hit on the first try is mostly a matter of dumb luck) in order to increase pressure on the Serbs. And for that matter, evidence that this scenario was more likely than the possibility that this mortar was simply one of the approximately 500,000 artillery projectiles the Bosnian Serb army had inflicted onto Sarajevo by that point. Such evidence was, not surprisingly, never forthcoming.

The attack pushed the international community to finally call for decisive action against the Serbs in the form of airstrikes. The Russians stepped in and pressured the West to work out a compromise. The Serb leadership, who realized that the presence of the Russians along with the UN willingness to serve as troops patroling--and therefore maintaining--the battle lines in Sarajevo--eagerly jumped on the opportunity to appear reasonable, and therefore agreed to a plan to place their heavy weapons under UN "control." Eventually, the Bosnian government--who smelled a rat--were pressured by the international community to accept this compromise.

The UN forces on the scene, led by General Michael Rose, were more concerned about avoiding air strikes than any larger strategic aims. It was typical of the mentality of the UNPROFOR leadership by this point in the war, Rose was primarily worried about the safety of the "peacekeeping" troops under his command and had little inclination to consider the larger issues of justice in the conflict. Therefore, as the Serbs continued to change the terms of the agreement and then drag their feet on complying even with that, Rose put his energies into finding ways to spin the reality in order to, in effect, "sell" the Serb actions in the best possible light. In the end, Karadzic and the Bosnian Serbs came out ahead--they still had actual control of their weapons, they still held the high ground around Sarajevo, UN troops now did some of the grunt work of manning the front lines for them, and the international community had been told that they had made concessions for peace. And certain elements within the UN were complicit in all this.

"Gaining Moral Ground" The Washington Agreement February 1994

While all that was happening, though, American diplomacy was pushing an agreement which would ultimately change the dynamic and the balance of power on the ground. This chapter summarizes the diplomatic and political actions which led to the formulation of the Croat-Muslim alliance, which was supported by the Croatian government out of necessity and moral pressure, and which was only possible with continued prodding and pressure from Washington. It was a marriage of convenience, not love, but it would work.


Owen said...

It's hard to read your summary of Little and Silber without feeling nauseous at the cynical way in which the guests at the party kept rearranging the seats as they ignored the intrusive neighbour beating up their host. John Major, we salute your finest hours.

Kirk Johnson said...

I couldn't agree more, Owen.