bosnia report
No. 10 April - May 1995
Renewing Ceasefires and UN Mandates
by Marshall Harris and Stephen Walker

Even in the face of Croatian Serb terrorist attacks on Zagreb and a major Croatian counter-offensive in Serbian-occupied Slavonia in early May, the new policy goal of the United States and its European allies is to bring about nothing more than a renewal of last winter's Bosnian ceasefire, which expired on 1 May.

Although the United Nations recently agreed to Zagreb's legitimate demand that UNPROFOR monitor Croatia's borders with Serbia and Serbian-occupied Bosnia, the new mission mandate has done little to pull the parties back from the brink. Indeed, the UN's failure to prevent Serbian attacks in the Croatian province of Slavonia and throughout Bosnia demonstrates yet again that the UN is virtually certain not to fulfill any mandate, new or old.

The situation in Bosnia is, if anything, worse. By refusing to implement the only sensible, just course of action available - lifting the illegal, invalid arms embargo against Bosnia and using NATO's mighty air power to silence Serbian artillery and cut Serbian supply lines - the Clinton Administration and its allies can only try to postpone the inevitable by pressuring the Bosnians to extend the ceasefire that allows rebel Serbs to consolidate their illicit gains while preparing for future offensives. The Bosnians have rightly refused.

Any hope that the Clinton Administration would recognise the European governments' abysmal policy failures and voluntarily pursue the alternative track - complementing political negotiations by a credible military threat - evaporated last autumn when it abandoned even rhetorical support for lifting the arms embargo and - when faced with Serbian attacks on the Bihac 'safe area' - withdrew the threat of NATO intervention. Lacking the stick of military force, this policy increasingly seeks to appease the aggressor. That is why a bi-partisan movement in Congress is now moving rapidly to force President Clinton's hand by ending the arms embargo. Instead of working with the Congress, however, President Clinton has acceded to a European policy of negotiations designed to partition Bosnia-Herzegovina and to rely on the UNPROFOR to contain the fighting through a 'neutrality' in the face of aggression that violates the UN Charter and countless Security Council reoÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ lutions.

In Croatia, the West's refusal to use force has relegated the UN to irrelevancy at best and complicity at worst. Rather than facilitating the return of 400,000 refugees, the UN has supervised the exodus of 40,000 more. Rather than promoting the withdrawal of Serbian troops, the UN has allowed them to entrench themselves through ethnic cleansing and with arms supplied from Belgrade. Rather than ensuring Serbia honour its pledges to cut off its 'Krajina' proxies, the UN has watched blithely as troops, arms and material have poured from Serbia, across Bosnia, and into Croatia. Rather than facilitating the return of Croatian control over its lands, the UN has repeatedly demonstrated that it will give no more than lip service to Croatia's territorial integrity and sovereignty. As a result, in Belgrade and their strongholds within Bosnia and Croatia, Serbian leaders scoff at the parade of visiting Western emissaries, envoys, ministers and free-lance peacemakers. For while the Clinton Administration and European governments preached the diplomatic doctrine of containment and a policy of renewable cease-fires, Serbia, quite literally, continued to spread.

Betrayed by weakWestern governments, un-honoured UN and NATO commitments, four years of empty rhetoric from Washington, and UN troops that preserve and consolidate Serbia's ill-won conquets, Bosnians and Croatians, eventually must choose between surrendering their homes and amassing whatever meagre resources they can to fight for their countries and their lives. The latter choice seems more likely. Without a credible military response to the war, the US and Western partners can have little hope of affecting the future of Bosnia and the Balkans. Croatians and Bosnians are losing their patience with Western diplomacy and, along with the Serbs, are gearing up for more war. The US and its Contat Group partners, meanwhile, are gearing up for more empty diplomacy and more humiliations.

Making a Habit out of Humiliation

Three unprecedented humiliations of US diplomats in the month of April should have finally led the Clinton Administration to stop allowing rebel Bosnian Serb forces to control and obstruct diplomatic and humanitarian assistance efforts throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. Unfortunately, the Administration's response has only been more words.

On 21 April, rebel Bosnian Serb forces refused to allow a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and the acting US Ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina to travel from Sarajevo airport to the city centre, where they were scheduled to meet with Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic. After the diplomats had camped out at the airport for twenty-four hours, Serbian troops permitted them to fly back to Zagreb - their mission unaccomplished - and generously pledged not to fire at the plane as it left. Following the incident, President Izsetbegovic said of the trapped diplomats. 'They have learned more last night about what is going on here than in the past three years. They had all night long to think about how far unprincipled concessions to the Serbs have brought them.' Unfortunately their bosses in Washington seem to have engaged in no such reflections.

Only a few days earlier, on 17 April, a Bosnian Serb representative refused to allow departing US Ambassador Victor Jackowitch to fly out of Sarajevo for the last time, thereby forcing him and his party to travel on a treacherous path that provides the only overland route from the city. And, on 10 April, rebel Bosnian Serb forces refused to guarantee the safety of a flight to Sarajevo by US and other envoys, who wanted to meet with President Izetbegovic. So the envoys cancelled the trip. Rather than taking appropriate action to deter future incidents such as these, State Department officials have merely expressed a few angry words of 'outrage' and 'complained to the UN'. US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright said that refusals to allow the flights were 'unacceptable'. She also said that they were 'a very serious breÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ach of diplomatic procedure', as though the Serbians had brought the wrong wax seal to a treaty-signing.

These three airport-related incidents - along with the murder of a French UNPROFOR soldier - are merely the latest of many rebel Bosnian Serb outrages to which the Administration and the UN have failed to respond with anything but verbiage. Indeed, they have tolerated the rebel Bosnian Sserbs' effective closure of Sarajevo airport since 6 April. They have also tolerated the rebel Bosnian Serb forces' refusal to allow humanitarian convoys carrying medical supplies to reach the eastern 'safe areas' (Gorazde, Srebrenica and Zepa) since November 1994. The UN's response has been little better. UNHCR reports that UN Special Represenative Yasushi Akashi sent a 'strong letter' to rebel Bosnian Serb leader (and suspected war criminal) Radovan Karadzic last month to ask him to 'intervene personally'. And, according to the UN's most recent monthly accounting less than forty percent of planned assistance convoys have reached the beseiged enclave of Bihac. Virtually no assistance is reaching the enclave's southern pocket because rebel Serb forces in Croatia refuse to allow the conoys to travel through territory under their control. The UN's response: another 'strong letter' from Akashi, this time to Milan Martic, Belgrade-appointed leader of Croatian Serbs.

Incredibly, the US is literally paying for these humiliations. The Administration has just asked Congress for a flat $211 million to find UNPROFOR for six months, regardless of how UNPROFOR performs or uses the allocation. The request, contained in the State Department Authorization Bill, is expected to be taken up in the House in May. This is a lot of money for a mission that has accomplished so little, that has so rapidly retreated from what little it has accomplished; and that, if it continues on its present course, is likely to lead to devastating consequences - including a prolonged and widened war with more attacks on civilians. It is definitely a lot when one considers that there are so many credible and sensible alternative policies - policies that the Administration and its allies could adopt if they were not so committed to maintaining the mission for its own sake.

While one can argue that the mission's deliveries of food aid to some areas have saved lives, it is also true that, in the absence of actions to stop the slaughter, the mission had fed tomorrow's dead. Indeed, it can be judged a success only by the standard of doing nothing instead. The real standard should be what the United States could easily do, including ending the arms embargo and honouring existing NATO and UN commitments by judiciously employing NATO air power. Or, in the case of the airport, merely saying 'no' to Serbian demands and meaning it. For a start, rebel Bosnian Serb leaders could be refused transport and even entree to the next round of Geneva talks. Only vigorous responses beyond tough verbiage and hollow threats, will stop aggression and lead to a just and sustainable peace.

The Administration would do well to remember that, beyond the material price-tag for UNPROFOR, there is a cumulative cost of Western inaction that emboldens the Serbians to continue to commit outrages, escalate their diplomatic and territorial demands, and further entrench their physical and military positions - in short, exactly the opposite result from those US and European policies have sought to achieve. The renewed terrorist attacks by Croatian Serb forces on civilians in Zagreb testify grimly to te failure of US and European policies to reverse or even halt the Serbian aggression. Remarkably, the Clinton Administration has taken no action - beyond words of condemnation - against the Croatian Serbs for the attacks, which followed a Croatian Army counter-offensive against Croatian Serb military targerts and positions.

Action Council Co-Chairman (and former Assistant Secretary of State) Hodding Carter said at the time: 'Croatia's counteroffensive to take ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ back terrirory from Serbian occupation forces and the Croatian Serbs' assault on innocent civilians cannot be equated. The United States and its allies are committed, through the UN, to facilitate the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Croatian territory and halting Serbian aggression against civilians,' he continued. 'They have failed to carry out these commitments for more than three years. The US should lead NATO in taking appropriate actions - including the use of air power, if necessary - to prevent and punish any further attacks by Serbian occupation forces.'

Instead, Administration officials continue to cling to a demonstrably failed negotiating process. A State Department spokesman said on 2 may : 'We do not believe the situation should be changed by force.' He even urged Croatia to withdraw from the recaptured territory and try to regain it 'at the negotiating table'. Yet what can a fourth year of words bring, when not backed by a credible threat of force?

Marshall Harris and Stephen Walker are Executive Director and Programme Director respectively of the Washington-based Action Council for Peace in the Balkans. Members of its Steering Committee are Morris Abram, Morton Abramowitz, Fouad Ajami, Richard Allen, Daniel Bell, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Richard Burt, Frank Carlucci, Hodding Carter, Walter Cronkite, Dennis DeConcini, Patt Kerian, David Dinkins, Frank Fahrenkopf, Geraldine Ferraro, Henry Louis Gates, Leslie Gelb, Bianca Jagger, Barbara Jordan, Max M. Kampelman, Lane Kirkland, Jeane Kirkpatrick, John Lehman, Ron Lehman, Eugene McCarthy, Frank McCloskey, George McGovern, Edmund Muskie, Paul Nitze, John O'Sullivan, Martin Peretz, Richard Perle, Norman Podhoretz, Eugene Rostow, Donald Rumsfeld, Carl Sagan, Albert Shanker, George Schultz, Henry Siegman, John Silber, Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Susan Sontag, William Howard Taft, Paul Volcker, Elie Wiesel, Albert Wohlstetter, Paul Wolfowitz, Elmo Zumwalt.


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