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The Bosnian war was an ethnic conflict that took place between 1992 and 1995 (Evenson, 2009). The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was a part of the former Yugoslavia and had a multi-ethnic populace comprising of Croats, Bosniaks, and Serbs. The Bosnian crisis was the worst post World War II conflict that was witnessed in Europe. It is estimated that more than one hundred thousand people lost their lives while more than 20,000 women coming majorly from the Bosniak ethnic group were raped (Kondylis , 2010). The ethnic clash in the Balkan region also led to the displacement of more than 2 million people in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Kondylis , 2010). The chief perpetrator of the crimes against humanity during the Bosnian conflict was Slobodan Milosevic, the then Serbian president. Several diplomatic efforts were made by the then-European Community and the United States to bring the conflict to an end. This paper explores the lessons learned from the Bosnian war of 1992-1995 with regard to humanitarian intervention.
The Origin and Development of the Bosnian Crisis
The main reason for the outbreak of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war was the intention of the Croats and Serbs living in Bosnia to annex the territory of Serbia to their respective countries (Gratz, 2011). Slobodan Milosevic, a Serbian nationalist leader, was agitating for the so called Greater Serbia, sparking fear among the Croats and Muslims in Bosnia. It is out of this fear that the Bosnian Muslims and Croats called for the independence of Bosnia. The actual commencement of the war was in 1992 with the beginning of the policy of cleansing large Bosnian areas occupied by non-Serbs. The adoption of this policy was followed by the siege of Sarajevo by the Serbs on April 6, 1992, which saw all ethnic communities opposed to the Greater Serbia cut off from communication, food, and utilities. During the siege, Milosevic and his Serbian army committed atrocities such as rapes, murders, and detentions of people in camps as well as forceful displacement of people.
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The Bosnian War and International Interventions
The United Nation was not willing to get involved in this conflict, but it facilitated the delivery of humanitarian aid through the United Nations Protection Force, commonly known as the UNPROFOR (Thakur, 2006). Later on, the United Nations amplified its duty to ensure the protection of several areas that it had declared safe. The United Nations and the NATO did not get involved in the Bosnian conflict for two reasons. First, there was a conflict of interest of most principle members of the then-European Community. According to Susan Sontag (2002), the Europeans were not willing to bring the conflict to an end because both France and the Great Britain were pro-Serb. This meant that it was difficult for the United Nations Security Council to launch military strikes against Serbia as it would face opposition from the United Kingdom and France. Attacking Serbia could go against the foreign policies of the two principal members of the European Community. Secondly, the United Nations emphasized on embracing neutrality, thus avoiding partiality at all costs. The humanitarian approach adopted by the United Nations meant that the UNPROFOR could not attack Serbia militarily (Kuperman, 2008). Therefore, both the United Nations and NATO were more of spectators as the Serbs continued to massacre Muslims in Sarajevo. These two reasons indicate that there was a gap of thinking as far as combating the Bosnian war was concerned.
The United States under President George H. W. Bush did not get involved in the situation in the Balkans since the President and his advisors considered it a European issue. The United States did not want to meddle with the affairs in Europe, thinking that it was the sole responsibility of the European nations to solve the Balkan crisis. The focus of the United Nations Secretary General and his Generals was to protect their own Center of Gravity (COG), whereas the focus of the military leaders was on the Center of Gravity as the core obstruction to the fulfillment of the aims and missions of the Security Council. As a result of the United Nations falling with the humanitarian operation, the crisis continued to worsen as the Serbs in Bosnia freely committed mass extermination of Muslims. The crisis reached its climax with the massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995, following the failure of the United Nations to protect this ‘safe area’ (Stein, 2012).
The Srebrenica massacre caught the attention of the international community with the NATO Security Council seeing the United Nations Protection Force as an obstacle in search for the solution to the Balkan crisis (Blockmans, 2007). The same views were held by Bill Clinton, the then-President of the United States who had come to see the UNPROFOR as a stumbling block to the solutions for the Bosnian crisis. The United Nations Protection Force was against air strikes as well as lifting the arms embargo on the Bosnian government, which made it difficult for Bosnia to defend itself. The reason for this opposition was the humanitarian approach of neutrality and impartiality that ad been taken by the United Nations Protection Force.
The United States mediated a ceasefire agreement between the Croats and the Bosniaks in 1994 following the intervention of NATO through a series of airstrikes (Allin, 2002). However, making peace between the Croats and the Bosniaks did not stop the Serbs from attacking and killing Muslims. It is important to note that several peace proposals had failed since the Bosnian Serbs who had the control of about 70 percent of the land by 1994 had refused to surrender any of the controlled regions. NATO carried out stronger air strikes against Bosnian Serb targets at the end of 1995, which completely altered the political geography of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Allin, 2002). The ground offensive together with the air strikes carried out by NATO, which had weakened the Bosnian Serbs, as well as Holbrook’s diplomatic efforts led to a ceasefire in September 1995 (Daase, 2012). Negotiations among the three warring parties took place in November 1995 at Dayton AFB, Ohio. A hard-fought agreement was reached between the conflicting parties, and the Dayton Accords were officially signed in Paris on December 14.
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The peace negotiations were facilitated by the then-United States Secretary of State Warren Christopher. The mediator of the peace talks was Richard Holbrook, who also had two co-chairmen, Carl Bildt and Igor Ivanov, who were the EU Special Representatives. The main participants from the warring region were President Slobodan Milosevic, who represented the interests of the Bosnian Serbs, President Franjo Tudman of Croatia, and Alija Izetbegovic, the president of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Ching, 2009). Also present in the negotiations were Muhamed Šaćirbeg, the foreign minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Anthony Lake, whose key contribution was selling peace initiatives to the conflicting parties. The facilitators of the peace talks chose a secure site to ensure the removal of all parties from their comfort zones. According to the agreement signed in Paris, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were to fully respect one another’s unrestricted equality and settle their disputes peacefully (Ching, 2009). All the three parties were to respect the rights of all humans, including the displaced people and the refugees. The three parties were to offer total co-operation to all entities in the implementation of peace settlement and carrying out investigations and prosecutions of war crimes and other human rights violations. Bosnia and Herzegovina was to be divided politically, and the structure of its government was agreed upon, consequently delineating the inter-entity boundary line. Finally, the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina was to exist in two administrative entities, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska.
Apart from the military and diplomatic interventions, economic sanctions were imposed on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as another ceasefire strategy. The UN Security imposed adverse economic sanctions on Yugoslavia in 1992 following the Bosnia- Herzegovina carnage. The economic links with Serbia and Montenegro, the only remaining states of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, were severed by the four-fold sanctions (O'Connell, 2010). First of all, sanctions prohibited imports of all goods and products produced in Serbia and Montenegro. Serbia and Montenegro was barred from importing any kind of goods from other nations. The only exception in terms of imports was medical and food supplies for humanitarian aid that were notified by the Sanctions Committee of the United Nations Security Council. The Sanctions Committee banned the availing of funds to the entities of Serbia and Montenegro. The scientific and technical cooperation as well as making flights to and or from the Yugoslavian territory were also disallowed. Another key sanction imposed by the United Nations Security Council was the November 1992 prohibition of shipment of energy resources through the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia unless there is an authorization from the Sanctions Committee of the United Nations Security Council (O'Connell, 2010). These sanctions resulted from the failure of Serbia and Montenegro to implement resolution 752 of the United Nations Security Council. The main challenge that faced the full implementation of these sanctions was the fact that Yugoslavia formed the major transportation hub for the South Eastern part of Europe. However, the stronger Sanction Committee of 1993, which had the full backing of the United States, ensured that these sanctions were fully implemented. The committee tightened border controls, cut off the access to energy resources, cut off maritime traffic, and ensured that financial sanctions against Slobodan Milosevic’s allies were bolstered.
On top of the trade sanctions, the United States intensified the financial pressure on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia by freezing its assets. The main reason for the sanctions was to financially cripple the sectors and people who supported the oppressive regime of Slobodan Milosevic (Deliso, 2007). A financial crunch could ensure that the Milosevic’s regime was easily brought down since it would be difficult for him to fund the war. Targeting and freezing funds on the offshore accounts was meant to drive the last nail into the coffin of the Yugoslav economy. The impact of these sanctions was extremely devastating for its industrial sector. There was a destruction of export markets for the industrial goods manufactured in Serbia and Montenegro as well as an acute shortage of imported raw materials and spare parts. Consequently, these sanctions led to a drop in industrial output and sales by about 40% and 70% respectively. This drop resulted in the laying off of averagely 60% of the Yugoslavian labor force (Uvalic, 2010). The sanctions also had a negative impact on maintaining human rights as Slobodan Milosevic used the sanctions to ground his defiant nationalist sentiments on (Huliaras, 2011). Since the Yugoslavian government controlled the media, Milosevic was able to convince the Serbs that it was because of his nationalist ideas that they suffered economic sanctions. He therefore retained power and gained more support from the Serbs, who were concerned with the war in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, where fellow Serbs were “suffering”. However, it is the devastating nature of the sanctions coupled with the aftermath of NATO air strikes that forced Milosevic to join the negotiation table to strike the Dayton Agreement.
A Comparison of the Bosnian War and the Syrian War
The Bosnian war is similar to the Syrian war in many aspects. First, the Bosnian crisis was characterized by the Western reluctance to act in time due to conflicts of interest among the principal members of the European Community. Currently, both the People’s Republic of China and Russia are using their vetoes to block any action of the United Nations Security Council (Swaine, 2012). These two states are insisting on the adoption of the non-interference policy to solve the Syrian crisis. The Bosnian war witnesses gross violation of human rights, which included, among others, mass murders. The same atrocities have been committed by President Bashar Al Assad of Syria, whose army has killed thousands of civilians in the name of protecting his regime. The heavy weapons used by the Serbian government and NATO are also being used in various towns and cities in Syria. The 2012 United Nations General Assembly resolution condemned the atrocities committed by the Syrian government and said that President Assad must go (Zifcak, 2012). The resolution also backed the withdrawal of heavy weapons from major towns and cities in Syria. Just like the early resolutions in the Bosnian crisis, these resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly are non-binding.
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The neighboring countries are supplying the opposition with artillery in the same way as the Muslim countries supplied their Muslim counterparts in Bosnia with weapons. The international organizations are trying to seek ways of offering humanitarian aid to Syrians without getting involved in the war. Theses aids are aimed at offering protection to the vulnerable citizens in the districts that have undergone liberation by the opposition. The same approach was used by the United Nations Protection Forces in the 1992 Bosnian crisis. The Syrian war involves bombing, just like the Bosnian war, where the NATO bombed and destroyed the Serbian bases. The opposition in Syria overran the military positions and seized large quantities of weapons similarly to the Serbs, who attacked the United Nations and seized weapons that they used in the war. The only difference is that the Serbian soldiers used the UN soldiers taken hostage as human shields. President Bashar Al Assad, just like Slobodan Milosevic, does not see the need to engage in serious negotiations. From the start of the crisis, President Assad has clung to power just like Slobodan Milosevic did during the Bosnian conflict. The plans and blue prints being made in the Syrian crisis are similar to those formulated during the Bosnian war of 1992 – 1995.
Many lessons can be learnt from the Bosnian crisis as it resulted in the mass violation of human rights. Many people were killed; thousands of women were raped, and numerous people were displaced from their homes. The humanitarian approach used by the United Nations Security Council bore no fruit, as it gave the Serbs an opportunity to commit even more crimes against humanity. The economic sanctions imposed on the Serbian government mount pressure on the Serbian government’s financial resources. The military interventions by NATO weakened the Yugoslavian government, further forcing Slobodan Milosevic to negotiate a peace deal with Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Dayton Agreement demanded that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were to fully respect one another’s unrestricted equality and settle their disputes peacefully. Respect for human rights was also part of the agreement reached in Dayton. The existence of Bosnia and Herzegovina was to be in two administrative entities, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska. Another lesson that can be learned from the Bosniar War is that early interventions are crucial in combating genocides in warring states. Thus, there is a need for the international community to be actively involved in the Syrian affairs to as to stop the atrocities committed to innocent people.
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