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War in Bosnia

Meanwhile, Muslims in Bosnia were also restive and looking forward to emancipation from Serbia's Communist rule. Any such attempt was bound for trouble given the 31 percent Serb population dispersed in Bosnia. Muslims were largely in the cities and generally more prosperous and educated than the Bosnians. The Bosnian Serbs were to a great extent rural, and they were Orthodox Christian. A Bosnian Serb, Radovan Karadzic, warned the Muslims against any move toward national separation, to no effect. War broke out between those wanting independence and those opposed. At the end of February, 1992, a referendum in Bosnia produced a 64 percent vote in favor of independence – the Serbs having boycotted the voting.

By now Milosevic realized that the old Yugoslavia was dead, and in April a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was created, consisting of Serbia and Montenegro, with Belgrade as its capital. Macedonia had opted for independence, and Milosevic and Karadzic were pursuing war in Bosnia, with plans of making two-thirds of Bosnia under Serb control. The Serbs in Bosnia tried to carve out areas that were exclusively Serbian – in other words "cleansed" of Muslims. The Serb army changed clothing and joined the war on the side of the Serbs. They pushed against the largely Muslim forces, drove people from their homes, committed atrocities, laid siege to the city of Sarajevo and erected concentration camps.

The United Nations took responsibility for settling the conflict in Bosnia. At the end of May, 1992, the United Nations, responding to a U.S. initiative, imposed economic sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The U.N. had a peacekeeping force in Bosnia, made up of soldiers from Europe. And the U.N. and the pacific minded European Community remained opposed to taking sides in the Bosnian conflict. Moreover, it also prohibited the supplying of arms to either the Bosnians fighting against the Serbs or the Serbian forces, which frustrated the Muslim forces, who desperately wanted arms with which to defend themselves. The United Nations created "safe areas" in Bosnia without a strategy to protect such areas, and the Bosnia side in the conflict continued to lose ground to the combined force of Bosnian Serbs and the Serbian army.

In the United States, the Bush administration had decided not to become militarily involved in Balkan conflicts. The U.S. had fought the Gulf War in 1991 and coming off that war the Bush Administration was of the opinion that conflicts in the Balkans should be settled by the powers in Europe, and it was encouraged in this decision by European powers agreeing that it should be they who intervened in the Balkans rather than the United States. Nevertheless, exploring alternatives, the Bush administration discussed the possibility of using air power against Serb artillery around Sarajevo and other targets. The lessons of Vietnam were raised, with the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, a Vietnam veteran, leading the charge. He did not want to risk sending United States forces into another war in which the United States would become bogged down and uncommitted to victory. Powell and advisors to the Bush administration rejected the limited use of air power, and President Bush agreed with them.

Enter William Jefferson Clinton

After George Bush and Colin Powell designed the victory over Saddam Hussein, Bush lost his bid for another four years as President of the United States – to William Jefferson Clinton. Clinton had criticized Bush's policy toward Bosnia, and after taking office he looked toward taking a tougher stand against the Serbs. His Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, went to Europe to argue for lifting the arms embargo against the Bosnians so they could better defend themselves and to argue for the use of airpower against the Serbs. The Europeans remained pacifistic, and the U.S. military, still led by Powell, continued to oppose any involvement in Bosnia, including airdrops to Bosnian forces. It was argued that any military action against the Serbs would anger them, making life more dangerous for the U.N. forces there. And it was argued that the United States had no right to do this because it had no men of its own among the U.N. forces in Bosnia.

Many people who had supported U.S. involvement in Vietnam were now "dovish" regarding Bosnia, but they were among the many people who still reviled Clinton for having been a dove regarding Vietnam. Clinton was uncomfortable advocating any military solution, and he was concerned about his relationship with his nation's military, made worse by his move to keep his promise to those supporting gay rights regarding homosexuals in the military. Clinton was backing down on the issue of gays in the military, content with the compromise position of letting them stay in the military so long as they continued to hide their homosexuality. And Clinton refrained from pushing for a tougher position against the Serbs.

In 1992, Bosnian Serbs set up camps holding tens of thousands of Muslims and Croats. Atrocities in these camps were publicized, verified and described as horrors not seen in Europe since 1945. Clinton spoke of the "lessons of the Holocaust" and the "high cost of remaining silent." He spoke of using air power against the Serbs. The U.N. Security Council voted to send "peacekeepers to Bosnia." But, rather than the estimated 35,000 that would be needed, they sent only 7,000.

The Serbs continued killing people as they moved to acquire control over more territory in anticipation of a settlement that was being planned by the United Nations. In 1993, Clinton gave up on the idea of sending troops to Bosnia on the grounds that the 80,000 recommended by the Pentagon would not be accepted by the public.

Leaders of the Serbs talked a lot, introducing ambiguities to prevent intervention against them. Members of the U.N. Security Council were also introducing ambiguities into their debate, countering calls by people who wanted a more serious intervention in Bosnia. President Clinton did some rationalizing of his own, saying that the conflict in Bosnia was ultimately for the warring parties to resolve and that "bad things" will continue to happen there "until these folks get tired of killing each other."

The war in Bosnia dragged on. In 1995, the Serbs moved against the town of Srebrenica – in a valley about six by nine miles wide. Serb shelling forced a squad of Dutch U.N. troops in front of Srebrenica to abandon an observation post. While pulling back they ran into some Bosnian (Muslim) troops. According to a U.N. resolution, Srebrenica was a safe area, in other words not to be attacked by the Serbs.

It was the job of the Dutch soldier-peacekeepers to monitor events, not to do what soldiers usually do: stand and fight. The Serbs pushed into Srebrenica, and they took the Dutch troops prisoner. That the Serbs were moving aggressively inspired no retaliation by the U.N. or calls for action, such as air strikes, from Western powers. Serbs rounded up tens of thousands of Bosnia Muslims. They deported women and children and then slaughtered thousands of unarmed Muslim men – soldiers and civilians – calculated at more the 6,000.

As the Muslims were sent fleeing from their communities, the Bosnians burned down mosques and planted crosses on the wreckage.

In 1995, Croatia joined the fighting against the Serbs and moved through the Serb enclave in Krajina, driving Serbs in Krajina into a mass exodus to Serbia, the Serbs leaving before the arrival of the Croatian force. (See Operation Storm, Wikipedia.)

After the Croatian offensive, a Serb forced shelled Sarajevo with mortars, killing 38 civilians. This moved people in Europe to support Clinton's call for an air campaign against Serb forces. The air force involved belonged to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an alliance to which European nations and the U.S. belonged. Air strikes between August 30 and September 14, 1995 induced the Serbs to negotiate an end to the war in Bosnia, and in December, 1995, a settlement was signed at Dayton, Ohio.

Economic sanctions against Serbia were lifted. The Clinton administration and its European allies sent "peacekeeping" troops on a mission to Bosnia, the U.S. public being told that they would need to stay there at least a year. And joining them as "peacekeepers" in Bosnia were troops from Russia.


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