Four years ago, with the Soviet empire in collapse and Europe newly committed to a charter of continental harmony, the outside world paid little heed to growing hostilities in a remote mountain region of western Yugoslavia. That country itself had signed the charter at a Paris summit of the 35-nation Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe on Nov. 21, 1990. But in the Yugoslav republic of Croatia, along an arc of borderland that enclosed neighboring Bosnia’s northwest comer, there were early warning signals of civil war. As Croatian nationalism with antiSerb overtones gathered menacing momentum in 1990, the Serbian community in the frontier region called Krajina (“border” in SerboCroatian) rebelled against Croatian plans to snap federal ties to Serbia and secede from Yugoslavia. Four months after the Paris summit, Krajina’s quarter-million Serbs seceded from Croatia—and declared their own tiny republic. Yugoslavia sank into its brutal, many-sided war.
Last week, as leaders of Europe, Canada and the United States prepared for another European security summit—in the Hungarian capital of Budapest this week, almost next door to the warfare—the Krajina Serbs captured outside atBY CARL MOLLINS tention. In alliance with Bosnian
Serb forces besieging the town of Bihac, they defied the European Union, U.S. threats, NATO air power and the United Nations. In a counterattack against Bosnian Muslim forces who captured the area in an October offensive, the Serbs, some operating from bases in their own UN-protected zone in Krajina, penetrated the United Nations’ Bihac “safe haven” for civilians. Meanwhile, Bosnian Serbs crossed the international border between Croatia and Bosnia the other way, seizing a UN observation post on the Krajina side and taking its Ukrainian peacekeepers back across the frontier. Their offensive stirred the Croatian army into action. Scores of firelights broke a ceasefire in Croatia.
At week’s end, diplomats were once again pressing ceasefire talks on Serb, Muslim and Croat factions. They sought the release of hundreds of UN soldiers, including 55 Canadians near Sarajevo, held by Serbs as hostages to deter NATO air raids. Diplomats also worked on a truce between Washington and its allies, including Canada, as the United States retreated under allied pressure from demands for punitive action against the Serbs. But the battle for Bihac dramatized the failings of concerted and often conflicting efforts by Europe, the U.S. superpower, the Atlantic alliance and the United Nations to police the new order of peace and humanity proclaimed at the Paris summit.
A bout of finger-pointing over the Yugoslav morass spared few parties. Retired Canadian Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, the first UN commander into the fray in March, 1992, faults the influence of politics in the United Nations, and the world body itself for botching the operation—“a disaster resulting from ill-conceived and inadequately supported international diplomacy.”
Britain and France, the major contributors of troops to UN forces in the war zone, assailed pressure from the United States—which has no troops on the ground—to release Bosnian Muslims from an arms embargo and to order more air attacks on the Serbs. Only a huge allied army could stop the war, said British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, but “we don’t have that [and] we won't have that.”
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was blunter in a comment to the Paris newspaper Le Monde: “The Americans want us to fight down to the last Canadian and the last Frenchman.”
But to suggestions in some quarters that UN troops, including the 2,000-plus Canadians deployed there, should abandon the struggle, Chrétien told the Commons: “When Canadians say they will do something, they stick to their word. They will serve to the end of their mandate.” That commits them at least until March.
Beyond the publicly patched-up bickering among allies are frustrations faced since the end of the Cold War. The major powers have been confronted with daunting tests of their diplomatic, military and peacekeeping skills. Internal factional, tribal and national conflicts— Somalia, Rwanda and Yugoslavia most prominently—have proven in-
REPORT FROM WASHINGTON
that cost billions of dollars without political or judicial effect.
The Somali experience, and the bitter memory of the protracted and fruitless American involvement in Vietnam, helped to dissuade the United States and other powers from intervening in Rwanda’s murderous interethnic war last spring. The help that arrived in the African war zone was too late and too little, as Canadian Maj-Gen. Roméo Dallaire discovered leading a puny UN force in that maelstrom. And in Haiti, only after months of hesitation and policy lurches, and finally a negotiated settlement to enforce, did U.S. President Bill Clinton order American troops into the Caribbean island in September to ensure a peaceful transition of power.
While the fighting in the former Yugoslavia is horrible, said Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute research centre in Washington, “it is no worse than that in Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Georgia, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan and elsewhere. What makes the former Yugoslavia unique is that white Europeans are killing each other, guaranteeing a level of media attention and popular concern denied to dead Muslims in Transcaucasus and black animists in Africa.”
Despite such shortcomings, and the failures and dangers of peacekeeping efforts, many analysts conclude that the world community has little option but to persist in efforts to maintain or restore peace when conflict erupts. There may be practical and tactical reasons for that even among combatants who gain the upper hand and regard foreign intervention as an impediment to victory. In Bosnia, where many observers last week conceded a battlefield triumph to the Serbs, their leaders may well be as eager as the Bosnian Muslims for the UN force to stay put, said Lenard Cohen, an expert in the politics of the region at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. ‘The Serbs know that if the United Nations leaves, there is nothing to protect them from U.S. air strikes,” he said.
And in a wider context, UN peacekeeping faces public expectations that may always be too high, said Martin Shadwick, a defence specialist at York University in Toronto. “Perhaps we’ve asked too much of it as a panacea— that the blue berets can work miracles,” he said. Shadwick and other experts note that previous UN operations have not always been crowned in glory. Said Barry Ashton, chief of staff for plans and operations at National Defence headquarters in Ottawa: “UN peacekeeping has never been a perfect art form, but it’s the best hope we’ve got for the peaceful solution of problems.”
Many American officials and commentators are unconvinced of that argument, especially after the costly and humiliating U.S. experience in Somalia. And American analysts contend that the Bosnia peace effort, in its failure to exert heavy military and diplomatic pressure on Serbian forces, has tilted the tactical advantage in their favor. Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was president Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser in the late 1970s, expressed a common view. “I am afraid that what Bosnia shows is the inability of Europe to act and the failure of America to lead,” he said.
Such emphasis on forceful direct action to achieve objectives, including peace, dominated U.S. media opinion as Serbian troops closed in on Bihac. Columns in The New York Times by liberal Anthony Lewis and conservative William Safire each assailed the British UN commander in Bosnia, Lt.-Gen. Sir Michael Rose, for refusing to use NATO air power against the Serbs at Bihac—Lewis for “his indifference to Serbian aggression,” Safire for proving that “as a vehicle for a concerted military response to an aggressor or a violator of human rights, the United Nations is useless.”
Rose responded to American criticism in a satellite interview on PBS television, pointing out that “we are not here to fight a war.” He added that “the countries that sent their troops here have done so voluntarily, and they want to see their peacekeepers back.” He declared that “the United Nations Protection Force is making history; some of the criticisms, I think, will end up in the rubbish dump.” Noting that his operation enables relief workers to deliver food to tens of thousands of civilians, Rose insisted that the UN program has been “a successful policy in terms of sustaining the lives of the people.” And for a population beset by a bloodthirsty war, that alone may make the UN peace operation well worthwhile.
With WARREN CARAGATA in Ottawa
tractable in the face of violence inspired by emotions bred by ethnic, religious and political grievances. And unlike most previous UN peacekeeping operations since the late 1940s, the recent missions have been attempted without firm political truce agreements between combatants to make policing peace possible.
Some 15,000 UN military personnel in Somalia—“peacekeepers” unable to keep a peace that did not exist—will abandon that country in stages by the end of March. That will leave the east African territory in the hands of gangs of gunmen who were in charge when UN troops, backed by a massive but ineffectual American army, arrived late in 1992. The humanitarian mission kept famine deaths to an estimated 300,000. But thousands of Somalis have been slaughtered by rival local factions, and 130 UN soldiers died on a mission
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