BARGAINING WITH SERB TERRORISTS WAS MISTAKE
West Must Get in or Out
19 July 1995.
By Anthony Lewis
Two days after the fall of Srebrenica, Gen. Philippe Morillon, French General Staff member, said: “We have to declare war on Gen. Mladic or get out.”
Ratko Mladic is the commander of Bosnian Serb forces, the architect of the assault on Srebrenica and ethnic cleansing that followed [note: this report war published 8 days after the fall of Srebrenica, while the evidence of the large scale massacre surfaced later]
Morillon’s words pitfily summed up one lesson on Bosnia for the Western alliance: To intervene in a conflict and pretend there is no difference between the aggressors and the victims is not only dishonorable but ineffectual.
Pretending: For three years now Britain, France and the United States acting through the United Nations have been doing just that: pretending. The U.N. Protection Force proclaimed its neutrality between the Serbs and their Bosnian victims even while it said it was protecting “safe areas” from Serbian attack.
To carry on the pretense, various UNPROFOR officers and U.N. officials closed their eyes to horrifying brutalities carried out by Mladic’s forces. The justification was that Mladic and the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, would then be nice and let relief convoys through. They often did promise to do so, but they seldom kept the promises.
The Western officers and envoys who dealt with the Bosnian Serb leaders believed, or at any rate acted on the premise, that they were ultimately rational men open to bargaining. But in fact, they are fanatics, committed to killing and raping and torturing other human beings because they are of a different religion.
Threat of force: Only one thing moves Karadzic and Mladic: the credible threat of force. When they thought UNPROFOR might call in meaningful air strikes, they stopped sniping at children in Sarajevo. Now, with UNPROFOR’s credibility gone, they have tightened the noose on the capital.
You can’t do business with Hitler. So the world learned when Neville Chamberlain boasted that cringing to Adolf Hitler at Munich in 1938 had brought “peace in our time.” To Hitler, diplomacy was just an interlude on the way to military victory.
Similarly in Bosnia, the United States and the West Europeans came up with a proposal to settle the conflict by giving the Serbs 49 percent of the country. An international Contact Group pressed the idea. But the Serbs had 70 percent, and they thought they could keep at least that by force of arms – that and perhaps Sarajevo, too.
Last week, Mladic and Karadzic made their policy, and their character, clearer than ever. When decent behavior at Srebrenica might actually have helped them politically, they turned their men lose to rape and kill. But even then British officials said UNPROFOR should stick with its position on neutrality.
Failure’s origin: The Western failure in Bosnia traces back to the original decision made by President Bush in 1991, not to resist Serbian aggression in the former Yugoslavia. With Margaret Thatcher gone from Downing Street, the British and others were happy to agree. So that they would not look altogether indifferent to the horror, the allies came up with the idea of neutral humanitarian relief.
More than a year ago, Alain Juppe, then France’s foreign minister, said at a Washington dinner that the humanitarian policy had not worked, that it would have better for the West to have acted resolutely against Serbian aggression from the start. The choice, as Morillon said, is for the West to fight the aggressors in Bosnia or pull UNPROFOR out. The West has the means to act effectively, if it stops pretending.