Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Yugoslavia's Lesson for the West

Intervention to stem such conflicts must be quicker and more decisive

THE disintegration of Yugoslavia presents a challenge not only to the south Slav nations and their neighbors, but also to Western states and institutions. All the looming problems of the post-cold-war world are encapsulated in the crumbling Yugoslav federation: economic collapse, social unrest, political atrophy, nationalist revivals, ethnic strife, and military aggression. If Europe and the United States cannot manage to resolve the current turmoil in Yugoslavia, then there is little hope for coping wit h the post-Soviet crisis.

The West has not been powerless to stem the bloodshed in Croatia or to help ensure progress toward a political solution to the conflict. But it has often acted as if it were impotent - issuing halfhearted warnings, imposing partial sanctions, and arranging untenable cease-fires, while still harboring illusions about preserving the federal structure.

About these ads

The perceived weakness of institutions such as the European Community (EC) and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) has only encouraged the aggressors and allowed the war to continue. More resolute approaches are needed, otherwise thousands more could be killed and mutilated, cities leveled, and the wrong message received by potential dictators and disgruntled armies across the post-Soviet territories.

Last week's move toward deploying United Nations peacekeepers was positive. But additional steps should be taken to completely defuse the conflict. They must involve concerted Western initiatives in the political, economic, and security arenas. And they should begin with the dispelling of illusions about Yugoslavia still fostered by Washington, London, and Paris.

Armed conflicts were not started by republics that declared their independence last summer. Their break with Belgrade was unilateral but peaceful, and based on the results of free elections and popular referendums after months of fruitless negotiations. The war was launched by an anxious military and political apparatus in Belgrade that grew fearful of losing its federal privileges and which cynically exploited Serbian nationalism in order to teach Croatia and Slovenia a lesson. In its most recent report , the EC monitoring group concluded that the federal Army was indeed the chief aggressor in the war. Western policy must therefore aim at eliminating the source of the conflict and not simply curtailing its violent manifestations.

On the political front, international recognition should be afforded to all six post-Yugoslav republics, in line with the declarations and resolutions of their democratically elected national assemblies. Hence, Slovenia, Croatia, and Macedonia would be accepted as independent, Bosnia-Herzegovina as sovereign, and Serbia and Montenegro as a separate federal unit. If Serbia or other republics were to declare their independence, they too would have to be recognized.

Federal authority has in effect already ceased to exist, as the presidency and government have no decisionmaking powers. If republican governments are not accepted as legitimate state entities, then in practice the international community only recognizes a void and has no credible partners to deal with on the territory of what used to be Yugoslavia.

The withholding of international recognition has obviously failed to terminate the war; it is time for a different approach. Recognition would endow the republics with greater legitimacy, credibility, and confidence, and increase their prospects of obtaining vital economic assistance. It would underscore their territorial integrity under international law and hold them up to the democratic standards prevailing in the West.

Paradoxically, it could also help to restrain further Army actions, because military onslaughts against any republic would then constitute clear acts of international aggression. As national entities, the new states could enter into political alliances and ask for protection from multilateral institutions.

About these ads

After months of prevarication, the EC finally agreed to recognize Slovenia and Croatia, provided that the two republics abide by various criteria of democratic rule. Germany, Austria, Italy, and Hungary realized early on that recognition was the only practical solution, and Bonn applied pressure on Brussels to avoid a damaging split in the community over the Yugoslav crisis.

As with the Baltic states, the US will trail behind its European allies, fearful of any innovative initiatives. If the republics wish to arrange some new future confederation or voluntarily devise a post-Soviet-type commonwealth, this too should obtain international recognition. The West has to understand that although change is by definition destabilizing, trying to preserve the status quo may prove even more dangerous and destructive.

On the economic front, sanctions have to be focused on the main culprits in the conflict: the federal Army and the socialist regime in Serbia. The EC has already acknowledged this publicly by removing its sanctions from the four non-expansionist republics. Washington, unfortunately, is a few weeks behind these developments, having recently imposed sanctions on the whole of the old Yugoslavia.

Although a total embargo on Belgrade would prove difficult to enforce, withholding the most important items would be essential: these include credits, oil, arms, military spare parts, and any other equipment that could be put to offensive military uses. Quite possibly, entry points should be patrolled or monitored by UN or NATO contingents. The impact wouldn't be immediate, but it would help dry up military stocks and send an unmistakable signal that the violation of internationally arranged cease-fires is unacceptable and punishable.

On the military front, UN peacekeeping forces should be swiftly dispatched to selected areas of Croatia in accord with the UN plan agreed to last week by both Serbs and Croats, regardless of whether there is a comprehensive cease-fire in place. Bosnia-Herzegovina should also be included in the UN deployment. The Army has threatened an all-out assault if Croatia and Slovenia are recognized. A rapid international engagement would help forestall that threat of escalation. The UN is willing to dispatch troop s, but uncertainties remain about the size, location, and timing of its intervention. Units should not be positioned in peaceful hamlets but in the very cities that have experienced sustained attack by the army and navy: Dubrovnik, Osijek, and Vinkovci.

If fired upon, the peacekeeping troops must be empowered to retaliate. To claim that this constitutes interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state is misleading. The republican authorities are pleading for such intervention to protect their citizens; any interference to prevent bloodshed is surely the lesser of two evils. Troops must be accompanied by human-rights monitors to help ensure that the rights of minorities are not violated and that international conventions are strictly observed b y all sides.

If Europe is to be seen as acting in concert, then maybe the UN peacekeeping force should be placed under CSCE or EC supervision. If Europe is to demonstrate its commitment to human rights, self-determination, national independence, and economic integration, then it must apply these principles consistently across the continent to embrace all nationalities, including the Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, and Macedonians. If Europe wants to become a unit rather than a house divided between a prosperous upstairs and

a desperate downstairs, then it cannot allow the Yugoslav war to rekindle and spread. It must take bold and imaginative steps.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.