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Balkan conflicts hold clear lessons on intervention in Syria

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Efforts to end the war in Bosnia took so long and were so hamstrung by divergent internal and external interests that the fighting continued for years and caused the deaths of 100,000 people, often in flagrant disregard of international efforts to halt the violence. The siege of Sarajevo and the massacre at Srebrenica are two among many war crimes. Eventually, after extensive NATO airstrikes, UN artillery barrages, and the arming of the Croatian and Bosnian forces, an international peacekeeping force was able to separate the combatants.

Peace of a sort came after a final conference at Dayton, Ohio in 1995. However, the bitterness sown by years of murderous assaults has prevented reconciliation. At least outside intervention stopped the killing. One of the most important factors in the calculus of Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croatians was their desire to join the European Union. The incentive of EU membership worked both to foster democracy and to bring to justice those most responsible for the murder of the innocent and unarmed.

Kosovo was in many ways a replay of the war in Bosnia, with tardy outside intervention after thousands had been killed and hundreds of thousands of refugees had fled for their lives. After a ceasefire in 1998 failed to hold, the Serbian government rejected the terms of the Rambouillet Accords, which called for restoration of Kosovo’s autonomy and the deployment of a NATO force of peacekeepers. In response to the Serbian refusal, NATO bombed Serbia for three months, and in June of that year, Serbian forces withdrew from Kosovo. After the fighting ended, a NATO force entered the country.

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