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Balkan conflicts hold clear lessons on intervention in Syria

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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.

Kosovo declared its independence 10 years later, and has been recognized by nearly 100 countries. As with the earlier conflict in Bosnia, the hatred stoked by the killing and by conflicting ethnic and religious differences continue to prevent reconciliation between Serbs and Kosovars. Again, however, the allure of membership in the EU weighed on the minds of Kosovars and Serbs and helped convince leaders on both sides to stop the killing. 

The lessons of the two murderous episodes in the Balkans hold clear import for Syria. Those lessons are:

• The killing won’t stop without outside intervention. In fact, the cruelty accelerates as barbarism spreads and moral and legal restraints are undermined.

• Agreement among key outside powers is crucial. Acquiescence from some of them is good enough. 

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