How to Defeat Serbia

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  • How to Defeat SerbiaAuthor(s): David GompertSource: Foreign Affairs, Vol. 73, No. 4 (Jul. - Aug., 1994), pp. 30-47Published by: Council on Foreign RelationsStable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 09:48

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  • How to Defeat Serbia

    David Gompert


    Those whose sole concern has been to keep the United States

    out of the Yugoslav conflict may view American policy over the past four years as successful. The rest of us?even those who had a hand

    in that policy?know failure when we see it. True, the war has not

    spread beyond Croatia and Bosnia, owing in part to an American

    containment strategy. Also true, the human agony would have been worse had the United States not supported an international relief

    effort that deserves more praise than it gets. Yet we cannot evade the

    larger truth: the United States promised to stay in Europe after the

    Cold War in order to help keep peace and sustain the democratic rev

    olution; but a war of aggression has been waged and won by a most

    undemocratic regime. The United States proclaimed principles of

    peaceful change for a new era; but those principles have been wan

    tonly disregarded. We said "never again'; but again the intolerable

    has happened in Europe. Great as our sorrow is for the slaughter and for our mistakes, it is

    unfair to suggest that the United States bears the main responsibil

    ity. Our military superiority and international leadership role do not

    obligate us to sacrifice our sons and daughters to combat brutality wherever it occurs. Moreover, the lack of a purposeful effort by our

    European allies to prevent or stop a vicious conflict on their conti

    David Gompert is a Vice President at RAND and former Senior

    Director for Europe and Eurasia on the Bush administrations National

    Security Council staff.


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    Can these men be stopped?

    FOREIGN AFFAIRS July/August 1994 [31]

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  • David Gompert

    nent not only surpasses American shortcomings but has hamstrung U.S. policy. Still, we must see that American interests and values,

    its credibility and self-respect have been damaged in the former

    Yugoslavia, and we must thus recognize the face of failure.

    The United States is not destined to keep failing in the Balkans.

    Rather, it can devise a strategy that responds to the fact of Serbias

    military success and, from here on, both protects American interests

    and repairs its principles. The Clinton administration has estab

    lished some limits of what will be tolerated, and it has created the

    possibility of a continued, if tenuous, Bosnian state. But there is a

    danger of misinterpreting and thus misplaying this opportunity. A

    strategy aimed at achieving an early, final settlement through a

    combination of sticks (limited air strikes) and carrots (relaxation of

    sanctions) would be a mistake, whether or not it succeeded, leading either to a futile escalation or to the codification of Serbian con

    quests in an unstable peace agreement enforced by U.S. troops. Yet

    wide and relentless nato bombing at a level that could turn the tide

    of war or extract sweeping concessions from the Serbs would require a radical, and unrealistic, shift in Western and U.N. attitudes. The

    best alternative is to conduct a cold war against Serbia?one of

    indefinite duration but certain outcome?while in the meantime

    using nato's military power more effectively to ensure that relief

    reaches Bosnia's innocent victims.


    Contrary to a widely held view, the Bush administration was

    well aware of the dangers in Yugoslavia prior to the crisis. It simply knew of no way to prevent a violent disintegration. National Security

    Adviser Brent Scowcroft and Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence

    Eagleburger, among others, understood Yugoslavia and its volcanic

    nature. There was no "intelligence failure," no inattention due to pre

    occupation with the collapse of communism or Iraq's invasion of

    Kuwait. Rather, despite considerable deliberation and diplomatic action, no good option emerged to arrest the accelerating, awfiil logic of breakup and war. Serbs were usurping power in Belgrade; Slovenes

    [32] FOREIGN AFFAIRS - Volume 73 No. 4

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  • How to Defeat Serbia

    were determined to be free from the Serbs; Croats were destined to

    follow the Slovenes; Serbs, in turn, were dead set against living as a

    minority in an independent Croatia; and the Bosnian powder keg was

    set to explode once the fuse was lit in Croatia.

    By 1990 Washington was pessimistic but not paralyzed. It sup

    ported the teetering Yugoslav federal government of Ante Markovic, who was committed to democracy and a market economy. The Bush

    administration also pressed Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic

    to stop his oppression of Albanians in Kosovo and his illegal seizure

    of Yugoslav federal assets and authority, which were fueling Sloven

    ian and Croatian secessionism. At the same time, the Slovenes and Croats were urged to consider

    arrangements short of dissolution. None of these

    American efforts was fruitful.

    While the identity of the archvillain?

    Milosevic , Inc.?was never in doubt, the Bush

    administration had scant sympathy for Slovene

    and Croat separatists. The former seemed will

    ing to trigger a Yugoslav war so long as they could escape both

    Yugoslavia and the war. The Croatian regime, hardly democratic,

    adopted policies regarding minorities that stoked fears among Serbs

    living in Croatia of a revival of the Ustashe, the infamous Nazi-style secret police who butchered Serbs during World War II. American

    policymakers thus saw cynicism behind the declared "right" of

    Slovene and Croat nationalists to be free, democratic and part of the

    (Roman Catholic) West, even as these same U.S. policymakers knew

    that Milosevic's power-grabbing was the main force propelling

    Yugoslavia toward a violent end.

    U.S. policy prior to hostilities was not motivated by an attachment to a unified Yugoslavia but by a judgment, which proved all too cor

    rect, that a peaceful breakup was infeasible. American strategic inter

    est in the integrity of Yugoslavia, per se, ended with the collapse of

    the Soviet threat to Europe. By late 1990 the overriding U.S. concern

    about Yugoslavia was to avert a Balkan war. Washington believed that a disintegration of Yugoslavia was bound to be violent because Serbs

    would sooner fight than accept minority status in an independent

    U.S. policy was

    motivated by a judg ment that a peaceful

    breakup was infeasible.

    FOREIGN AFFAIRS July/August 1994 [33]

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  • David Gompert

    Croatia; that the fighting would engulf much of Yugoslavia, because

    the urge of each republic to secede would grow as others seceded; and

    that the human toll would be terrible, because Yugoslavia was seething with both weapons and latent hate-fear. (The grisly particulars? detention camps, ethnic cleansing, mass rapes, shelling of civilian

    populations?were not predicted, though perhaps they could have

    been.) Those who criticize the Bush administration for contributing to the outbreak of the conflict by favoring unity have yet to explain how favoring disunity would have prevented the conflict.

    As the crisis deepened, the United States advanced several sound

    principles: Yugoslavia should become democratic throughout; bor

    ders, external and internal alike, should be altered only by mutual con

    sent, not unilaterally or by force; Yugoslavia should not be held

    together by force; memb