NATO backs Bosnian dismemberment with force

Wednesday, September 13, 1995

By Jennifer Thompson

"We have to follow through on our commitment to protect Sarajevo and the other (UN-designated) safe areas", President Clinton said last week. "We cannot allow more innocent civilians to die there. This war has to end by negotiation, not on the battlefield." Clinton's statement — made in the wake of a Bosnian Serb artillery attack on a Sarajevo market — serves notice that the US has decided to implement by force its plan to divide the spoils of the former Yugoslavia between Western nations. The plan dovetails with other US manoeuvres to "contain" the conflict and has the added benefit of making the president look effective in a pre-election period.

Considering that most Western "peace" plans in the former Yugoslavia have rewarded gains on the battlefield with territory, Clinton's new determination to answer the shelling of Sarajevo with bombing raids has nothing to do with humanitarian considerations. It has everything to do with mapping an end to the conflict by dividing Bosnia between Croatia and Serbia.

The stated goal of the NATO bombardment was to convince the Bosnian Serbs to withdraw their heavy arms, stop shelling Sarajevo and begin talks aimed at a negotiated settlement of the war. The Bosnian Serbs had already agreed to be represented in negotiations by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

Martin Woollcott, writing in the September 10 Guardian Weekly, puts his finger on it saying, "The West's tougher policy, if it endures, will help [them] in trying to manage the conflict, not only in bearing down on the Serbs but in restoring the authority that may make Croats and Bosnians also listen seriously to outside advice".

Just as the Bosnian Serb shelling of Sarajevo is about maximising their territorial gains in negotiations, so is the NATO bombardment about making sure everything goes according to the US/NATO plan in the negotiations including making sure the Bosnian government goes along with the division despite their recent military victories.

An added inducement to the Bosnian government is the US$1 billion in US economic aid to the region over three years, of which $500 million may go exclusively to the Bosnian government. Their recognition of the Bosnian Serb Republic of Srpska is an abandonment of even symbolic resistance to the ethnic division of Bosnia-Herzegovina — the US plan is working.

Differences over the final fate of Sarajevo, Gorazde and Eastern Slavonia remain obstacles to the US/NATO plan. The ground has been prepared for Bosnia to relinquish Gorazde in return for the preservation of Sarajevo as an undivided multi-ethnic city. British and Ukrainian UNProFor troops have withdrawn from the UN haven, leaving only a few UN military observers in the surrounded city.

Other events show the success of the "containment" aspect of the US policy in the Balkans. The most recent is the agreement between the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece, presided over by US envoy Matthew Nimitz and UN negotiator and former US secretary of state, Cyrus Vance.

The agreement normalises relations between the two, including ending Greece's economic embargo on Macedonia. This will ease the economic situation in Macedonia and potentially lower tensions between Macedonians and the significant ethnic-Albanian minority.

The US aims to limit the effects of an explosion in Serb-controlled Kosovo, where the 88% ethnic-Albanian population has suffered heavy repression from Belgrade. US peacekeepers have been stationed on the Macedonian border and US military personnel have been advising the Albanian government. The US hopes to thereby control any conflict from spreading to Albania, Macedonia and Greece, regardless of further outrages Milosevic may commit in Kosovo.