in category Politics

Was Western intervention in the Balkans in the 1990s to help the Muslim Bosnians?

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I remember attending classes of international conflicts, and this question arose on more than one occasion. Can military intervention be humanitarian? A positive response can be formulated by noting that military forces such as the United Nations peacekeeping are there to supervise ceasefire fulfillment, the combatants' disarmament and to protect civilian population. Or it may be responded by pointing out that humanitarian interventions are an excuse to pursue geopolitical interests.

Context is necessary to evaluate the two possibilities. The situation in the Balkan region during the 1990s was portrayed by a series of ongoing conflicts known as the Yugoslav Wars. After the dissolution of the state of Yugoslavia in 1991, the different political groups within the territory continued an already initiated struggle to achieve their respective goals. This led to an escalation of disputes that ended in political turmoil and armed confrontation.

Evidence of slaughters, genocides and other humanitarian crimes began to erupt in the media. Meanwhile, any kind of peace attempt led by international organizations like the UN was unsuccessful. Thus, the main reason for NATO's military intervention in the Bosnian war on 12 April 1993 was none other than a "humanitarian" purpose. At least that is what we have been told.

It is common to assume that U.S. or the West military interventions are made solely for humanitarian purposes. This is how James Rubin, former assistant to President Bill Clinton and spokesman for the State Department, described it in 2003, saying: 'By invading Iraq, America has squandered the moral authority built up over years of promoting human rights, saving Muslims from slaughter in Kosovo, and belatedly in Bosnia.'

Of course, there is another interpretation of these events in which the West, mainly the United States, instigated the conflict in order to achieve its political and economic agenda. They were interested in imposing their ideology on those countries; this way they would gain a new geopolitical ally and at the same time reduce Russia's influence in the region. They thus sought to increase the Balkans' dependence on the West.This was suggested by the then US Ambassador to Yugoslavia Warrent Zimmerman in 1992 when before hostilities broke out he said, "We are aiming for the dissolution of Yugoslavia into independent states."

In March 1992 the EU brokered a deal to split Yugoslavia into three ethnic cantons - a federation with three independent states. The US encouragd the Bosnian president to scupper the deal and announce an independent state, which the secretary general Jose Cutileiro of the Western European union referred to saying "President Alija Izethbegovic and his aids were encouraged to scupper the deal and to fight for a unitary Bosnia state by Western mediators."

Bosnia: All out war!

One of the most highlighted conflicts where the Western army fought in the Balkan's was the Bosnian War (1992-1995). But let's take a step back and look at how it started.

From the remnants of the dissolute Yugoslavia, six countries emerged:

  • Croatia
  • Slovenia
  • Macedonia
  • Montenegro
  • Serbia
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina

Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia proclaimed their independence in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, Montenegro and Serbia were trying to re-establish a new "Yugoslavia", which among their ambitions would be dominated by Serbs. Unlike the other five countries, Bosnia-Herzegovina lacked a clear political objective, perhaps because it was the most ethnically diverse territory, constituted by:

  • Bosnian Muslims,
  • Orthodox Serbs, and
  • Catholic Croats

Each group had its own aspirations for the country. Muslims and Croats wanted independence, while Bosnian Serbs wanted to remain part of Yugoslavia. As Yugoslavia had previously been under Russian domination, the Serbs would rely on the support of Russia.

An attempt was made to settle the conflict democratically and peacefully. A referendum was held in February 1992, in which Bosnian Serbs voluntarily chose not to participate in the vote. The votes expressed a will for independence. In response, the Serbian radical political organisation "Republika Srpska" mobilized its forces into Bosnia with the excuse of securing Serbian territory and its citizens. Their goal was none other than to take control of the country by force, attacking the Bosnian Muslim government. From there, the conflict in Bosnia began to radicalize.

The attempt to calm the hostility became a trigger of the Bosnian civil war. A month after the referendum, on 18 March 1992, the United Nations Security Council carried out a peace plan called the Lisbon Agreement. It was intended as a tripartite partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina between Serbian, Croats and Bosnian-Muslims.

After intransigence on the Serbian side, the peace document was signed, dividing the territory into three ethnically based cantons.

Geopolitical interests

Despite many efforts, the agreement was allegedly sabotaged by the US ambassador to Yugoslavia, Warren Zimmerman, who urged Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic to withdraw his signature from the document. But, according to Zimmerman, President Izetbegovic was reluctant to sign the pact from the beginning. Zimmerman claims he never once tried to convince Izetbegovic to break the agreement.

Izetbegovic's withdrawal was received as a call to action for the Serbs and is perceived as the United States pulling the strings in their favor. If the peace plan failed and as war crimes persisted, the UN, as they did, would have to request NATO's assistance.

It has been pointed out that there were hidden political and economic objectives behind the intervention of the US and the West in the Balkan conflict. The real purpose of the war had nothing to do with humanitarian concern, it was purely economic and ideological due to the fact Serbia was not carrying out neoliberal reforms on the social and economic level, meaning they were not subordinated to the US.

However, it could also be interpreted the political and economic interest of the US, matched with the interest of ending the armed conflict. At that time, the crisis could not be hidden. Western media was publishing ongoing massacres, the Srebrenica massacre where more than 8,000 civilians died being particularly harrowing. The war had reached the international spotlight. That is why Western governments felt the pressure to make a decision.

In 1994 they decided to act in Bosnia, NATO intervening to carry out air strikes against military targets. They aligned themselves with the newly formed and lightly armed Bosnians and Croats. The alliance could not be any other way; after all, the Serbs pursued Russian interests. Moreover, it was the Serbs who initiated the military pressure and, although the war was marked by the ethnic cleansing on all sides, Serbs committed most of the war crimes directed at Bosnians-Muslims and Croats.

Today there are over ten thousand troops in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia allegedly for peace. It can however be argued they guarantee US economic interests.

Former US congressman Lee Hamilton stated, "We have completely taken over the control of the Balkans. US officials exercise managing functions over all states of the former Yugoslavia. We are virtually the pro consul." (New York Times)

The New York Times also noted "the sprawling state-owned Trepca mining complex, the most valuable piece of real estate in the Balkans, is worth at least $5 billion, producing gold, silver, pure lead, zinc, cadmium, as well as tens of millions of dollars in profits annually. Kosovo also possesses 17 billion tons of coal reserves and Kosovo (like Serbia and Albania) also has oil reserves."

Karen Talbot, a geopolitical expert, reiterates the same point, "The determination by the U.S and NATO, at all costs, to occupy Kosovo and virtually all of Yugoslavia, is spurred on by the enticement of abundant natural resources. Kosovo alone has the richest mineral resources in all of Europe west of Russia." (Covert Action Quarterly, 1999)

Finally, President Bill Clinton openly claimed in an article titled "The Case against intervention in Kosovo", "If we are going to have a strong economic relationship that includes our ability to sell around the world, Europe has got to be a key…That's what the Kosovo thing was all about." (The Nation)

The Pentagon's 1994-1999 Defense Planning Guidance report was leaked recommending the US 'must seek to prevent the emergence of European-only security arrangements which would undermine NATO...Therefore, it is of fundamental importance to preserve NATO as the primary instrument of Western defense and security, as well as the channel for US influence and participation in European security affairs.'


Now, after 25 years of research, there is irrefutable evidence to show what the Serbs did in Bosnia was nothing more than an attempt at expansion using aggression and genocide. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia took these facts as a basis for prosecuting trials over crimes committed during the war. This helps vindicate the actions of the West in the Balkan war by stopping the killing of Bosnian Muslims and Croats and bringing relative prosperity to the area.

What it conceals are the geopolitical aims of the US and her allies. Reducing Russian influence, gaining access to Caspian Sea oil and the rejuveniation of of NATO to project US influence were key geopolitical aims of their interventions.

The lives of innocent people were a price seen as worth paying to ensure US hegemony of the region.

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