April 23, 1994
Alan W. Dowd
Before Slobodan Milosevic plunged into Bosnia, Gorazde was a small, peaceful town south of Sarajevo. Today, it is a smashed symbol of Serbian aggression and Western cowardice. However, the strangulation of Gorazde represents much more than the beginning of the end of this war.
Gorazde was where the West drew the line in Bosnia, albeit after months of indecision and inaction. A series of warnings from the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU), followed by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombing raids, were hailed as proof of the West’s resolve. But the Serbs refused to scatter. They captured UN troops, shot down a NATO jet, and crossed the line drawn in Gorazde, daring the West to join the battle it had watched for more than two years.
But the West never did join the battle. Instead, its inaction sealed the fate of Bosnia and spoke volumes about the its institutions.
In Bosnia, members of the European Union proved themselves too disunited to restore a just peace to Central Europe. Perhaps Western Europe still lacks the ability to act on its own. However, beneath Europe’s political disagreement and material shortcomings lies a disturbing question, the answer to which may be as horrifying as the war itself. Did Europe avert its gaze, drag its feet, and hold its sword because it approved of the Serbs’ ends if not their means? By dividing, crippling, and finally smiting Bosnia, the Serbs have effectively prevented the development of a viable Muslim nation-state in the heart of Europe, an act tacitly supported by anti-Muslim elements from Moscow to Manchester.
Even if this is not the case, it is perceived as such among Muslim populations throughout Europe and across the Middle East. The backlash has already begun, in Turkey, in Germany, in France. "Remember Bosnia, avenge Gorazde!" may one day become a rallying cry for aggrieved and angry Muslim nations and minorities across Europe and Asia, just as the Shah and the Suez Canal once incited the Muslim masses to hate the West.
NATO, too, can be counted among the casualties of the Balkan war. In Bosnia NATO missed its first and perhaps last opportunity to prove to its many detractors that it could play an important role in the post-Cold War security equation. By turning a blind eye to Serbian aggression in the first year of the war and by stumbling in the months that followed, NATO has lost much of the legitimacy it once had.
Many within the Alliance warned that nothing could be done in Bosnia. But through the prism of the Gulf War, which saw NATO members play predominant roles in reversing naked aggression, the carving-up of Bosnia and siege of Gorazde appear to have been preventable. A tenth of NATO’s arsenal might have stopped the Serbian advance across Bosnia early in the war, but the planes sat on the runways and the guns remained silent. When the bombs finally fell, they were duds, and so was NATO’s Balkan policy. It is now a grim irony of history that Serbian militiamen were able to do what the Red Army never attempted: defeat the Atlantic Alliance in battle.
The UN lost far less than did NATO in the Balkans, but only because it had nothing more to lose. Its credibility and legitimacy had already been squandered, in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, in Cambodia, and in Somalia.
The United States, which often balked at intervention in the war, called on the UN Security Council to lift the arms embargo against Bosnia but failed to convince its European neighbors of the benefits of this policy. The US plan to arm the Moslems was sound, but it lacked the strength of conviction needed to make it reality. In hindsight and in the context of the Reagan Doctrine, which armed anti-communists in their struggle against the Kremlin, the arming of Bosnian Moslems would have been worth the minimal effort and cost. Perhaps a shipment of anti-armor missiles or heavy guns would have halted the Serbian dissection of Bosnia, forcing a stalemate many months ago.
But no arms were sent, and Bosnia was left to die. With Bosnia’s fate already sealed, plans to lift the arms embargo in the coming weeks will prove futile. By refusing to aid the Muslims, the US, along with NATO, the EU, and the UN, are accomplices to the crimes committed in Gorazde and countless other cities throughout Bosnia.
American leadership was desperately needed in the Balkans, as it was in the Persian Gulf and in postwar Europe. But all that the US gained in defeating Arab nationalism in the Gulf War, and much of the credibility it earned in defending Western Europe throughout the Cold War, was lost when Washington failed to defend Bosnia from Serbian nationalism in the Balkan war.
Did Western politicians believe the Bosnian war, if allowed "to run its course," would correct old injustices and right the wrongs of another time? If so, then the West has made the same mistakes that allowed Hitler to re-unite "Greater Germany," which set the stage for World War II. Violence begets violence, and appeasement begets war. These lessons have been tragically forgotten in the West.