The Bosnian War – April 1992 to April 1993


By mid-1992 the Serbs had consolidated their gains, Croats had split from the Bosnians and military intervention was more necessary than ever. Intervention at this time could have been the opportunity for the International community to get a grip on the conflict. The US played a pivotal role: the impending presidential election in the US prevented the Bush administration from taking too many risks and therefore action in Bosnia was not forthcoming. Instead the International Community eliminated the possibility of going to war and instead tried to ease the plight of the Muslims.

Fractions started to appear between the European Community, led by Lord Carrington, and The United Nations under Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali. The UN became increasing frustrated that the EC made agreements involving additional duties for the UN without discussion. Leading to the establishment of a joint regulating framework; the International Conference on Former Yugoslavia (ICFY) in August 1992. David Owen replaced Lord Carrington as the EC appointee and Cyrus Vance remained as the UN representative.

The United Nations Protection Force, UNPROFOR, also caused some discontent as the US were pushing for tighter measures by the UN whilst Britain and France (with men on the ground) showed reluctance to increase aggression. By early 1993, the new Clinton administration had adopted a ‘lift and strike’ policy, to lift the arms embargo to allow the Bosnians to arm themselves and use NATO for air strikes on the Bosnian Serbs. All of the nations represented in the UN forces showed reluctance to endorse coercive action that might produce retaliation. And of course, the security of the UN troops on the ground was a relevant obstacle when discussing armed intervention. Any decision to use force would require withdrawal of UNPROFOR.

By January 1993 Vance and Owen had presented their ten-point plan by way of an interim political solution for Bosnia. They called for the establishment of a highly decentralised state where Serbs, Croats and Muslims could be recognized as constituent units. Bosnia was to be split into ten cantons, each canton with a mix from each ethnic group, in a bid to avoid forming three ethnic territorial spheres of influence. A central government operating from Sarajevo would hold the responsibility for foreign policy, defence and taxation. The international community were fearful of partitioning Bosnia in case it triggered other claims to sovereignty in other ethnic communities, namely Albanians in Kosovo.

Only the Bosnian Croats were immediately satisfied with the Vance-Owen plan. For the rest, difficulties arose over the degree of autonomy granted to the ethnic communities in Bosnia. For the Bosnian Serbs, it forced then to hand back 60% of the territory they had commandeered in the conflict. Whilst the plan was more favourable to the Muslims than previous attempts of peacekeeping, the Bosnian Muslims were still hoping for Western intervention.

By March 1993 the map had been revised to afford more Muslim control surrounding Sarajevo. Also, the US assured that once the Vance-Owen peace plan was signed cease-fire enforcement would be implemented. In the meantime, Bosnian Croats had resorted to using force to take control of areas of Bosnia-Hercegovina in the south of the country. As a result, the Bosnian Government agreed to the plan. Fearing Croat-Muslim domination around the proposed central Sarajevo government and unhappy that the land corridor linking Serb territory to the Serb republic would be cut off, the Bosnian Serbs rejected the Vance-Owen plan.

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