The leaders of the Yugoslav republics must bear the responsibility for the wars that crippled the country. But it must be noted that the international community was incompetent in its response to the problems. What were the major powers doing when tensions increased and the conflict started?
The United States had been aware of Milosevic’s plan for a Greater Serbia since his rise to power in 1987 and in 1990 the CIA had already warned that Yugoslavia would fall apart. The United States pushed the European Community to take the lead, believing the Europeans had more leverage to avert the crisis.
It is important to note that other world events occurring at the same time may have detracted from the problems in Yugoslavia. Most notably, the Gulf War and the dissolution of the USSR. The ultimate failure being that the European Community failed to detect the problem and its seriousness and complexity before it was too late. In a post-Cold War world, insufficient institutions for conflict resolutions existed and lacking in the necessary skills to handle the task. Before 1991 Yugoslav politicians wanted European membership. The European Community had the power to use this to their advantage in the negotiations for a comprehensive settlement for Yugoslavia in its entirety but they failed to do so.
When eventually the European Community paid attention, it seized the opportunity to show the world it was Europe’s premier security institution. A mission was sent to Serbia to mediate for a political resolution, but it was much too late as Slovenia and Croatia were already on the verge of independence.
The power of the European Community was marred by its lack of unity. Whilst Britain and France wanted to maintain Yugoslav unity, they naturally sided with Serbia for a remodelled federation. However, Germany and Austria, with their historic, cultural and religious ties to Slovenia and Croatia, showed more sympathy for their ambitions of self-determination. Internal debates prevented decisive and speedy response to the looming crisis. In June 1992 the European Community voted not to recognise the independence of Slovenia and Croatia but, by November as fighting intensified, Germany advocated independence and therefore changing the recognition of the conflict to an international audience. Immense pressure was placed on other Western powers to recognise the two states and therefore bringing to the forefront the territorial rights of the Serb minority in Croatia. This led Bosnia to strive for an independence which it was not able to survive.
The European Community lacked appropriate instruments for crisis management, and with its diplomatic and peacekeeping efforts proving unsuccessful, they handed over to the United Nations in the last months of 1991. But the European Community was not the only multilateral organisation to fail. The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), unable to reach agreement quickly passed the problem to the European Community. The West European Union (WEU) was also lacking in resources and structure to tackle major peacekeeping. NATO had the capabilities but its member governments were unwilling to act. Eventually it lost credibility by issuing threats and being able to back them up.
Lacking any clear perspective on Bosnia’s future, the international community was unable to achieve a coherent strategy for the country. The only agreement was that significant military intervention was out of the question. It appeared that the risks outweighed the benefits and therefore little political will to act forcibly was the outcome.
Besides this, any large scale military operation would have to include the United States. Yet the US had little to gain politically from their involvement in the conflict. During the Presidential campaign in 1992, Clinton encouraged hope of intervention if voted into power, but once in power failed to act until Bosnia was in no position to refuse their air strikes.
Eventually western intervention was confined to very limited aims; contain the crisis, provide humanitarian aid and to avoid prolonged military intervention. As a result, the provision of durable solutions to the core problems were progressively beyond reach.