The 1992-1995 Bosnian War was initiated after the breakup of Yugoslavia. The Slovenian and Croatians seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991 and the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina also tried to pass a referendum for independence but was rejected (boycotted) by the Bosnian Serbs who desired their own republic. They received support from the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic and the Yugoslav Peoples Army (JNA) and the sporadic fighting then turned into an all out war, crossing the newly created international borders. Bosnia has long been a multi ethnic territory, inhabited by Muslims (44%), Orthodox Serbs (31%) and Catholic Croats (17%). The conflict could be described as a territorial conflict but is was largely an ethnic cleansing forcing all non-Serb, mostly Muslim, populations out of Bosnia. The human rights abuses were many including ethnic cleansing, genocide, mass rape and psychological oppression. The most recent research places the number of people killed in the Bosnian War at around 100,000–110,000 and the number of people displaced at over 2.2 million. This makes the Bosnian War the most devastating conflict in Europe since WW2. Estimates of the numbers raped range from 20,000 to 50,000 and for the first time in history, sexual violence, on its own, was not just considered a crime against humanity but led to its first conviction. Understanding the UN’s role in the Bosnian conflict necessitates the context of the peacekeeping missions that came before, most notably in Somalia and Rwanda. I highly suggest you read the previous posts about those conflicts before reading on.
Many blamed the UN and specifically the DPKO for the failures. Kofi Annan however, says to the contrary, “The limits on our resources, the extreme reluctance of troop contributors to take risks with their troops, and, above all, the profound division over policy and strategic direction that often existed among members of the Security Council were often conveniently forgotten when apportioning responsibility for what was routinely referred to in those years as the ‘crisis in UN peacekeeping’” (60). Understanding the climate of international governance and how Rwanda and Somalia shaped UN peacekeeping efforts is critical to understand the evolution of UN involvement in Bosnia.
In February 1992, after the disintegration of Yugoslavia, at the end of the Cold War, the Security Council approved the deployment of UN peacekeeping troops (UNPROFOR) to oversee the confrontation between Serbian and Croatian forces. After full-scale war broke out in April 1992, the conflictt proved to be largely one sided. Serb militias and paramilitary forces, with help from the Yugoslav army, displaced around 1 million people from their homes. All non-Serbs were forcibly removed even from areas where they constituted a majority population. Pressure slowly began to build on the international community to “do something.” Boutrous-Ghali however was quite reluctant to add another peacekeeping mission in the Balkan territories. In May of 1992, Marrack Goulding was sent on a fact-finding mission to better assess the escalating situation. Goulding reported on the conflict and noted that they were attempting to create “ethnically pure” regions through any means necessary. Although, he ultimately concluded, “in its present phase this conflict is not susceptible to UN peacekeeping treatment” (62). As time went on, the barbarity and human rights violations continued without any international witness. Nonetheless, reporting on the conflict eventually began to reach the community of nations. The images evoked familiar sentiments to the WW2 era, further adding to the pressure for the international community to “do something.”
In June 1992, UNPROFOR assumed control of the Sarajevo airport and used it as a hub for humanitarian assistance to the population. Later that year, in September, the Security Council approved an increase to UNPROFORs strength in order to protect convoys delivering humanitarian aid. However, “doing something” at this stage still did not involve engaging in combat. Many, including the US and Germany, began to debate the validity of the traditional nonconfrontational peacekeeping norm. Many began to call for engaging in combat through air power, which would keep risks for troops on the ground at a minimum. Although there were around 40,00 troops across Bosnia, they were lightly equipped, widely dispersed, vulnerable and still reliant on the consent of all involved parties to carry out their tasks.
There were three major purposes of the UN peacekeepers in Bosnia. First, deliver food and medicine, which involved protection of other humanitarian agencies such as the Red Cross as well as protection for convoys. Second, to “contain the conflict and mitigate its consequences as far as possible, making sure it did not spread…” (64). This also involved enacting various constraints such as no-fly zones and weapon-exclusion zones. Third, attempt to reach a peaceful settlement to the conflict including local cease-fire agreements. Annan says, “while these were all important goals, they did not constitute a clear political objective for the UN mission” (65). The peacekeepers were simply not there to end the war.
In 1993, the city of Srebrenica was filled with upwards of sixty thousand Muslim refugees. Bosnian Serb forces targeted the town and began to lay siege with daily bombardments. This action necessitated a strict reaction from the UN. In response the Security Council demanded that Srebrenica be considered a “safe zone” as well as other threatened towns such as Zepa, Gorazde, Bihac, Tuzla and Sarajevo. However, this did no more than provide a temporary respite. UN forces, already stretched thin, were beginning to be widely recognized as grossly inadequate and Kofi Annan knew that the attainment of more troops would be near impossible. No cosponsors, including the US, France, the UK, Russia and Spain, were willing to increase their troop presence. Nor were they willing to even redeploy existing troops to the newly established safe areas for their protection. General Maurice Baril then gave a presentation to the Council calling for an additional 32,000 troops to implement the safe areas concept. Cosponsors reacted with anger accusing the DPKO of “incompetence” and “failing to properly conduct their duties.” Their preference was still the “light and minimum” option drawn up by France that called for a force of only 5,000 troops.
These deep divisions in the Security Council outlined not just the differences in opinion on the nature of the conflict but also the means of appropriate action. The main area of disagreement was in the use of air power to engage militarily. By spring of 1995, cease-fires were failing and the conflict was intensifying. The need for more direct intervention in the conflict began to be more widely acknowledged. NATO forces began performing targeted air strikes around Sarajevo but in retaliation, Serb forces illustrated the vulnerability of UN troops by capturing and holding hostage 400 UN personnel. Their tactic worked and air strikes immediately ceased.
After three years of UNPROFOR presence, the conflict not only continued but also worsened. UN forces were continuously “obstructed, targeted, denied resupply, and restricted in our movements” (70). In July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces overran Srebrenica. Thousands of Muslim Bosnian men and boys were immediately executed. The exact figure of the murdered is still unknown. As a reaction, UN forces began to solidify their positions with concentrated troop density and better-defended positions. The Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) was created with seven thousand British, French and Dutch troops and heavy artillery. NATO air power was again authorized and threats were given to the Serbs that if they attacked safe zones there would be continued NATO air strikes. The Serbs saw this as a bluff. And continued to operate on the assumption that if attacked, the UN presence would wilt and withdraw.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was a mortar strike on Sarajevo in August. It targeted one of the cities main markets, where people were lined up for bread. Thirty-nine people were killed. On the first night alone, over one hundred aircrafts from the US, the UK, France, Spain and the Netherlands destroyed 24 targets, including strikes near the Serb headquarters in Pale. Jets were attacking “arms depots, command and control centers, artillery positions and surface-to-air missile batteries” (72). But most importantly, UN troops were now in well-defended and concentrated positions preventing fear of reprisal and hostage taking. This was called Operations Deliberate Force and it broke the hold of the Bosnian Serbs. This action required the Security Council to take sides, to actively embrace war over peacekeeping. The Serbs who once controlled in between 70-80% of the territory were forced to negotiate. The Dayton Accords were born and they effectively ended the war in Bosnia. The peace has continued to hold.
After these three failures of Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia, it was clear that reform to the UN peacekeeping process was needed. Kofi Annan wanted to acknowledge, with complete honesty, the recent history of failure. Any successful reform he said, needed to come from such honesty. The Brahimi Report released in August 2000 was his contribution. The report needed to address the inherent shortcomings in UN peacekeeping, particularly in civil war scenarios, as they are the most common form of conflict in the world today. As Annan said, “Almost all peacekeeping operations since 1992 have been deployed to conflicts that cannot be readily categorized as between countries, and there are now, at the time of writing, almost 100 thousand uniformed personnel serving on sixteen such operations” (78).
Nonetheless, the consent of belligerent parties, impartiality and the use of force only in self-defense had to remain the “bedrock of peacekeeping.” Annan suggested however, that peacekeepers needed more viable means for self-defense, that any self-sustaining peace must to be continued through long-term development efforts. The bureaucracy of the Secretariat, Security Council and troop-contributing governments needed significant improvement: clearer communication and cohesive coordination with decision-making. Most importantly, Annan says, member states could no longer use the deployment of forces as a “fig leaf designed to conceal their unwillingness to intervene with the true commitment necessary, as a means of appeasing demands for forceful humanitarian intervention” (77).
The Brahimi Report, perhaps more importantly, outlines a larger issue, which Annan calls “complicity with evil.” How can the UN, mandated with peacekeeping and the protection of civilians, merely watch the murder, rape and brutalization of civilians without taking any action? Annan’s intent is to show that UN peacekeepers, when they witness such violence against civilians, must have the authority to stop it. He elaborates,
Evil in civil war zones occurs due to the will of the conflict protagonists, which must be rounded upon, confronted, and stopped – through force if necessary. But while I was serving as secretary general, there were many in the international community, in diplomatic missions, and in capitol cities around the world, who clung to a vision of the UN Charter that, in their view, said that the use of such force was unacceptable…this left me with what would become my greatest challenge as secretary general: creating a new understanding of the legitimacy, and necessity, of intervention in the face of gross violations of human rights” (78-9).
In the next few blog posts I will discuss Annan’s views on sovereignty and human rights, focusing on East Timor, Kosovo and Darfur.