Vol. 18 No. 3 · 8 February 1996
It seems principled of Misha Glenny (LRB, 4 January) to heap praise on The Death of Yugoslavia by Allan Little and Laura Silber, for their book’s argument runs strongly counter to Glenny’s own views of the war.
Silber and Little state their ‘single core thesis’ at the outset: ‘under Milosevic’s stewardship, the Serbs were, from the beginning of Yugoslavia’s disintegration, the key secessionists.’ Glenny, by contrast, has often underlined Croatia’s responsibility, and Bosnia’s too, for what has happened. He recently told a Croatian paper, Arkzin, that if Croatia had yielded to the local Serb leaders’ initial demand for cultural rights, there would have been no war at all. Surely this is naive: without denying any of the Croatian regime’s vindictive chauvinism or likely ambitions, we may doubt that the Serb question in Croatia could have been resolved locally, despite Serbia’s interest in raising national tensions in Croatia, and its incomparable resources for achieving this, not least the Yugoslav People’s Army.
I have long supposed that Glenny translates a disgust at Croatian nationalism into an exaggerated assessment of Croatia’s part in the final crisis and war. Hence the gem of his review is its judgment of Croatia’s President Tudjman. When Tudjman announced a year ago that Croatia would refuse a further extension of the UN peacekeeping mandate, Glenny’s response was to dismiss the decision as brinkmanship (LRB, 9 March 1995). Now it turns out Tudjman has been uniquely far-sighted, ‘by far the most skilful politician in the former Yugoslavia’. Milosevic, on the other hand, has failed because he ‘completely ignored the international factor’, and ‘realised too late’ that the Great Powers would dictate a settlement.
This perverse analysis is disproved by Milosevic’s adroit handling of international mediation since 1991. As for Tudjman, he has been efficient enough, in his repugnant way, but until quite recently he seemed to have little going for him except international recognition of Croatia and its borders. Paradoxically, his two best assets were the much maligned Unprofor, which stabilised the country while giving the Great Powers a bad conscience, and Serb intransigence in Croatia and Bosnia, which blocked any solution acceptable to other parties. Tudjman’s boldness a year ago turned these burdens into the levers of a solution. Otherwise, he has been outstanding only for devotion to a primitive and vicious programme of national homogenisation (exercised against Serbs and Muslims, though also against Croats who dissent or live in the wrong part of Bosnia). He hung on long enough to benefit greatly from the US peace initiative fronted by Richard Holbrooke, itself born of frustration at local Serb leaders’ rejection of peace plans which were pro-Serb anyway. Who except Tudjman could have been used to beat the Bosnian Serbs to the point that they would accept the tabled deal? The Bosnian Government was never up to the task. Against the grain of earlier experience, in 1995 Tudjman turned out to be in the right place at the right time. And Croatian Serbs paid the price.
Glenny’s about-turn on Tudjman is predicated on a fundamental error. Like so many Western policy-makers (including Holbrooke himself), Glenny supposes Milosevic really was motivated by an agenda of pan-Serb national interests, involving sturdy defence of Serbs outside Serbia or even a scheme of unification. Now this agenda has been trashed in Croatia and damaged in Bosnia. So Glenny describes Milosevic as having gone ‘wrong’ and Tudjman as having superior gifts.
‘The Serbs lose,’ says Glenny, but which Serbs? Dayton confirmed near-victory in Bosnia for both Serb and Croat national agendas. Whether the margins of defeat will prove wide enough to subvert the worst intentions on all sides will probably become clear this year. Meanwhile the apartheid principle wins; the self-styled Republika Srpska, a polity founded on genocide, is recognised as ruler of half the land; and Glenny’s commotion over Serb loss is misplaced, not to say scandalous.
The record shows that Milosevic was always too realistic to believe a pan-Serb agenda, was ready to betray it from early on, indeed expected to have to do so as pressure mounted, but could hardly run that risk unless ‘forced’. As early as August 1992, the London Conference indicated that he need fear no hostile intervention in Bosnia. The Vance-Owen Plan confirmed this. Milosevic backed the plan and its successors, distancing himself from the Bosnian Serb mafia, who were forever drunk on the early gains which he had bestowed.
The West kept thinking confrontation with Milosevic was still at issue when secret collaboration was the name of the game. We were so loath to give him a solid pretext for treachery that in August 1994, he showed the way and broke with the mafia. We played our part, with a strategy of Nato in the sky plus local forces on the ground that might have worked in 1992 in service of a far better settlement. Fascinated as he is by cardboard quarry – Clinton’s ‘brainless’ team, ‘fatuous’ critiques of the UN, Tudjman’s foresight – Glenny ignores this abyss of deceit. It is clear that Milosevic never urged a rational strategy on Serbs outside Serbia, and consistently opposed the unification of ‘Serb lands’ across state borders. Beset by political crisis, he expediently promoted a war; when he finally gets us to stop it, four years later, on his terms, the world is grateful and his domestic opposition is in shreds. Following his masterful performance at Dayton, and his appearance in Paris at Clinton’s side, how many politicians must wish they could be as ‘crass’ as Milosevic!
Misha Glenny claims that in the Dayton settlement ‘the Serbs lose’ and ‘Croatia wins’, something he attributes to the success of Croatian President Tudjman in winning international backing, which Serbia’s Milosevic failed to attempt. The truth is the opposite, even in crude territorial terms. As a result of its Bosnian-Serb proxies’ persistent contempt for the UN, their taking of UN hostages, assault on ‘safe areas’ and threats to drag Nato into a new Vietnam, Serbia has won recognition for its client Republika Srpska and been awarded 49 per cent of Bosnian territory, including the former UN ‘safe areas’ of Srebrenica and Zepa, despite being on the verge of complete military collapse at the time of the final ceasefire in October 1995. Croatia’s proxy Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna is, by contrast, presently in control of only 23 percent of Bosnia, which Dayton reduces by a further 4 per cent. The Bosnian-Croat statelet consists of economically worthless Western Hercegovina and south-west Bosnia, plus the isolated enclaves of Zepce, Kiseljak and the Lasva valley. Indeed, the Dayton territorial settlement represented a net gain for the Karadzic Serbs in relation to the front lines of October 1995. Croatia gave up to the Karadzic Serbs territory equal to 4 per cent of Bosnia, including the strategically important towns of Mrkonjic-Grad and Sipovo, leaving Croat-controlled Jajce a vulnerable enclave. The Croats’ only compensation for these losses is the single Posavinan town of Odzak. The creation of a Croat statelet in Bosnia, made up mostly of mountains with an entirely black-market economy, at the price of the displacement or ghettoisation of two-thirds of all Bosnian Croats, scarcely makes Tudjman the primary victor. The Dayton settlement moreover rules that the ratio of military forces between Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia should be 2:2:5 in favour of the latter. Since one-third of the armed forces in Bosnia’s portion is to go to Republika Srpska, Dayton in effect guarantees a Serbian military preponderance of 5.66:3.33 – i.e. 17:10 – over the Croatians and Bosnians combined.
Glenny further claims that the Croatian move into Krajina in August 1995 was ‘the first time in the conflict that the international powers actually approved an act of ethnic cleansing’. This is nonsense. All the international ‘peace plans’ for Bosnia-Hercegovina have been predicated on the successively more generous legitimation of the Karadzic Serbs’ possession of lands that they had ethnically cleansed. The Vance-Owen Plan, for example, gave them possession of the majority-Muslim towns of Kljuc and Sanski Most, scenes of some of their worst atrocities. The Owen-Stoltenberg Plan gave them in addition the large majority-Muslim town of Prijedor as well as all the majority-Muslim towns of East Bosnia except Gorazde, Srebrenica and Zepa. The Serbian conquest of the ‘safe area’ of Srebrenica and massacre of thousands of its inhabitants in July 1995 took place only after General Mladic had intercepted a directive of UN Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi advising that Srebrenica be abandoned. US intelligence was aware a Serbian attack was pending, but took no action to prevent it, or even to inform the UN or the Western Europeans. Likewise, the conquest of the second ‘safe area’ of Zepa took place only after Malcolm Rifkind had announced that the town could not be defended. The Americans viewed the destruction of Srebrenica and Zepa, as well as of Krajina, as ‘tidying up the map’ in preparation for a ‘peace’ settlement, and even suggested giving Gorazde to the Karadzic Serbs in exchange for land around Sarajevo, though this would have amounted to ‘ethnic cleansing’. It is noteworthy, however, that President Milosevic was not the subject of any Western threats over the conquest of Srebrenica, though it was planned and executed by his Chief of Staff, General Momcilo Perisic. By contrast, Tudjman’s offensive against Krajina provoked a threat from the UN mediator Carl Bilt to prosecute him for war crimes, even though the Croatians in Krajina, unlike Perisic’s Serbian forces in Srebrenica, were taking back territory that legally belonged to them, not conquering someone else’s.
It is hardly fair for Glenny to present himself as an impartial analyst, when he is universally regarded by Bosnian campaigners as a hostile source, but not by their Serbian counterparts. On every issue during the course of the war, he has taken the side of Milosevic’s Serbia, at the level of practice if not of rhetoric: he opposed recognition of Croatian and Bosnian independence, opposed lifting the arms embargo against Bosnia, favoured easing sanctions against Serbia, opposed air-strikes and repeated highly dubious stories of Bosnians bombing their own people to provoke Western intervention against the Serbs.
The Western European intelligentsia has not, as Glenny claims, offered ‘uncritical backing’ for some ‘Wilsonian concept of self-determination’. The dominant characteristic of the approach to this war, in Western Europe and the US, has been the contradiction between intellectuals’ and politicians’ denunciation of aggression and ethnic cleansing in principle and their determination to collude with and legitimise it in practice. Dayton represents the triumph of this approach.
Misha Glenny writes: When I said that the Croats win and the Serbs lose, I was using the Dayton Agreement rather loosely to refer to the overall settlement of the wars in both Bosnia and Croatia – which I assumed, clearly erroneously, was obvious from the context.
Tudjman had three war aims: to secure international recognition of Croatia (tick); to end the Serbian question in Croatia (tick); and to prevent the establishment of an independent Bosnia-Hercegovina (tick). Without international support, this would have been impossible.
Milosevic never crystallised his war aims, preferring instead to switch and reduce his territorial ambitions (the idea of a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia is replaced by a Yugoslavia without Slovenia, which in turn gives way to a Yugoslavia without Slovenia and Croatia but with those parts of rural Croatia where Serbs live, which is then rejected for Serbia and Montenegro with Bosnia and Macedonia, then without the latter etc etc).
Hoare works on the assumption that Serb aims, as defined by Milosevic, were and are the creation of a Greater Serbia. Mark Thompson goes to another extreme, suggesting that it was always Milosevic’s intention to shed the peripheral territories beyond the borders of Serbia and Montenegro.
If Hoare is correct, one can only conclude that the Serbs have failed pretty miserably. Not only have they lost the Krajina, presumably for ever: the economies of Serbia, Montenegro and especially the Republika Srpska (RS) have been ruined. They are also regarded as pariahs in Europe and beyond. In addition, there is no sympathy spared for Serb civilian victims of this war.
Hoare may consider that victory. I do not. As regards his digression into percentages, I observe that Hoare neglects to mention the Bihac pocket, which in theory comes under the control of Sarajevo, but in practice is utterly dependent economically on Croatia. Indeed, the entire Bosnian-Croat Federation is dependent on Croatia’s goodwill – it would not be too strong to suggest that Croatia has succeeded in creating a Bosnian vassal, whose status, economic and military strength will be at the mercy of Zagreb.
With reference to Hoare’s point about the military division, he may wish to remember that the population ratio between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and the RS, on the one hand, and Croatia and the Federation, on the other, is 18:11.5. He is also forgetting that Croatia has been able to ignore with equanimity the UN arms embargo imposed on the former Yugoslavia in September 1991 and there is no reason to imagine that it will halt the modernisation of its army just because of the Dayton Agreement.
Thompson’s argument appears more sophisticated. Indeed he may spot some similarities between things I have said and things he has said. He is demonstrably wrong, however, when he says I believe that Milosevic was motivated by a pan-Serbian agenda. I was the first person to note, in my book, that Milosevic instrumentalised every stage in the Yugoslav crisis to destroy opposition within Serbia to his rule. I have also frequently noted that Milosevic constituted the FRY quite clearly as being the Republics of Serbia and Montenegro (although its constitution does not rule out territorial expansion through agreement). I have often pointed out that Milosevic refused formal recognition to both the Serb Republic of Krajina and the RS.
But to credit Milosevic with a strategy which provoked the entire war as a way of controlling Serbia and jettisoning the peripheral territories is absurd. This flies in the face of substantial testimony provided by Slavoljub Djukic, Borisav Jovic and Ivan Stambolic, inter alii, concerning Milosevic’s aims. These aims changed as Milosevic began to understand his failure. The Serbian President pushed for the maximum amount of control over the maximum amount of territory where he could sustain it. When he discovered that he could not sustain it, he dropped it as an expedience. The reason he could not sustain it was that he had succeeded in alienating the entire international community (including, in my opinion, Russia).
Like many of my critics, Thompson chooses to concentrate on those things he disagrees with and conveniently forgets what I have written about Serbian nationalism, for example, as the most dynamic force on the road to conflict. I suspect if he were to reread that substantial part of my book, he might find my description of Milosevic’s rise and the Serbian bureaucracy’s intentions weirdly similar to Little and Silber’s.
What appears to gall both Hoare and Thompson is my refusal to concede that Croatia may behave like Serbia but get away with it. ‘Who except Tudjman could be used to beat the Bosnian Serbs to the point that they would accept a settlement?’ asks Thompson. (I wonder who will be used to beat the Bosnian Croats into respecting crucial parts of the Federation Agreement. Tudjman, perhaps?) I would venture that Robert Frasure and Milosevic would have eventually beaten down the Bosnian Serbs, but some of Mr Frasure’s colleagues in Washington felt otherwise.
Srebrenica, both Hoare and Thompson may recall, occurred after the collapse of the Frasure-Milosevic negotiations. They did not collapse because of the Bosnian Serbs but because of resistance to the Frasure deal led by Al Gore and Madeleine Albright. The final collapse of the Frasure plan (thanks also in part to diplomatic pressure which Tudjman applied on Washington via Germany) persuaded all three sides in the Bosnian and Croatian conflicts to seek a military solution. Before Srebrenica, the Bosnian Government attempted its disastrous breakout from Sarajevo. Mladic subsequently sought and received permission from the Yugoslav Army leadership (and almost certainly Milosevic) to attack the three enclaves, while Tudjman increased the concentration of troops around the Krajina in preparation for the final assault. Before the plan had been shouted out of court in Washington, Silajdzic had urged Frasure to do all he could to make it work – otherwise, he told Frasure, there would be a bloodbath.
After the collapse of Frasure-Milosevic, the Americans decided to go the whole hog with partition and cleansing. As regards Hoare’s comments about international responses to cleansing, he must learn to differentiate between a priori approval of the cleansing of the Krajina, as given by the Americans to Tudjman, and the construction of peace plans which accommodated cleansing operations after the event. The expulsion and massacres of the Muslims in northern and eastern Bosnia, for example, were roundly condemned by all members of the international community who at the time were still committed to solutions which did not permit partition. The American green light for the Krajina action specifically encouraged the creation of ethnically homogeneous states in the Balkans as a solution to the overall crisis and the message was lost on nobody in Bosnia-Hercegovina.
For reasons of space, I have not answered all the specific charges levelled at me by the two correspondents. For the record, I reject them all. On a final note, for those convinced that Thompson is able to gaze into abysses where others like myself are not, I recommend they read pages 293 and 294 of his book, The Paper House. His tender vision of a Bosnia saved thanks to the resolute decision of the international community to recognise the country’s independence certainly made me chuckle as I sat in the Hotel Ilidza reading it in early May 1992 with shells crashing all around me.
Vol. 18 No. 4 · 22 February 1996
Misha Glenny says (Letters, 8 February) that Milosevic did not pursue a pan-Serb agenda, and did want ‘the maximum control over the maximum amount of territory’. In the real world, that was either/or. The inference, parading as axiom, that Milosevic was indefinitely committed to keeping maximum territory after this commitment had stopped making sense, has cost many lives. It begat the prejudice, cherished in London, Paris and the United Nations, that coercing the Croatian or Bosnian Serbs would mean confrontation with Serbia.
Milosevic ‘never crystallised his war aims’, because he had none beyond preserving and enhancing his regime’s power. Having promoted the war in Croatia in 1991, his best course in 1992 was to do worse in Bosnia, again open-endedly. He backed the Vance-Owen plan because Serb gains had become a liability. But divesting these gains needed extreme guile and care, deflecting perceptions of a sellout while keeping democratic options at bay. ‘Maximum control over maximum territory’ is a thrilling mantra, but it makes Milosevic stupid and fanatical. What was that control to be for?
Glenny sees the aborted Frasure-Milosevic plan as a lost chance for peace. He should explain why, since nothing in the record suggests Bosnian or Croatian Serb leaders would have yielded quietly, and Tudjman had his own timetable. Nato’s ‘disproportionate’ force midwifed a settlement – and no Western lives were lost.
It would be good if Attila Hoare and Mark Thompson (Letters, 8 February), and everyone else who writes so antagonistically to you about Bosnia, were to reflect on what Neal Ascherson says in the same issue about foreign correspondents who ‘go native’. For why, now that the real war seems to have stopped in Bosnia, should we have to endure a disagreeable pastiche of it, conducted by letter, from those who appear to derive more satisfaction from their own polemics than from the imposition of a dreadfully overdue peace?
Vol. 18 No. 5 · 7 March 1996
Misha Glenny (Letters, 8 February) cites the Dayton Agreement as the symbol of Croatia’s victory and Serbia’s defeat. Yet Dayton governed only the settlement on Bosnian territory, whereas Glenny’s claim that Tudjman’s Croatia won the war in the former Yugoslavia rests entirely on factors external to Bosnia. These are that Croatia won international recognition, ‘solved’ its Serb-minority problem and prevented the establishment of an independent Bosnia, while Serbia suffered economic collapse, was forced to abandon the Krajina and became an international pariah.
This is a selective use of evidence. If Croatia won international recognition, so did ‘Republika Srpska’, covering 49 per cent of Bosnia. While Serbia lost the Krajina, which it never legally possessed, Croatia lost the far more valuable Posavina, a region of Bosnia with a relative Croat majority that was to have gone to ‘the Croats’ under the Vance-Owen, Owen-Stoltenberg and Contact Group Plans. Bosnian independence was opposed not only by Tudjman but also by Serbia, by Britain and France, and by Glenny himself. The Serbian leaders had achieved pariah status by mid-1992; does Glenny have any evidence that they cared?
Glenny portrays the Bihac region as under the control of a Croatia on which it is ‘utterly dependent economically’. He forgets that the whole of Bosnia has always been so dependent. Dayton merely cuts off Croatia’s intercourse with 49 per cent of a country on which its own economy depends. His description of rump Bosnia as a Croatian ‘vassal’ contradicts what he wrote in his original article when he said that ‘divisions between the Muslim and Croat communities’ mean that Bosnia is partitioned into three rather than two entities.
Glenny claims that the ratio of arms between the sides established at Dayton reflects respective population sizes. This is false. The Muslim-Croat Federation has nearly four times the population of Republika Srpska, yet is granted only twice the armaments. Demography is not, of course, used to determine military strength elsewhere – Syria is not four times stronger than Israel.
Glenny differentiates between the ‘a priori approval of the cleansing of the Krajina, as given by the Americans to Tudjman’, which he claims is unique, ‘and the construction of peace plans which accommodated cleansing operations after the event’. This is wrong on every count. The recognition of the Karadzic Serbs’ conquest of 42 per cent of Bosnia in the Vance-Owen Plan was precisely a green light for further acts of cleansing to achieve the 52 per cent offered in the Owen-Stoltenberg Plan. The UN and USA gave a priori approval from May 1995 for the Karadzic Serbs’ cleansing operation in Srebrenica; the Croatian offensive against the Krajina in August 1995 was by contrast not a ‘cleansing operation’. Though the Croatians have since committed grisly atrocities against elderly Serb civilians, the original mass exodus of over 150,000 Serbs from the Krajina was organised by the Serbian authorities themselves, and began before the offensive had even started, following the Croatian capture of the Bosnian towns of Bosansko Grahovo and Glamoc in July. There was no Croatian equivalent of the Serbian Army’s extermination of Srebrenica’s entire male population and physical removal of women, children and the elderly from the area on buses and trucks. Croatia and Bosnia, it is true, won the war on the ground: US diplomacy, embodied in the Dayton Agreement, snatched a Serbian victory, however qualified, from the jaws of defeat.