Tribune leader, 26 June 1992
The left is, justifiably, generally opposed to military interventions by big powers in other people’s wars. However they are dressed up for public consumption, they are usually attempts by the big powers to extend or defend their influence. Far from bringing about peace, they usually cause escalation and prolongation of wan look at south-east Asia, Afghanistan, the Gulf, the Horn of Africa, Chad, Angola.
But there are times when big-power military intervention in a small war is the only way of preventing something worse. It is becoming increasingly clear that Bosnia today is a case in point.
It is difficult to see how anything short of military intervention from outside will dislodge the Serbian nationalist irregular forces, backed by the Government of Slobodan Milosevic and former Yugoslav federal troops, which are currently laying siege to Sarajevo and terrorising the civilian population with random mortar fire. Unless they are dislodged, the future for Sarajevo, Bosnia and the rest of what used to be Yugoslavia is bleak indeed.
A ceasefire alone (if it could be made to hold, which seems unlikely) is not enough. It would simply allow the Serbian militias, currently in a psychotic, expansionist mood, to consolidate their current stranglehold on Sarajevo and to get on unmolested with the grisly business of “ethnic cleansing” in the areas of Bosnia they control, as a prelude to incorporating them into a Greater Serbia. Encouraged by their success, the militias would then turn their attentions to the Albanians in Kosovo and then to the Macedonians.
Everything that the international community has done so for to restrain Serbian expansionism has failed. The agreement on Croatia brokered by the United Nations special envoy, Cyrus Vance, in January allowed the Serbs to consolidate their territorial gains there.
The EC’s plans for “cantonisation” of Bosnia on ethnic lines, put forward in March, only encouraged Serb ambitions to annex large areas of that country: if the EC sticks to this approach, it is almost certain that the Croats will join in the carve-up, effectively wiping Bosnia from the map. The sanctions imposed on Serbia and Montenegro by the EC and the United Nations last month have had no appreciable effect on the Serbian agression.
A limited military intervention to reopen and secure Sarajevo’s airport – its only transport link with the outside world – and to force the Serbian artillery units to retreat from their positions overlooking the city is logistically feasible. It now appears to be the only way that tie world can show the Serbs that it is serious about not tolerating, unprovoked aggression.
Obviously, there are political a military problems with such a course of action. Any intervention would have to have the backing of the UN, but it would be very difficult for any operation to save Sarajevo actually to be conducted by UN Blue Helmet troops, whose role is traditionally limited to peace-keeping. Intervention is also outside the remit of Nato, the purpose of which is to defend its own members from attack, yet Nato forces would have to be used. Unless the Western European Union were brought in, some sort of ad hoc coalition would need to be set up to do the job. This would take time and might be somewhat chaotic. There is also the possibility that what started as a limited intervention would become an endless commitment.
But none of this constitutes a convincing case against intervention. The organisational difficulties can be overcome if the political will is there, and there is no reason that any military action should not be strictly limited in scope and duration. In any case, there is no alternative on offer and time is gettting short. It is time to grasp the nettle.