New Statesman & Society leader, 15 July 1994

The international plan for the partition of Bosnia finalised in Geneva last week and endorsed by the Group of Seven summit in Naples at the week­end is a shabby capitulation to Serbian a­gression.

The long and the short of it is that unless the Bosnian government accepts by 17 July Serb control of more than half its terri­tory, it will face international sanctions, with­drawal of the United Nations’ humanitarian relief effort and an end to the protection of “safe havens” by UN troops.

Unsurprisingly, President Alija Izetbegovic’s government is less than happy with the plan—but the threats against it if it refuses to comply are of such magnitude that it has no alternative but to accept. Despite all the rhetoric of the international community about the importance of maintaining Bosnia’s terri­torial integrity—a rhetoric employed with particular enthusiasm by President Bill Clin­ton—partition of Bosnia is now virtually inevitable.

The British and French govern­ments have at long last got what they wanted from the very beginning of the Bosnia crisis, before it erupted into war: the dismember­ment of a state that their “expert” foreign ministries had declared unviable before it was even created and which they never lifted a finger to help.

Of course, there is some ground for hope. There is a slim chance that the Serbs will refuse to say that they will give up a third of the land they have grabbed, thereby ensuring that existing sanctions on them are not lifted and that the arms embargo on Bosnia is removed. The Bosnian government’s forces have already started to win the war against the Serbs, who are increasingly demoralised even though they are better armed.

By the end of the year, armed at last with the tanks, heavy artillery and ground attack aircraft that they have been denied throughout this war (unlike the Serbs, who have had the Yugoslav army’s tanks and artillery from the start), the Bosnian forces might even have got to the point of breaking the Serbs’ supply lines through northern Bosnia to the western towns of Banja Luka and Prijedor.

If that happened, it is not inconceivable that the Serbs would be forced to sue for peace on terms that allowed the re-creation of a secular, multi-ethnic, democratic Bosnia covering the whole of its internationally recognised territory.

But such an outcome essentially depends on Slobodan Milosevic and his puppet Radovan Karadzic really being as stupid as they ap­pear. For, if they reject the partition plan, they will be looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Given what they are after, it makes far more sense for them to take what the international community is offering them with open arms: a large chunk of Bosnia in a continuous swathe, their “ethnic cleansing” accepted as a fait accompli, the lifting of sanctions, no relaxation of the international constraints on the ability of the Bosnian government to de­fend itself. Unless they are idiots, Milosevic and Karadzic must be thinking that Christmas has come early. They are being offered pre­cisely what they have been holding out for.

The brutal truth is that, even by the stand­ards that David Owen and his various partners have set as “mediators” in negotiations among what they call “the warring factions”, the past few weeks’ diplomacy in Geneva have been an extraordinarily cynical perfor­mance. It is difficult to imagine an outcome more favourable to the Serbs if Owen had been on their payroll.

Perhaps, if the partition plan could be real­istically expected to bring the killing to an end, there might be something—not much, just something—going for it. But there is no reason to believe that it will do any such thing. On one hand, the likelihood is that, like the Palestinians after the partition of Palestine in 1948 and and the subsequent Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, the defeated Bosnians will turn to increasingly desperate ideologies and actions to retrieve what they feel has been seized from them.

So far, the Bosnian government has done remarkably well in controlling the more militant Islamists: contrary to what most of the British news media seem to believe, Bos­nia remains a secular democracy; and, although the majority of the population in areas under government control is Muslim, it remains committed to religious tolerance and multi-ethnicity. Partition could make the pressure for the creation of an Islamic state irresistible; it will certainly encourage the growth of militant Islam, perhaps with a ter­rorist current.

On the other hand, there is no reason to believe that the Serbs will suddenly lay down their arms. The Milosevic regime survives on war: with its economy in tatters, it continues to exist only because it is able to persuade its population that Serbia is surrounded by enemies and is battling for national survival. If the Bosnian war fizzles out after partition, Milosevic will have to look for new targets. Partition of Bosnia makes it more not less likely that Serbia will turn its attentions to Kosova or Macedonia.

Of course, in the long run Milosevic’s Greater Serbia is doomed. As Branka Magas argued in NSS last month, Serbia is such an economic basket-case and faces such internal social tensions that it is difficult to imagine the Milosevic regime surviving for ever, even with the help of all the tools of the totalitarian police state.

But it might hang on for decades rather than months or years before it falls as a result of its internal weakness. A compre­hensive defeat on the battlefield, on the other hand, would greatly hasten the process. In the end, the key to lasting peace in the Balkans is to lift the arms embargo so that the Bosnians can inflict that defeat.

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