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NATO's evolution in Bosnia-Herzegovina

The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina led to NATO's first "peace-keeping" intervention and at the same time brought a shift from UN blue helmets to NATO military. After the Dayton agreement from 1995 NATO is the leading force among the SFOR troops.

The workshop addressed the questions:

  1. What challenges to the peace movement in general and to pacifism in particular does the NATO intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina (B-H) pose?
  2. What are the consequences of the NATO intervention a) for the people of B-H, and b) for NATO itself and its role in the rest of the world?

1) There was an extended period in 1991-92 when many people in Sarajevo and other places in B-H could see the war coming: artillery was installed in front of their eyes. It was the utter failure of the peace movement to come up with any efficient response to prevent the pending disaster that led to the need for NATO involvement. Hence, this was the greatest challenge to the peace movement: not to lose the opportunity to mobilise efficient counter-measures to war at the next threat of mass bloodshed.

The two days of NATO air strikes that preceded the Dayton agreement, where not considered to have been instrumental in bringing it about; hence they would lack justification. Furthermore, they may have led people in NATO governments to believe that something similar could be achieved by brief bombing later in the Kosov@ crisis. Thus, tentatively, this part of the NATO intervention was analysed along straightforward pacifist lines. In contrast, the very strong opinion was voiced that NATO in establishing and maintaining B-H as a UN semi-protectorate, has stopped war from re-erupting and thereby prevented enormous bloodshed. In other words, NATO got extraordinarily high marks from peace activists, which amounted to a refutation of an orthodox pacifist position. However, dissent from this position was expressed: Could bloodshed be avoided by other means, such as the deployment of vast numbers of OSCE observers? We debated whether that would have required backing by military forces.

Pessimism was expressed about the prospect for successful nonviolent intervention in this kind of situation. The unfortunate Italian nonviolent activist who was shot in B-H, was deemed to have achieved nothing whatsoever. "Force was needed, not WRI's wishful thinking."

2a) Various consequences for the people of B-H were described. Although many of their lives had been saved, the situation is not moving towards a reduced potential for renewed warfare.

NATO forces are merely keeping two ethnically cleansed armies apart; the moment NATO were to leave, war would be likely to break out. The people who are thus protected, may be disempowered in that they delegate the responsibility for their security to NATO. The environment is not conducive to desertion from the recently belligerent armies, although local initiative to promote conscientious objection should be given due credit and support. The underlying conflicts are currently neglected and may be aggravated in the absence of any work towards solving them.

Enormous economic resources are being poured into the region, e.g. in the form of salaries to the numerous peace keepers. Thereby a deceptive prosperity is created, which creates a passivity that is not conducive to repairing the infrastructure, or to reorganising the communications for civilian purposes. People, not least children, are exposed to intense and wasteful NATO propaganda, which again is a distraction from addressing the unsolved conflicts and building lasting peace.

2b) The consequences for NATO and its role in the rest of the world may be multifarious and unpredictable. NATO governments have had to realise that the maintenance of any greater number of such protectorates as in B-H may not be economically feasible.

At the global level, the NATO intervention in B-H, as well the later Kosov@ campaign for which it had set the precedent, may promote the formation of a military axis between Russia, China and India. Thereby we would be brought closer to a Cold War II. It may have provided the pretext for re-armament in various countries and for unsolicited military interventions. Hence the net effect may have been an increased risk of World War III.

When we reconvened the following day in order to discuss how the strategies we might have agreed upon would serve the strategic goals of WRI, we deemed it impossible to extract these elements from our discussions. Instead we came up with the following suggestion:

"WRI ought to review and consider the wide array of options for ending violent conflict, including the emergency use of force, before developing a strategy for its role in the wider context of peace building."

Summary by PJ Klasse