After 1989, the international community experienced a mixed-emotions situation. On the one hand, euphoria for the end of the bipolar division took the lead inside NATO which saw the launch of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, and within the European Community, where the main goal became the establishment of a common currency and the achievement of a stronger political cooperation[1]. On the other hand, a blind Western Europe was consciously experiencing the splitting of the neighbouring Yugoslavia, a crisis that unveiled a profound hole in the Western security system.

With the relaxation produced by the end of the Cold War and the opening of the Hungarian borders, Yugoslavia lost its strategic significance both for the US and for Europe[2]. Moreover, the transatlantic partners seemed too focused on the surrounding events happening in Germany, Poland and Hungary and on the strategic American interest in the Middle East, to grasp the peril of the Balkans developments. However, if the Americans felt legitimated in seeing the dismantling of the region as a distant event, the Europeans demonstrated how feeble the steps they were taking in Maastricht were and how impossible it was for them to restore the immediate post-Cold War environment without a strong American backing. The aim of this paper is to concentrate on the paradoxical European engagement undertaken with the creation of a Common Foreign and Security Policy, that clashed at the beginning of the 1990s with serious difficulties in reading the events and acting in response to those. Indeed, the harsh string of events in Bosnia before and Kosovo later represented the perfect environment for the EU to demonstrate its capability in playing a crucial role for the European defence and to distinguish itself as an international independent actor. However, if in Bosnia NATO’s intervention proved necessary, Kosovo served to confirm the trends saw in the first half of the 1990s.

In what follows, it will be analysed the Western reaction to the Yugoslavian crisis, focusing in particular on the difficulties behind the EU’s moves, in a critical moment for its evolution from a civilian power to a military power. Firstly, it will concentrate on the events in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, secondly it will deal with the ‘silent Kosovo’ and the incapability of the Westerners, and mostly the Europeans, to learn from their mistakes.

The Yugoslav War as the Testing Ground for a European Common Defence
The end of the Cold War and the tumbling down of the soviet architecture enhanced internal requests in Yugoslavia. Indeed, after exiting the League of Communists, in October 1990 Slovenia proceeded with the annulation of thirty federal laws. Meanwhile, the Europeans and the US were too busy in dealing with the current hot spots of the international system to give the proper attention to what was happening in the Balkans. A boost to the developing in the dismantling of the federation was given by the two successful independence referendums, organized in Slovenia first and then in Croatia, to which both the US and the EC reacted declaring support to regional stability[3]. Even if the threat of violence was already clear, things became more delicate with the formal declaration of independence of the two republics in June 1991 and the quick response of the federal government that ordered the JNA to intervene in Slovenia. The outbreak of the war seemed to be the perfect theatre for the Europeans to demonstrate “their ability to take on a major political-security affair”[4], and for the Americans to have the certainty that their allies could afford such a challenge, which far away from being a strategic interest of the US was nothing more than a ‘European problem’. This was ‘the hour of Europe’, as defined by the foreign minister of Luxembourg Jacques Poos, and in the first moments of the conflict both the UN and the US assumed a low profile[5]. The first point scored by the EC, according to its limited goal of a cease-fire between Slovenia and the JNA, was the Brioni Agreement signed by Slovenia, Croatia and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on July 7. Despite the efforts, the agreement lacked both the support of a military capacity of the EC and the CSCE to deter the possible use of force and the far-sightedness to include Croatia and a series of preventive measures in the deeply divided neighbouring countries. As the war in Croatia deepened the failure of the diplomatic agreement rose, followed by increased divisions inside the EC, proceeding toward a more profound political integration. This ended facing the German idea of a unilateral recognition of the two republics, hardly opposed by France and Great Britain. With the will to avoid denying the right of self-determination to other peoples[6] – that led only one year before to the German reunification – and shaded by domestic electoral interests in mind, Berlin’s moves could have easily contradicted the negotiations undergoing in Maastricht. Bypassing the mandate of the Banditer Committee, on December 23 Germany recognized the two republics, pushing the rest of the Europeans to do the same.

While German recognition gave further strength to the already started dissolution of Bosnia Herzegovina[7], the difficulties in choosing how to act were undermining the credibility of a future political Union. European inaction in the Balkans was mainly due to different positions on military intervention. On the one hand the British idea that an independent European military action would have sent a wrong message to the US, on the other the French and German support to military capacity building included cooperation with the WEU.

Furthermore, the underrated situation in the multicultural Bosnia-Herzegovina kept evolving and intensifying, under the inattentive eyes of the West, in the months leading to its independence referendum in early 1992 and to the consequent outbreak of the war. Slackened by the absence of previous actions in the republic, the EC proved really feeble in using formal policies to deter aggressive actions in the area[8] and to take advantage of possible areas of intervention. The entrance of the UN in the conflict, anticipated by the establishment of the UN Protection Force, cut out Bosnia from its areas of action, at least until the shelling of Sarajevo. The violent events in the Bosnian capital and the consequent requests of international military intervention received no answer and clashed with a further cleavage in the EC crisis management[9]. The French president Mitterrand surprisingly and secretly flew to Sarajevo to affirm the unwillingness of France to accept more aggressive Serb behaviour. The pressure coming from the media and the public opinion coupled with a very slow European action, presumably led the French to act in a deviant, unilateral way.

After the proposal of the Owen-Vance peace plan and the following rejection by the Bosnian Serbs, the West still suffered in demonstrating its willingness to take more precise and intense actions, while important ruptures started growing inside the North Atlantic Alliance. With Resolution 781, the UN Security Council established a ban on military flights in the air space of Bosnia Herzegovina.  For the first time NATO was involved but had no legitimacy to intervene. If the Americans praised the approval of the ban’s enforcement but not the direct involvement of its ground troops, France and Britain were too mindful of the safety of their active troops in the peacekeeping operations to allow air strikes. The international community was losing credibility in the eyes of the aggressors and NATO was deeply disappointed by the stubborn and conflicting positions of the allies on military engagement. The Europeans were systematically convinced of the possibility to deal with the crisis through political means and kept on lavishing humanitarian aid. While divisions inside the EU displayed again with the Greek violation of the sanctions against the FRY and the Clinton administration was getting ready for NATO’s Partnership for Peace, still reluctant to act militarily in Bosnia, the conflict continued to intensify in Tuzla, Sarajevo and Mostar.

However, it was with the Markale market shelling in Sarajevo[10] on February and August 1994 that the international community changed its approach[11]. American and NATO’s involvement grew with the guidance of the Operation Deliberate Force, while the European Council started requesting a unified cooperation of the EU, Russia, the US and the UN. To carry on their shoulders all of the twelve members of the EU in order to accelerate toward the solution of the conflict was not a great deal in Washington’s eyes. On April 19 the Contact Group was established and with the heavy intervention of the US the European administration of the crisis was definitely over[12]. With the dropping of the Europeans not all problems were resolved, since the organizational relations between the UN and NATO were far from being easy. However, NATO figured out as the main instrument in leading the war to an end[13]. Notwithstanding the pressures of the images of the war spreading through all the televisions in the world and the series of mistakes in military action coordination in the established safe-areas, it succeeded in providing a peace agreement in Dayton on November 21, 1995.

The silent Kosovo and the missing preventive engagement
The signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement appeared as an American achievement that reconfirmed the importance of the Americans and NATO in the European crisis management. Nevertheless, the Dayton Agreement left Kosovo and Macedonia as the ‘big losers’ of the conflict[14]. It did not make any mention of the ongoing cleavages in the delicate province of Kosovo and somewhat it legitimated the idea that the only way in which ethnic territories could achieve international attention was through war[15].

The situation in Kosovo was largely known throughout the international community by the time the crisis in Bosnia broke out. Indeed, the Clinton Administration used the idea of a possible reaction to a Serbian interference in Kosovo to deter through military threats the actions perpetuated by Milosevic in Bosnia[16]. Moreover, NGOs and the UN Special Rapporteurs for Human Rights monitored the local situation on a regular basis. However, being a province and not a republic meant that Kosovo did not have legitimacy to claim its right to secede and, therefore, it put the Kosovar problem in a different cluster compared to those of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia.

Nonetheless, symptoms of an abnormal condition of the relations between Milosevic’s Serbia and the autonomous province of Kosovo were spreading. Indeed, between 1989 and 1990 the Serbian Government started a campaign to change the ethnic composition of Kosovo, followed by the revocation of the province’s autonomy, provided in the 1974 constitution. Under the eyes of the international community, Kosovo was transforming itself into a touchpaper and no one seemed willing to take this delicate issue into hand before it was too late. For the EU, the path leading to the outbreak of the Kosovo war was a confirmation of a trend already seen in Croatia and Bosnia. The Europeans proved again, and probably unconsciously, unable to prevent and contain conflicts in Europe. The main mistake has been not giving the right importance to the signals arriving from Kosovo since the early 1990s. The province had a low priority and the refusal of the Banditer Committee to recognize its right to autonomy as well as that of Slovenia and Croatia clearly convinced the factions in Kosovo to be out of the international agenda[17]. Attempts in dealing with the growing domestic issues between Serbs and Albanians were not completely absent but were not efficient. Those concentrated in the early 1990s, with the EU proposal for the re-establishment of Kosovo autonomy and the CSCE declaration calling for immediate preventative actions, that clashed with the irrepressible insolence of the Serb President. The answer to such a stalemate was nothing more than taking note of the impossibility to proceed, an approach that remained vivid at least until 1997.

While the Europeans were busy in Messina, laying the foundations for a reform of the CFSP, ‘reinforcing the European identity and its independence in order to promote peace, security and progress in Europe and in the world’[18], the 1996 Education Agreement between the Democratic League of Kosovo and Belgrade was signed. It created the expectations for a decisive international intervention to take advantage of such a critical moment for a diplomatic solution of the dispute. However, the West remained few steps back and praised its implementation without succeeding in pressuring Milosevic’s serious engagement in discussing independence. The awakening of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the triumph of the ethnic restoration-advocate Serbian Radical Party in the Serb presidential elections of September 1997 and the first confrontations, between the KLA and the Serbian Police in Drenica and Pec, led to the formal outbreak of the war after the arrest of one of the founders of the Kosovo Liberation Army. The West formally wasted all the opportunities on the ground to resolve the crisis without war and the KLA soon left behind its aim to achieve international attention through non-violent means.

The conflict was quickly internationalized with the Security Council passing the Resolution 1160 to establish an arms embargo on Yugoslavia, praising for autonomy of Kosovo. The abuses against civilians were growing day by day and in August 1998 260.000 people were displaced internally and 200.000 outside Kosovo. However, violence reached its peak with the assault of Racak village in January 1999 and the killing of 45 Albanians[19]. The American role in the post-Cold War world was at stake in front of the unacceptable ethnic cleansing practices at the expense of civilians. This televised war became the US theatre for erasing the mistakes done in Bosnia and reasserting its moral identity as the Cold War winning superpower. Therefore, the Contact Group, after the callings for immediate cessation of hostilities by the ICTY and CSCE, organized a peace negotiation in Rambouillet, pushing for the withdrawal of Serbia, the disarming of KLA and the engagement of 30.000 NATO soldiers on the ground. The plan failed in finding an acceptable solution for both sides of the conflict and with the Serbs not signing it, the situation further deteriorated with more displacements and violence.

The western response was one of cohesion and uncertainty, crystalized without a precise Security Council Resolution. After a failed ultimatum, on March 24 NATO started its bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. The Operation Allied Force, characterized by little European space for manoeuvre due to the capability gap between the US and its allies, demonstrated NATO’s unpreparedness and its failure in reaching the most valid strategy in a specific context. The decision to bomb, in addition to underlying NATO’s fragility in planning a quick bombing campaign to end the conflict and oblige the Serbs to negotiate[20], brought with it heavy consequences for the civilians and a non-foreseen 78 days of harsh war. Nevertheless, after more than three months of intense bombing, on June 3 the Serb parliament agreed on a peace plan modelled on Rambouillet. NATO succeeded controversially in its goals: on one hand, it led Milosevic to the negotiation table and proved crucial for a European crisis resolution, on the other hand it applied a ‘coward strategy’[21] that confirmed its difficulty in learning from Bosnia in order to act soon, coordinate the use of force and protect the very victims of this decennial crisis, the people.

 

The crisis in Kosovo, developing on the basis of the violence in Bosnia, proved the inability of the EU to understand and prevent cruel clashes in the European territory and to act as a global actor. The heavy intervention of NATO in the management of the crisis confirmed the American presence in Europe, motivated mostly by the holes in the European security provision system. The ‘empire by invitation’ described by Lundestad is a memory of the past, that can be borrowed and adapted to the post-Cold War framework and to the tacit call for help by Brussels to Washington.

As the end of the conflict in Bosnia was accompanied by the heavy burden caused by the Srebrenica massacre against the Bosnian Muslims in late July 1995, the achievement of a peace plan in Kosovo did not set the end to the controvert actions of the EU. Indeed, following further cleavages between the EU Council and the European Parliament, the implementation of the European Agency for Reconstruction waited until November 1999 and started being functional only in 2000[22]. Moreover, although NATO proved essential in both the contexts, it also had to face the many flaws behind its operational strategy. The Atlantic Alliance did not succeed in portraying itself as more than a defence alliance[23], still acting through the strict costs and benefits calculations, belonging to the bipolar mental scheme of the Cold War.

If it is surely true that the 1990s was for the EU a paradoxical decade, characterized by the path toward a political union, mined by a series of unilateral steps and by the deficiency of effective actions beyond diplomacy and humanitarian intervention, it ended with good premises for the upcoming century ahead. Indeed, the Yugoslav conflict demonstrated that the role of the European Union was not entirely pointless, as it served as a platform for European countries to demonstrate their willingness to act independently and to replace other organizations that would have commonly taken on such challenges[24], and it surely stressed the need for further steps to define the European role in the international security structure. Those steps came along as a reaction to the end of the Kosovo crisis, as the EU showed its political will to enhance its hard power skills in the management of conflicts[25].

On the one hand, both wars demonstrated how difficult it was to imagine the EU launching missions without the American backing. On the other, the American unwillingness to intervene and the different ways in which the two sides handled the crisis brought to the European Council of Cologne in June 1999 and toward what would have then became known as the Common Security and Defence Policy.

NOTES

[1] Privitera F., The Relationship Between the Dismemberment of Yugoslavia and European Integration, in J. S. Morton, R. C. Nation, P. Forage and S. Bianchini (edited by), Reflections on the Balkan Wars: Ten Years After the Break Up of Yugoslavia, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

[2] Woodward S. L., Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War, Washington DC, Brookings Institution, 1995.

[3] Woodward S. L., Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War, Washington DC, Brookings Institution, 1995.

[5] Lucarelli S., Europe and the Breakup of Yugoslavia: A Political Failure in Search of a Scholarly Explanation, The Hague, Kluwer Law International, 2000.

[6] Privitera F., The Relationship Between the Dismemberment of Yugoslavia and European Integration, in J. S. Morton, R. C. Nation, P. Forage and S. Bianchini (edited by), Reflections on the Balkan Wars: Ten Years After the Break Up of Yugoslavia, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

[7] Lucarelli S., Europe and the Breakup of Yugoslavia: A Political Failure in Search of a Scholarly Explanation, The Hague, Kluwer Law International, 2000.

[8] Ibidem.

[9] Ibidem.

[10] Srebrenica, Sarajevo, Žepa, Goražde, Tuzla and Bihać became “UN Safe Areas” in 1993. UN plan envisaged the employment of peacekeeping troops in protection of the areas from Serbs attacks and it aimed at the creation of zones in which the citizens could feel safe and receive humanitarian aid. NATO’s support to the plan consisted in the latent threat of air strikes, that however required the dual approval of NATO and UNPROFOR to be deployed. The entire plan was characterized by a strong controversy and a destructive weakness, that increased with the conviction that Serbs attacks could have not be refrained.

[11] Kollander P., The Civil War in Former Yugoslavia and the International Intervention, in J. S. Morton, R. C. Nation, P. Forage and S. Bianchini (edited by), Reflections on the Balkan Wars: Ten Years After the Break Up of Yugoslavia, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

[12] Lucarelli S., Europe and the Breakup of Yugoslavia: A Political Failure in Search of a Scholarly Explanation, The Hague, Kluwer Law International, 2000.

[13] Ibidem.

[14] Privitera F., The Relationship Between the Dismemberment of Yugoslavia and European Integration, in J. S. Morton, R. C. Nation, P. Forage and S. Bianchini (edited by), Reflections on the Balkan Wars: Ten Years After the Break Up of Yugoslavia, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

[15] Independent International Commission on Kosovo, The Kosovo Report: Conflict, International Response, Lessons Learned, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000.

[16] Lucarelli S., Europe and the Breakup of Yugoslavia: A Political Failure in Search of a Scholarly Explanation, The Hague, Kluwer Law International, 2000.

[17] Independent International Commission on Kosovo, The Kosovo Report: Conflict, International Response, Lessons Learned, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000.

[18] European Union, 1997, Treaty of Amsterdam amending the Treaty of the European Union, the Treaties establishing the European Communities and certain related acts, PART ONE, Art 1.3.

For the document, see http://eurlex.europa.eu/legalcontent/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:11997D/TXT&from=EN.

[19] Independent International Commission on Kosovo, The Kosovo Report: Conflict, International Response, Lessons Learned, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000.

[20] Wright J., European Security After Kosovo, in S. N. Cummings and M. Buckley (edited by), Kosovo: Perceptions of War and its Aftermath, London, New York, Continuum, 2001.

[21] Ibidem.

[22] Wouters J. and Naert F., 2001, How effective is the European Security Architecture? Lessons from Bosnia and Kosovo, The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, vol. 50, 3, p. 540.

[23] Wright J., European Security After Kosovo, in S. N. Cummings and M. Buckley (edited by), Kosovo: Perceptions of War and its Aftermath, London, New York, Continuum, 2001.

[24] Lucarelli S., Europe and the Breakup of Yugoslavia: A Political Failure in Search of a Scholarly Explanation, The Hague, Kluwer Law International, 2000.

[25] Shepherd A. J. K., 2009, ‘A Milestone in the History of the EU’: Kosovo and the EU’s International Role, International Affairs, Vol. 85, No.3, pp. 513-530.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Independent International Commission on Kosovo, The Kosovo Report: Conflict, International Response, Lessons Learned, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000.

Kollander P., The Civil War in Former Yugoslavia and the International Intervention, in    J. S. Morton, R. C. Nation, P. Forage and S. Bianchini (edited by), Reflections on the Balkan Wars: Ten Years After the Break Up of Yugoslavia, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Lucarelli S., Europe and the Breakup of Yugoslavia: A Political Failure in Search of a Scholarly Explanation, The Hague, Kluwer Law International, 2000.

Privitera F., The Relationship Between the Dismemberment of Yugoslavia and European Integration, in J. S. Morton, R. C. Nation, P. Forage and S. Bianchini (edited by), Reflections on the Balkan Wars: Ten Years After the Break Up of Yugoslavia, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Shepherd A. J. K., 2009, ‘A Milestone in the History of the EU’: Kosovo and the EU’s International Role, International Affairs, Vol. 85, No.3, pp. 513-530.

Woodward S. L., Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War, Washington DC, Brookings Institution, 1995.

Wouters J. and Naert F., 2001, How effective is the European Security Architecture? Lessons from Bosnia and Kosovo, The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, vol. 50, 3, p. 540.

Wright J., European Security After Kosovo, in S. N. Cummings and M. Buckley (edited by), Kosovo: Perceptions of War and its Aftermath, London, New York, Continuum, 2001.

 

 

photo credit: Ante Kante

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