The winds of war are blowing once again in the Balkans. The State Department’s destructive policies in the region have been overlooked by Washington’s conservatives for too long.
As the Bush administration remains focused on wiping out the remnants of Saddam’s loyalists in Iraq, it has neglected to confront the re-emerging instability and ethnic extremism in the volatile former Yugoslavia. President Bush’s policy has been one of indifference.
Rather than forging a coherent policy, he has given the State
Department free reign in the region. The result is that ethnic tensions
are on the rise again.
Since NATO’s bombing campaign that helped to topple Serb strongman
Slobodan Milosevic from power, the State Department has championed an
amoral realpolitik that seeks to preserve “stability” at the expense of
self-government and democracy for the peoples of the area. State
Department officials did little to oppose Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing
campaigns in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. They now have become a major
obstacle to pro-Western reformers in the region.
A case in point is Bosnia. Since the signing of the 1995 Dayton Peace
Agreement, the country’s three constituent peoples – Bosniaks, Serbs
and Croats – are no closer to genuine reconciliation than they were
nearly a decade ago.
But that hasn’t prevented the State Department from resisting calls by
Bosnian President Dragan Covic to revamp the country’s outdated
political and economic institutions. Mr. Covic rightly argues that if
Bosnia is to remain a united national entity, it must be transformed
from a unitary, centralized state into a Swiss-style confederation
based on local autonomy and full cultural rights for the nation’s three
ethnic groups. Rather than embracing Mr. Covic’s bold vision for
far-reaching constitutional change, Foggy Bottom remains obsessed with
preserving the status quo.
However, the greatest danger to regional peace comes from the rebirth
of radical nationalism in Serbia. In recent presidential elections,
nationalist extremists led by the odious Tomislav Nikolic won the
largest share of the vote. Luckily, the results were annulled because
of inadequate voter turnout. But Mr. Nikolic’s call for a “Great Serb”
state is met with wild applause on the campaign stump.
Opinion polls show that Mr. Nikolic’s Radical Party and Milosevic’s
Socialist Party are poised to dominate the country’s parliamentary
elections later this month. A victory by the ultra-nationalists would
spark alarm across the region, setting off preparations for a possible
new round of ethnic fighting.
By insisting upon “unconditional cooperation” with the International
Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague,
Netherlands, the State Department has directly contributed to the
nationalist fires simmering in Serbia and elsewhere. The tribunal’s
chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, has issued deeply flawed indictments
against leading Croatian and Serbian generals based on the bogus
charges of “command responsibility” for purported war crimes.
Drunk with power, Mrs. Del Ponte continues to issue a plethora of
indictments, without any regard for their legal merits or whether her
office is capable of effectively handling the growing number of cases.
Most Serbs now view the tribunal as being biased against them, while
the Bosniaks and Croats feel that their desires for justice are not
being adequately met.
A recent example was the decision by the ICTY to sentence Gen.
Stanislav Galic, the Bosnian Serb commander who masterminded the savage
siege of Sarajevo from 1992 until 1994, to 20 years in prison for
crimes against humanity. The ruling was met with outrage by Muslims in
Sarajevo. “If you have a 20-year sentence for the deaths of 16,000
people, it means Galic will only be in prison for a few hours for each
of them,” said Jasmin Odobasic, deputy head of the Muslim Commission
for Missing Persons.
Originally formed to foster ethnic reconciliation and give the victims
of Milosevic’s genocidal campaign the justice that they deserve, the
Hague tribunal under Mrs. Del Ponte’s leadership has degenerated into a
political circus. She is openly reviled by most reformist leaders in
the region. Notorious Bosnian Serb war criminals Radovan Karadzic and
Gen. Ratko Mladic remain at large. The Milosevic trial continues to
It was precisely Mrs. Del Ponte’s prosecutorial abuse of power and
overall ineffectiveness that led to her removal from the International
Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda by the U.N. Security Council earlier this
year. But rather than cutting her loose from the ICTY as well, the U.S.
ambassador for war crimes, Pierre Prosper, continues to stubbornly back
Mrs. Del Ponte. A progeny of the State Department, the ICTY has become
an institutional Frankenstein that threatens the long-term stability of
The Bush administration must not allow the State Department to wreak
havoc in the Balkans. Mr. Bush should extend his full support to the
current reformist governments in Zagreb, Belgrade and Sarajevo, by
assuring them that the ICTY’s excessive judicial activism will be
significantly scaled back. The tribunal should only focus on a few
high-profile cases, leaving the domestic courts to handle the rest.
Most importantly, Mrs. Del Ponte must be replaced before her
circus-court provokes another Balkan tragedy.