Published by The Strategic and Combat Studies Institute, Camberley, 1997, as Occasional Paper No 27 ISBN 1D874346D15D1


United Nations operations in Northern Iraq, Somalia and Bosnia in the half-decade following the end of the Cold War focused attention on the possibility of the international community employing force to ‘manage’ or even ‘resolve’ situations of humanitarian crisis. The root questions at the heart of the debates over the possibility for such action are whether the world could and should intervene militarily in countries exhibiting gross violations of basic human rights to prevent these horrors even if their perpetration presents no obvious threat to international peace and security.

The first part of this question is a legal problem, the second a moral one. This paper will examine both issues in terms of the possibility of the world employing military force- what Adam Roberts describes as ‘Humanitarian War’(1)– to manage and perhaps resolve the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995. To do this the paper will examine two related questions. First, ‘can humanitarian war be justified as an instrument of human emancipation in contemporary world politics?’ If so, ‘would enforceable military action for humanitarian ends in Bosnia-Herzegovina during this period have been an effective and viable instrument of human emancipation?’ The second question will be framed in terms of the viability or otherwise of emancipatory intervention in both the short-term ‘crisis management’ and the long-term ‘conflict resolution’ roles in Bosnia.

Chapter 1

Can humanitarian war be justified as an instrument of human emancipation in contemporary world politics? To justify the use of humanitarian war requires, first, bypassing the legal restraints that prohibit the interference by a state or states in the affairs of other states and second, providing sufficient moral argument to overcome the strong prohibitions in the international system that militate against the role of morality in the operation of world politics. For a humanitarian situation to defeat both these hurdles it must overcome the ultimately self-centred prejudices of states, and it must mobilise some form of appropriate remedial action. Thus the states that make up the international system need to be persuaded that the direness of a particular situation warrants the abeyance of normally near-sacrosanct rules on boundary-crossing and the use of military force(2), as well as to be persuaded that precious national resources should be legitimately expended in a cause that does not directly serve national interest.

Considerable opposition exists to any form of intervention at all, regardless of the circumstances, for fear of establishing a precedent that could lead to the establishment of a norm of humanitarian war. Thus the three contra-state interventions of the Cold War that produced significant humanitarian benefits were not only justified by the interveners on the grounds of self-defence rather than humanitarianism but were also all condemned by the world for breaking the rule banning cross-border aggression for any reason.(3) But the act of justifying humanitarian war in one particular instance does not necessarily mean establishing a norm of intervention overall, even though one humanitarian operation of this nature will act inevitably to establish a precedent.

Humanitarian war involves the act of enforceable military intervention, the fundamental political ingredient of which involves ‘coercion short of war’.(4) The purpose of the intervention- to alleviate some gross form of human rights violation perpetrated on a massive scale- must, if it is receive the sanction of international law, meet certain criteria that override the current legal norms that prohibit cross-border interference in another states’ internal affairs. Hare and Joynt suggest that the seven-fold criteria that would need to be satisfied to justify coercive intervention are that it is a response to intervention by one’s opponents; that it is a defence of the integrity of the internal political process; that it is a means to re-establish the balance (of domestic politics), not to destabilise it; that it is a venture with a reasonable chance of success; that it is a last resort, following humane and constructive efforts to deal with the fundamental problems of the conflict; that it is an undertaking proportional in its means to the value of its end and that it is not a violation of basic moral principles such as the proscription on murder.’(5) Such demanding criteria suggest that the international community could only wield the threat or use of humanitarian war on a target state in the direst of circumstances.

Humanitarian war remains aspirational in the late twentieth century. Adam Roberts emphasises that it is an oxymoron that has yet to become a reality(6) and Nicholas Wheeler reiterates that forcible humanitarian intervention, viewed from the politically dominant standpoint of statism, ‘is a theoretical idea with no ‘real-world’ application since states do not intervene primarily for humanitarian reasons’.(7) Statism, on which the structure of international society is currently grounded, imputes moral action to states and maintains that national interest remains their pre-eminent concern. The question it asks is ‘What right has the international community to intervene across borders to halt gross violations of human rights?’ The answer, in purely legal terms, is none. The principle of non-intervention is central to international law and article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter reinforces the fact that state boundaries continue to exert legal and moral force. Sovereignty, to Walzer, continues to protect the independent state as an arena ‘through which freedom can be fought for and (sometimes) won…(It marks) out boundaries that cannot be violated’.(8) As a consequence ‘humanitarian concerns and human rights still take a back seat to the rights and legitimate interests of sovereign states’. Sovereignty remains ‘the foundation of international law and non-intervention expresses the correlative duty to respect the sovereignty of other states.’(9)

To this question, however, solidarists reply that state borders are but social and political constructs that are historically contingent and thus culturally malleable.(10) The advocates of a cosmopolitan morality argue that human interest should replace national interest, that sovereignty is not an absolute good, that the moral good of sovereignty must, on occasion, yield to the superior imperatives of global humanity, and that humanitarian intervention is a necessary means against chaos in a world where domestic strife risks spreading rapidly beyond borders. The case that states have a moral obligation to alleviate human suffering where and when it occurs is strong. Wheeler and Morris argue forcefully that ‘the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention…cannot be sacrosanct in the face of massive human suffering’ and that ‘we all have moral obligations to do what we can to alleviate human suffering when it occurs’.(11) These sentiments are echoed by Michael Walzer whose ‘4th revision’ to the legalist paradigm justifies humanitarian war ‘when it is a response (with reasonable expectations of success) to acts ‘that shock the moral conscience of mankind’. There is no moral reason for passivity in these circumstances…’ Furthermore, ‘(a)ny state capable of stopping the slaughter has a right, at least, to try to do so….(S)tates can be invaded and wars justly begun to …rescue people threatened with massacre’.(12)

But to a large degree these are arguments of ‘what should be’ rather than ‘what is’. The central distinction between the two is the cosmopolitanist assertion that morality in international politics must exist independently of the rights of states. The debate between statists and solidarists, therefore, is largely one between legality and morality, although this is not to say that statists entirely reject moralist arguments and that solidarists entirely reject the legal implications of their position. It should be noted, of course, that post-modern solidarists reject the notion of a common humanity, advocating instead a position of non-foundationalism that emphasises the contingency of moral communities. But the post-modernism of critics like Richard Rorty is effectively sidelined in the contemporary political debate over intervention because its conception of moral agency, when confronted with genocide, does not allow it to accept any notion of moral obligation to aid those in distress.(13)

To justify humanitarian war, therefore, requires the moral argument to find a route around or through the legal prohibitions against it. Whilst there are no legal statutes establishing a right of intervention and no modern precedent exists to establish a custom of intervention for humanitarian purposes, legality, however, does not erect absolute prohibitions against humanitarian intervention: what is important is how these legal definitions of sovereignty and non-intervention are interpreted by the state and world leaders who will be ultimately responsible for authorising any action that takes place. International law in fact allows a legal right to intervention if the lack of it poses a threat to international peace and security, and this was employed to justify the provision of safe havens for Kurds, humanitarian missions to Somalia and Rwanda and humanitarian convoys in the former Republic of Yugoslavia.

A crucial problem remains that the legal status of human rights remains extremely weak in international law, the mass of treaties, tribunals and conventions that involve discussion of human rights not in themselves providing ‘straightforward evidence of the existence of an international law of human rights’ partly because many deal not with rights but with duties and partly because of doubts over the prospects for implementing any such law.(14)

The principal legal hurdle to intervention is articulated in Walzer’s ‘legalist paradigm’, which states that there exists an international society of independent states; that this international society has a law that establishes the rights of its members- above all, the rights of territorial integrity and political sovereignty; that any use of force or imminent threat of force by one state against the political sovereignty or territorial integrity of another constitutes aggression and is a criminal act; that aggression justifies two kinds of violent response: a war of self-defence by the victim and a war of law enforcement by the victim and any other member of international society; that nothing but aggression can justify war; and that once the aggressor state has been militarily repulsed, it can also be punished.(15) Nevertheless, as Walzer himself argues, the legalist paradigm which establishes the rights of states in relation to each other, can, on occasions, be revised to incorporate intervention for humanitarian purposes through deliberate ‘disregard’ of the principle of non-intervention.(16)

The legalist paradigm is reflective of Cold War and post-Cold War political realities alike, despite the expectations of many in the first half-decade of the 1990s that the state-centric structure of international politics would grow to reflect more moral cosmopolitanism than was ever previously the case.(17) Fears during the Cold War that unrestrained interventions, self-justified under the banner of a non-specific ‘humanitarianism’ would lead to violations of international law and the overturning of precedent which itself could lead to an escalation in violence and superpower confrontation, acted to remove political incentives for genuine humanitarian action.(18) Additionally, the Cold War prohibition on intervention in large measure reflected East-West ideological antagonism which meant that the superpowers and their allies in each case refused to accept that intervention by their opponents could ever be impartial. To reinforce this scepticism Cold War interventions by each of the power blocs were often justified under crude humanitarian labels, such as those by the Soviet Union in Hungary and Czechoslovakia and the USA in Vietnam, the Dominican Republic and Grenada.

The strength of these fears has carried through to post-Cold War times, the motives of interveners an obvious litmus-test in any assessment of an intervention’s humanitarian credentials. Walzer can identify no clear examples of humanitarian intervention (he was writing in 1977), only ‘mixed cases where the humanitarian motive is one among several. States don’t send their soldiers into other states, it seems, in order to save lives’. The mixed-motives of interveners, therefore, ‘is a reason to be sceptical and to look closely at the other parts’.(19) Vincent, although writing a decade later, still saw the issue in similar terms: ‘…even if the intervention was undertaken in the view of its perpetrator selflessly to achieve a moral purpose, others might mutter about partial conceptions of morality’.(20)

These fears reflect a common acceptance that no intervention is ever solely humanitarian in motivation and orientation. Donnelly argues that even the Belgian intervention in the Congo ‘was at best a rescue mission with a very large dose of self-interest…and later “interventions” were at the invitation, or at least with the consent, of the generally recognised government and thus not really intervention in the strict sense of coercive interference.’(21) The Indian intervention in Bangladesh in 1971, described by Hedley Bull as an ‘archtypical example of circumstances justifying humanitarian intervention’(22) was accompanied by equally strong political motives because the intervention effectively divided the territory ‘of its archenemy, Pakistan’.(23)

Nevertheless, whilst appearing to codify statism and whilst relying on states to be the vehicles of moral agency in such situations, Walzer’s formulation accepts that humanitarian war is a legitimate tool of the international community in extreme cases of human suffering, such as was evidenced in Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia.(24) Fear of misuse is not sufficient, he argues, to ‘deny the (occasional) need for intervention’.(25) It places humanitarian war within the concept of the just war- more for jus ad bellum than jus in bello– which allows for action to be taken to resist and even counter aggression(26) and rejects the hard-line Millian rejection of intervention on the grounds that ‘Against the enslavement or massacre of political opponents, national minorities, and religious sects, there may well be no help unless help comes from outside’.(27) In these circumstances ‘the appeal to self-determination in the Millian sense of self-help is not very attractive’. Walzer’s jus in bello case is that ‘Governments and armies engaged in massacres…are guilty, under the Nuremberg code of “crimes against humanity”’.(28)

Walzer’s revision on humanitarian grounds, however, does not countenance action for any lesser violations of human rights, for which the legalist paradigm remains the guarantor of state sovereignty. Bhiku Parekh shares Walzer’s conclusion but goes further in specifying the circumstances in which humanitarian intervention could be legitimised. These are when the state has virtually ceased to exist (such as Somalia); when the state engages in acts of genocide or massive expulsions of minorities or perpetrates a reign of terror (such as Iraq under Hussein and Uganda under Amin); when a state is engaged in a protracted civil war which no side has a reasonable chance of winning and which in the meantime is destroying the country and leading to horrendous acts of violence and brutality (such as Angola and Bosnia); and when a community might not have actually broken down or begun to behave in an outrageous manner, but displays all the signs of it (such as Sudan).(29)

Similarly, R.J. Vincent, whilst admitting the weakness and aspirational nature of the international law of human rights, cautions that this weakness ‘does not do away entirely with the idea of present and general obligation.’(30) Holsti, more radically, takes the position that although ‘the old norms of complete non-interference in other states’ internal affairs are being violated frequently…it cannot be claimed that every case is entirely undesirable…many governments take the position that in certain instances, intervention…may be legitimate if those actions have the prior approval of some collective body or international organisation or if the organisation itself assumes such a task’. He goes so far as to affirm that ‘in the United Nations, collective intervention in the internal affairs of member states …seems to have become a legitimate method for coping with widespread domestic chaos that promises to involve external powers extensively’.(31)

The end of the Cold War provided opportunities for the subject of humanitarian intervention to be judged in each case on its merits without the political and military constraints that had applied during the previous era. The components of this trend are identified by Roberts as a widespread acceptance of the concept of humanitarian relief in the wake of natural and man-made disasters; the growing attitude that aid is a human right; the increased visibility given to human rights atrocities in many countries; the new opportunities for consensus within the UN Security Council following the end of the Cold War; the growing belief within the UN that civil wars and collapsed states remove the requirement for consent in humanitarian operations; and finally, that ‘situations which cry out for humanitarian involvement have increased in number at the very same time as the UN’s possibilities for authorising interventions have grown’.(32)

Despite this trend, however, Holsti was probably premature in his prescription. Part of the hope of many in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War lay in the supposed maturation of the United Nations as an organisation that not only reflected the ‘new’ hopes but which could act on them as well. As a consequence of the polarisation of international politics during the Cold War there existed ‘no singular organised will and capacity for international armed intervention during that period.’(33) The removal of the old-power constraints promised the possibility that the UN would finally find itself in a position to enforce Chapter 7 of the Charter, which authorises enforcement- by military force in extreme situations- of international decisions. Indeed, the Gulf War resuscitated a Security Council that had been kept stifled under the two-power politics of the previous era, some of its resolutions dealing with humanitarian issues that ‘would have been inconceivable during the Cold War’(34) and 1992 alone saw ‘an almost five-fold increase in the deployment of UN peacekeepers’.(35)

Nevertheless, as Jackson affirms, the new-found strength of the United Nations was largely illusory, the Gulf War meeting not the criteria for humanitarian intervention but rather that of aggression by Saddam Hussein ‘in violation of the UN norm of non-intervention’. Consequently it ‘would be misleading to claim that coalition intervention in Iraq…signal(ed) a fundamental normative change in the direction of a new armed humanitarianism in international relations’.(36) It may be that the era of UN pre-eminence- if it ever existed in reality- is already over, even though the period indicated that a UN role is politically possible in cases where standard patterns of sovereignty have broken down. The fact that this opportunity emerged at all was probably only a result of the political chaos that surrounded the end of the Cold War. The UN, furthermore, has not yet proven that it is capable to assuming the mantle of humanitarian action, part of the failure of interventions in the first half of the decade being placed at the door of the UN itself.(37) Consequently the strength of sovereignty remains, and relative failures to enforce humanitarian standards by the UN have tended to reiterate the old norms. Sovereignty continues to have many supporters, not least in neo-realists who regard it as the linchpin of order which alone allows for the development of justice.

Thus, humanitarian war is imaginable as a policy of the international community, represented by the United Nations, under Hare and Joynt’s stipulation, only as a last resort and in recognition that the actions of a state or group within a state are illegal under international law. Humanitarian war does not acquire its legitimacy simply because moral outrage demands that action be taken, even if that outrage is widely expressed: moral indignation and a determination to remedy infringements of human rights must coexist within a clear legal framework. As Parekh argues, legitimacy does not necessarily justify action. Whether or not intervention takes place needs take in account a wide range of practical factors such as ‘the comparative cost in human lives, their chance of success, the kind of precedent they are likely to set, the future expectations they are likely to arouse, and the attitude of the people especially the major groups of the country in question’.(38)

These caveats introduce the question of ‘How can the international community intervene across borders to halt gross violations of human rights?’ The issue of agency involves moving beyond intellectual affirmation of theoretical principals to their practical implementation. Gaining moral and legal authority forms only part of the problem in any talk of humanitarian war. The practicalities of bilateral or multilateral intervention, in an area of world polity where neither legal compulsion or human solidarity have little real effect, tend naturally to militate against successful intervention. The central issue rests not so much on any theoretical notions of humanitarianism but on hard-headed political cost-benefit calculations by states as to whether they are prepared to expend blood and spoil in the aid of far-distant causes.

Even if humanitarian intervention was judged prudent in Bosnia, national debates would ask the question across the world, ‘is it morally justified if it places the lives of our soldiers at risk?’ Vincent’s scepticism about the likelihood of good emerging from intervention mirrors John Stuart Mill’s thesis, reiterated by Walzer, that intervention ‘is unlikely to produce any good result since the vehicle of interference, bringing outsiders, is itself morally disagreeable’.(39) For Donnelly, ‘Overwhelming evidence from sad experience suggests that the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, whatever its moral attractions, is in practice likely to be just one more excuse for self-interested interventions by the powerful against the weak.’ The result is that ‘(E)ven genocide usually meets with international inaction, for reasons ranging from countervailing economic and security interests to simple lack of interest (such as inaction to prevent atrocities in Burundi, East Timor, Cambodia, Rwanda)’.(40)

Furthermore, the practical difficulties for each state of allocating resources, persuading domestic populations of the necessity of the action, and mobilising internal and external political action in support of the operation would seem overwhelming, with the result that opportunities for humanitarian intervention, such as in Rwanda in 1994, are rarely taken. Likewise, the prospects for success in these calculations are crucial. ‘In practice’, affirms Donnelly, ‘humanitarian intervention is likely to be restricted to actions against weak, notorious, and relatively peripheral countries.’(41) The hard fact that intervention must be considered nationally prudent may prove to be the rock upon which interventionist ambitions in the present society of states founder, for to ignore the strictures of prudence, as Wheeler affirms, ‘is to abdicate the wisdom of statecraft’.(42) Wheeler’s case, nevertheless, is that the ‘wisdom of statecraft’ must mean more than ‘might is right’ with Western liberal democracies obligated by duty- and by their possession of power and wealth- ‘to intervene to help those facing deprivation of life on a massive scale’.(43)

The adoption of a general doctrine of humanitarian intervention, therefore, faces significant hurdles from many perspectives. The difficulty of establishing a moral consensus as to the grounds for intervention in the first place, the impossibility of dealing with contemporaneous humanitarian situations across the globe consistently and justly, the problems of abuse and self-interest and issues of prudence are raised by Wheeler and Morris.(44) Equally important questions deal with the definition of the evil that justifies humanitarian intervention in the first place and the issue of whether collective interventions have more validity than unilateral ones.

To the issue of morality Donnelly replies that morality can never be legalised in international politics, because ‘Law cannot…make the majority of people or states better than they truly want to be; it must take its subjects as they are, in the sense of the best that they are willing to work to become…The prohibition of humanitarian intervention begins from and insists on remaining constrained by this fundamental political fact.’(45)

Richard Falk’s concern, by contrast, lies in the impracticalities of humanitarian intervention, particularly with the issue of the utility of force. He argues that ‘no matter how appealing the overall humanitarian case seems to be for changing political structures’ intervention, even with ‘overwhelming military superiority… rarely works, and its failure invariably leaves the target society worse off than if the internal play of forces had been allowed to run its course’. The resultant dilemma is that ‘…non-intervention is intolerable but intervention remains impossible.’(46) His conclusion is that despite the tragic realities which give ‘an anguishing quality to the post-cold war interventionary debate’(47)…(m)ilitary action in an interventionary mode virtually always produces destructive and counterproductive results’(48) Additionally, the cost to states of humanitarian intervention in practical terms would seem to be the sacrifice of justice to power.

Falk’s disenchantment with any notion of using force to counter humanitarian ills is not derived, however, from a rejection of the utility of force per se but rather with a recognition that force can only achieve limited good in situations calling for humanitarian action. He does not reject the possibility in certain circumstances of using force to expand the boundaries of the ‘we’ in his non-foundational epistemology, as Richard Rorty appears to do(49), but with practical concern, with Ken Booth, as to its ‘technical prudence’.(50) Indeed Falk recognises the compulsion behind many popular cries for intervention in Bosnia: ‘It is not tolerable’ he writes, ‘to watch genocide or massive famine passively…’(51) The need to do something is absolutely explicit in the work of both Falk and Booth: what separates them from their non-foundational bed-fellow is both the rationale and the dynamism of their programme for action.

The need to intervene, indeed, sets Falk’s conception of moral agency apart from Rorty who is content to rely on the sentimental education of liberal elites.(52) Nevertheless, as Falk admits, these emotions lend themselves too easily to ‘moralistic rhetoric and an excessive faith in the efficacy of a military approach’ which find articulation in calls for intervention. More often the intervention envisaged is not just humanitarian- to alleviate the suffering of victims of war- but intervention either to take sides or to punish the perceived aggressor, not out of a sense of justice but of frustrated vengeance. Falk argues that the issue is not so much whether immediate relief could have been brought to ease the suffering of many people, but whether a viable polity could have been erected in the long term to prevent its reoccurrence.(53) His conclusion is that humanitarianism- action to relieve humanitarian distress- is incompatible with war.

The potential dangers of humanitarian war leads Adam Roberts to argue that ‘it may be just as well that there is no general doctrine of humanitarian intervention, but only an emerging, limited and fragile body of state and UN practice in this matter’(54) and the mediocre results of intervention in northern Iraq, Somalia and the Former Republic of Yugoslavia likewise do not point to the creation of a norm of intervention. As a consequence Donnelly concludes that the interventions by the United Nations in the 1990s are ‘likely to remain important exceptions rather than… precedents for a general expansion of human rights monitoring and implementation and implementation activities’. Additionally, there is ‘no evidence to suggest that the international community is willing to undertake major new initiatives to deal with direct violations of internationally recognised human rights by governments in control of their states.’(55) Donnelly returns to the strength of a ‘state-centric, sovereignty-based conception of international order’ as explanation for the lack of incentive for countries to prevent human rights abuses across borders. Moral interdependence between states and moral suasion in the international arena are both ‘notoriously weak’.(56)

Consequently interventions in Somalia, El Salvador and Cambodia, for example, took place not because of an increased international moral consciousness but because ‘gaps or breakdowns’ took place in standard patterns of sovereignty, such as civil war, that allowed the United Nations to step into the void.(57) Operations to support the Kurds in northern Iraq were based on Resolution 688 of the Security Council which justified international action not on humanitarian grounds but because the situation posed a threat to international peace and security.(58) The collapse of the US-led UN intervention in Somalia led Thomas Weiss to anguish that ‘multilateral interventions to thwart starvation, genocide, the forced movement of peoples, and massive violations of fundamental rights are no longer politically or operationally feasible’.(59)

Nevertheless the problematics identified above should not be regarded as insurmountable. Both Donnelly’s and Robert’s discussion concerned not the justification of one-off interventions following Walzer’s ‘4th revision’ of the legalist paradigm, but of the creation of a norm of humanitarian intervention. In terms of one-off interventions, with no requirement for the international community to legislate in favour of a particular moral position, humanitarian war is easier both to conceive and implement. Jackson argues, for instance, that on balance, the UN operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Somalia forged a new path in this process because they departed from the traditional practice of intervention by exhibiting largely humanitarian grounds for intervention. Specifically, the ‘case of Somalia suggests that norms of humanitarian intervention are operative in contemporary international society, but only in certain circumstances: those circumstances are usually defined in prudential terms as presenting low military risk and a good or at least a reasonable chance of success’.(60)


The question we are left with, therefore, is ‘even if these grounds are insufficient to create a legal norm of humanitarian intervention are they sufficient nevertheless to justify the possibility, in certain circumstances, of humanitarian intervention?’ Whether intervention takes place, therefore, depends on satisfying a wide array of criteria- the most significant, according to Falk, not being the question of either legality or morality but the utility of force- which even then may not be wholly acceptable to all members of the society of states. Nevertheless, despite the clear lack of any criterion establishing a norm of humanitarian intervention it seems reasonable to conclude that the possibility, in certain circumstances, does exist to intervene militarily in order to relieve human suffering.

We can proceed to interrogate the potential for enforceable humanitarian intervention in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995, therefore, on the assumption that the international community at this time condoned, at least at a theoretical level and in limited and strictly delineated circumstances, the possibility of the multilateral application of military force to rectify gross violations of human rights in a target country following Hare and Joynt’s formulation. This assumption -that intervention is acceptable in at least some circumstances- will allow us to examine the precise arguments for and against action in Bosnia. This is not an assumption that a legal norm of armed humanitarianism has been established or even widely recognised, but simply that in some circumstances-particularly with regard to failed or murderous states- sovereignty is not necessarily sacrosanct and does not, in every instance, provide the ‘peremptory right of non-intervention’.(61) The ethics of intervention are, therefore, situational and ‘defined by the norms and conditions of the international system in existence at the time.’(62) Military intervention in Bosnia during this period must be interpreted in these terms, rather than in terms of ‘what could’ or even ‘what should have happened’.

Humanitarian intervention is theoretically ‘possible’ because of the strictures of jus ad bellum that allow for the punishment of aggression, because the United Nations retains the right to judge questions of sovereignty and intervention on their merits, and because of the gradually diminishing prohibition against non-intervention. The threefold criteria for action by the United Nations to wage humanitarian war, therefore, would be that it was undertaken collectively under the authority of the United Nations itself, that the crisis would have to be a ‘last resort’ and that clear legal reasons, not just infringements of human rights, would have to exist to justify the intervention. Finally, to seal its legality under international law, any intervention, whatever its humanitarian status, would require a new United Nations Security Council Resolution passed under Chapter Seven with enforcement authority under Article 42 of the Charter.

Chapter 2

If there exists the possibility of humanitarian war in international polity ‘would enforceable military action for humanitarian ends in Bosnia-Herzegovina during this period have been an effective and viable instrument of human emancipation?’ Once the decision to intervene has been taken the factors contributing to that decision would have led to a determination to manage the crisis in the short term or to resolve the conflict in the long-term. The first type of intervention can be regarded as a form of crisis prevention, and the second a means of conflict resolution. This chapter will examine the arguments for a multilateral short-term intervention in Bosnia.

A crisis management response would take the form of a coercive and integrated air/land intervention. It could be described as a ‘medium intervention’, that is, one that lies between the minimalist ‘Red Cross’ approach on the one hand and a maximalist intervention designed to end the conflict altogether on the other. Calls for intervention in this regard were both positivist (in that they stressed the infringement of legal statutes and norms) and negativist (which stressed the negative consequences of not intervening). The positivist debate hinged on the need to halt violations of human rights that shocked ‘the conscience of mankind’ (the moral case); and the need, based on the strictures of both jus ad bellum and UN statute law, to punish aggression.

Positivist Arguments- 1: The Moral imperative.

The arguments for massive intervention in Bosnia were presaged throughout by the insistence of a moral imperative to ‘do something’ about massive abuses of human rights in that country. Common to this argument is the work of Jane Sharp, who posits the notion that the world should not have sat idly by whilst Serbs and Croats committed genocide against the multi-ethnic Bosnian community. In short, ‘the West should have intervened to demonstrate…that genocide would not be tolerated.’(63) Wheeler holds that ‘Our failure in the West to find the political will and moral courage to intervene to stop the slaughter in Bosnia surely diminishes our claim to speak for civilised values…’(64)

There is little doubt that calls for intervention as a consequence of the compassion and the anguish felt by many, kindled by feelings of distant and ineffective helplessness, are extremely strong. Compassion and anguish, however, are not sufficiently objective to allow outsiders accurately to measure the constituents of an issue, and their general propensity is to believe that ‘doing-something’ will always mean achieving something good. This is because, to a large extent, the moral imperative is invariably vociferated in terms that are black and white. Morality, however, warns Kratochil, ‘itself is not a unified set of contradiction-free principles.’(65) Walzer admits that no ‘forceful intervention is politically possible without’ the simplification of victim and aggressor and agrees that outside perceptions of the situation in Bosnia throughout the war reflected this analysis.(66)

The consequence of ‘moral minimalism’ of this kind is to label as offensive the aims and activities of one side whilst condoning those of the other. It introduces a dangerous lack of balance in considerations of guilt and responsibility. It ignores the culpability of all sides and it led to a widespread disregard in the West of the moral responsibility of the Bosnian Muslim side in the fighting for much of the war.(67) It would have acted, for instance, to establish the moral right of the Bosnian government, labelling its cause as ‘just’ and by extension its opponent’s cause as ‘unjust’.

These simplicities lead Booth to warn that the ‘truth about many of the horrors of Bosnia is always distorted…The region is inflamed by contradicting historical traumas, a sense on all sides of being victims of oppression’.(68) Humanitarian war takes sides and makes moral statements. It would have represented moral acquiescence with Muslim instituted massacres and atrocities, with Muslim war aims, and Muslim ethnic cleansing even though they were the internationally recognised government of an internationally recognised state. Action taken against the Serbs because they committed more atrocities or killed more ‘innocent civilians’ cannot by any definition be considered moral because of the absolution it would have granted on their opponents of responsibility for their own behaviour. Booth is surely right to insist that in the whole equation it is vital to recognise- though not to excuse or justify inhuman behaviour- the role of the Bosnian Muslims in the history of the region for as in all wars blame and culpability is never one-sided.(69)

The moral case can be taken further in support of the idea that all sides to the conflict should be treated at the bar of world justice as fairly as possible. The difficulty with this is that too often it appears as an apology for Serbian action. The case, however, still has to be considered. Who, for instance, had the moral authority to disenfranchise the Bosnian Serbs in 1991? The Serb argument is that the West effectively did this by recognising not the new ‘multi-ethnic Bosnian state’, but a Bosnian government built on Bosnian Muslim lines, made up almost entirely by Muslims for the Muslim community. That the Serbs felt ‘unheard’ and were then threatened with Western military intervention to reinforce the Muslim political coup does not appear to meet the criteria of international justice. International action to save lives would have been just: but international action to reinforce the new status quo for the sake of international order in favour of the Muslims would have been grossly and manifestly unjust. These points are made not to excuse the horror of genocide but to illustrate the consequences of adopting a morally simplistic approach to very complex political issues.

In the third instance the moral approach apportioned blame, albeit implicitly, to those national and global institutions able to do something about the conflict but who actually did nothing. This is an argument borne rather of frustration than reality, however. It is untrue that the West effectively washed its hands of Bosnia despite finding the situation incomprehensible and devoid of the possibilities for simple solutions. ‘The international involvement in Bosnia did not indicate moral indifference or a lack of humanitarian concern on the part of those leaders of states who were in a position to do something’ argues Robert Jackson. ‘Nor did it indicate the easiest choice in the circumstances- that would have been to wash their hands of Bosnia and do nothing at all. It indicated anguish and frustration concerning what, if anything, could be done about the human suffering the conflict was causing’.(70) In the case of Great Britain, for instance, Philip Towle comments that official ‘opposition to peace enforcement in Bosnia did not stem from deep political division…(as) there was relatively little disagreement about the ethical and political issues involved.’(71)

The role of the media in painting the picture needed to make these simplistic moral assumptions has been emphasised by Wheeler.(72) Likewise Ramsbotham and Woodhouse recognise that it was public identification of the war fought in Bosnia-Herzegovina with human rights abuse and human misery of vast proportions that fired ‘passionate demands for intervention’.(73) Freedman accepts this point but cautions against overstating the role of the media in producing action rather than impressions.(74) The media must bear a considerable degree of responsibility for presenting the war in simplistic terms. First, an inherent defect of all media reporting in extraordinarily complex and multi-faceted conflicts like Bosnia is that in reducing complexity to even vaguely comprehensible summaries for sixty-second shots in busy western news programmes lends itself to easy answers and simple solutions which may act to placate troubled western consciences but which provide no real or long-term solution to the essential nature of the crisis.

Second, a media-prompted intervention would be hard-pressed to cope with the onset of significant casualties or even the failure of the mission. Third, the power of the media prompts the uncomfortable question of why the world appeared only concerned with the suffering in Bosnia. Under what criteria does the international community decide, out of a vast array of equally deserving cases, where to intervene or where not to intervene? Why Bosnia but not Cambodia or Rwanda? It hardly seems sufficient moral justification to conclude that intervention was prompted because the cameras were there.

Fourth, the media can be significantly manipulated by the sophisticated propaganda and information policies of the belligerent parties themselves. The point is well made by Timothy Thomas who described the war in Bosnia as ‘a giant strategic psychological operation’ by the belligerents in which information was laundered in such a manner as to propagate the messages required by each side.(75) Bosnia was a war of information and misinformation, a war for the affections and sympathy of the world in which for the most part the Bosnian government held the upper hand as the ‘victims’ of Serb aggression.

In tailoring responses to such crises military intervention has the difficult task of avoiding becoming a sop to television-generated emotion. Falk cautions that while the western ‘media-driven awareness of tragedy and suffering is such that passivity in some situations is rejected as an option by the public…..we need to begin by admitting that some situations are beyond outsider’s control, as for instance would be large-scale religious warfare in India….’(76) Likewise, Roberts cautions that ‘Responding to the immediate pressure of the media may be justified, but tends to leave long-term issues ignored and less publicised disasters untouched’.(77)

The moral case for intervention has therefore not been well made. Booth clearly identifies the problematics of the moralist case for which the greatest difficulty is the simplistic tone that assumes that ‘moral distinctions can be made between the different causes, stories, forces and political identities to intrude an external military force to begin to sort it all out.’ He concludes that it is impossible, as many in righteous and legitimate indignation have done, ‘to draw strategically practical moral lines through the Balkan imbroglio…’ (78)

The Positivist Argument-2: To Withstand and Punish Aggression

The second positivist argument for intervention in Bosnia was predicated on the need to punish Croatia and Serbia for their aggression against the newly-recognised Bosnian state so as to show that force does not pay and to uphold the authority of the UN. The problem with this approach is that it emphasises the second aspect of the term ‘humanitarian war’ disproportionate to the first, reflecting first and foremost the requirements of international order. This is evident in the work of Jane Sharp, for example, who argues that because the ‘principal aggressors were Croatia and Serbia against the territorial integrity and civilian populations of Bosnia-Herzegovina’ the ‘western security community should have intervened with a serious military operation to halt (this)…because it had to uphold the principle that borders must not be changed by force…’(79)

The weakness of this argument is fourfold. First, it assumes the ethnic homogeneity in Bosnia in a state with viable borders. Notwithstanding the world’s rapid recognition of the sovereignty of Bosnia early in 1992 the evidence for the legitimacy of most of Bosnia’s borders, as with the majority of the former Yugoslavia’s domestic boundaries, was tenuous in the extreme. Bosnia’s borders were arbitrary and established by Tito to ensure that communist unity came before the only slightly submerged Balkan cultural and religious fault lines.

Second, it raises the question as to the right Bosnia had to oblige western intervention when it had no internal legitimacy and had no popular domestic authority for statehood. Kratochil emphasises that in terms of law there is no absolute right of nations to ‘wage war to enforce human rights’ because this would act to reduce sovereign rights to the rights of citizens. Human rights abuses might (and should) allow states to withdraw recognition from an illegitimate government….but do not justify a general right to intervention…(T)he basis for recommending a universal right to intervention is more the wrath and feeling of righteousness than the inherently limited and limiting notion of possessing ‘rights”.(80)

Third, it assumes the clear-cut culpability of the Serbian side, that this was not a civil war but one of conquest and aggression.(81) To sharpen this accusation Sharp argues, for example, that pre-war Bosnia was a viable ‘multi-ethnic Bosnian community’ that suffered invasion, with the attendant assumption that it could have survived politically without Serbian intervention. The reality, however, seems rather that the war, although involving significant elements from outside Bosnia, principally in the spring and summer of 1992, was essentially a civil war within a hugely and irrevocably divided society.(82) The aim of all groups for the most part was the absolute ethnic, cultural and territorial exclusivity of their own community as distinct from all others, up to twenty recognisable groups thrown together in a patchwork of many thousands of mixed communities throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina.(83)

Whilst it is certainly true that the Serbian advances from April 1992 were well-planned and on a large scale(84) they were in support of the Bosnian-Serb community against the Muslim, Croat and other communities. This is not to ignore or underestimate the aggrandising intentions of Serbia’s President Milosevic but on the whole the pattern of the war did represent the picture painted by Douglas Hurd in November 1992, a war where there was no front line, where fighting was village against village, street against street, even neighbour against neighbour,(85) in short, a situation of such complexity that military intervention to impose a settlement actually had little concrete meaning.

Much of Sharp’s support for the ‘self-determination of the ethnically harmonious Bosnian state is based on false premises about the nature of Bosnian ‘community’ prior to the war in 1992. Ramsbotham and Woodhouse have defined this type of war as an ‘International Social Conflict’ (ISC), a war with the twin characteristics of being rooted in the ‘relations between communal groups within state borders’ but which have ‘broken out of the domestic arena and become a crisis for the state, thereby automatically involving the wider society of states’.(86)

This view of the war as primarily a civil conflict has been rejected by many commentators. Rosalind Higgins, for instance, bases her rejection of this case on demands for the United Nations Security Council to declare it to be a ‘threat to international peace and take whatever action it thought appropriate’.(87) She fails, however, to explain precisely how ‘international peace’ was threatened by the war. Sharp’s analysis is based on the commonly held notion that the war was one solely between ‘genocidal aggressors’ and ‘victims of such aggression’.(88) This is, however, simplistic. Michael Walzer recognises that the complexity of the situation did not reflect the ‘victim/victimiser, good guys/bad guys model’ that remained in common currency in much of the world’s press and public opinion throughout the war. He acknowledges, for instance, that many of the representatives of the UN on the ground did ‘not believe that the model fits the situation they have to confront. They are not quite apologists for the Serbs, who have (rightly) been condemned in many UN resolutions, but they do not regard the Serbs as wholly “bad guys” or as the only “bad guys” in the former Yugoslavia’. This resulted in calls for measures taken to discipline the Serbs to be equally apportioned to the Croats and the Muslims: it was this aspect of the equation which made the ‘politics of rescue complex and messy.’(89)

Claims that it was not a civil war ignore the harsh reality that no village and town in Bosnia remained unaffected by inter-communal violence during the war, not because they were ‘invaded’ by outsiders but because in the bulk of instances communities turned on each other. Huge support from Serbia helped tip the overall balance in favour of the Bosnian Serbs, but this does not account for the violence and destruction in many parts of Bosnia not occupied by the Bosnian Serbs. Gow illustrates the point by calling it a ‘hybrid war, not essentially between Serbia and Bosnia but between Republika Srpska and Bosnia, giving the war a strong element of internal conflict.’(90) In asking the question of when to intervene and for how long Walzer describes the dilemma posed by an war like Bosnia where ‘the trouble is internal, the inhumanity locally and widely rooted, a matter of political culture, social structures, historical memories, ethnic fear, resentment, and hatred…not quite a “war of all against all” but a widely dispersed, disorganised and murderous war of some against some..’(91)

Fourth, it assumes that the ‘world community’ should have acted much earlier to prevent the chaos of national disintegration and war which followed. However, in the diplomacy and negotiations taking place in 1992 it would have appeared extremely provocative-and illegal- for the world to interpose military force on a huge scale to stop ‘Serb aggression’. One of the reasons, indeed, for the lack of enforceable military intervention during the war in Croatia was that it was prejudicial to the ongoing ‘diplomatic efforts in Geneva and elsewhere to bring the fighting to an end…’(92) Walzer makes the point that to accuse the west for not intervening in advance would be to claim foreknowledge of events in which nothing is inevitable.(93) The Bosnian-Serb position is rarely articulated but it is possible to see their resistance to their newly recognised government in 1992 as a desperate effort to prevent the destruction of their own community and to promote their own self-determination.

The issue, in 1992 at least, was less one between aggressor and victim as between three principal cultural-historical identities fighting for the mutually conflicting self-determination of their own communities. It seems to be a fact that the Serbs became more emboldened as the weakness of their opponents grew and that as more of Bosnia came under Serb control the more expansive Serb ambitions became. Falk acknowledges that ‘it is conceivable that an early show of force and European resolve might have encouraged the Serbs to back down, or at least to show more flexibility in the negotiations’(94) but this supposes a knowledge of what the Serbs wanted and how far they were prepared to go as well as assuming that Serb aims, intentions and actions were unitary.

Much of the argument for western military intervention stems from anger at Serbian policies of ethnic cleansing and the massacres that often but not always accompanied it and for a desire to punish those responsible. This is certainly evident in the language employed by Sharp: ‘When force is needed to discipline rogue nations the system must provide for the major powers to intervene for the common good…’(95) Sharp uses the language of punishment not in respect of retaliating against rogue gunmen but against rogue states: her agenda is, therefore, not so much one of humanitarian compassion but statist order.(96)

Chapter 3

Negativist Arguments-1,2,3: Islam, Deterrence, and Containment.

The negativist reasons advocated for humanitarian war were fourfold: to placate the Islamic world, to deter other land grabbers elsewhere, to prevent a further widening of the war and to remove the ineffectual UNPROFOR mission. None of these arguments, however, in terms of justifying humanitarian war, are convincing.

Colonel Cowan’s military assessment in 1993 of the conflict reflected a widespread belief that the reaction of the West to the crisis in Bosnia would be a crucial test for Western-Muslim relations.(97) The need to placate the Islamic world presupposes a fundamental global conflict between Western and Islamic interests in the world of the nature posited by Samuel Huntingdon’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis,(98) a world order which would be threatened by Western reluctance to intervene militarily in support of the Bosnian Muslims. Booth emphasises that this argument ‘oversimplifies the political coherence of both the West and the Muslim worlds’,(99) there being no ‘Western’ or ‘non-Islamic’ view of the Bosnian conflict, with American, British and Russian views often posed in diametric opposition to each other.

In the second instance it is difficult to see how any form of even rigorous intervention in the Balkans would have been a lesson to ‘land grabbers’ elsewhere, in Russia, for instance, or India. Russian intervention and heavy-handedness in Chechnya, for example, in late 1994 had the effect of stimulating Chechnyan resistance rather than removing it. Booth argues that although the ‘triumph of crude power politics and the equating of ethnic nationalism and statehood’ are regrettable in Bosnia the international order is far more robust than this argument suggests.(100) There is no strength in the argument that if aggression is unchecked, as Nazism was appeased in the 1930s, the international order will dissolve into lawlessness because what it ignores is the continuing strength of national interest in the great powers: Bosnia obviously indicated a low priority on their agenda but it does not follow that they will see other issues in the same way.

Third, if nothing else, military intervention would have acted to guarantee rather than prevent a widening of the war. There was a high risk of the conflict spreading to Kosovo, Macedonia and elsewhere in the Balkans if Serbs believed that their cultural and religious identity was under threat by a pro-Muslim intervention. Intervention would have inflamed passions: the Serbs believed that they were being denied their birthright by what they perceived to be a sectarian Muslim government aided and abetted by the world who recognised the new state and acquiesced in the disenfranchisement of the Bosnian Serb community. The great danger of massive and ill-considered intervention would in all likelihood have been to throw fuel on the fire of Bosnian Serb resentment at their treatment by the world that would have made the Balkan War an unquenchable conflict of nightmarish and endless proportions.

There is little doubt that this factor weighed heavily in British considerations. Philip Towle argues that ‘Britain had been defeated by anti-colonial guerrillas in Palestine, Cyprus and Aden…Above all the experience of the previous quarter century of trying to damp down sectarian violence in Northern Ireland made the British government and armed forces deeply hostile to pressure to involve them in similar religious and ethnic feuds in Bosnia.’(101) Gow discounts the argument that guerrilla war was at play in Bosnia, arguing that ‘the social structure underpinning successful guerrilla operations had been eroding since the end of WW2.’(102) This is to ignore, however, the potential for guerrilla war by Bosnian Serbs, supported by their compatriots in neighbouring Serbia, against any attempt to impose a settlement, would have been enormous.


Negativist arguments-4: The failure of UNPROFOR

The inadequacy of using UN peace-keeping forces in a war situation where, as yet, there was no peace to keep,(103) together with the resultant failure of UNPROFOR to stem Serb aggression, are cited by many as a reason to reverse established norms of non-intervention in favour of humanitarian war in Bosnia.

In the first instance, UNPROFOR was criticised for applying a wholly inadequate remedy- namely, humanitarian aid- to a problem that required a far more radical solution. The limited humanitarian aid UNPROFOR offered set out only to alleviate suffering rather than to effect political change, and some of that aid was used as a weapon by unscrupulous factions within the various communities. Higgins, for example, argues that UNPROFOR was equipped with a totally unrealistic mandate.(104) Certainly, the peace-keeping nature of the mandate was widely misinterpreted.(105) UNPROFOR was a peace support force with a primary responsibility to pursue peace vigorously, however distant it may have appeared, to promote negotiations, and to talk down war. UNPROFOR played a vital role in establishing and maintaining avenues of communication between the warring parties. It was not mandated to fight the war on behalf of the Bosnian government(106) and despite the calls of the unholy alliance of cold-war hawks and ‘B-52 liberals’(107) who advocated bombing the way to the negotiating table, UNPROFOR took the unpopular route which sought peace through negotiation rather than coercion and which did not compromise the humanitarian basis of the deployment. The role of UNPROFOR was not to fight but to ensure that the conditions for the delivery of humanitarian aid were sustained.

This position is berated by Higgins, for example, because the UN chose ‘to respond to major unlawful violence, not by stopping that violence but by trying to provide relief to the suffering…’ Minear and Weiss likewise lament the ‘half-hearted measures’ in the application of force in Bosnia that ‘paradoxically fostered Serbian war aims.’(108) This criticism is repeated by Sharp.(109)

These criticisms, however, fall far short of the justification required for launching humanitarian war. As Roberts counsels there was an inevitability for the criticisms heaped on the UN because peace-keeping forces ‘which are prepared to engage in self-defence, but not in a systematic defence of threatened communities in a particularly nasty and bitter war, must expect to incur odium.’(110) Whilst not absolving UNPROFOR for considerable deficiencies in its ability to manage the crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina(111) the critics of UNPROFOR fail on three counts.

First, they underestimate the very real and practical achievements of UNPROFOR. Minear and Weiss’s argument is unduly inflated: it does not follow that the non-use of force resulted in overall failure by the UN. Against the inevitable frustrations of a non-coercive mandate must be placed the enormity of the humanitarian achievement in the country, none of which could have been achieved without the work of UNPROFOR. By Minear and Weiss’s own account the UN by early 1992 had deployed 14,000 troops to the UN Protected Areas in Croatia and by early 1993 6,500 NATO troops in UN uniform were in Bosnia itself, no-fly zones had been created, a vast humanitarian effort had begun and endless negotiating sessions and cease-fires had been and were being held.(112) The grudging admission of the overall success of the humanitarian mission in Bosnia is given by Ramsbotham and Woodhouse, who point out that ‘if it is the case that hundreds of thousands more would have died without the combined efforts of relief agencies and UN peacekeepers, then this alone counts as a major justification of the whole enterprise.’(113)

Additionally, Minear and Weiss’s twofold description of military roles in humanitarian operations(114) do not reflect the whole gamut of activities and responsibilities properly organised and directed military forces can play in ISCs. Of especial note are the activities of persuasion and negotiation, the semi-political activities of UNPROFOR at every level of engagement in Bosnia, a process designed to develop progressively notions of peace often in spite of the activities of the belligerents.(115) Peace-keepers in Bosnia were not idle spectators as Sharp supposes, but active catalysts in the overall dynamic towards a viable peace.(116) Roberts recognises that the UN’s humanitarian involvement in Bosnia was not simply humanitarian but also included ‘efforts to induce the parties to respect international humanitarian law.’(117)

But, as James Gow acknowledges, it went much further than even this. UNPROFOR undertook a new kind of ‘peacekeeping’ which bore no resemblance to previous UN operations. ‘Well-armed troops, operating with a NATO command , made attempts to secure the delivery of humanitarian aid to communities cut-of by the fighting and under siege. Whilst this was carried out as a neutral peacekeeping mission it was ‘partial-neutrality’, as the breaking of sieges favours those under siege and hinders those besieging’.(118) Gow gives UNPROFOR credit for ameliorating the crisis in Bosnia to a significant degree. UNPROFOR forced all parties to negotiate in countless local and larger situations throughout their deployment from late 1992, and although the more publicised failures invited despair from those outside the country desperate for quick solutions this sentiment was not widespread on the ground.

In Bosnia UNPROFOR worked in countless confrontational situations, forcing the pace in issues of humanitarian aid and stopping territorial and genocidal aggression by all sides.(119) Throughout the war UNPROFOR interpreted its mandate aggressively, working to create conditions for peace through forcing all sides to negotiate with each other and providing them with the technical support to allow them to do so,(120) insisting that parties guilty to illegal military actions desist and ensuring that, wherever possible, atrocities were recorded for the eventual punishment of the perpetrators.

Second, the critics of UNPROFOR fail to provide a convincing explanation of how the violence could have been stopped, the case for military intervention to do this being unproved. Military intervention to stop the war for humanitarian motives was, however laudable, an untenable proposition despite Minear and Weiss’s lament that the West was ‘clearly not prepared to devise a credible political and military strategy to end not just the sieges of Bosnian Muslim areas but also the war.’(121) This was asking the impossible: the West was largely unable to do this even if it had wished especially in view of the intransigence of each belligerent’s aims and ambitions. Cohen argues that intervention would have failed to deter Bosnian Serbs from ethnic cleansing, and disputes the widespread view that ‘air strikes could…effectively and permanently neatly roll back Serbian victories or the results of ‘ethnic cleansing.’(122) Booth warns that punishing ‘the Serbs by using air strikes in order to show that aggression doesn’t pay would be no more than a form of state terrorism…and would be counterproductive.’(123) Any intervention outside of the style adopted by UNPROFOR would have had to be massive, a declaration of war on the Serbs of the type advocated by Jane Sharp and would have been construed by the Bosnian Serbs as an invitation to fight: seemingly arrogant and forceful UN interveners would very easily and quickly have been portrayed as invaders and aggressors in the fashion of 1941, and it is difficult to see what even considerably more force could have achieved apart from significantly more casualties.

Third, they assume that force had utility in this type of war and from its non-use conclude, like Sharp, that the UN ‘is clearly not able to conduct effective military operations even though it remains the (world’s) only widely acceptable legitimating authority’. Sharp believed that UN military impotence in the face of the NATO eagerness to use air power to enforce the international will was based solely on the reticence of ‘(UN) military commanders on the ground (who) were unwilling to call air strikes against the Serbs and Croats for fear of endangering their own men.’ Minear and Weiss agree, arguing that because UNPROFOR was ‘unable to establish the appropriate role of military force…(it) proved untenable for UN troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina. A UN peace keeping force, duly authorised, lacked the military capability to coerce a solution across a wide front. Unable to create the conditions for its own success, it lost all its military credibility.’(124)

Minear and Weiss claim that ‘a larger and more robust UNPROFOR, operating from the start under more assertive terms of engagement, would have ensured fuller access to the civilian population…and perhaps prevented the worst human suffering, even without the actual use of firepower’(125) and that UNPROFOR’s policy amounted to a ‘never shoot’ policy which ’emboldened the onslaught against civilians and aid workers’.(126)

The depiction of a fearful and timid UN on the ground unwilling to use force because of the possible consequences to themselves compared to a willing and aggressive NATO waiting in the wings is largely fiction.(127) The UN operation in Bosnia was never designed to be a conventional military operation based on an easily and clearly defined enemy against which force could be applied liberally and effectively. These arguments also exhibit a failure to recognise when force could be used to good effect and when it would be patently counter-productive. It became quickly apparent to UNPROFOR that although considerable coercive potential was available if required(128) the actual use of force on the majority of occasions was for the best of reasons actually counter-productive.

The argument that UNPROFOR should have used force has five principal counters. First, no mandate had yet been provided by the international community to employ military force to coerce a solution to the problem. Second, there exists in considerations of military involvement in humanitarian intervention, a widespread belief, reinforced by memories of the triumph of Western arms in the Gulf War, that military force alone is sufficient to bring about a conclusion to the conflict. It seems that every generation has to re-learn the hard lesson that force is rarely a suitable panacea for force. Force, rather, has a tendency to escalate tension, encourage intractability and reinforce violent prejudice. Booth is incisive on the issue of amnesia regarding even recent examples of the application of force in situations which exhibited all the hallmarks of Bosnia: ‘ In their instinct to ‘do something’ many people seem to have forgotten the limited utility of foreign forces in complex conflicts whose terrain features forests, mountains, cities and sanctuaries: Vietnam,(129) Afghanistan, Beirut and Belfast. There is a dangerous over-confidence in military force in some quarters, which recent history does not support…’surgical’ air strikes against local forces in Bosnia are unlikely to be politically decisive… ‘ (130)

On the issue of the use of air power Towle shows that British experience in previous guerrilla-type war indicated that it ‘has to be used very carefully if it is to play a constructive role in anti-guerrilla operations…It may indeed be that US emphasis on air attacks consciously or unconsciously reinforced British reluctance to become involved in an American-led campaign against Serbia…In any case American advocates of air power failed to explain what the next step would be if air attacks on Serb artillery failed to produce decisive results.(131) The assessment that the American armed forces were incapable of waging low key operations was reinforced by the failure of the hostage rescue mission in Iran and by calamitous attempts at peace enforcement in Beirut and Somalia.’(132) The consistent European position was that ‘air strikes were fraught with danger and that the necessary withdrawal of United Nations peace keepers, together with an influx of arms for the Muslims, would simply be an invitation for far more bloodshed.’(133)

Third, heavy and disproportionate retaliation would have meant that no convoys would have got through to beleaguered populations at all and a ‘show of force’ would have been little more than gesture. A mandate to use force is meaningless on the ground where local UN commanders have to negotiate their way through countless road blocks to reach their destination: the use or threatened use of force at one road-block would only act to create many more. Additionally, any increased application of force would have made UNPROFOR’s ‘thin skinned armoured vehicles spread along narrow roads and dispersed in the countryside…highly vulnerable if the Serbs or Croats made a determined attack upon them.’(134)

UN rules of engagement were unequivocal in allowing troops who had been attacked to respond appropriately if targets had been identified and potential for collateral damage was minimal. But the use of any kind of force by the UN resulted in the immediate withdrawal of Serb consent for humanitarian aid deliveries, sometimes for months, thereby removing the rationale for the UN presence at a stroke. A fine balance is required in non-coercive humanitarian scenarios to ensure that the first priority- humanitarian relief- is always met over and above any impulses to use force in retaliation for attacks on the UN or aid convoys. Many of the aid convoys held up by either side in the Muslim-Croat war that ended in February 1994 were at road-blocks comprised largely of women and children. The issue of the use or non-use of force in many daily practical confrontations did not even arise.

Fourth, misconceptions exist in the popular mind as to the efficacy of particular types of military force, in particular air power, the widely misconceived ability of aircraft to hit small and fleeting targets without the use of laser target designators largely attributed to the success of allied propaganda in the Gulf War. The targets for these types of weapons, however, rarely existed in Bosnia. The reality is that force is still an extremely blunt instrument. For the most part air power would have achieved nothing against solitary tanks and the single trench lines that snaked across hilltops in wooded and mountainous terrain for many hundreds of miles across the length and breadth of the country. Even in the case where action was taken against Serbs around Sarajevo, for instance, air strikes rarely succeeded in finding their targets, let alone destroying them.

Fifth, at the operational and strategic level, calls for air strikes too often appeared to be out of spite or vengeance rather than from a rational and considered attempt to achieve a precise and clearly defined military and political goal. Additionally, air strikes ‘could not punish those responsible for atrocities and thus would not be much of an object lesson deterring others from committing similar acts elsewhere.’ Yet, to reiterate a previous point, military force is largely meaningless if conducted in a political vacuum: ‘only delicate political negotiations, not air strikes, would potentially establish a viable system of governance for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Air strikes were really of limited value if there was no consensus or will on the part of the international community to intervene in Bosnia using substantial numbers of ground troops for potential combat and/or peace enforcement.’(135) Military commanders on the ground therefore often refused to call in air strikes because they were in most cases counter-productive to the humanitarian mandate that provided the raison d’être for UNPROFOR’s existence.


The UN argued, in spite of these criticisms, that in the circumstances the deployment of peace keepers was not only the sensible thing to do but the right thing to do because it helped to cap the warlike intentions of all parties and brought about a negotiated settlement of the kind signed at Dayton, something the widespread and vigorous employment of force would have prevented. UNPROFOR’s presence also enabled peace agreements to be carried out. The Muslim-Croat agreement of 23 February 1994 (The Washington Agreement) is a remarkable example of this, UNPROFOR units throughout central Bosnia acting successfully as honest brokers in the long path back towards normality in what were bitterly divided communities. The raison d’être of the bulk of the British troops in central Bosnia after this date was to implement the cease-fire, not to just sit on the sidelines in the benign and patronising fashion that is sometimes used to describe UNPROFOR, but physically clearing minefields, running countless local and regional meetings of every sort, restarting schools, distributing aid, identifying and clearing villages for the return of refugees and keeping the roads and bridges open.(136) UNPROFOR enabled these peace agreements to take place in the first instance and then vigorously encouraged their development.(137) Those arguments which decry the UN operation as a failure fail themselves to recognise that without the very forceful intervention of UNPROFOR in the game of military diplomacy there would have been no peace in Bosnia at all.

Thus, whilst there clearly exists an emerging though extremely tentative possibility for humanitarian war by the international community in situations of humanitarian disaster and genocide, as elaborated in Chapter 1, the five principal cases for intervention in Bosnia between 1992-1995- two positivist and three negativist- were not sufficiently persuasive to warrant short-term military action by the international community to manage the crisis in Bosnia.

Chapter 4

This chapter will examine the arguments for a multilateral long-term intervention in Bosnia designed to resolve the conflict by restructuring the national polity of the country. Humanitarian intervention for purposes of conflict resolution could be described as ‘maximum intervention’ which involved the use of force to disarm contenders and to oblige parties to accept settlements. The advantage of this approach is that it seeks to achieve a long-term restructuring of the polity of the target state that not only ensures peaceful resolution of the conflict, as much as is possible in these situations, but that repays the original investment of the interveners by securing a large and definable measure of success.

But the overwhelming difficulty with this approach lies in achieving a proper balance between security and humanitarianism. Military intervention to resolve conflicts is inherently ‘force-orientated’, as opposed to the ‘persuasion-oriented’ deployment of peace-keepers, and thus is more likely to be weighted in favour of security than humanitarianism. If intervention in Bosnia was justified primarily on security grounds then humanitarianism must play a minor role, the issue dominated by national interest, prudence and statist order. The aim of ‘humanitarian war’ is to prevent further violations of human rights through the use of force and meets criteria for a short-term, crisis management response. By contrast the objective of a security-originated intervention would be, rather, ‘to demilitarise Bosnia Herzegovina to allow the elements of a peace plan to work successfully’.(138) The justifications for both types of intervention are thus very different, the latter form reflecting less the importance of humanitarianism than order. The second difficulty with this form of intervention lies in its scale. The force required not only to halt fighting of the type found in Bosnia but to repress it for as long as was required would be enormous, and certainly beyond the resources of all but the largest and most competent of military alliances.

But despite the complexities of a long-term intervention Cowan rejects the short-term, crisis management approach, and argues that there is no case for military intervention except in support of a viable political plan which had a reasonable chance of success, as any ‘intention to intervene otherwise would be both impractical and doomed to failure’.(139) Walzer’s concern, likewise, is that short-term interventions ‘cannot shift the domestic balance of power in any decisive way toward the forces of freedom…’ and a long-term interventions will itself ‘pose the greatest possible threat to the success of those (same forces of freedom)’.(140)

The principal political form recommended to resolve the conflict was the establishment of a UN Protectorate in Bosnia, the concept developing from the failure of the Vance-Owen plan in 1993 and receiving concomitant stimulation by the establishment of UN protected safe areas in a number of Muslim enclaves deep in Bosnian-Serb held territory. The idea was to ensure the survival of the Bosnian state by forcing all sides to come to terms that recognised the rights of each other. Protectorates would be established under Chapter 12 of the UN Charter, in towns designated as ‘safe areas’ by the UN and garrisoned by UN combat forces. They would then be expanded outwards to eventually encompass all the territory which remained in the sphere of the Bosnian government’s influence, and if the Vance-Owen plans came to nought, to further expand the protectorate so that it took in the whole of the area granted to the Muslims under the Vance-Owen territorial allocation.(141) The aim would be to ‘rebuild Bosnia-Herzegovina as a genuine multi-ethnic state in which population cleansing would cease, minorities would return to their former homes and lands and each commune or sub-commune would have direct representation to a central parliament in Sarajevo. At first, the UN would control the Government through a High Commissioner and, for as long as necessary, would retain centralised control of telecommunications, main roads, railways, power and other essential facilities.’(142)

Despite Chalmer’s belief that with the implementation of a protectorate ‘most Serbs would decide to cut their losses’, the act of imposition would be easy in the initial stages but would result in massive and permanent UN presence. His conclusion that the size of an initial UN force could be reduced ‘sharply once the immediate crisis has passed’ is remarkably sanguine and is too easily dismissive of the torrid emotions that fuelled the conflict from all sides.(143) In reality there would have been no exit strategy from Bosnia in the event of an intervention of the type needed to establish, defend and maintain a protectorate of Bosnia’s size, surrounded by foes, for many decades to come.

A viable plan must not just receive the imprimatur of the Security Council and be policed by a large and well-equipped intervention force. It must, to retain any hope of long-term viability, have due regard for the overall interests of all the inhabitants of Bosnia, rather than simply the narrower political aspirations of the leaders involved in the conflict. Sharp’s case for intervention, for instance, founders on this issue by ignoring the valid goals and ambitions of all sections of the Bosnian population in the cause of an artificial notion of the whole. Her case is that intervention should have taken place to ‘uphold the vision of a federal pluralistic multi-ethnic Europe’. The countries of Europe, however, are patently not all at the same state of political development and to expect the Balkans to meet the criteria expected of its northern neighbours seems naive in the extreme.(144) Booth warns also that successful military intervention by the West which saved Bosnia at birth may have had the paradoxical effect of ‘encouraging the ambitions of separatist sovereignty-seeking nationalists’ who, without the support of a self-determination-obsessed West would otherwise have had no chance to see the fruit of their hyper-nationalistic ambitions(145).

The validity of employing force in a massive coercive intervention designed to impose a new polity is, however, like the factors that mitigated against the use of military force to coerce a crisis management response, highly dubious. Common to the arguments of both Sharp and Susan Sontag exists an underlying assumption regarding the ‘utility of modest military means to achieve large political ends.’(146) The political basis for using force must be absolutely central in military intervention. Force can only achieve military objectives defined by clear, unequivocal and unambiguous political aims. It cannot deliver political solutions in and of itself outside of total war and even then, as Versailles showed, sensible political conclusions to conflict must then be effected. Roberts cautions that ‘…it is necessary to avoid the temptation to use military force to speed up the resolution of conflicts’.(147)

In the case of Bosnia there is little if any evidence to support the view that a wide scale military deployment by NATO would have provided the panacea so eagerly sought. Humanitarian war would have acted to ignore the Clauswitzian dictum that any use of military force must presuppose a clear political and military objective. It may have provided an instant military solution but it would not have removed, let alone solved, the underlying political conflicts that undergirded all positions in the war. Somalia’s principal military lesson seems to be that if the line between peace keeping and peace enforcement was crossed without sufficient political reason then the original humanitarian cause would be lost and the humanitarian justification for the intervention in the first place ditched.(148) Towle reiterates that the ‘British experience was that, even when it prevented violence, peace-keeping did not solve the underlying political disputes’(149) of the belligerents or take account of the fanatical determination of all sides to pursue their own destructively ethnocentric agendas.

Only a political settlement such as that signed at Dayton met this requirement and although it remains to be seen what the long-term outcome will be arguably only political agreement of some kind can ever hope to resolve or settle the underlying issues. Without political action the use of force may well have beaten the Bosnian Serb Army militarily but it would have made the long-term problem even more intractable simply because no negotiated settlement had been sought. Likewise the consequences of intervention, ‘whether it be in setting rules for the conduct of the conflict, easing suffering, brokering a settlement, or intervening on one side, will influence the balance of power. When it ceases there will always be a tendency for the local factors to dominate once again.’(150) In the long-run the casualties of a renewed Bosnian war once the interveners had left would not bear imagining. (151) Only a mutually agreed political settlement- ‘imposed’ if need be by heavy pressure from the international community- has any chance of creating the conditions for humanitarian peace, not just the alleviation of humanitarian misery for a short period. Hoffman recognises the limits of the debate but urges action by the international community to ‘narrow the gap’ between what is ethical and what is likely with regard to military interventions’.(152)

Additionally, the intervention argument makes the unwarranted assumption that even with sufficient and effective military forces the international community could have solved the Bosnian problem. This seems a remarkably arrogant assumption given the constant political mistakes the world made in its dealings with the dissolution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991. It is simply not axiomatic that intervention has a beneficial impact upon crises. Booth asks whether Bosnia could have been put back together again by external powers, citing Somalia as a ‘warning for those who would inject external military force to stabilise complex distant conflicts…Bosnia itself was not ready for self-government when it was recognised as a sovereign state. It lacked a history of self-rule and did not have a democratic political culture, and it faced divisions within and enemies outside its borders.’(153) He concludes that ‘there is no reason to suppose it would be different if they had the far more difficult task of actually running part of this combustible region.’(154)

Adam Roberts shows convincingly that the EU, OSCE and UN-and any international body one may care to mention- ‘are ill-equipped to tackle’ wars of the kind that broke out in Yugoslavia in 1991.(155) The UN is not inherently disposed towards resolving ‘intractable and tragic wars of the kind witnessed in Bosnia-Herzegovina.’(156) He concludes that ‘The greatest problem was not a UN culture hostile to uses of force, but something deeper, and harder to change: the absence of an overall strategy, of clear goals and of political leadership among the principal members of both the UN and NATO…’(157) The issue was never one simply of force but always one of political will. Freedman identifies this as the principal restraining factor in the ability of the EU to do anything more than dither when faced with the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991: ‘…it was evident that the EU lacked the capacity to impose its will but it was also unable to develop a coherent and consistent sense of what that will happened to be.’(158)

But not intervening forcibly does not mean that nothing can be done. On the contrary, limiting intervention to non-forcible intervention enables a far greater range of activities to be carried out in favour of the target country than that which would be possible if war had been declared against one of the belligerents in the first instance. Examples of these peace support activities include providing expanded support and visibility to relief efforts, both UN and Non Governmental Organisation (NGO); seeking and bringing to justice perpetrators of human rights violations; levying sanctions against the leaders of parties that perpetrate atrocities; strengthening democratic forces; isolating the conflict from external sources of support; using sanctions, preventive deployment(159) and threats of withholding the privileges of membership in international organisations from those supporting either of the belligerents; supporting self-defence; promoting negotiations; fulfilling humanitarian obligations; learning lessons and recognising the limitations of military force.(160) Booth also advocated lifting the arms embargo, arguing that: ‘It is hardly the right of outsiders to determine the level of suffering a particular state is willing to endure to maintain its independence.’(161) UN forces in Bosnia were convinced, however, that lifting the embargo would not necessarily have resulted in a shift in the fortunes of the Bosnian government, but it would have guaranteed the escalation of the conflict by providing the raison d’être for increased Serbian and possibly Russian military support for the Republika Srpska.


Wheeler articulates an anguish common within the debate over the practice of humanitarian intervention or, as it has been in most cases, the non-practice of intervention. He concludes that in the case of Bosnia the reason why our ‘feelings of compassion (did) not turn into vigorous public pressures for forcible intervention’ was because ‘our feelings of solidarity with ‘them’ was not strong enough to make them one of ‘us’.’(162) This may well be true: we certainly seem to be far distant from the kind of solidarist world society Hedley Bull prophesied.(163) Nevertheless this does not adequately take into account the ‘why nots’ of intervention in Bosnia and tends towards the assumption that the lack of action of the type advocated by interventionists means that those who were capable of intervening, but who did not, themselves lacked either compassion for, or solidarity with, the victims of terror. It ignores the limitations imposed by technical prudence,(164) the balance sheet of possibilities that rule for or against successful intervention in any given situation. In the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995 the balance sheet of possibilities remained firmly in the negative.

The case of Bosnia-Herzegovina indicates the tension between what is considered necessary and what is considered possible in the conduct of intervention in international politics. In the contemporary international arena what is considered practical will always override what is considered necessary, despite the moral imperatives or even emerging legal norms that might in fact rule in favour of coercive intervention for emancipatory purposes.

The balance sheet of possibilities that decided the international community against humanitarian war in Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995 was dominated throughout by the starkness of the alternative options available. Apart from the option of not intervening at all the only other feasible option- aside from UNPROFOR itself- was massive military intervention against the Bosnian-Serbs on behalf of the Bosnian government cause. But military intervention on behalf of the Bosnian government would have created, by the imposition of force rather than by domestic consent, a regime which was rejected by a significant proportion of the population. This would have meant not only a government imposed by force from outside ruling by imperial decree and unable to defend itself internally, let alone against outside predators, thus necessitating the presence of foreign troops to enforce domestic order for a long period of time. But the dissident majority- the Serbs- would have rejected this imposition and would have fought to the death by guerrilla means. In other words it would have exposed UN/NATO troops to a long-term and unwinnable COIN campaign. There is no historical evidence that winning a COIN campaign against an intractable population and by solely military means, is possible. It seems certain that military intervention would have been a long term failure no matter how many more lives would have been saved in the short term. Additionally it seems hardly likely that Serbia would have accepted this type of enforced settlement which to their mind would have enslaved their people to an ethnically-based Bosniac regime that at heart was anti-Serb. By extension this settlement would not have been accepted by Russia.

Nor too was the world prepared to accept the invariable consequences of intervention, including the inevitability of escalation and the almost inevitable potential for long-term attrition against those sections of the community unwilling to come to terms with the intervention. It is rarely if ever possible to persuade an enemy, in this case the Serbs, of the ‘wrongness’ or futility of their cause and therefore would not have prevented their long-term resistance to a Muslim government. The stark reality is that the Serbs may have been militarily subdued for a while but not defeated. Bitter experience in Vietnam had taught this lesson to America and re-taught it in Somalia, Falk arguing from these experiences that interventions that embark ‘on some form of political restructuring…are likely to be slow, inconclusive and costly’. He argues that ‘cheap’ intervention is no solution. An emancipatory intervention- one that frees the people from repressive or genocidal political forces- would require a willingness by the intervening side to commit significant numbers of lives and resources over a prolonged period, with the prospect of possibly heavy losses, and even then with no assurance of success.’(165)

As Roberts also asserts, ‘Intervention in divided societies involves consideration of the central and long-term issues of who is to govern, and within what frontiers’.(166) This holds true whatever the auspices or benign motives of the intervening side. In the absence of substantial consent in the target country, ‘the fact that an intervention has the blessing of the UN does not sufficiently reduce the prospect of determined national resistance.’(167) For intervention to be in any way successful it must at least, as Walzer argues, require ‘a long term military presence, social reconstruction…and along the way, making all this possible, the large-scale and reiterated use of force.’ To Walzer’s question ‘Is anyone ready for this?’ we might add ‘Is it physically possible in the first place?’(168) Booth agrees: ‘Nobody believes that a ground force, once inserted to fight for peace and then manage the post-war reconstruction, could be withdrawn quickly. Success therefore requires steady and indefinite domestic and international support…without certain and long-term support, military intervention would be foolhardy and futile.(169)

Likewise the world was not entirely convinced that its strongest constituent members possessed forces suitably trained, equipped and disposed physically and mentally to fight a Bosnia-type war.(170) Falk admits that US forces are not inherently disposed towards the type of conflict where force does not play a pre-eminent role. Partisan voices in the United Kingdom may well urge that the British Army’s experience of and success in many ‘small wars’ this century makes it well-suited to deal with the psychological challenges faced by fighting deeply motivated guerrillas in steep mountain valleys, but the experience of highly-professional, well-equipped and well-trained Wehrmacht troops in similar circumstances in 1941-45 is chastening. The pragmatic military case is that unless the motivations of the fighters and their entire communities are changed by peaceful means military force alone will never succeed- outside of brutal and extensive repression- to persuade them of the hopelessness or wrongness of their cause.

The consequences of forcible military intervention ostensibly ‘to stop the war’ and thus prevent genocide and the mass killings of innocents would have been foolish in the extreme because it would have provided a short-term remedy rather than a long-term settlement and in the long-term the scale of the casualties of an extended conflict would have been unimaginable.

Bosnia is not proof that humanitarian war should have been declared by the international community against the Bosnian Serbs. Far from it. It is proof, if anything, only that the peace keeping mandate was sufficient in theory but that in practice it was poorly applied at the level of the world community. There was insufficient resolve by Western governments in particular to apply UN resolutions immediately, consistently and vigorously as well as to provide sufficient troops on the ground to carry out the tasks required by the Secretary General. Minear and Weiss complain, rightly, that ‘neither relief deliveries, personnel, distribution points, nor vehicles received the protections specified in international humanitarian law or envisioned in the enabling Security Council Resolutions. All were subject to random violence and targeted strikes.’(171) All these factors point to a weakness of international solidarity but not, as Sharp supposes, a sufficient reason to massive military intervention. Roberts makes the point that however justified the criticisms of UNPROFOR were it did not mean that the alternatives proposed would have worked any better.(172)

Military force was not a sensible option in the Balkans. Regardless of the moral and compassionate imperatives urging action the quite legitimate calls for ‘something-to-be-done’ in Bosnia ignored the military and practical reasons why such an intervention would be disastrous even if the political will existed, the ‘nature of the conflict’, the mountainous terrain and the very real prospect of determined local resistance doom such an operation to failure.’(173) Consciously limited and restrained UN operations in the Balkans may not have been designed to prevent genocide but they did act to limit the worst excesses and war aims of the belligerents. There is no doubt that the UN presence acted to dampen the offensive capabilities of the Bosnian Serb Army in the least inflammatory way possible: without the presence of UNPROFOR there would be no Bosnian state and certainly many thousands fewer of its citizens. In the complexity of the moral, political and legal situation in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995 caution prompted ‘us’ not to ‘do nothing’ but to ‘do something’ that would alleviate more than just the crises of television-inspired consciences in countless centrally-heated living rooms around the globe.


1. A. Roberts, Humanitarian War: military intervention and human rights, International Affairs (Vol. 69, No. 3, 1993).

2. H. Bull (ed.) Intervention in World Politics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).

3. J.E. Hare and C.B. Joynt, Ethics and International Affairs (London, Macmillan, 1982) in L. Freedman (ed.), War (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1994).

4. N. Wheeler, Agency, Humanitarianism and Intervention, (Unpublished paper, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, 1995).

5. M. Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (Basic Books, 1992) (2nd ed.).

6. R. Jackson, Armed Humanitarianism, International Journal, (Vol. XLVIII, Autumn, 1993).

7. N. Wheeler & J. Morris, Humanitarian Intervention and State Practice at the End of the Cold War, (Unpublished paper, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, undated).

8. R.J. Vincent Human Rights and International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

9. A. Roberts, From San Francisco to Sarajevo: The UN and the Use of Force’ Survival (Vol. 37 (4), Winter 1995-6).

10. J. Donnelly Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice (New York, Cornell University Press, 1989).

11. Walzer, The Politics of Rescue (Dissent, Winter 1995).

12. D. Fisher The Ethics of Intervention, Survival (Vol.36 (1), Spring 1994).

13. B. Parekh, Beyond Humanitarian Intervention in H. Cullen, D. Kritsiotis and N. Wheeler, (eds.), Politics and Law of Former Yugoslavia (European Union Research Unit, University of Hull, 1993).

14. K.J. Holsti, International Politics: A Framework for Analysis (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1988).

15. N.J. Wheeler, To Intervene or not to intervene: Bosnia and the wisdom of statecraft (Aberystwyth: Unpublished Paper, 1993).

16. R. Falk, Hard Choices and Tragic Dilemmas, The Nation, (December 1993).

17. R. Rorty, Sentimentality and Human Rights in S.Shute and S. Hurley (eds.) On Human Rights (New York: Basic Books, 1993).

18. R. Rorty Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

19. T.G. Weiss Overcoming the Somalia Syndrome- ‘Operation Rekindle Hope’?’, Global Governance, (Vol. 1 1995).

20. J.M.O. Sharp, Appeasement, Intervention and the Future of Europe in L.D. Freedman (ed.) Military Intervention in European Conflicts (Oxford: The Political Quarterly, 1994).

21. F. Kratochil Sovereignty as ‘Dominium’ in G.M. Lyons and M. Mastundo, Beyond Westphalia? State Sovereignty and International Intervention (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1995).

22. T.L. Thomas, UN Crisis Management in Bosnia: Problems and Recommendations (The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Vol.8, No.3, September 1995).

23. K. Booth, Military Intervention: Duty and Prudence in L.D.Freedman, (ed.) Military Intervention in European Conflicts (Oxford: The Political Quarterly, 1994).

24. P. Towle, The British Debate about Intervention in European Conflicts in L.D. Freedman (ed.) Military Intervention in European Conflicts (Oxford: The Political Quarterly, 1994).

25. Ramsbotham and Woodhouse, Humanitarian Intervention in Contemporary Conflict: A Reconceptualization (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996).

26. L.D. Freedman, Humanitarian War, The New United Nations and Peacekeeping (International Affairs, Vol.68(2) 1993).

27. R. Higgins The new United Nations and former Yugoslavia, International Affairs, (Vol. 69(3), 1993).

28. J. Gow, Nervous Bunnies: The International Community and the Yugoslav war of dissolution, the politics of military intervention in a time of change in L.D. Freedman (ed.) Military Intervention in European Conflicts (Oxford: The Political Quarterly, 1994).

29. Case Against Military Intervention, (UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, November 1992).

30. E. Cowan, Military Intervention in Former Yugoslavia (London: International Security Information Service: 1993).

31. S. Huntingdon, The Clash of Civilisations, Foreign Affairs, (Vol. 72(3), Summer 1993).

32. J. Eyal Europe and Yugoslavia: Lessons from failure, (London: Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies, 1993).

33. Minear & Weiss, Mercy Under Fire: War and the Global Humanitarian Community (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1995).

34. J. Gow, The Yugoslav War of Dissolution (RFE/RL Research Report, 1993).

35. L. Cohen, Broken Bonds: Yugoslavia’s disintegration and Balkan politics in transition (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1995).

36. Major RM Lyman Civil Information in Peacekeeping: Lessons from Bosnia 1992-94 (British Army Review, November 1995).

37. M. Chalmers, Establishing UN Protectorates in Bosnia: Current Imperatives and Lessons for the Future (Bristol, Saferworld Briefing Paper, 1993).

38. S. Hoffman, The Politics and Ethics of Military Intervention, (Survival, Vol. 37(4) Winter 1995-96).

39. N. Wheeler and T. Dunne, Hedley Bull’s pluralism of the intellect and solidarism of the will (International Affairs, January 1996), p. 107.


1. A. Roberts, Humanitarian War: military intervention and human rights, International Affairs (Vol. 69, No. 3, 1993), pp. 429-449.

2. In particular UN statute laws which prohibit intervention and aggression.

3. The interventions were India in Bangladesh in 1971, Tanzania in Uganda and Vietnam in Cambodia in 1979. H. Bull (ed.) Intervention in World Politics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), pp. 96-99.

4. J.E. Hare and C.B. Joynt, Ethics and International Affairs (London, Macmillan, 1982), 151-3, 160, quoted in L. Freedman (ed.), War (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 182-184.

5. Ibid.

6. Roberts, Humanitarian war, op.cit., p. 429.

7. N. Wheeler, Agency, Humanitarianism and Intervention, (Unpublished paper, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, 1995), p. 2.

8. M. Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (Basic Books, 1992) (2nd ed.) p. 89.

9. R. Jackson, Armed Humanitarianism, International Journal, (Vol. XLVIII, Autumn, 1993), p. 581.

10 Wheeler, Agency, Humanitarianism and Intervention, op. cit., pp. 2-3.

11. N. Wheeler & J. Morris, Humanitarian Intervention and State Practice at the End of the Cold War, (Unpublished paper, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, undated), p. 10.

12. Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, op. cit., pp. 107-108.

13. Wheeler, Agency, Humanitarianism and Intervention, op. cit., pp. 15-19, 23-26.

14. R.J. Vincent Human Rights and International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 45

15. Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, op. cit., pp. 61-62.

16. Ibid., p. 86.

17. A. Roberts, From San Francisco to Sarajevo: The UN and the Use of Force’ Survival (Vol. 37 (4), Winter 1995-6), p. 7.

18. Wheeler and Morris, op. cit., pp. 13-16.

19. Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, op. cit., p. 101.

20. Vincent Human Rights and International Relations, op. cit., p. 114.

21. J. Donnelly Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice (New York, Cornell University Press, 1989), pp. 260-262.

22. H. Bull (ed.) Intervention in World Politics, op. cit., p. 96.

23. Donnelly, Universal Human Rights, op.cit., p. 262.

24. Walzer, The Politics of Rescue (Dissent, Winter 1995), p. 36.

25. Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, op.cit., p. 106.

26. Walzer The Politics of Rescue, op.cit. See also D. Fisher The Ethics of Intervention, Survival (Vol.36 (1), Spring 1994), pp. 51-59 and Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, op.cit., p. 106.

27. Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, op.cit., p. 101.

28. Ibid., p. 106.

29. B. Parekh, Beyond Humanitarian Intervention in H. Cullen, D. Kritsiotis and N. Wheeler, (eds.), Politics and Law of Former Yugoslavia (European Union Research Unit, University of Hull, 1993), pp. 23-24.

30. Vincent Human Rights and International Relations, op. cit., p. 45

31. K.J. Holsti, International Politics: A Framework for Analysis (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1988), pp. 267-268.

32. Roberts, Humanitarian War, op. cit., p. 436.

33. Jackson, Armed Humanitarianism, op.cit., p. 588.

34. Ibid., pp. 590-592.

35. Ibid., p. 579.

36. Ibid., p. 593.

37. Roberts, From San Francisco to Sarajevo, op. cit., pp. 7, 16-18.

38. Parekh, op.cit., p. 24.

39. Vincent Human Rights and International Relations, op. cit., p. 114. See also Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, op.cit., pp. 87-91.

40. Donnelly, Universal Human Rights, op. cit., p. 263.

41. Ibid.

42. N.J. Wheeler, To Intervene or not to intervene: Bosnia and the wisdom of statecraft (Aberystwyth: Unpublished Paper, 1993), p. 10.

43. Ibid., p. 9.

44. Wheeler and Morris, op.cit., pp. 5-10.

45. Donnelly, Universal Human Rights, op.cit., p. 264.

46. R. Falk, Hard Choices and Tragic Dilemmas, The Nation, (December 1993), p. 757.

47. Ibid., p. 762.

48. Ibid., p. 757.

49. R. Rorty, Sentimentality and Human Rights in S.Shute and S. Hurley (eds.) On Human Rights (New York: Basic Books, 1993, p. 115.

50. Wheeler, Agency, Humanitarianism and Intervention, op.cit., pp. 19-20.

51. Falk, op.cit., p.755.

52. R. Rorty Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 130.

53. Wheeler, Agency, Humanitarianism and Intervention, op.cit., p. 12.

54. Roberts, Humanitarian War, op.cit., p. 448.

55. Donnelly, International Human Rights, op.cit., pp. 144-145.

56. Ibid., p. 137.

57. Ibid., p. 143.

58. Roberts, Humanitarian War, op.cit., pp. 436-438.

59. T.G. Weiss Overcoming the Somalia Syndrome- ‘Operation Rekindle Hope’?’, Global Governance, (Vol. 1 1995), p. 171.

60. Jackson, Armed Humanitarianism, op.cit., p. 604.

61. Ibid., p. 582.

62. Ibid., p. 580.

63. J.M.O. Sharp, Appeasement, Intervention and the Future of Europe in L.D. Freedman (ed.) Military Intervention in European Conflicts (Oxford: The Political Quarterly, 1994).

64. Wheeler, To Intervene or not to intervene, op. cit., p. 10.

65. F. Kratochil Sovereignty as ‘Dominium’ in G.M. Lyons and M. Mastundo, Beyond Westphalia? State Sovereignty and International Intervention (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1995), p. 33.

66. Walzer The Politics of Rescue, op. cit., p 37. It should be noted, of course, that Walzer was a firm advocate of intervention in Bosnia.

67. For an assessment of the strong claims that the Muslim-led Bosniac government on occasion conducted attacks on its own people in an effort to blame their opponents and thus outrage world opinion and force NATO to intervene forcibly on their behalf see T.L. Thomas, UN Crisis Management in Bosnia: Problems and Recommendations (The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Vol.8, No.3, September 1995), p. 456.

68. K. Booth, Military Intervention: Duty and Prudence in L.D.Freedman, (ed.) Military Intervention in European Conflicts (Oxford: The Political Quarterly, 1994), p. 63.

69. Ibid.

70. Jackson, op.cit., p. 603.

71. P. Towle, The British Debate about Intervention in European Conflicts in L.D. Freedman (ed.) Military Intervention in European Conflicts (Oxford: The Political Quarterly, 1994), p. 101.

72. Wheeler, Agency, Humanitarianism and Intervention, op.cit., p. 7.

73. Ramsbotham and Woodhouse, Humanitarian Intervention in Contemporary Conflict: A Reconceptualization (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996), p. 108. The power of the media is also emphasised by Towle, op.cit., p. 97.

74. L.D. Freedman, Humanitarian War, The New United Nations and Peacekeeping (International Affairs, Vol.68(2) 1993), p. 6.

75. Thomas, op. cit., p. 457.

76. Falk, op.cit., p. 763.

77. Roberts, Humanitarian war, op.cit., p. 446. Similar sentiments are expressed by Freedman, Military Intervention in European Conflicts op.cit., p.4.

78. Booth op.cit., p. 61.

79. Sharp bases her argument for intervention on the preconditions the just war doctrine establishes for military intervention. These are that the operation must be conducted under a competent authority, for a just cause, after peaceful means have been tried and failed, if there is a reasonable chance of success and with a sense of proportion and discrimination. She then proceeds to argue that the Bosnian war justified international action on all these counts. Sharp op.cit., p. 41.

80. ‘The violation of a right implies that only the wronged person, not a third party, is entitled to seek redress… Obligations derived from what is right often conflicts with those resulting from ‘having rights’.’ Kratochil, op.cit., p. 38.

81. For example Higgins denies that the Bosnian war was a civil war, arguing that the involvement of Serbia made it a clear case of trans-national aggression. R. Higgins The new United Nations and former Yugoslavia, International Affairs, (Vol. 69(3), 1993), p. 470.

82. Although Serbia provided considerable support for the efforts of Bosnian-Serbs the war remained in essence one of community versus community. Falk, op.cit., p. 758.

83. Thomas, op.cit., p.457.

84. J. Gow, Nervous Bunnies: The International Community and the Yugoslav war of dissolution, the politics of military intervention in a time of change in L.D. Freedman (ed.) Military Intervention in European Conflicts (Oxford: The Political Quarterly, 1994), p. 25.

85. Case Against Military Intervention, (UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, November 1992) cited in Gow., p. 25.

86. Ramsbotham and Woodhouse, op.cit., p. 86.

87. Higgins, op.cit., p. 470.

88. Sharp, op.cit., p.50.

89. Walzer, The Politics of Rescue, op.cit., p. 37.

90. Gow, Nervous Bunnies, op.cit., p. 29.

91. Walzer, The Politics of Rescue, p. 36.

92. Gow, Nervous Bunnies, op.cit., p. 25.

93. Walzer, The Politics of Rescue, op.cit., p. 39. He approves, of course, of the need for such ‘rescue-in-advance’ in some circumstances.

94. Falk, op.cit., p. 758.

95. Sharp, op.cit., p. 34.

96. Ibid.

97. E. Cowan, Military Intervention in Former Yugoslavia (London: International Security Information Service: 1993), p. 2.

98 S. Huntingdon, The Clash of Civilisations, Foreign Affairs, (Vol. 72(3), Summer 1993), pp.22-49.

99. Booth, op.cit., p. 63.

100. Ibid., p. 60.

101. Towle, op.cit., p. 101.

102. Gow, Nervous Bunnies, op. cit., p. 26.

103. Ramsbotham and Woodhouse, op.cit., p. 174.

104. Higgins, op.cit., p. 468.

105. General Rose acknowledged as much in his February 1995 television interview in Sarajevo with the BBC’s John Simpson.

106. On Bosnian government manipulation of the nexus between the UN and NATO see Thomas, op.cit., pp. 455-457.

107. It was a widely reported phenomena that during the pre-Dayton Bosnian War (April 92-October 95) those most vociferous in the intervention camp in the west tended to be liberals who in previous circumstances always ruled out the viability of using force to resolve conflict- the ‘B-52 Liberals’ quoted by Booth (Booth, op.cit., p. 59). This point was also raised by J. Eyal Europe and Yugoslavia: Lessons from failure, (London: Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies, 1993) p. 68.

108. Minear & Weiss, Mercy Under Fire: War and the Global Humanitarian Community (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1995), pp. 216-7.

109. Sharp, op.cit., p. 50.

110. Roberts, op. cit., p. 18.

111. On the shortcomings of UNPROFOR as an instrument of international action see Thomas, op.cit., pp. 452-461.

112. Minear and Weiss, op.cit., p. 217.

113. Ramsbotham and Woodhouse, op.cit., p. 183.

114. Minear and Weiss, op.cit., p. 168.

115. Thomas argues a case for the development in peace enforcement doctrine for the concept of ‘military-political’ action of this nature. Thomas, op.cit., pp. 461-466.

116. The British Army’s phrase ‘peace support’ defines operations such as UNPROFOR where troops are deployed during fighting with the threefold role of helping to bring about a peace while the fighting continues, providing relief for those caught up in the fighting and helping to keep a peace once it has been agreed. See Freedman, Intervention in European Conflicts, op.cit., p. 8.

117. Roberts, Humanitarian war, op.cit., p.443.

118. J. Gow, The Yugoslav War of Dissolution (RFE/RL Research Report, 1993), p. 13.

119. One such product was the highly successful Cessation Of Hostilities Agreement (COHA), which virtually stopped all major fighting between the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina (ARBiH) and the Army of Republika Srpska (BSA) between 1 Jan and 31 May 1995.

120. One of the consequences of this type of war is that belligerents do not have a means to communicate with each other. This was essential if negotiations were ever to take place.

121. Minear and Weiss, op.cit., p. 174.

122. L. Cohen, Broken Bonds: Yugoslavia’s disintegration and Balkan politics in transition (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1995), p. 293.

123. Towle, op.cit., p. 94.

124. Ibid., p. 173.

125. Minear and Weiss, op.cit., p. 175.

126. Ibid., pp. 216-7.

127. In particular it is worth remembering that the vast bulk of military commanders on the ground belonged to NATO armies.

128. The UN actually had enormous firepower available in Bosnia-Herzegovina relative to any of the belligerents.

129. There was always considerable opposition in the Pentagon to military action. See Cohen, op.cit., p. 293.

130. Booth, op.cit., p. 67.

131. This point is also made by Walzer, The Politics of Rescue, op.cit., p. 37.

132. Towle, op.cit., p. 102.

133. Cohen, op.cit., p. 173.

134. Towle, op.cit., p. 101.

135. Cohen, op.cit., p. 293.

136. It is useful to remember that of the two roads from the Dalmatian coast into the whole of central Bosnia one was built in its entirety across the mountains from Tomislavgrad to Prozor by the British Army. Without these roads no aid could have reached Bosnia except through Serb-held territory.

137. On the subject of these activities in general see Major RM Lyman Civil Information in Peacekeeping: Lessons from Bosnia 1992-94 (British Army Review, November 1995), p. 71. There is no denying, however, that some contingents were far better at this type of work than others. Some UN contingents were notorious for their reluctance to become involved in anything but their own self-preservation.

138. Cowan, Military Intervention in Bosnia, op.cit., p. 8.

139. Ibid., p. 11.

140. Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, op.cit., p. 88.

141. M. Chalmers, Establishing UN Protectorates in Bosnia: Current Imperatives and Lessons for the Future (Bristol, Saferworld Briefing Paper, 1993), pp. 1-15.

142. Cowan, op.cit., p. 7.

143. Chalmers, op. cit., p. 10.

144. The question must be asked that if Britain and Germany, for instance, cannot agree on the basic terms of political, monetary and social unity within a federal Europe what hope is there for deeply divided societies like Bosnia?

145. Booth, op.cit., p. 64.

146. Quoted in Falk, op.cit., p. 758.

147. Roberts, From San Francisco to Sarajevo, op. cit., p. 23.

148. In Lieutenant General Sir Michael Rose’s celebrated phrase this was the ‘Mogadishu Line’.

149. Towle, op.cit., p. 103.

150. Freedman, op. cit., p. 9.

151. Whatever the arguments for or against humanitarian war in Bosnia the single stark reality at the root of any possible action on behalf of the UN is that it would have been extremely costly in terms of the lives of interveners and resisters, not to mention yet more innocents caught up in the counter-violence of intervention.

152. S. Hoffman, The Politics and Ethics of Military Intervention, (Survival, Vol. 37(4) Winter 1995-96), p. 29.

153. Booth, op.cit., p. 65. Even the British government, he reminds us, ‘still does not have a political solution-only an acceptable level of violence- for Northern Ireland…’

154. Ibid., p. 67.

155. Roberts, From San Francisco to Sarajevo, op. cit., p.16.

156. Ibid.

157. Ibid., p. 24.

158. L.D. Freedman, Humanitarian War, The New United Nations and Peacekeeping op.cit., p. 425.

159. Gow, Nervous Bunnies, op.cit., p. 19 The preventive deployment of US and Scandinavian troops to Macedonia almost certainly helped to prevent the outbreak of war there.

160. Booth, op.cit., p. 70.

161. Ibid.

162. Ibid., p. 7

163. N. Wheeler and T. Dunne, Hedley Bull’s pluralism of the intellect and solidarism of the will (International Affairs, January 1996), p. 107.

164. The term is Ken Booth’s.

165. Falk, op.cit., p. 758.

166. Roberts, Humanitarian war, op. cit., p. 447.

167. Ibid., p. 762.

168. Walzer, The Politics of Rescue, p. 37.

169. Booth, op.cit., p. 69.

170. Ibid., pp. 69-70

171. Ibid., p. 173.

172. Roberts, op. cit., p. 22.

173. Falk, op.cit., p. 760.

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