PEACE IN HIS TIME?

Eric Hobsbawm: 'It is not a good peace - but any peace is better than war. Will it last? Do not ask'; Pax Americana: Bosnia is its first success

We have got so used to conflicts that cannot be ended, that we have invented a special term to describe them: "peace process", which is never quite "peace". So any actual signed agreement to conclude a war is as unexpected as it is welcome. Any peace must be, which ends four years of war in a country of 4 million, a war that has killed people by the hundreds of thousands, forced them to flee by the multitudes and left a civil society in ruins.

It will not be a good peace. For many centuries it was taken for granted that peoples of different cultures, religions and languages could live together as neighbours in the Balkans. For 40 years after the Second World War, in what will seem to the inhabitants of this ravaged region the golden age of Tito, a non-ethnic Yugoslav state, uncommitted to any of its many communities, even succeeded in reconciling the survivors of the mutual massacres of 1941-45. The Bosnian peace will, for the first time, turn the region into a patchwork of ghettos each "belonging" to some community aspiring to ethnic purity and/or religious exclusiveness. But it will be better than war.

Whatever we feel about it, one thing is clear. It will be a triumph for the US government which, virtually single-handed, took over the task of peace-making, and in the end virtually imprisoned the Balkan negotiators, equally far from their home base, the United Nations and from the Europeans, for weeks in the depths of middle America, until they signed. The triumph is all the more brilliant because it was achieved not only over the various ex-Yugoslavs and the Europeans but also in spite of the music-hall antics of American politics - the neo-isolationist rhetoric about arming the Bosnians, the congressional refusal to send US soldiers and the rest of it.

At the same time the peace underlines the total failure of the states of Europe, singly or collectively through the European Union. From the moment when Germany, for reasons which are still incomprehensible, but can only have been frivolous or irrelevant, insisted on recognising the independence of Slovenia and Croatia - and consequently also of Bosnia - the story has been one of unbroken disaster. The Europeans fell in line, for equally irrelevant and, in Major's case, frivolous reasons, although they were against the decision and knew what the consequences would be. Bosnia was "recognised" but few countries opened embassies in Sarajevo.

Faced with the first major war in mid-Europe since 1945, the European Union demonstrated its complete incapacity to agree on any common policy, let alone on effective backing for its diplomats and on the ground. Each of its operational members had a separate national take on the situation. They, or rather their military advisers, only agreed on one thing - to stay out of the war. In fact, they took cover under the convenient blue umbrella of the UN. The European failure was, and remains, total. They have now been so completely bypassed by the US that Washington has blackballed a former Dutch prime minister as secretary-general of Nato on the grounds that he can't be guaranteed to follow the US line on Bosnia automatically.

One can't say that the UN failed, since the UN's capacity for positive action depends entirely on the decisions of the Security Council, and on resources made available by member states, that is to say in both respects on the US. The UN has done the only job it was allowed to do, watching and humanitarian relief. It is not in the business of peace-making, and there was no peace to keep. Still, it did not cover itself with glory and some of the troops given blue berets by member states behaved scandalously. But this reflects less on the UN than on the quality of armies in the states concerned.

The US finally took over the job of peacemaking, not because it has any special interest in the Balkans - except for the Greeks, the region's inhabitants don't yet count in American politics - but because it is today the only great world power, and consequently the only power with a global policy, rather as Britain was in the 19th century. Nobody else has more than regional policies. What exactly that policy should be in the post- Soviet era has not been clear. The Yugoslav settlement is the first systematic attempt to work it out.

What does the only great power in the world do? It cannot look for a way to be a world dominator, which would be beyond its power, even if US politicians accepted that professional soldiers should sometimes be ready to be killed as well as kill. It must try to be a world decider, using its position as the largest single economy in the world and the largest owner of hi-tech military hardware. In short, there is nobody else who has America's high capacity to bribe or subsidise and to threaten and blackmail, especially relatively small or weak states.

This situation only works where there are states. No amount of Washington arm-twisting can end the carnage in Somalia or Afghanistan by the methods of Dayton, Ohio. The US has a substantial interest in maintaining some kind of stable post-Soviet state system. That is why, without publicity - what would Gingrich do if he knew? - it has actually maintained some troops in the Balkans for years, namely in Macedonia, as a warning to local powers in that explosive region. The Bosnian peace is the first successful experiment in maintaining the pax Americana in the world today.

It is based on ruthless realism. Essentially the peace was made by scaring the Serbs (economic blackmail) and strengthening the Croats, without whose US-backed and trained military advances the Bosnian Serbs would not have given in. In spite of the rhetoric about arming the Bosnians, they will get least out of the settlement. They will be an appendix to the "Croat- Muslim" federation, guaranteed at most against further genocide and ethnic expulsion and the formal survival of the Bosnian state frontiers. In most other respects the division of Bosnia between Croatia and Serbia, which Milosevic and Tudjman planned, will be realised.

It will not be a good peace. It will strengthen the Islamist tendencies of the Bosnian Muslims, and enormously reinforce the role of the ultra- nationalist Tudjman, whose regime is actually worse than Milosevic's. Zagreb will now regard itself - one hopes wrongly - as Washington's Balkan answer to Moscow. The refugee masses will return to their homes only in symbolic dribbles. Most of the educated professional classes of Bosnia will prefer to live abroad, if they can. But it will be peace after almost four years of war.

Will it be a lasting peace? Will it guarantee peace in south-eastern Europe? Better not even to ask these questions. This is not the day for sceptical answers.

Eric Hobsbawm is the author of 'The Age of Extremes', published by Michael Joseph at pounds 20.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform