The players, the game, the stakes

BOSNIA A three-page special report Interests/ who wants what
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THE chaotic ethnic map of Bosnia and the jumble of its terrain are matched by the multiplicity of interested parties in the conflict, all of which pursue different aims. Here we identify the ambitions of the warring parties and the main international players.

Bosnian government

The Muslim-led Bosnian government sees itself as the most aggrieved party of the conflict. After being internationally recognised in 1992, it found itself woefully unprepared for war and lost 70 per cent of its territory to Bosnian Serb forces. Although it has accepted the latest international peace plan, which would give it 51 per cent of the country, what it really wants is for the arms embargo to be lifted so its forces can wrest "occupied" land from the Serbs, and avenge those murdered in bouts of ethnic cleansing.

Bosnian Serbs

After having been spoon-fed propaganda warning of Muslim and Croat plans to annihilate Orthodox Christians, many Serbs are convinced that the three groups can no longer live together in one state called Bosnia- Herzegovina. None the less, the population, by and large, is tired of the war and its hardships, and wants to sue for peace. The leadership, however, has grown rich and powerful off the conflict and is opposed to surrendering large swaths of captured territory as required by the latest peace plan. Leaders want to hold out for a "unification of Serbian lands", a federation of Serbia, Montenegro, Serb-held Bosnia and Serb- held Croatia in one state. This is not going to happen.


"Mother Serbia" and its President, Slobodan Milosevic, nurtured the dream of "Greater Serbia" for years before suddenly backing away from the notion last year. A harsh regime of international sanctions appears responsible for the about-face. But personal enmity between Mr Milosevic and the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, also plays a role. Serbia is now using Western desperation to solve the Bosnian crisis to try to get sanctions suspended or lifted. Milosevic also wants the rump Yugoslavia, which comprises Serbia and Montenegro, to inherit the old federal entity's membership of international organisations. Most important, he wants access to international credits to rebuild the country. But he is not willing to agree to all international demands. He is intent on keeping his political options open in case another volte face is required in future.

The US

Washington wants to preserve Bosnia as an internationally recognised state in its pre-war borders. It wants Bosnian Serb war gains reversed, for it fears that a defeat for the Muslim-led government would gravely damage the West's image in the world and contribute to rising anti-Western Islamic militancy.

The administration is willing to send US troops to Bosnia to patrol a peace settlement or to help redeploy UN forces. But neither the White House nor Congress wants to fight a ground war against the Serbs, or to send troops as part of the present UN peace-keeping force.


Moscow's primary interest in Bosnia is to prevent Nato from dictating the terms of a settlement. It regards former Yugoslavia as an area where Moscow should have an influence equal to that of the West. It fears that, with the fall of communism across Eastern Europe, Nato is seeking to extend its power from Poland to the Balkans. Hence Russia opposes Nato air strikes on the Bosnian Serbs. It wants UN sanctions on Serbia fully lifted. It is no friend to the Bosnian Serbs, but it supports the current international proposal to give them 49 per cent of Bosnia.


At stake for France is its prestige, Europe's future and the West's credibility. France does not believe in a Western-imposed military solution, but neither is it prepared to see its UN peacekeeping contingent humiliated any longer.

French leaders hint that they may pull out their troops, but they would rather see a more robust UN presence that would offer better protection to French soldiers and to Muslim civilians. France fears that its international weight, and that of the European Union as a whole, could be seriously threatened by a policy failure in Bosnia.


Germany is the EU country closest to the US on Bosnian matters. It has long argued for tough action against pan-Serb expansionism. However, the Nazi legacy in former Yugoslavia and the political difficulties surrounding the use of German troops abroad mean that Germany has tended to let the more cautious France and Britain shape EU policy.

More broadly, Germany fears the Bosnian crisis will destabilise other parts of Eastern Europe. It wants the war to end so that the EU can concentrate on helping Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and other new democracies that lie to Germany's east.


The Government's objectives in Bosnia are threefold: to relieve the humanitarian situation through relief work, to prevent the conflict spreading, and to regain the hostages. A month ago Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, gave a stark warning that the Bosnian war could evolve into a big international conflagration, pitting Greece against Turkey and even the US against Russia.

John Major reiterated this fear last week. He and the Secretary of State for Defence, Malcolm Rifkind, want to keep troops there for the time being, but to avoid Britain becoming a combatant. British objectives now are firstly to get more troops on the ground, and secondly to achieve some form of reconfiguration which will concentrate them in key defensible areas. The Nato commander will, because of the addition of the Airmobile Brigade, have more flexibility in how he responds to incidents, being able to intervene without reliance on air strikes.

Mr Major has left the door open to a longer-term withdrawal of forces, aware that pressure for a pull-out is likely to mount from the Tory backbenches. The new complement of forces would be vital if the Government decided to get out.

The Labour Party

The Opposition supported the Government last week and backs the increase in the troops available and the moves to concentrate their efforts. It is concerned that the "safe havens" should remain protected and the no- fly zone be enforced.

All the parties want the return of the hostages but, if anything, Labour is more committed than the Government to maintaining a British presence, both for humanitarian reasons and to stop the conflict spreading. Labour parts company with the Government when it argues, as Mr Hurd did last month, that a prolonged stalemate in Bosnia, in which the combatants were exploiting the UN presence, might be grounds for a withdrawal. Some backbenchers are concerned that, two years hence, a Labour government might find itself enmeshed in a war from which it could not extract itself.

Liberal Democrats

Paddy Ashdown takes the most bullish line of any of the party leaders. He argues that if the Bosnian Serbs do not come to heel quickly, the UN may have to abandon its stance of neutrality. The only route to peace, say the Liberal Democrats, is through a diplomatic settlement along the lines of the the Geneva plan which has been accepted by the Bosnian government.

Mr Ashdown believes the UN may have to provide military and economic assistance to the Bosnian government to help it gain and sustain the territory declared to be its own - even if that involves taking on the Serbs.

Opponents of intervention

Criticism of the international mission in Bosnia unites a disparate group of MPs, including both wings of the Tory party (Teresa Gorman and Sir Edward Heath), the Ulster Unionist John Taylor, and the left-winger Tony Benn. The most homogeneous group are the hard-line Euro-sceptics, including Mrs Gorman, who believe Britain is risking lives and spending money in a conflict in which it has no vital national interest. They are also suspicious of the European military dimension to the conflict. Sir Edward is more concerned to keep humanitarian aid going for as long as possible but is convinced that, militarily, the only way to resolve the conflict would be to engage in a full-scale war, which he opposes.

Mr Benn argues that the mission should be limited to one of humanitarian aid. Tam Dalyell is critical of US-inspired attacks on the Serbs and believes that, militarily, little can be achieved without a full-scale war.

The UN

The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, believes the UN Protection Force in Bosnia (Unprofor) should be expected only to keep the peace. It should not become involved in enforcing the peace. Effective peacekeeping, he argues, depends on co-operating with all parties on the ground. You cannot co-operate with somebody if you arefighting a war against them.

Mr Boutros-Ghali's preferred option is to restrict the role of Unprofor to one of traditional peace-keeping only - ensuring food supplies, brokering local ceasefires, monitoring borders and operating Sarajevo airport. The task of peacemaking would rest with the diplomats.

The other option is to scrap Unprofor, end the pretence of keeping a peace that does not exist, and institute instead a multinational force sanctioned by UN resolutions but under national commands. Above all, the UN wants to avoid a Somalia-style fiasco that dents its credibility for years to come.