BOOK REVIEW / A new world order facing an old abyss: 'The Yugoslav Conflict' - John Zametica: Brassey's, 9.50

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE Yugoslav crisis of the past 18 months has been constantly reinventing itself: a war provoked by the collapse of Communism; a war of secession and self- determination; a war of independence; and now a war of moral repugnance. It is this last element that dominates not only media attention and public opinion, but also the foreign policy agenda of those Western states with the power to intervene. While the so-called international community is right, and has a duty, to respond to the abhorrent policies and practices of the warring parties, the underlying causes of the conflict slip away from public attention.

In this well-crafted monograph, which some might find highly polemical, Dr John Zametica manages to readdress fundamental aspects of the crisis. A recurring theme is the issue of self-determination and its relationship to nationhood and state building. It is an issue of great relevance to the origins of the conflict in Yugoslavia, but it is now somewhat clouded by the weightier moral and emotional issues of 'ethnic cleansing' and detention camps. Dr Zametica's basic point regarding the value of self-determination as an organising principle of international relations is this: if the international community had a coherent policy, it would recognise not only the right to self-

determination of the Croats or the Slovenes - and hence their right to secede from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia - but also the right of the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia to pursue their national aspirations:

'Of course, the international community cannot and will not give carte blanche to every national movement invoking self-

determination. But in circumstances where, as in Yugoslavia, a conflict has already taken place, the international community cannot respect the self-determination of one group alone. To do so would be politically counter-productive and blatantly unjust.' Herein lies one of the root causes not only of the current Yugoslav conflict, but also of the inability and unwillingness of the Western world to intervene. If each national minority and ethnic group in eastern and south-eastern Europe were to pursue its right to self-

determination, then the region would erupt in a large fireball of competing territorial claims.

This is to a great extent what is happening in the former Yugoslav federation, and compounded as it is by deep historical animosities and the lack of foresight of the international community, it has led to the descent into the abyss of massive human rights abuse. While it is impossible to justify current practices in Bosnia with the age-old adage of 'the end justifies the means', Dr Zametica gives a persuasive account of the rights of all the parties in the dispute.

In the confused international reaction to the fragmentation of Yugoslavia, we can see the failing of the new world order trumpeted so loudly by the Bush administration. What has emerged in the post-Cold War world is not really an international community but rather a series of national interests. When these coincide or overlap - as they did during the Gulf war - the result is coherent international action, but when they differ the kind of short-sighted, haphazard policies pursued by the West with regard to Yugoslavia are inevitable. Germany's bullying tactics in forcing the early recognition of Slovenia and Croatia is a perfect example: France and Britain had no desire to follow this path, but were forced to do so when presented by Hans-Dietrich Genscher's fait accompli.

The basic problem faced by the so-called international community is that apart from the extension of large-scale humanitarian aid or the provision of troops in a peace-keeping capacity, it has neither the will nor the grounds to intervene in a peace-making capacity. Not only would the cost be too high in terms of both human life and financial expenditure, it would also lack the distinct operational objective vital for the success of such a military mission. As the author states: 'What could and should a self-appointed eager policeman do in Yugoslavia? Shoot the Serbs? The Croats? Or both?'

Comments