Why warrior nations will not fight for Bosnia

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The Independent Online
'ALL IS over. Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness . . .'

Those were Winston Churchill's words after Munich, in 1938. We have to repeat them after the Geneva Conference in 1993, changing only one noun for another: Bosnia.

The abandonment is not quite complete. The Bosnian presidency has not yet accepted the protocol for the dismemberment of its own country. But, surrounded by unrelenting enemies and unrelenting powers who proclaim that they have Bosnia's best interests at heart, it will have to accept. And there is no reason to suppose that Bosnia's fate after Geneva will differ greatly from Czechoslovakia's after Munich.

Six months later, Hitler sent his armies over the border, and in 24 hours reduced Bohemia and Moravia to a 'Reich protectorate'. When the coast is clear, the Serbs - or an unholy alliance of Serbia and Croatia - will be free to do the same. The only deterrent is that they might inherit the problem of coping with the refugees. But perhaps the outside world, suffering from a bad conscience, can be persuaded to go on caring for them. If I were Slobodan Milosevic, I would gamble on that.

How did we come to this? Serious German newspapers of the right think they know. They blame Britain and France. Viktor Meier, pundit on Balkan affairs for the Frankfurter Allgemeine, believes that there has been all along a secret Anglo-French policy to re-establish a semblance of the old Yugoslavia in the shadow of a Great-Serbian empire. From the outset, Douglas Hurd resisted the dismemberment of 'convenient' Yugoslavia. Now, according to Meier, there is 'a British intention to end the conflict in ex-Yugoslavia unilaterally by recognising Greater Serbia, that is to say the forcible conquests achieved by Serbia . . .'

The non-Serbs will be included, says Meier. 'Lord Owen and other British diplomats 'confidentially' put about the idea that these problems can be removed by the restoration of a sort of 'new Yugoslav confederation'. They would exclude Slovenia, but not Macedonia . . .' This would be a solution at the cost of Muslims - Bosnian, Macedonian, Albanian. 'The Kosovo question, whose discussion was already obstructed by Britain at the London 'Yugoslavia' conference, should not be considered any longer, but left to the Serbs to 'solve' . . .'

So, an Anglo-French conspiracy? The British do not like to think of themselves in that way. But there are plenty of people in Europe, not just in Germany and Croatia, who do think of us in that way. Here comes Britain, always inventing federations for others, never joining one herself. Here comes a secret grand design for pacifying the western Balkans under the hegemony of the strongest state there: peace, but the peace of the cemetery.

But there are other ways of explaining how we got here. One is an illusion about the nature of power. In a dispute like this, power resides in the possession of armed force and the determination to use it. The illusion, industriously fostered by countless European Community meetings and United Nations emergency sessions on ex-Yugoslavia, is that international bodies can reach this determination to use force. But this is not so. Nation-states make war. That is, in large measure, what they were invented for. When a UN force fought against Iraq, or when Nato prepared for nuclear war over Berlin, this was because one or more nation-states wished to make war and persuaded others to join in. The UN and Nato were glove-puppets, concealing and extending the use of armed force by individual nation-states.

Before 1939, almost all European states had contingency plans to attack their neighbours. But since the pugnacity of the 1930s, the continent has changed and eased. Most European states no longer think of initiating war. Germany is the most striking example. A few, however, still do. Britain and France, two medium-sized states which have lost empires but not all sense of imperial mission, are still prepared not only to defend themselves but also to send expeditionary forces to kill in support of national interests. On the periphery, Turkey falls into this category. At the global level, the United States and probably China can resort to expeditionary war. About the new Russia, we are not yet sure.

The European Community contains 12 members, of which Britain and France are 'warrior-states'. Nato has 16, of which Britain, France, the United States and Turkey are warrior-states. If none of these wishes to send troops or aircraft to fight in a foreign dispute, there is not the slightest chance that Nato or the Community will intervene.

This simple truth was the death sentence on Bosnia. None of the four warrior-states in Nato and neither of the two in the Community saw a national interest in making war to save Bosnia. But the simple truth vanished in dense clouds of illusion. Week after week, month after month, the UN or the Community brokered futile ceasefires and then, when they were ignored, issued threats of force that were eventually recognised as utterly empty.

People argued that 'Europe' should intervene militarily to reopen aid routes to Srebrenica or Gorazde, to silence the batteries firing into Mostar or Sarajevo. When none of these things happened, the same people concluded that 'Europe' was to blame, and in their anger and humiliation went on to suggest that the whole project of a European Union put forward in the Maastricht treaty was a sham.

But this disillusion is only part of the grand illusion itself. Economically and politically, the Community does already have a life of its own which is more than the sum of its member- states. Whatever the British government may say, there are already European federal institutions, and they work. There is only one area in which the Community is not 'real', and that is the making of war. The Community, in that sense, is not a 'power'. And my guess is that it never will be.

'The principal cause of war is war itself.' Warrior nations do not usually fight for economic advantage. They fight to defend themselves or to pre- empt a real or fancied military threat. This is why what is happening in the Balkans is not the end of a Serbian conquest but the beginning of a Serbian tragedy, as all the 'causes of war' Serbia is scattering develop their terrible effects in the years to come. This is also why Britain and France did not allow 'Europe' to intervene with force. British and French security was not threatened. So, at least, John Major and Francois Mitterand calculated. But this was an ugly, old-fashioned motive, so it had to be concealed in the pantomime of collective concern that has been running for more than a year.

'All is over,' wrote Churchill. Secretly and shamefacedly, many in Britain would like that to be true about Bosnia. They would like to hear that the tolerant, multi-ethnic Bosnia which was worth defending no longer exists. They would like to believe that the few thousand ragged volunteer soldiers in the trenches of Sarajevo are all that remains of that old spirit, and that the rump of central Bosnia is degenerating into a fanatical place where to be Bosnian only means to be Muslim.

That may or may not be the truth. But it would be a soothing truth for our consciences. Partition, which means tearing human beings from their homes, is inevitable now. It seems a little easier when those human beings are already packed and labelled by race or religion. The 'exchange of populations' (one of the century's nastiest euphemisms) runs more smoothly when the weeping crowds being pushed into lorries admit to being an 'ethnic minority'. When they insist that they are only citizens, no different to those who stand round the lorries with guns, then it can be . . . awkward.

And what we do not want to hear, on the whole, is that something could still be done. But it could. Sarajevo could be relieved. The aid convoys could go through. The rump Bosnia could be stabilised and defended. A Balkan security pact could be imposed and the catastrophe of war over Macedonia, dragging in Greece and Turkey, could be prevented. All that is still possible - if there can be an ultimate resort to armed force to achieve it. But the warrior states say No.