Turning Our Backs on Bosnia is a Nod to Genocide
“We cannot leave it to the Bosniaks to defend themselves against genocide on their own; we have to be involved in their defense.”
- Michael Klare, US Military Expert
By Michael Klare
The Free Lance Star
August 9, 1995, p. A9
AMHERST, Mass. — In every generation there is an event that defines the moral tenor of the time and sets the stage for the future course of human society. The German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938 was one of these; so was Hiroshima in 1945, and Vietnam in 1965. And now, in 1995, Bosnia is another such event. How that conflict evolves, and how the world community responds to it, will determine the sort of world we will inhabit in the century ahead.
Bosnia is such a history-defining event because it represents, in essence, an assault on the values of pluralism, internationalism and civility by the forces of intolerance, xenophobia and militarism. This is not, of course, a fight taking place in Bosnia alone — the same struggle is under way in Russia, India, the United States and elsewhere. But it is in Bosnia where the fighting is most acute, and where the consequences of surrender (for the advocates of pluralism) are most horrendous.
If Sarajevo falls, or if the world community fails to resist further outbreaks of ethnic cleansing, the proponents of race hatred and fascism will be strengthened everywhere. They will understand that the major powers lack the will to oppose genocide, and so will seek fresh targets for their mercenary intentions.
Thus we all have a significant stake in the fate of Bosnia. If we do nothing, and allow the forces of extremism to prevail, we will imperil both our morality and our freedom (or that of our children). There can be no “neutral” position on Bosnia, just as there could be no neutral position on Hitler or Hiroshima.
Unfortunately, many in the American left and in the peace movement have attempted to deny this reality by engaging in formulaic debates about interventionism, U.N. peacekeeping, and American imperialism. Yes, U.N. intervention is risky and prone to abuse. And yes, American has a history of imperialistic interventions. These are good reasons for being wary of U.S. or U.N. intervention in Bosnia. But when mass slaughter of innocents is being conducted before our eyes, we cannot permit our (wholly legitimate) concerns over intervention to prevent us from trying to stop further crimes against humanity.
I believe that the world community — as a community — has a responsibility to resist genocide in Bosnia and to defend Sarajevo against further assault. This cannot be done with air strikes alone, but requires ground forces in some strength. I also believe that the United States should contribute to such an effort, even if limited to air support and logistical assistance.
This is not to say that there is any easy response to the inferno in Bosnia. As a specialist on military affairs, I am only all too aware of the obstacles to successful peacekeeping in that tortured land. And it is far too late in the game to drive the Serbs out of all the territories they have forcibly taken from the Croats and the Bosniaks.
But it is not too late to save Sarajevo and Tuzla, and other Bosniak population centers. This will require a larger and more heavily equipped force than that now deployed in Bosnia, but not impossibly larger.
I know that some supporters of the Bosnian government cause (along with many Republicans) advocate lifting the arms embargo and letting the Bosniaks obtain the heavy weapons they need to fight the Serbs on equal terms. I sympathise with this position, because it pains me to watch the Serbs bombard Sarajevo with impunity, but I reject this approach on the grounds that it implies that the world community has no stake of its own in Bosnia — that it’s simply a matter of letting the warring parties fight it out among themselves.
But we do have a stake in Bosnia. We cannot leave it to the Bosniaks to defend themselves against genocide on their own; we have to be involved in their defense.
To turn away from Bosnia’s agony, to hide behind sterile debates over U.S. imperialism, is to strengthen the worldwide forces of intolerance and fascism, and to make our freedom that much more precarious. We must, therefore, support international military action on behalf of the victims of Bosnian genocide.
Michael Klare heads the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. This essay will appear in the September issue of the Progressive.