The Hour of Europe: Western Powers and the Breakup of Yugoslavia

The Hour of Europe: Western Powers and the Breakup of Yugoslavia

by Josip Glaurdic

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By looking through the prism of the West's involvement in the breakup of Yugoslavia, this book presents a new examination of the end of the Cold War in Europe. Incorporating declassified documents from the CIA, the administration of George H.W. Bush, and the British Foreign Office; evidence generated by The Hague Tribunal; and more than forty personal interviews

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By looking through the prism of the West's involvement in the breakup of Yugoslavia, this book presents a new examination of the end of the Cold War in Europe. Incorporating declassified documents from the CIA, the administration of George H.W. Bush, and the British Foreign Office; evidence generated by The Hague Tribunal; and more than forty personal interviews with former diplomats and policy makers, Glaurdić exposes how the realist policies of the Western powers failed to prop up Yugoslavia's continuing existence as intended, and instead encouraged the Yugoslav Army and the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milošević to pursue violent means.

The book also sheds light on the dramatic clash of opinions within the Western alliance regarding how to respond to the crisis. Glaurdić traces the origins of this clash in the Western powers’ different preferences regarding the roles of Germany, Eastern Europe, and foreign and security policy in the future of European integration. With subtlety and acute insight, The Hour of Europe provides a fresh understanding of events that continue to influence the shape of the post–Cold War Balkans and the whole of Europe.

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Yale University Press
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New Edition
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6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

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The Hour of Europe

Western Powers and the Breakup of Yugoslavia
By Josip Glaurdic


Copyright © 2011 Josip Glaurdic
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-16629-3

Chapter One


"This is the hour of Europe—not the hour of the Americans.... If one problem can be solved by the Europeans, it is the Yugoslav problem. This is a European country and it is not up to the Americans. It is not up to anyone else." Those were the words with which Jacques Poos, the chair of the EC Foreign Affairs Council and the foreign minister of Luxembourg, staked Europe's claim to the solution of the Yugoslav crisis in the early summer of 1991. The South Slav federation had been in political and economic agony for years, with violence steadily escalating and the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) repeatedly demonstrating its willingness to use force. The JNA had been brutally suppressing the Kosovo Albanians since the spring of 1989. It had been supporting the rebel Serbs of Croatia since the summer of 1990. It had rolled out its tanks to the streets of Belgrade to protect Serbia's regime of Slobodan Miloševic from the opposition in the spring of 1991. That early summer, however, things were even more serious. Yugoslavia's two northwestern republics—Slovenia and Croatia—declared independence, prompting JNA intervention in Slovenia. The clash of the Yugoslav army with the determined defenses of the nascent Slovenian forces brought real war to the borders of the European Community. And Europe needed to respond.

With Yugoslavia's descent into bloody mayhem over the course of that summer and fall, Poos's words became easy fodder for the cynics who saw the EC's failure to stop the violence as the definitive sign of its inability to grow into anything more than an economic club for Europe's wealthy. That is, however, not how the invocation of "the hour of Europe" was initially perceived. Poos's statement and similar statements of his EC colleagues were seen as a sign of new and better times for the European continent, which was developing a common sense of purpose after the divisions of the Cold War. Poos's confidence that the Europeans could solve the Yugoslav problem was deeply rooted in the Cold War victory not just of the Western liberal ideas of democracy and market economics, but also of the vision of new European and international cooperation. If only the Yugoslavs were to listen to this promise of a better common European future, the thinking went, they were surely to come to their senses and to give up on war.

Poos's confident words were also seen as a sign of (Western) Europe's growing independence from its protector and partner across the Atlantic. Europe's hour was clearly being invoked in contrast to that of the United States. The Cold War had been won, and now it was time for Europe to carry its share of the security burden. And when it came to Yugoslavia, the United States had made it abundantly clear it was welcoming Europe's leadership. Jacques Poos gave his fateful statement to the press on the eve of an EC mediation mission's departure for Belgrade on 28 June 1991. Just a week earlier, US Secretary of State James Baker had also visited Belgrade. After a twelve-hour marathon of meetings with the principal Yugoslav actors, Baker left the Yugoslav capital intent on withdrawing America from the fray. "It was time to make the Europeans step up to the plate and show that they could act as a unified power," he later claimed. Or, as one more cynical observer of US policy at the time explained Baker's decision, "Many, if not most, senior and sub-cabinet-level officials argued ... that Europe would fail the test, and so would be painfully reminded of its continuing need for a strong American presence." After all, Yugoslavia had already lost its Cold War significance for the United States. As Baker crassly told his associates upon leaving Belgrade, "We got no dog in this fight."

The leaders of the European Community, on the other hand, could not so easily wash their hands of the Yugoslav mess. Nor did they want to—at least not initially. During the previous year Saddam Hussein had managed to sow discord among them over how to respond to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Now they were determined not to repeat their disagreements and mistakes from the buildup to the intervention of the US coalition in the Persian Gulf. Thus in many quarters of the European Community the explosion of the Yugoslav crisis was actually seen as a welcome test of whether the EC—soon to be transformed into the European Union (EU) by the Treaty of Maastricht—could grow into a unified force for positive and proactive foreign policy.

To say that the EC/EU failed the Yugoslav test would be a dramatic understatement. Its failure was demonstrated not only by the humiliating inability of its diplomats and foreign policy makers to stop the wars which resulted with tens of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, devastated economies, and torn families and communities or by their powerlessness to arrest the process which turned the former Yugoslav region from a front-runner of East European reforms and the best candidate for EC integration into a dark hole on the map of Europe whose troubles continue to destabilize the continent to this day. The failure of the EC/EU was also demonstrated by the actual manner in which its diplomats and foreign policy makers displayed their futility. With every new violent twist in the crisis, they appeared to be more concerned with outmaneuvering each other than with solving real issues on the ground. Their divisions and diplomatic gamesmanship were at times so explicit and so narrow-minded that their whole involvement seemed to belong to the nineteenth and not to the brink of the twenty-first century. Most important, many European (and American) leaders stared straight into the face of evil and failed to even call it by its proper name. Their failures in Yugoslavia were indeed so devastating and so profound that the transformation of the EC/EU into a unified actor capable of any common foreign policy was for years rightly considered to be impossible.

The principal aim of this book is to describe and explain the influences of the Western powers—primarily Britain, France, Germany, and the United States—and the apparatuses of the European Community and the United Nations on the process of Yugoslavia's dissolution, as well as to firmly situate the demise of the South Slav federation within the larger historical context of the end of the Cold War in Europe. Much too often the Yugoslav breakup and the West's responses to it are seen as completely distinct from the developments which simultaneously took place elsewhere throughout the European continent. This book avoids making that mistake. It compares and contrasts the approaches of the Western powers to the disintegration of Yugoslavia with their contemporaneous policies related to the impact of the end of the Cold War on Eastern and Western Europe. It seeks to explain how strong differences within the Western alliance regarding the necessary policy responses to the events in Yugoslavia evolved and how the failures of the Western foreign policy makers to stop the violence challenged their efforts to build a more united Europe. The book also goes further back in history than most comparable works in order to identify the roots of the Western foreign policy makers' perceptions of and responses to what was actually happening in the crisis-ridden federation. Instead of, as is often the case, concentrating on the crisis starting with the outbreak of the conflict in Slovenia in the summer of 1991, this book sheds light on the West's policies toward Yugoslavia starting with the mid-1980s—a period marked by the federation's dramatic deterioration in economic conditions, a dangerous construction of the Serb nationalist and irredentist program, and the unscrupulous ascent to power of the man who finally led the whole country to its violent end: Slobodan Miloševic.

Every account of the end of the Cold War is ultimately an account of America's European policy, and the narrative presented here does not stray from that norm. Most works written about the West's involvement in Yugoslavia, partly due to their concentration on the period after the summer of 1991, have focused solely on the peace efforts of the European Community. They have also dealt only in passing with the fact that the United States was for decades the principal architect of the West's policy toward the Yugoslav federation. This book openly confronts the transfer of Western responsibility for Yugoslavia from the United States to the European Community. It does so with particular consideration for America's overall policy toward East European transformations and toward its assured post–Cold War position as the sole international superpower.

Before the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, the date of 11 September was primarily associated with President George H. W. Bush's 11 September 1990 announcement to the joint session of Congress that the time had come for a "new world order ... freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace ... where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle ... [where] nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice ... where the strong respect the rights of the weak." The president's famous invocation of the "new world order" may have been just a strategy of selling the war in the Persian Gulf to a divided Congress and the unconvinced public, but it did signify a shift in Washington's conception of the post–Cold War international system. The question is: what happened—literally and figuratively—between 11 September 1990 and late June 1991? Why did President Bush's administration choose to withdraw from Yugoslav affairs? And to which extent was its withdrawal from the region related to its overall policy toward Europe and the end of the Cold War?

The involvement of Western powers in the dissolution of the Yugoslav federation has generated an extensive popular and academic literature which, in spite of some notable exceptions, continues to be dominated by several either inadequate or deeply flawed interpretations. The first of those interpretations, espoused by many former diplomats and foreign policy analysts, shies away from accentuating the roles of particular international actors and instead focuses on the supposed suddenness, intractability, and novelty of the Yugoslav problem. For the proponents of this approach, the response of the West was one of "unity in frustration," not just because of the difficulties of what was happening on the ground, but also because of the international community's lack of tools to effectively respond to a crisis such as Yugoslavia's. The warning signs of the coming storm supposedly slipped under the radar of the West, preoccupied with itself, with the transformation of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and with the events in the Persian Gulf. Any early or preventive action in Yugoslavia would have required time and resources not available to the European and Western alliance, which was making its first steps toward a new conception of common security. It would also have required foresight and innovation, which were simply beyond the reach of overstretched diplomats and foreign policy makers. As one analyst put it, "Here was a paradigmatic illustration of Hegel's adage that Minerva's owl flies at dusk. We achieve wisdom only when it is too late for effective action."

The second prevalent interpretation of the West's impact on the dissolution of Yugoslavia suggests that the warning signs of Yugoslavia's impending disaster were understood by the Western foreign policy makers but that there was simply not enough political will for anything to be done about them. The primary interest of the West in Yugoslavia, once the troubled federation's slide toward war began, was to limit the damage through a concerted diplomatic effort. Any non-diplomatic involvement deemed necessary to halt the carnage was seen as prohibitively expensive and risky. After decades of living with the constant threat of an all-European war and the need to militarily balance the Soviet bloc, the West in the early 1990s wanted to cash in on the "peace dividend." Pursuing unclear or even unimportant goals in (the former) Yugoslavia would have jeopardized this goal. The West's involvement in the Yugoslav crisis was therefore a "triumph of the lack of will"—the "lack of will" being the absence of political resolve to back diplomacy with military force.

The third dominant interpretation of the West's involvement in Yugoslavia's breakup—espoused by a number of former foreign policy makers and diplomats (particularly in France and Britain), popularized by several authors of highly recognized accounts of the war, and increasingly taken up by leftist critics of the West's policies in Yugoslavia—sees some Western powers as more than just observers of the Yugoslav events. The proponents of this interpretation place great emphasis on the alleged efforts of the economic, political, and even religious elites of some Western states to destabilize Yugoslavia and encourage the leaderships of Slovenia and Croatia in their pursuits of independence. This interpretation in particular singles out the newly unified Germany, which was supposedly expanding the reach of its power to the Balkans and flexing its new foreign policy muscles by pushing for the international recognition of Yugoslavia's northwestern republics. The West's foreign policy making during the crisis was thus most prominently marked by the unsuccessful struggle to restrain Germany's destructive activism and—after the damage was done—to pick up the pieces in a series of misguided diplomatic and military interventions.

This book presents a different argument. With the end of the Cold War, Yugoslavia lost all importance to the West as a bulwark against Soviet advances and as an example of socialism that was not sponsored by the Kremlin. The signals which the Yugoslav political protagonists began to receive from their Western counterparts, however, were not those of destabilization of the Yugoslav federation or encouragement for its various parts to pursue independence. On the contrary—the creators of Western policy were virtually unanimous in giving little or no support for the federation's periphery. What they did do was repeatedly indicate their strong preference for Yugoslavia's continued existence and their backing for the foundational pillars of the central government in Belgrade. No one with any influence on Western foreign policy wished to see Yugoslavia disintegrate.

Furthermore, the Yugoslav crisis evolved over a long period of time, and its descent toward extreme violence was gradual, often openly preannounced, and thus widely anticipated. Nothing about its development was either sudden or novel. The collapse of empires and multinational states, the rise of nationalism, the questions of national minorities—these issues were not introduced into European politics only with the end of the Cold War. More important, just months prior to Yugoslavia's definite explosion of violence in the summer of 1991, the West demonstrated its capability to stop and punish aggression—by clobbering Saddam Hussein not only over his invasion of Kuwait, but also over his terror against the Kurds in northern Iraq.

As for the question of political will to intervene militarily in Yugoslavia, such will indeed was lacking in many important quarters of Western foreign policy making. The problem was that this lack of will was often coupled with the aforementioned support for Belgrade and, once real war began, with the willingness to accept the repercussions of such a policy on the ground. In addition, the onset of extreme violence in Yugoslavia marked the beginning of a West European diplomatic effort characterized not by a lack of will to back diplomacy with force, but by a clash of wills among the principal players over virtually every aspect of the West's policy—military or diplomatic. During one period of that clash, Germany stood alone in its demands for Western action and the recognition of Yugoslavia's northwestern republics, but not because it was expanding the reach of its power to the Balkans or flexing its foreign policy muscles after reunification. It stood alone because it correctly perceived what was happening in Yugoslavia and because its West European allies were less concerned about the actual reasons for its alarm and assertiveness than about the fact that it was indeed the reunified Germany which was trying to steer the West toward some foreign policy action.

The principal contention of this book is that—considering the brutality of the Yugoslav violence and its clear sources—our attention ought to be directed not at those who were urging the West to act, but at those who were stifling its involvement. The main subjects of our study ought to be those many Western foreign policy makers who not only continued to signal their support for Yugoslavia's center over its periphery well into the war, but who also continuously tended to appease the strong and push the weak during various internationally sponsored peace negotiations. This book contends that the motivation of those numerous Western foreign policy makers—who predominantly came from Britain, France, and the United States—was simple: it was the pursuit of stability in the face of a great upheaval which had engulfed the whole continent. At a time when the Soviet bloc and the Soviet state were crumbling, the fear of greater turmoil overrode the distaste for the lack of Belgrade's democratic credentials. Yugoslavia was simply not to become an example for the Soviet Union because the dissolution of the Soviet state was seen as a dangerous development with potentially nuclear consequences. Such thinking, however, had one crucial error. It mistook the political and military apparatus controlled by Slobodan Miloševic for a willing and able protector of Yugoslavia's unity, when the motivation of the Serbian leader was in fact dramatically different: it was the creation of an enlarged Serbian state on the ruins of the Yugoslav federation. Yugoslavia's international position during the Cold War was the product of political realism of both the West and the Soviet bloc. The policies of crucial Western players during the Yugoslav crisis were rooted in that very same political realism. And it was this political realism which had a decisive impact on the violent nature of Yugoslavia's breakup.


Excerpted from The Hour of Europe by Josip Glaurdic Copyright © 2011 by Josip Glaurdic. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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