Richard M. (Richard Moody) Swain - Balkan Battlegrounds: A Military History of the Yugoslav Conflict, 1990-1995 (review) - Journal of Military History 67:1 The Journal of Military History 67.1 (2003) 313-314

Balkan Battlegrounds: A Military History of the Yugoslav Conflict, 1990- 1995. Vol. 1. By the Office of Russian and European Analysis, Central Intelligence Agency. Washington: GPO, 2002. Map Case. Photographs. Glossary. Notes. Appendixes. Index. Pp. xxx, 501. Available from the Superintendent of Documents. Tel: 202-512-1800.

This is the heart of a two-volume study (richly supported with maps) of the wars that resulted from the collapse of Yugoslavia. To use Croce's distinction, it is more chronicle than history; which is to say its fullness of detail often gets in the way of a broad understanding of the flow of events. Reading properly, with open maps, is time consuming and not always proportionally rewarding. In spite of the sound analysis that appears periodically, the wealth of detail will relegate this particular volume to the category of reference book. It is essential to anyone trying to come to terms with the conduct of the war but it is not recommended for the general reader.

This first volume (and maps) offers a comprehensive operational account. The second, apparently included in the purchase price but not available to the reviewer, consists of more than 60 annexes expanding on individual matters. The unnamed authors are identified as Agency analysts, responsible for tracking events during the war. Their object is to present a military analysis based on that work and more recent historical and memoir material. They have done a fine job of providing a meticulous, if narrowly focused, account, with many detailed notes, of what the armies did in a complex multi-form conflict that began with a weak attempt to maintain the authority of a deteriorating central government and ended in related but separable conventional military struggles in Croatia and Bosnia.

The account is particularly interesting because while documenting the operations of the various forces the authors pay attention to the parallel struggles of Tudjman's Croatian army and the Muslim Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina, to regularize their scratch forces while staving off defeat. This leads to the argument that because the Serbs could not find an early war-ending strategy, it was these organizational efforts that proved decisive, especially [End Page 313] for Croatia. The authors put paid to the notion that advice to Tudjman from rented retired U.S. generals and NATO air strikes, drove the Bosnian Serbs to Dayton. Indeed, they argue that the most intense NATO air operation neither forced the Serb evacuation of the restricted area around Sarajevo, nor prevented the Serbs shifting large bodies of troops during the '95 Croatian-Muslim fall offensives. The authors give detailed attention to the travails of the Dutch UNPRFOR battalion in Srebrenica, and touch on the bootless policies of the international community. They ignore, almost entirely, the internal politics of the various entities during the war. Occasional general tutorials on the operational geography for each theater would have been helpful.


Richard M. Swain
United States Military Academy
West Point, New York

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