- Worlds Apart: Bosnian Lessons for Global Security
A Dutch general officer returning from Afghanistan told a North Atlantic Treaty Organization audience in 2010, “The further from the sound of the cannon, the less you understand.” Ambassador Swanee Hunt uses her experience in helping to end the conflict in Bosnia to validate this. The author uses the power of personal anecdote to formulate lessons from what she terms as a tardy and flawed peace effort. Her unifying thread is the unwillingness of Washington to act, and the deafness of policy makers to civil society and women during and after the conflict. Her six lessons anticipate the paradigm shift from representative to participatory governance occurring in the Arab Spring (thanks in part to the power of technology and social media not available in the 1991 – 95 period).
Worlds Apart is a condemnation of the lateness of US intervention in Bosnia and an [End Page 111] argument in support of the doctrine of “responsibility to protect” civilians from the violence of armed conflict. It contributes a conceptual link between national security and engagement with people affected by our policies that is missing from the tool kit of US foreign policy, arguing for the necessity to overcome the “gulf between distant policy makers and the people on the scene” and to not neglect the role that women should play in preventing conflict.
Hunt notes she did not start out to assign blame in her book, but is true to one of her six lessons in assigning blame. There are plenty of named villains (US and Serbian) and a handful of heroes (US and Bosnian) between the covers. Her conclusion is a call for the United States to accept its responsibility to act, though not with hard power—rather with an early soft power offensive to head off strongmen or hate-mongering groups before spiraling violence leads to military intervention. She bravely discloses remorse over supporting military intervention in Serbia in 1999, wishing the United States had invested in Slobodan Milosevic’s civic opposition instead. How this would have protected the Kosovars from the violence of Milosevic’s forces is not explained.
Hunt starts by putting the Bosnian conflict in context, followed by parts dealing with wartime and peace. Each has sections alternating perspectives of what was going on in and outside Bosnia. These offer compelling reading. She offers six lessons that she argues can be applied to future conflicts, with an overarching thesis that policy makers and practitioners tend to fail to test truisms, question stereotypes, find out-of-power allies, appreciate domestic dynamics, have the courage to find fault, and embrace responsibility.
The author’s bias for interventionism is apparent from the beginning. Vice President Al Gore tells her to read Robert Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts, a book she blames for perpetuating stereotypes of the Yugoslavs as addicted to ethnic rivalries, historical enmities, and religious intolerance. She argues that the economic and social stresses of the post-Tito period combined with Milosevic’s own ambitions fueled the ensuing tragic bloodshed, but glosses over Josep Broz Tito’s repression as well as the freshness of WWII and the 1991 Serb-Croat war atrocities.
In the section “War,” the author describes the gulf between international policy makers and individuals trapped by the fighting in Sarajevo, using examples to illustrate her belief that the conflict was based on neither ethnic nor religious hatred. She accuses the United Nations, which attempted to stay neutral in delivering humanitarian assistance, as merely “fattening the victims for the kill.” Her first-hand account of the process that led to the creation of the Croat-Bosniak Federation represents outstanding original source material. The author’s uneven sourcing of other events and actions during the war period is distracting, but doesn’t detract from the useful contributions she makes to understanding, through individual anecdotes, how the war might have been averted or ameliorated. She offers fascinating insights into the policy dilemma facing [End Page 112] the White House in how to...