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  • Coercive Diplomacy as a Cause of War:Yugoslavia Revisited
  • Jovan Milojevich

In late 1990 and early 1991, the United States employed two coercive measures against the federal government of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), which were necessary conditions that caused the "Wars of Secession" in Yugoslavia. The first was the 1991 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, which demanded that the SFRY follow certain provisions as established by the U.S. government, with noncompliance resulting in the U.S. blocking all financial assistance to the SFRY. The second coercive measure was U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia Warren Zimmerman's ultimatum to Belgrade, in which he declared that the United States would not accept the use of force by the SFRY's armed forces—Yugoslav People's Army (otherwise known as JNA, which stands for Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija)—to preserve Yugoslavia and that failure to comply would result in severe economic and diplomatic sanctions, as well as possible military recourse.

The situation in the SFRY was one in which multiple groups were fighting one another for virtually the same things: territory and the right to self-determination. However, the U.S. threatened only the Serbs with sanctions and, later, military force to try to persuade them to abandon their right to self-determination on the territories they had control over and where their population made up the majority. Meanwhile, the U.S. supported these same rights for the other groups that constituted Yugoslavia (Slovenians, Croatians, Bosnian Muslims, and Kosovo Albanians), which created a "powder-keg" scenario. It was a contradictory policy that applied a double standard—one for the Serbs and one for everyone else. As General Charles G. Boyd, a four-star general who served as deputy commander in chief of the U.S. European Command during the Yugoslav crisis, noted in his article published in Foreign Affairs, "As one Serb officer confided to a member of my staff, he did not understand why his people had been 'satanized' for insisting on the same right of self-determination that had been accorded virtually all others in the former [End Page 43] Yugoslavia."1 At the onset of the U.S. strategy, the separatist groups perceived U.S. threats against the Serbs as a "greenlight" to continue collecting arms and committing violent attacks against both government and civilian infrastructures. By not condemning these terrorist acts the U.S., in essence, tacitly approved of them. Furthermore, the U.S. began covertly and overtly supplying financial and other aid to the secessionists—a bewildering and antithetical policy for a state that publicly declared its support for a unified SFRY.

The United States and the European Communities (E.C.)—the precursor to the European Union, also referred to as the "European Community"—claimed they were against the break up of Yugoslavia, yet, as General Boyd pointed out, "U.S. actions in the Balkans have been at sharp variance with stated U.S. policy."2 Before and throughout the war U.S. and E.C. foreign policies escalated the tension and violence in the region, and with each failed attempt at finding a peaceful resolution Serb resolve only hardened. For most of the war the Serbs resisted the demands of the West, acting under the assumption that any attempt by the West to garner the necessary U.N. approval to use military force against them would be met with disapproval.3 Furthermore, besides affecting the disposition of the Serbs, the U.S./E.C. policy of offering only sticks to the Serbs while carrots were offered to the secessionists had a negative impact on the secessionist groups. One of the main consequences of the West's strategy was that it fostered an indefatigable stubbornness in the secessionists.

With Western powers squarely in their corner, the secessionists were much less willing to negotiate in good faith knowing they would not be punished for [End Page 44] resisting. In fact, much of the time they were rewarded for doing so.4 However, there were moments when the West genuinely wanted its newly minted clients in the Balkans to accept a deal it put forth, yet these groups frequently refused to do so. In his book, To End...


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