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   141 6 Only the Weak Rely on Diplomacy: The Clinton Administration Faces Bosnia It would be some time before I fully realized that the United States sees little need for diplomacy; power is enough. Only the weak rely on diplomacy. —UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali When the Democratic administration headed by President Bill Clinton was inaugurated in January 1993, the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was immediately recognized as a major challenge. Shortly before the inauguration, an analysis by Richard Holbrooke set the tone: “Bosnia will be the key test of US policy in Europe. We must therefore succeed in whatever we attempt.”1 And President Clinton himself acknowledged that any perceived US failure in Bosnia would mean “to give up American leadership”more generally.2 Despite these concerns, Clinton’s first year in office produced few basic changes. The new president’s Bosnia policy was initially similar to Bush’s, and it was based on the same calculation of US interests. The Clinton administration embraced the Muslim government in Bosnia—just as its Republican predecessor had done—and provided the Muslims with political support. The Muslims’ principal rivals for power, the Serbs, were accordingly reviled.3 Both administrations initially disdained diplomatic efforts to settle the war. The Bush administration undercut the European-brokered Lisbon agreement in 1992, and the Clinton administration would undercut a series of European and UN mediation activities. The effect in both cases was a substantial prolongation of the war. With regard to motive, both presidents sought to use the Bosnia conflict as an opportunity to reaffirm US hegemony over Europe, and to block efforts by the European Union states to challenge this hegemony. Another shared motive was to use the conflict as a means of finding a new, post–Cold War function for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization , which was considered a key extension of US hegemony. And both Bush and Clinton faced a policy dilemma in Bosnia: On the one hand, it was surely tempting (for both presidents) to act decisively by using America’s 142   First Do No Harm overwhelming military power against the Serbs. On the other hand, both resisted military action, since this option presented the unacceptable risk of casualties. US policy in Bosnia thus entailed an element of deadlock. Over time, as the Bosnia war dragged on and threatened to damage US credibility, the Clinton administration set aside its reluctance to use force, which led to a new policy that entailed the arming of Muslim and Croat militaries in 1994, and extensive NATO bombing raids against Serb targets in August–September 1995. Having achieved a military success, the Clinton administration was finally willing to accept a diplomatic settlement of the war, which resulted in the Dayton Accords of November–December 1995. The Accords constituted a US triumph, gave NATO a new raison d’être, and reaffirmed America’s status as the world’s only superpower. Clinton Begins by Blocking a Negotiated Settlement As Clinton entered office, the European Union was seeking, once again, to mediate the Yugoslav conflict and to use this mediation to showcase the Union’s potential to act as a regional power. The United Nations supported these efforts. A joint mediation team was directed by David Owen, representing the European Union, and Cyrus Vance, representing the United Nations. In late 1992, these two men unveiled what became known as the Vance-Owen peace plan, which proposed the decentralization of power in Bosnia and the creation of a weak central government (in a manner that was reminiscent of the 1992 Lisbon agreement). The peace plan explicitly called for a return of all refugees. Persons who had been ethnically cleansed during the course of the fighting would have their land and property returned to them. To ensure effective implementation, the plan foresaw the extended occupation of the country by an international peacekeeping force. The various ethnic armies that had formed during the war were to be eliminated, and the country itself was to be gradually demilitarized. At the heart of the plan was the creation of ten new cantons. All cantons were to be ethnically mixed to some extent, though it of course was understood that one ethnic group would form a plurality or a majority in each. There was thus a tacit recognition that a specific ethnic group would be politically dominant in each canton . Overall, the plan called for 43 percent of the land area of Bosnia to be controlled by the Serbs; 32 percent would go...


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