Srebrenica and its implications

I participated in a panel Wednesday at Voice of America on Bosnia: Twenty Years After Srebrenica with Ambassadors Stephen Rapp and Kurt Volker as well as Tanya Domi. The video of the event is on the VoA website (it is too big to upload to

The unwelcome news of Russia’s veto of a UN Security Council resolution marking the anniversary arrived just before we started. Angela Merkel at the time was in Belgrade, so Tanjug had some questions about her visit there and the blocked UNSC resolution:

Q: In short, what is your analysis of the results of the visit, and in your opinion, what was the most important message?

A: The visit went well. Merkel’s explicit message was praise for Serbia’s fiscal restraint. I imagine that has more to do with the Greek crisis than with anything else. I don’t imagine Merkel was pleased with the Russian veto of the Srbrenica resolution, but I don’t know what she said to Nikolic and Vucic about that.

Q: Also, how do you comment the fact that UNSC didn’t adopt British resolution on Srebenica because of Russian veto, as a consequence of disagreement on the text of resolution?

A: The disagreement appears to have been focused on use of the word “genocide,” which is a characterization both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice have both used with regard to Srbrenica. The view from Washington is that that word characterizes a well-established fact. Russian and Serbian denial of that fact makes Prime Minister Vucic’s attendance at the Srebrenica commemoration less important than it otherwise might have been.

Q: What is your opinion on prime minister Vucic`s visit to Potocari? What will that step mean for the region?

A: As indicated above, I don’t think it will be seen as significant in the region, because of the Security Council veto. Only if he were to say something explicit condemning the genocide will there be much impact. That isn’t likely, but it would certainly be welcome here and in Brussels.

Srebrenica of course has broad implications far beyond the Balkans for international community and American policy, as Derek Chollet points out. But I disagree with Derek on a number of issues, as I pointed out to a correspondent this morning:

1. On Iraq, I think Derk’s argument is specious: the only viable justification for intervention in 2003 was weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Saddam was not doing much more harm to his population then than he had been doing for a long time (or that many other dictators have done since). Without WMD, the intervention was just a monumental mistake.

2. In Libya, Derek fails to mention that the Libyans did not want our help after Qaddafi was gone, because they thought (with some good reason) that they could handle it themselves. They did pretty well until late 2012 but then ran off the rails.

3. In Syria, lots of people saw the need for early diplomatic efforts to remove Assad, which among other things might have prevented the transformation of a peaceful rebellion into a violent one. Derek and Phil Gordon should be ashamed of their failure to get the President to act on his conviction that Assad had to go.

4. Rwanda and Srebrenica do inform such decisions, but I doubt there was much we could have done militarily in either case to prevent what happened. In Srebrenica, we tried to convince Izetbegovic to move the Muslims out of the enclave, which was obviously vulnerable. That is now being criticized as a proposal to assist ethnic cleansing. But military intervention on the scale required was out of the question at the time. In Rwanda, military intervention against whom? Individual machete wielding Hutus?

Bottom line: Our military strength has made our diplomatic capabilities atrophy. We should get back to using military strength to frame issues, which it seems to me the Administration has been pretty good about with Iran (the military option being so unattractive they hardly had a choice). But the solutions are often diplomatic rather than military.

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