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Why did the UN fail to prevent the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide?

Why did the UN fail to prevent the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide?

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Ciarán O'Connor. Originally submitted for Genocide and International Politics at University of Ulster, with lecturer Dr Leonie Murray in the category of International Relations & Politics
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Ciarán O'Connor. Originally submitted for Genocide and International Politics at University of Ulster, with lecturer Dr Leonie Murray in the category of International Relations & Politics

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
 
Why did the UN fail to prevent the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide?
 
 
The reasons for the failure of the United Nations (UN) to prevent the 1995 Srebrenicagenocide cannot all be found in looking at UN involvement in that area in isolation from thewider conflict, although the situation in Srebrenica prior to its attack in 1995 is a significantfactor. The United Nations is by its very essence an organisation made up of many differentsovereign nations. The different and sometimes contradictory attitudes applied, by individualmember states at the UN level, in relation to the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina is one of themain contributing factors to failure in Srebrenica. Also, failure to understand the warobjectives of the warring parties to the conflict led to a subsequent failure to achieve acessation of hostilities and in some cases exacerbated the violence. This has relevance toSrebrenica
Of particular importance here is the „feasibility gap‟ between the „political realism‟ of 
Security Council (UNSC) policies, motivated by public expectations and the need to find
consensus, and its contradiction to the „operational realism‟ of UN military commanders
considered necessary to meet operational requirements in the field.
1
The unfolding violencefrom 1992 to 1995 and the reaction to it from the United Nations, prior to the genocide inSrebrenica, are vital to understanding the environment that informed the situation in the safearea. This essay will investigate the motivation, challenges and execution of UN strategycombined with the misconception of the nature of the war in Bosnia to explain the creation of conditions that made genocide possible. Despite the unique consequences of the UN failure inSrebrenica it will be discussed here in the context of consistently weak UN policy rather thanan isolated failure.
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else hewill be loyal to the one and despise the other.
2
 
Perhaps this assertion from Matthew‟s Gospel
had resonance, in a political context, with the realist approach of government leaders fearfulthat commitment to a UN mission in Bosnia might come at a high cost to their nationalinterests.
“Leaders most often are not villains, but neither are they saints. They are people in power for a purpose,” and their response to norm violations involves both morality and the
calculus of perceived interest.
3
Despite the pervasive nature of ethnic cleansing in theBosnian conflict the international community did not rush in to bring the killing to a
definitive end. “Britain, France and the United States did not want to accept the political,
economic and military costs of becoming involved in a full-scale
war in south east Europe.”
4
 
Shannon argues that the UN effort in Bosnia “involved reluctant outside powers who acted
not so much for HR but for PR, having become ensnared in the credibility
and promise to „dosomething.‟ “
Credibility and face saving motivated inaction first, to avoid quagmires, and
action later to avoid looking „spineless‟ in the face of promises to help.”
5
The motivating
factor, for some leading UN member states, of the need to „do something‟, as opposed to theneed to „do what is necessary‟, greatly influenced the policy direction the UN followed in
Bosnia. The dual consideration of some leaders to be seen to act yet without over committingthemselves was evident after the discovery of a Serb detention centre for Bosnian Muslims inAugust 1992. The British and French governments, still determined to avoid deployingground troops in to Bosnia in a combat role, proposed to send armed escorts to protect relief 
1
Beirmann, Wolfgang and Vadset, Martin UN Peacekeeping in Trouble: Lessons Learned from the FormerYugoslavia pg 22
2
Bible: Matthew chapter 6 verse 24
3
Shannon, Vaughn P. Journal of Genocide Research pg 47
4
Finlan, Alastair The Collapse of Yugoslavia 1991-1999 pg 29
5
Shannon, Vaughn P. Journal of Genocide Research pg pg 52
 
convoys as neither felt it could be seen to be doing nothing in the face of the worst abuses of human rights in Europe since end of the Second World War.
6
 
The United States‟ reluctance to commit combat troops to the region during the conflict was
also clear. Considering US involvement in the Gulf War, at the outbreak of war in Bosnia,and the trauma suffered at the loss of 18 US Rangers and Delta force troops in Mogadishu,Somalia 1993 during a UN mission, American reluctance to deploy combat troop was notsurprising.
7
 
“Clinton ruled out from the beginning the deployment of US tro
ops into a combatenvironment, believing that the risks of an open ended commitment were too high, and thatthe American public would not support the spilling of American blood to stop Bosnians
killing Bosnians.”
8
The attitude of avoiding military action by three leading member states,all permanent members of UNSC (UN Security Council), seriously handicapped and limitedthe UN mission in Bosnia during the war. The avoidance of a significant militarycommitment to the conflict became one of the main considerations of the powers with the
wherewithal to make an impact on the conflict. “The debilitating effects of this major 
constraint on western strategy can be seen in the debacle of the so-called safe-
areas policy.”
9
 When ethnic war broke out in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s it seemed that Bosnia
and Herzegovina, Bosnia hereafter, “would escape the madness that engulfed Croatia as itcontained the most mixed proportions of nationalities in the entire federation.”
10
 
Bosnia‟s
population was comprised of 43.7% Bosniacs, 31.4% Bosnian Serbs and 17.3% BosnianCroats prior to the outbreak of war in 1991.
11
The hope that Bosnia would escape violencebased on its multi-ethnic population suggests a misconception of the war in the formerYugoslavia. The objecti
ve of belligerents in the war was ethnic cleansing, the using of „force
or intimidation to remove from a given area persons from another ethnic or religious
group.‟
12
 
Therefore, the irony was that Bosnia‟s diversity became the basis for a bitter and
bloody conflict.The catalyst for the war was the decision by Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic to hold areferendum on independence on 1 March 1992 leading to Bosnian independence.
13
Thereferendum was boycotted by a large proportion of the Bosnian Serb population. Arguing thatthe referendum was unconstitutional, Radovan Karadzic, leader of the largest Bosnian Serbpolitical party, Serbian Democratic Party, (SDS) declared the existence of a Bosnian SerbRepublic with the backing of the head of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) who three dayslater stated that his army would protect the Serb people.
14
The affiliation of the army with theBosnian Serbs was significant considering their military superiority to opposing forces wascompounded by United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 713 that imposed anembargo on Yugoslavia in 1991 and extended to Bosnia.
15
Thus, the UN attempt to quellviolence indirectly favoured the Bosnian Serbs who capitalised on their control of JNA
6
Wheeler, Nicholas Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society pg 251
7
Finlan, Alastair The Collapse of Yugoslavia 1991-1999 pg 63
8
Wheeler, Nicholas Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society pg 253
9
Wheeler, Nicholas Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society pg 253
10
Finlan, Alastair The Collapse of Yugoslavia 1991-1999 pg 37
11
Burg, Stephen L. and Shoup, Paul S The War in Bosnia-Herzegovina pg 26
12
Kaldor, Mary New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era pg 33
13
Finlan, Alastair The Collapse of Yugoslavia 1991-1999 pg 39
14
Wheeler, Nicholas Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society pg 249
15
UNSCR 713-United Nations www.org/Docs/scres/1991/scres91.htm

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