By Albert Wohlstetter

We had to jump over the moral bridge in the interests of wider peace and of keeping Bosnia together.
Charles Redman, U.S. special envoy to Bosnia
Political language and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists is de-signed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
George Orwell

The ethnic division that the Contact Group, consisting of France, Britain, Germany, Russia and now the United States, wants to impose on the indivisibly mixed population of Bosnia would link unbroken territory seized by the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia to Serbia itself. With the Contact Group's blessing, Serbia then could continue its clearly forbidden but so far wholly unimpeded supply of soldiers, weapons and other material for its proxies to pursue their ethnic cleansing in Croatia as well as Bosnia. On the other hand, the Contact Group would disperse widely, in five ghettos, the population that wants to live together in the new federation that the Clinton administration helped create: Croats, Muslim Slavs, Serbs, Jews, people of mixed parentage and others who prefer no ethnic identification. Bosnia would have to hand its two largest cities, Sarajevo and Mostar, to the United Nations; the dispersed parts of Bosnia would have no defendable access to each other or to the trade with the outside world that it needs to survive.

Serbia's flood of supply to its proxies would continue uninterrupted in the north, through Brcko, the crucial bottleneck in the Posavina corridor, where it has exceeded 1,000 vehicles per day, and across the Drina River in the southeast, where it furnished key reinforcements for the recent destruction of Gorazde. That daily supply violates many valid u.n. resolutions (u.n. 752, 757, 819, 820...) that demand that Serbia stop its shipment of arms and other materiel into Bosnia and that all nations do what they can to prevent it. If the Bosnian government were mistakenly to sign the Contact

Group's peace plan, in the wan hope that the Serbs won't sign, it would formally agree to allow Serbia to flout these critical u.n. demands. At the same time, u.n. 713, the embargo imposed in September 1991, which was invalid even before Bosnia became independent because Yugoslavia had ceased to exist before then, would persist in limiting the arms received by the new federation of Croats and Bosnians for the mutual defense that is its purpose.

That is the gist of this latest and most shameless attempt by the West to carve up Bosnia. The much trumpeted percentages (49 and 51) of the total area assigned respectively to the Serbs and to the federation mean essentially nothing. What counts is whether the total area assigned has defendable, stable connections internally and with the outside world. In the past, the u.n. secretary general and the European mediators themselves have admitted that any ethnic division of Bosnia will quickly break down: the Bosnian Serbs are likely to formally join a heavily armed Greater Serbia; the Bosnian Croats, with no better alternative, will join a Greater, but greatly vulnerable, Croatia; the Muslim Slavs have no place to join. Bosnians who want to live together face the alternative of continued slaughter or fighting on.


It was the long and particular history of Bosnia under Ottoman rule that assured a thorough mixing and geographical spread of people of different faiths. In the Ottoman system of millets, people identified themselves by faith rather than by place of residence. Ottoman rulers did not insist on uniformity of belief. Islam did, of course, have primacy, but each millet was an archipelago whose self rule was the norm so long as it did not threaten Ottoman power. Members of various faiths lived side by side and, over the centuries, sometimes intermarried. This did not eliminate all ethnic conflict. Nonetheless, the millet system's tolerance of diversity formed a large contrast with the tendency to impose religious uniformity in Christian Europe with the accession of Theodosius as Roman emperor. Theodosius judged all other than Catholic Christians heretics and extravagant madmen. This European tradition of imposed uniformity of belief continued in the secular myths of linguistically pure or ethnically pure nations during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and also in the Jacobin anti clerical egalitarian terror of the French Revolution, which Burke foresaw could end in a military imperialism. Pan Serbian nationalists who used the phrase "ethnic cleansing" in the early nineteenth century can, like the pan Hellenists, trace their roots to the revolutionary terror in France.

The Church in the Roman Empire, as Paul Johnson has said, transformed itself from a suffering and victimized body begging for toleration into a coercive one, demanding monopoly. Christians made a transition from martyrs to inquisitors. It was the driving out of Muslims and Jews from Spain by the Inquisition that brought many of the heretics to Sarajevo.

A detailed look at the resulting mixed ethnic composition of Bosnia can show why none of the many diplomatic proposals to divide Bosnia along ethnic lines into two, three, ten or however many cantons is workable. It also can help define reasonable and feasible political objectives for any military strategy. The upshot of such a detailed look is that there is no viable, adequately defended, contiguous Bosnia or Bosnian Croat federation with access to essential commerce through the Adriatic and the Sava River that leaves a viable Serb held Bosnia or a Serb held Croatia. A viable Bosnia or Bosnian Croat federation would cut lifelines to Serbia. Similarly, there is no contiguous Serbian Bosnia connected to Serbia that leaves a viable Bosnia or Bosnian Croat federation.

The biologists Stjepko Golubic and Susan Campbell have made a fine grained demographic analysis of various proposed ethnic divisions of the indivisibly mixed Bosnian population. They show its indivisibility quantitatively. Looking in detail at the ethnic composition of the 100 election districts of the 1991 census, Golubic and Campbell show that the various proposed divisions in which each of the three principal ethnic/cultural groups had either a majority or the largest minority and, in that sense, might be called dominant were neither homogeneous nor contiguous. Each of these areas in which one had a majority or a plurality included a substantial percentage (22 to 43 percent) of minorities of ethnic identities other than the dominant group. And each included only a fraction of its total ethnic population, leaving between 35 percent and 68 percent of that ethnic group outside of the area of its dominance.

Most importantly, ethnic dominance does not correlate with ethnic purity. Most Bosnian Croats, for example, live in the north and the center, where they are a minority but where they have lived for centuries side by side with Serbs and Muslims. Lord David Owen and Cyrus Vance had ignored Stjepan Kljuic, the Bosnian Croat who was for an undivided Bosnia protecting the rights of minorities. Kljuic had been elected to the rotating presidency of Bosnia by a majority of the Croats in Bosnia. Instead, Owen and Vance drew out an unelected official, Mate Boban, who was for separating Herzegovina from Bosnia and attaching it to a Greater Croatia. In effect, Owen and Vance were trying to end the Serbian war against Croatia by offering Serbia and Croatia pieces of Bosnia. Croatian president Franjo Tudjman had the illusion then that Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic would stop his ethnic cleansing in the 30 percent of Croatia he had seized and give it all back. Or that the u.n. and e.c. mediators would make him do it. In fact, the u.n. and e.c. then, like the Contact Group now, were furthering a Greater Serbia. Since, as Golubic and Campbell show, statistical ethnic dominance does not correlate with ethnic purity, Milosevic's program for a Greater Serbia called for changing the demographics that is, for ethnic purification. Just as the Krajina region of Croatia, for example, is now 91 percent Serb, though it was only half Serb before it was seized by Serbian military and paramilitary forces in 1991, so, too, in Bosnia, connecting a Greater Serbia called for cleansing non Serbs from areas of Bosnia such as Prijedor, Srebrenica, Foca, Gorazde and Brcko, where Serbs had been a minority, as well as from Banja Luka, where they had been a majority. In Zvornik, Muslims once constituted 65 percent of the population; now, according to The Los Angeles Times, they are just a handful. In Prijedor, by September 1992, according to Helsinki Watch, Serb radio announced that the Serbs were now the majority and were ready for a referendum. The process of cleansing has been accomplished by shelling, mass executions, mass deportations and torture and rape used deliberately to inspire fear and flight. Helsinki Watch, the u.n. high commissioner for refugees, Medicins sans Frontieres, among other public and private agencies, and many excellent on the spot journalists, have all documented the process thoroughly.

The Serbs have tried to confuse the issue with the sham that they are responding to Muslim persecution of Serbs. Such shams have been the invariable overture and obbligato to Serbian ethnic cleansing. And Clinton administration officials have bought into this sham whenever they have wanted to explain away their failure to address Serbian aggression. In an attempt to account for the administration's abandonment of its "lift and strike" policy after his failed trip to Europe in May 1993, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said that the United States had documents showing that all three sides in Bosnia were guilty of atrocities. The acting assistant secretary for human rights later reminded Christopher, in a memo since leaked, that, of the documented atrocities, only a handful (6 percent) were committed by Muslims; and, in contrast with the Serbian and Croatian atrocities, no evidence linked these isolated incidents to the central Bosnian army command or to the Bosnian government.


In joining the French, British and Russian governments in the Contact Group, the Clinton administration reversed itself. U.S. Ambassador to the u.n. Madeleine Albright had insisted that the United States would not force a partition on Bosnia with a gun at its head. And President Clinton said he differed with the British and French, who would rather protect their troops in the u.n. Protection Force (unprofor) than save Bosnia. Now the Contact Group would enforce its proposed division by using a greatly expanded unprofor massive ground forces under u.n. control. unprofor, in turn, would be protected by nato air power, also operated under a u.n. veto, to respond to individual harassments of unprofor inside the divided Bosnia. But the u.n. scarcely admits the repeated Serbian attacks on and imprisonments of unprofor soldiers. (The Serbs, for example, fired on a u.n. helicopter north of Sarajevo on July 5; shot a British unprofor soldier dead in Gorazde on June 26; held nearly 200 u.n. personnel hostage in April; and so on.) It has vetoed all but a few ineffective, actual uses of military force in defense of unprofor, and it has allowed no air to ground attacks in Bosnia to defend Bosnian civilians. The u.n. has never considered directing nato air power as the U.S. led coalition used air strikes against Iraq in the Gulf war at the strategic source of the aggression, in Serbia.

By now, any reader of the daily news can recognize the absurdities of the command and control arrangements that give u.n. Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali or Yasushi Akashi, his chief civilian representative in the Balkans, the decision on whether, where and when nato may make any strike in close air support of unprofor. Adm. Jeremy Boorda, the new American chief of naval operations, has described that very accurately in his confirmation hearings on the basis of his extensive recent experience as nato's commander in chief for the southern region. (nato South includes the Balkans.) He said, "The relationship is the reverse of what it should be."

The absurdities of the chain of command, however, follow from an even more basic absurd assumption: that one can stop an aggression without taking sides, and that one can stop an ongoing genocidal war and enforce a peace by sending in a force sized and equipped only to keep a peace agreed to by all sides. The absurdities that follow from this more basic assumption affect far more than the chain of command.

They follow, in brief, from acknowledging in u.n. resolution after resolution that the Serbs have seized territory by violence from a recognized independent state, but then behaving in practice as if the Serbs were not responsible for an aggression. And then treating the slaughters resulting from the long sequence of Serbian assaults on town after town as if they were natural disasters perhaps a surprising sequence of hurricanes, earthquakes and floods that needed mitigation but were not brought about by Serbia to achieve a strategic purpose.

But Milosevic made clear long ago the strategic purpose of his disastrous ethnic cleansing: a contiguous Greater Serbia connecting and cleansing all places in ex Yugoslavia with significant numbers of Serbs. He made the purpose of his abuses explicit far in advance of his 1991 invasions of Slovenia and Croatia (not to mention his 1992 invasion of Bosnia). He did this in many documents and speeches, and especially by his blatant violation of human rights in Kosova before as well as since the June 1991 invasions.

Because the European Community and the u.n. treated each of the successive human disasters as if they were unrelated to each other and unrelated to Milosevic's plan to create a Greater Serbia, they negotiated for cease fires at each specific town whose civilians were being slaughtered, and tried to encourage public and private agencies to bring humanitarian aid to each point where Croatians or Bosnians were bleeding.

In sum, since the e.c. and the u.n. recognized in practice no enemy in this war of aggression, they had no strategic plan. They have acted step by step in ways that helped Milosevic achieve his strategic plan for a contiguous Greater Serbia, which would include Croatia as well as Bosnia. The partition plan proposed by the Contact Group is the longest stride toward, and the most explicit and formal ratification of, the genocidal process of creating a Greater Serbia.

A series of maps can illustrate the point.

The first map shows the parts of Bosnia as of May 14 that were controlled by Serbia's proxies, and those areas controlled by the recent federation created for mutual defense joining Bosnian Croats with the Muslims, Serbs and others who have been associated with them in the Bosnian government. The second map shows the crucial bottleneck at Brcko in the line of supply from Serbia to its proxies in Bosnia and in Croatia. The third map is not only more detailed, but also gives the dispositions of Bosnian forces (bih), Serbian forces (vrs) and Croatian forces (hvo) around Brcko as of May 6. The fourth map shows the Contact Group's proposed partition. The Serbian held area, which covers more than 70 percent of Bosnia, surrounds essentially all the area in Bosnia under the federation's control, with the exception of the small patch of Bosnia around Bihac. Even that small patch is controlled by Fikret Abdic, a Bosnian Muslim who, helped by the mediators and unprofor, has made a deal directly with the Serbs and in opposition to the Bosnian government. (Lord Owen invited Abdic to Geneva to negotiate an ethnic division of Bosnia when Alia Izetbegovic, the elected president of Bosnia, refused. Abdic, a political opportunist, entrepreneur and populist of near Peronist dimensions, was the one of the seven members of the Bosnian presidency in l992 ready to make such a deal. In 1987, as a member of the Central Committee of the Communist League of Bosnia, he had used his political position with a local Bihac bank in a spectacular $500 million swindle, using promissory notes without collateral, to finance a highly regarded enterprise that was the largest employer in Bihac but since Yugoslavia notes were indexed and deposits were not, he did this at the expense of depositors mainly in Slovenian, Croatian and Serbian banks. In 1992 he gained popularity in besieged Bihac with the aid of French unprofor troops who delivered three times more relief goods for him to distribute than the u.n. high commissioner for refugees.) If one takes into account not only Serb held areas in Bosnia but Serb held areas in the Krajina region of Croatia, which Bihac borders, then Bihac, too, is an island in a sea of Serbs.

The Bosnian army, freed by the new federation with the Croats to regain territory from Serbian control, was making some progress in reasserting control of Bihac in June. The New York Times reported that Serbian troops in Krajina intervened by removing several tanks and heavy artillery pieces that had been turned over to u.n. monitored storage under the peace plan that ended fighting in Croatia in 1991. According to a statement by u.n. officials on June 30, the Krajina Serbs then handed the recaptured armor to Abdic's forces. u.n. controlled storage of weapons placed under their care apparently does not involve physical interference with their use by Serbian combatants. No one should count on u.n. monitoring of the current peace plan to assure that the Serbs will observe the peace.

There are several other smaller islands under Serbian siege around Srebrenica, Zepa, Gorazde and Sarajevo in the southeast of the country. In each of the four islands in the Drina Valley in the southeast of Bosnia, the u.n. and e.c. achieved repeated cease fires but never stopped the slaughter. In the cease fire after the Sarajevo marketplace massacre in February of this year, the u.n. permitted the Serbs to move tanks from Sarajevo for the renewal of assaults at Gorazde. In Gorazde the Serbs shelled the hospital, destroying the sterilization equipment and killing and maiming patients and surgeons, and blew up the water system. And during the u.n. cease fire in Gorazde the u.n. let the Serbs move tanks to the battle for the bottleneck of Brcko. And, equally important, during the cease fires in each town, the u.n. did nothing to prevent the Serbs from occupying the territory surrounding each town. The result left the federation with an archipelago of partially cleansed ghettos (see Map 1). The u.n. simply ignored the Serbian sieges that make these places helpless.

The policy of keeping the victims greatly outgunned and almost unarmed with, for example, fewer than one rifle for every three men ready to fight made it impossible for the victims to stop the Serbs or adequately exploit the great vulnerability of the Bosnian Serb army, which was outnumbered, un disciplined and poorly motivated, and its fragile links to Serbia. Even now the Bosnian Serb hold on the territory it has grabbed is very precarious. It depends not only on (a) its initial seizure of the heavy equipment of the Yugoslav Federal Army and (b) the transfer to the Serbs by the peacekeepers of additional equipment from Croatia and Slovenia and arms factories from Bosnia, but also on (c) the continuing supply of arms and ammunition, on a daily basis, from Serbia a clear violation of an initial embargo that has been enforced only against the victims of the aggression but not at all against the aggressor who requested the embargo. And it is in even plainer violation of demands that are repeated in a long sequence of valid u.n. resolutions that Serbia withdraw the men and heavy military equipment it brought into Bosnia and Croatia; that it stop the continuing transport of arms and other material into Bosnia; and that all nations, but especially Serbia's neighbors (Bosnia and Croatia are neighbors), do what they can to stop Serbian violations. So far these essential violations have been ignored, even in congressional debate.


Beginning in late May, the new federation with the Croats has enabled the Bosnians to make a series of gains against the Bosnian Serbs that clearly show the potential of this renewed alliance. In fact, the potential was so clear to Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic that with unmatched gall he has recently made a public appeal for the international community to stop the Bosnians.

The map of the partition proposed by the Contact Group would answer Karadzic's appeal. The continuing supply by Serbia is extremely vulnerable at narrow bottlenecks, in particular at Brcko in the Posavina corridor (see Maps 2 and 3). The strategic importance of the town of Brcko and of the corridor from Serbia can hardly be exaggerated. They hold the key to reversing the Serbian occupation of the Krajina in Croatia, to eliminating the Serbian stronghold centered on Banja Luka in western Bosnia and to isolating a large part of the Bosnian Serb army.

A Bosnian Serb army spokesman, Lt. Col. Milovan Milutinovic, agrees, and recently went farther. He told reporters near the end of June, according to a Reuters dispatch, that "we Serbs are aware that if we lose the corridor, we're cut off, finished. If the Muslims get that far, 1.7 million Serbs will be trapped with no escape." That number includes mainly civilians who have not taken part in the war except as victims. The Bosnian government is not fighting them. In fact, it welcomes them back and guarantees them protection along with other minorities. However, if the essential lifeline from Serbia along the corridor were cut, that would isolate the bulk of the roughly 135,000 man Serbian army in Croatia and Bosnia. The discipline, motivation and morale of this Serbian army has been rated as among the worst he ever commanded by its former deputy commander, Gen. Slavko Lisica, who gave as one of several instances of their chaotic and mutinous character the willingness of one military unit, including its commander, to take off their army issued uniforms and even their shorts when ordered to do that if they refused to fight.

There is a mass of public evidence of the unreliability of the Bosnian Serb army, many members of which were drafted in part because they were political dissidents to begin with. The army has been starved of reinforcements, except by units of the Serbian army itself, and it has relied extensively on using heavy weapons fired at unarmed civilians from a safe distance. Such a Serb army cut off from the prospect of reinforcement and resupply is unlikely to fight to the last bullet with the stocks it has on hand. Leaders of the Bosnian government, which has already included Serbs as deputy army commander and in other important roles, have said that they are ready to welcome back Bosnian Serb soldiers who have not been involved in war crimes.

Military intelligence tends to focus on easily quantified "order of battle" considerations: the numbers, on each side, of tanks, armored personnel carriers, batteries of howitzers or mortars; days of supply of ammunition; and so on. It tends to neglect political and strategic issues associated with the motivation of the forces on each side. In the Gulf war, for example, it should have been plain to anyone closely familiar with the history of Saddam Hussein's and the Baath dictatorship's military adventures that American intelligence was vastly exaggerating the strength of the Iraqi forces the coalition would face. U.S. intelligence estimated some 540,000 Iraqi troops in the Kuwaiti theater of operations. Many defections occurred during the run up to the air war, and by the time the four day ground war began there were not much more than half that many Iraqi troops on the ground in Kuwait. Moreover, many were eager to surrender (some to Italian camera crews, or even to an unmanned air vehicle!). Many, encouraged by the coalition, were ready to turn and take arms against the hated Baath dictatorship.

In the battle for Bosnia, a key role could be played by political appeals and accurate political information transmitted by a coalition supporting the Bosnian army, especially over television channels, where most Yugoslavs get their news. The United States has airborne transmitters carried on transport planes, called Solo Volant, that could broadcast directly on t.v. channels throughout Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia as soon as a coalition destroyed radars and suppressed other elements of the Serbs' air defense capable of reaching the altitudes at which the transmitter would be flown. It would not be used as "PsyOps," or psychological warfare for spreading disinformation, as Milosevic does. It would replace Milosevic's t.v. broadcasts with accurate political and military information, and political appeals to the many Serbs who oppose Milosevic's program for a Greater Serbia. (In the Gulf, the Kurds, who captured some t.v. stations with very limited range, believed that broadcasting to Baghdad on t.v. channels would be much better than bombing the city.)

Milosevic has made a monopoly of television, which is a central part of his political and military strategy. The t.v. stations in Bosnia were among his first targets. He has maintained minute control of the nominally independent Serbian republics by means of this monopoly. In the January 1994 elections in the "Serbian Republic of Krajina," he managed to replace one nationalist supporter with another he preferred by sending a crew from his state run television in Belgrade to set up broadcasts for his candidate, while seeing to it that the incumbent's transmitter mysteriously disappeared.

Today, in a charade designed to make it appear that the Serbs are very reluctant to accept the Contact Group's partition plan, Milosevic has cut his proxy Karadzic's appearances on Belgrade television. This might be a form of pressure on Karadzic, but in any case it is likely to be a preface to a graceful acceptance of the partition plan, which is designed to help Milosevic's program for a Greater Serbia.

A U.S. led coalition like that in the Gulf war, including some nato members and some other interested countries, would clearly identify Serbia as the source of the aggression. It would recognize that the political and military leaders of the self proclaimed Serbian "republics" in Croatia and Bosnia know they have no prospect for survival except as part of a Greater Serbia. It would use air power primarily to remove that prospect. It would use it strategically against the source of the aggression in Serbia, precisely and discriminately against concentrations of military force there against the nine large jet airfields and the fixed wing and any rotary aircraft on them; against isolable war supporting industry, including munition factories and concentrations of supplies such as ammunition dumps. The coalition would also use air power against such concentrations of power as the large airfield in Banja Luka in Bosnia, and to interdict the lines of supply from Serbia to Bosnia and Croatia. The main purpose would be to reduce the ability of Serbia's armed forces to project power and so to induce the army to end its support for Milosevic's Greater Serbia.

Such a transient but decisive use of air power would be supported by the many valid u.n. resolutions. But, as in the Persian Gulf, it would be under coalition control, not u.n. control. And it would be used for a strategic purpose.

Ths article first appeared in 'The New Republic' August 1. 1994
Albert Wohlstetter is University Professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, and president of the Europe America Workshop.