The Srebrenica Precedent

Roundup
tags: Srebrenica Massacre



David N. Gibbs is a professor of history at the University of Arizona. His most recent book is First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia.

This month marks the twentieth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, in which eight thousand people were killed in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica. The mass killing was the single deadliest event of the Bosnian War, and the most recognized atrocity of the post–Cold War era.

Its significance cannot be overstated: the massacre triggered a NATO bombing campaign that is widely credited with ending the Bosnian War and giving NATO a new lease on life after the fall of the Soviet Union. Ever since, the Srebrenica precedent has been invoked to justify military interventions around the globe.

In 2005, Christopher Hitchens defended the US decision to invade Iraq with an article entitled “From Srebrenica to Baghdad.” In 2011, when Guardian columnist Peter Preston advocated military intervention in Libya, his article began with the words: “Remember Srebrenica?” In 2012, a call in CNN for Western intervention in Syria appeared under the title “Syria, Sarajevo, and Srebrenica.” And a 2014 article on ISIS advances in Syria warned of a possible “New Srebrenica,” with the implication that Western military action was needed to prevent this calamity.

When supporters of military intervention cite Srebrenica, it’s often to insist on the need to dispense with diplomacy and use decisive military force in response to humanitarian emergencies. As a 2006 New Republic editorial succinctly argued, “In the response to most foreign policy crises, the use of military force is properly viewed as a last resort. In the response to genocide, the use of military force is properly viewed as a first resort.” Given the broad way that genocide is now defined, this is a call for interventions without limit.

A closer examination of Srebrenica and the Bosnian War demonstrates that much of the conventional wisdom about the massacre is mistaken. Contrary to popular belief, the NATO interventions in Bosnia actually worsened the atrocities they were supposed to resolve. And while abundant evidence indicates that diplomacy could have prevented the Bosnian War and thus prevented the Srebrenica massacre, this option was blocked by pro-interventionist forces in the United States.

In short, the primary lesson that the foreign policy establishment has learned — that more US military intervention is better — is entirely wrong. ...





comments powered by Disqus