Balkan Strategic Studies

March 31, 1993

Conflict Resolution in the Balkans: The Issue of Leaders and Symbols

By Gregory Copley, Editor-in-Chief

Three major leaders, pushed and pulled by a number of leaders of smaller groups, dominate the Balkan conflict. And the question of leadership and nationalism, right and wrong, is being swayed by the most powerful psychological warfare of the past 50 years, the Soviet campaigns notwithstanding. How can the questions of leadership, symbols and psychological warfare be fused into the quest for peace, instead of the pursuit of vengeance? Editor-in-Chief Gregory Copley looks at the options.

Conflict resolution as a principal, short-term goal of the major powers is now more important than at any time since, perhaps, the late 19th Century. Internal and regional conflicts pose the greatest threat to global political and economic stability, and there is no prospect of a general methodology or framework being developed for peaceful resolution of the most important of the crises within the near future. The domestic chaos of Russia and many of the other Commonwealth of Independent States' member nations, the civil war in Georgia, the growing anomy in Iran and Ethiopia, the Liberian-Sierra Leone war, the internal and regional communal conflicts arising in South Asia, the collapse of all law and order in Somalia, the ongoing delicacy of Cambodia's return to peace, and -- dominating the headlines and policy discussions -- the war in the former Yugoslavia: all these are currently outside the scope of resolution through current systems and forces.

Is the answer that these conflicts must be allowed to reach full maturity, burn themselves out of their own accord, and to the victor the spoils? Or is it feasible for the United Nations to develop the capability to provide a framework for conflict resolution across such a broad scale of conflict types?

At present, the UN lacks the finances, the organization, the mandate and the methodology to provide the enormous array of forces, skills and other resources necessary to address the conflicts currently facing the world, let alone those expected to arise in the coming decade. More than that, the UN and its principal members lack the intelligence collection and analysis resources required. The member states gather intelligence for their own national or alliance purposes; the UN has no real, independent intelligence capacity and is therefore subject to various national interests and media pressure to determine policy. As a result, any UN peace initiatives are usually based on flawed or biased policy analysis input, or must content themselves with attempting to marginally modify the status quo.

The original concepts of the UN as a body to guarantee fundamental rights of member states and their peoples has disappeared in the mists of expediency. The variety, intensity and speed with which new conflicts are arising means that policymakers can no longer base their attitudes on informed intelligence (in many instances) or an inherent understanding of the causes of the situations. Policymakers are, in most instances, forced to a reactive approach to each problem at a time when most leaders must contend with unstable and unfavourable domestic and international economic situations.

And it is this global economic malaise which exacerbates the individual conflicts themselves and the transition of the troubled states (as well as the major powers themselves) from the older, bipolar global structure.

Clearly, no single methodology for conflict resolution can be applied to the wide variety of problems now destabilizing the world. What is equally clear is that three principal factors must be considered in each situation:

* Specialised intelligence: rapid response intelligence collection (passive and active; open source and clandestine HUMINT, as well as technical means) must be developed for each specific situation;

* Leaders: Existing and potential leaders and leadership organizations must be studied for each situation and potential situations. The long-term, as well as the short-term aspects of leaders and leadership structures must be considered in light of the underlying long-term cultural and historic norms of the area or state in question. And all this must be considered in the light of history;

* History: Full attention must be given to the historical antecedents of each conflict, and this must take priority over reaction to superficial current intelligence or news reporting. It can be argued that basing national policy, or UN policy, merely on initial current intelligence reporting or news media coverage is guaranteed to lead to the wrong long-term policy being developed by external states, with the result that no meaningful or acceptable solutions can be proposed or imposed by outside pressure or forces. This is the most dramatic lesson of the current crisis in the former Yugoslavia.

The current Balkan crisis shows that current intelligence collection and current news media coverage can so easily be distorted by skillful and deliberate psychological strategy and operations. That crisis also shows that very few intelligence organizations around the world had the inherent historical knowledge of the area and, as a result, seriously misjudged the true nature of the conflict or how to advise policymakers on methods of settlement. Very few intelligence organizations had either the resources, the time or the inclination to study the historical underpinnings of the current crisis.

How did it happen that the Western industrial powers allowed themselves to get into this position of total unpreparedness for the growing global disorder?

The Western Alliance states -- the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization -- devoted a half-century to opposing and confronting the Warsaw Pact states: the Soviet Empire. The political threat of an all-out nuclear exchange meant that all forms of confrontation short of war were acceptable aims in the confrontation. The Soviet leadership, highly conscious of the frailties of its Empire's infrastructure and concerned over the legal status, or legitimacy, of the administration following the communist usurpation and regicide of the Tsarist monarchy, devoted considerable attention to political and psychopolitical warfare in an attempt to have the Soviet Empire perceived abroad and at home as monolithic, unified and the exemplification of the "inevitability of universal communism".

It was only natural that the confrontating NATO states strived to demolish the myth of inevitable, legitimate and monolithic communism. A principal aim of NATO states was the fragmentation of the USSR and all other communist states, including the Yugoslav Federation. Yugoslavia, and Russia before the USSR, begun as monarchies but later became communist dictatorships. The new communist leader sought to project images of solidarity and military power to the outside world. Through this the USSR and Yugoslavia attracted hostility; this in turn showed that they were being taken seriously. This reflected back into the (then) communist Soviet and Yugoslav federations as "legitimacy". "If the world believes that we are the leaders [of the USSR or Yugoslavia], then we must, de facto, be legitimate."

The West was taken by surprise by the collapse of communism and the USSR. The ultimate competition from the West -- largely the United States and United Kingdom -- was an economic-military-technology mix, based around the race to control ballistic missiles from space: the US Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) versus the Soviet energy weapons programmes.

The collapse of the Soviet system was also exacerbated by demographic changes, in which the ethnic Russians began to be outnumbered by Turkic and other races of the Soviet Empire. And modern communications beamed in messages of change around the world, fuelling and unrest. The bitter losses of the Afghan War further fuelled the exhaustion of the Soviet system.

The collapse of the USSR and communism as a pervasive and "modern" ideology nonetheless took the Western Alliance by surprise. Toward the end, its impending collapse had gone unnoticed, so intent was the West on pursuing its own agenda. The final collapse came with no preparaton on the Western side. The result was that the NATO states were as shaken and disrupted by the collapse as was the USSR.

Yugoslavia's own and quite separate collapse had more to do with the death of its former leader, Marshal Tito, and some of the European Community's subsequent push for a break-up of the Federation along more-or-less communal lines. It was the "more-or-less" communal lines which were to lead to the current conflict. Again, if the EC leaders had allowed themselves the luxury -- and it is a luxury, given current pressures -- of studying history and demographic patterns, then these accepted communal borders would have been seen to have been unrepresentative: merely the administratiive marks drawn on the map by a single man; Tito. But these borders were acceptable to the main group seeking independence -- Croatia -- because they gave Croatia far greater land and resources than history or demographics would have allowed.

And Croatia's historic ties to Austria-Hungary and Germany meant that Croatia had considerable support within Europe for these borders to be legitimised. That much is history (and has been dealt with in the past four editions of Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy). The problem today is how to deal with the conflict which currently exists, and find ways of cooling it down.

What seems certain is that all parties to the conflict, possibly except Croatia and Slovenia, will come away from any settlement disappointed with the outcome, and even Croatia will complain at whatever settlement is reached. Justice may well be denied to virtually all the parties to the disputes (and there are many parties, as well as many separate disputes within the "Balkan crisis"). Such residual rancor must ultimately be addressed, or be seen as the cause of future conflicts. But "future conflicts" can only be seen in the light of the prospect that "current conflicts" will be resolved.

How can these current conflicts be resolved in the Balkans, while attempting to lay the best possible groundwork for a meaningful and peaceful resolution of the underlying problems facing all parties to the wars?

"Justice", as it is perceived by the different parties, can only be achieved one step at a time, in the same way that trust between the divided factions can only be restored gradually. This is no excuse to ignore fundamental flaws in any proposed agreement, merely on the basis that all wrongs cannot be resolved in the first instance. But it is clear that the process must start somewhere.

It is equally clear that the very separate conflicts in the Balkans should not be all wrapped into the perception that they are a single problem. At present, the international community is attempting to punish Serbia -- the dominate sub-state within the new Yugoslavia -- for what it perceives are the "crimes" of the Serbian community in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Setting aside the question of whether or not these media-promoted perceptions of "Serbian agression" are correct, we can see that the Serbian Government in Yugoslavia is being confused with the very separate Government of the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is, in no small measure, like blaming Britain for the mistakes of Australia, just because the two share a common ethnic, linguistic and communal history to a large degree.

There is real irony -- and proof of the value of controlling the psychological warfare high ground -- in the fact that the new state of Croatia is not being attacked for the excesses of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite the fact that the Croatia State has, in effect, militarily seized and now controls totally a significant portion of the new state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But that is the nature of current conflict: misunderstanding is perpetuated accidentally and deliberately. Conflict resolution will not begin until the external policymakers are able to separate the issues so that they can be understood and dealt with separately.

That is a basic position. But what is more deeply entrenched is the fact that the leaders of the three main states of the former Yugoslavia -- Croatia, (Muslim) Bosnia and Herzegovina (as opposed to that part of the state not effectively controlled by the Muslims), and Serbia -- are not merely seen as leaders but as representatives of certain entrenched factional viewpoints. The various perceptions held of the three leaders by all participating and observing groups, particularly the international media, means that it is almost impossible for any of these leaders to be the first to make overtures toward a peaceful resolution of the crisis. The leaders, in other words, are also prisoners of the situation, regardless of their wishes.

The current international perspective, or at least the one given most currency in the Western media, is that an external force -- the United Nations, the European Community, the Western European Union, NATO, etc. -- should enforce a solution. The difficulty of this just with regard to the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina has become evident: the UN-EC (Vance-Owen) plan makes none of the participants happy, and may founder because the logjam cannot be broken. The earlier Carrington (EC) peace proposals were far closer to a plan which the combatants could accept.

Jingoistic calls for direct foreign military intervention are being evaluated more rationally by defense planners in NATO (and other states) who can see that at least a half-million foreign troops would be needed to maintain any enforced peace, and massive military casualties would result for that foreign force.

It is possible to see the sharp escalation of tensions just by the legally questionable injection of German military personnel in military relief operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina during March 1993 and into April. German Luftwaffe crews aboard NATO-Boeing E-3A airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft will be one thing; German airdrops of relief supplies expressly to the Muslims and Bosnian Croats is quite another. Bosnian Serbs are well aware that Germany has been the prime supplier of weapons, ammunition and other military support to the Croats, and a significant supplier to the Muslims, and there will be a general belief that Germany would use these airdrops to provide additional military, rather than humanitarian, aid.

And if Germany can fly "relief" missions to the Balkans, despite the questionable legality of deploying its forces abroad in a conflict zone, then what is to stop other UN member states, such as Turkey or Iran, demanding that they be able to fly such "relief missions". Iran and Turkey are among those states which have already been flying combat personnel and defence supplies into Croatia and to Bosnian Muslims in defiance of the UN embargo.

Even short of full military intervention, the creeping military intervention of Germany and others into the conflict is an attempt to impose an external perception of a resolution onto the conflict. This, however, is clearly escalating, rather than resolving the conflict. Some external leaders and individuals in fact seem anxious for the conflict to escalate, rather than be resolved. The former German Defence Minister, Manfred Worner, now Secretary-General of NATO, is one of these. He has lobbied in Europe and (in March) in Washington DC for armed intervention, despite the clear and vocal opposition of all NATO military commanders to such a concept. There is a growing belief in many circles that Worner has taken this line to force a split in NATO: leaving the US and UK one one side, and a German-dominated European group on the other.

But if this form of externally imposed solution is proving unworkable, that still leaves the question at to what will help start the process of conflict resolution. Part of the requirement, as noted above, is for all participants and analysts to begin separating out the various conflicts, differences and requirements, so that they can be handled in a more-or-less orderly fashion. This will mean that, for example, the Bosnian Serbs, who have their own democratically-elected and independent Parliament, cannot expect the Republic of Serbia or the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to be seen to be answerable for the Bosnian Serbs' actions. Indeed, the governments of the Republic of Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (made up to the Republics of Serbia and Montenegro) also have a duty to stand clear of the Bosnian Serbs, regardless of how sympathetic they feel toward their Bosnian counterparts.

A clearly-perceived separation of the Bosnian Serbs and the Yugoslav Serbs will do one other thing: it will highlight the fact that there is no separation between the Croatian Government and the Croat areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It will then become apparent that one of the issues is the development of a "Greater Croatia", which is already underway, rather than the creation of the oft-claimed "Greater Serbia" which is a diversionary canard by anti-Serb propagandists.

Separating the identifying the issues, studying the history, and achieving better human intelligence (HUMINT) on the ground, is the first step. The second step entails a study of the ways to enable the established leadership clusters to move toward an acceptable resolution. None of the leadership groups trust the leadership groups of the neighboring states. As a result, the reconstruction of trust between these states is severely hampered. What, then, can be done to break the logjam?

Alija Izetbegovic, leader of the Bosnian Muslims, has very little maneuvring room; any compromise o his hard-line position will cost him his legitimacy, both with his own hardline factions and with his supporters in Iran and Turkey. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman has similar problems: as right-wing as his administration seems, there are Usiaše groups even further to the right ready to apply pressure if he deviates from his vitriolic, nationalistic stance. There is even the question as to whether he can control his own military forces.

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is also a hostage to his electorate and cannot be seen to be abandoning the interests of Serbia and those ethnic Serbs outside his own Republic. But the Republic of Serbia is part of a larger sovereign entity: the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The creation of the "new Yugoslavia", after the collapse of the old, larger federation, meant that the Yugoslav Federal leadership appeared to be dominated or bypassed by the Serbian Government, which maintains its own Foreign Ministry and Defence Ministry. The Yugoslav Armed Forces, however, answer to the Federal Yugoslav Government, under President Dobrica Cosic and his new Administration under Prime Minister R. Kontic.

President Cosic and Prime Minister Kontic have a low profile in the international media. Certainly, they have not attracted the opprobrium which hostile propaganda has visited on Serbian President Milosevic. The total preoccupation of the new Yugoslavia with its regrouping following the secession of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia and Macedonia has meant that little effort has been devoted to bringing Yugoslavia back onto the world stage.

The United States of America, for example, has not transferred its recognition of the old Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia automatically to the new Federal Republic, although the UK, for example, has. So, with all the preoccupation of dealing with a war, restructuring the federation, international trade sanctions, and anywhere from 600,000 to one-million refugees in its midst, the new Federal Yugoslav Administration has not been able to make its presence felt in international affairs. This, in some ways, may have preserved it as the one vehicle able to break the deadlock in regional negotiations.

Senior political figures in Washington DC, London and in some European capitals have told Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy that they would welcome the emergence of strong, clean and acceptable signs of Yugoslavia's legitimacy. The only such "symbol" which has the capacity to restore the historical continuity of Yugoslavia is the Karadjordjevic dynasty which has traditionally led Serbia, and then Yugoslavia. There are probably only two Karadjordjevic princes capable of focusing national attention and legitimacy: Crown Prince Alexander, son of the last Yugoslav monarch, King Peter II, and his uncle, Prince Tomislav, son of King Alexander of Serbia and (later) Yugoslavia. King Alexander was assassinated by Croatian terrorists in France in 1934.

Senior US official are extremely uncomfortable with Alexander as, indeed, are many Yugoslavs, who view his lack of Serbo-Croat language fluency as being among his detractions for a key role in Yugoslavia's reconstruction at this particular time. But it is significant that senior US officials, including some at the State. Department, are comfortable with Tomislav, who is seen as political, untainted by scandal or political affiliations, and completely dedicated to humanitarian work in the Balkans. He is also fluent in Serbo-Croat and with his wife, Princess Linda (who is of US and English extraction and also a Serbo-Croat speaker), spends most of his time on refugee and other humanitarian work on behalf of all the nationalities with-in the new and old Yugoslavia.

One of US Congressional leader suggested that Prince Tomislav could become officially recognized for what he already is, a symbol of Yugoslavia's historical ability to live in multi-cultural harmony. This does not necessarily imply, at this stage, fully resurrecting the Crown. There would be no constitutional necessity for such a post to obviate the post of President and/or Prime Minister of Yugoslavia: the executive arms of government. They would remain. As a constitutional regent or as a special envoy, Prince Tomislav could help refocus the members of the new Yugoslavia, as well as those in the former Yugoslav republics, on communal harmony.

Initially, it was suggested, Prince Tomislav could act in a broader role as a peace emissary, perhaps helping to weld the humanitarian efforts of all parties -- including the United Nations -- into a more workable operation. This would begin the process of rebuilding trust between the communities of the region.

Re-establishment of trust (and therefore harmony) between communal groups in the Balkans means an end to the conflict. Lines on maps have, in the Balkans, historically been the lines leading toward animosity and conflict. One of the only symbols of communal harmony in the area of the old Yugoslavia today is Prince Tomislav.

It is clear that all of the efforts by the European Community, the United Nations and the United States have been marked to various degrees by ignorance, impatience, vested interest and lack of any means by which to bring the warring factions together. These outside bodies, many of which contributed to the start of the conflict in the first place, have not allowed the states themselves to come forward with their own peace envoys. Perhaps it is true that none of the combatants, until now, were in a position to do so.

Today, given the failure of outside efforts to end the conflict, the combatant states should be encouraged to come up with their own peace envoys who, separate from the national and military leaders, can bring down the level or intensity of the communal hatreds. Prince Tomislav is one candidate for the task.

Graphics: Cover Photo, German crews on NATO E-3A AWACS and Luftwaffe transport aircraft have joined operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina; Picture 1, German Luftwaffe crews aboard NATO Boeing E-3A airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft is one thing; German airdrops of relief supplies to the Muslims and Bosnian Croats is another. Bosnian Serbs are well aware that Germany has been a prime supplier of weapons to the Croats and Muslims; there will be a fear that Germany would use these airdrops to provide additional military, rather than humanitarian, aid; Picture 2, A political leadership: Prince Tomislav Karadjordjevic of Yugoslavia and Princess Linda at their wedding at St. Lazar church in Birmingham, UK, in October 1982. Both now work on non-partisan humanitarian relief projects throughout the Balkans.