The Ethical Spectacle, August 1995, http://www.spectacle.org

End UN Peacekeeping in Bosnia

End UN Peacekeeping in Bosnia

In the science fiction novels of Philip K. Dick, hallucinatory set-pieces occur in which his characters see outside of normal reality. A hot dog stand vanishes, and in its place is a piece of paper on which is written the words "Hot dog stand." Well, the U.N. peacekeeping force in Bosnia is about like that: a piece of paper on which are written the words "Peacekeeping Force".

The success of a peacekeeping activity is really conditional on the parties wanting it there. The classic scenario for UN success is something like the following: "Our civil war has exhausted us. We want to stop. But any provocation may inflame us again. Please place your protective force in between us and the enemy, cushion us against provocation and help us save face."

This is obviously not the situation in Bosnia today (as I write, the Serbs have just overrun a former "safe area" and 20,000 Moslem men are missing). Those who lead the Serbs, and those who support them, have the mentality of Nazis. I do not use the word lightly to mean "bad" or "evil". I mean that the Serb approach is to stop at nothing, to tell any lie and commit any crime, all the while buying time by agreeing to ceasefires they have no intention of honoring. And to take hostages. Just like Nazis.

Moreover, the Croats and Moslems, despite all that has happened, do not want peace either, if this means a permanent concession to Serbian control of 70% of the land claimed by independent Bosnia. Therefore, the preconditions necessary to a successful peacekeeping mission are entirely lacking.

Under the circumstances, the UN mission to Bosnia is not only a senseless act; it is a dishonest one. The Allies during World War II did nothing to save the occupants of the death camps, but they did not claim to be doing anything, either.

The Allies did at least make a symbolic show of supporting the Warsaw Ghetto resistance, dropping some arms and supplies to them. Imagine, instead, if they had parked a "peacekeeping force" on the ghetto's periphery, and announced a "noninterference" doctrine which prohibited the arming of the resistance while failing to prevent the arming of the Nazis. Imagine further that this peacekeeping force entirely failed to prevent the extermination of the ghetto's inhabitants, while serving as a sop to con world conscience into thinking something was actually being done. This is the situation in Bosnia today.

A recent article in the New York Times revealed that the UN has behaved surprisingly submissively to the Serbs, conceding the right to review manifests of all incoming flights at Sarajevo airport and veto travellers, and to rob journalists at a nearby checkpoint. This is a Neville Chamberlain style approach to peacekeeping. One gets the impression that many people involved with the UN forces wish that the Bosnians would just give the Serbs what they want already, presumably fading into the oubliette of history in the process.

UN peacekeepers are toy soldiers, almost never permitted to defend themselves. Military decisions, which are debated endlessly and anxiously, never come in time, and even then are couched in obsequious terms, like the recent instruction to bomb a Serb airstrip but not to damage any planes. All military decisions, once taken, can still be vetoed by a civilian representative outside the chain of command, making for the most God-forsaken, ridiculous military org chart in history. They may not be great soldiers, but the Serbs have discovered that they make great furniture, piling them into barricades against bombing or attack by their colleagues who would have been too chicken to do so anyway.

Why arm people if you won't let them fight to carry out their mission? When the genocide in Rwanda started, a force of Belgian peacekeepers guarding a government minister turned over their arms to troops that arrived to kill her. Not only did they murder the minister; they killed all the Belgians as well.

There is only one solution. The peacekeeping force is a meaningless placebo, and everyone knows it. It must be ended, so that real issues of life and death must be confronted. If we are willing to stand by and watch the Serbians murder Moslems, at least let us admit it. If we are not willing to let genocide continue, then let us end the embargo and allow the west to arm the Bosnians. Even better, lets support them with air strikes--real ones--against the Serbs.

Twentyfive years ago, I demonstrated against the war in Vietnam, and I like to think I would do so again. I don't think that Bosnia is another Vietnam, or that I am mired in a double standard. As an American and as a Jew, I cannot speak up on human rights or the Holocaust but turn a blind eye to Serbian genocide. Yes, we cannot fight every battle or become the world's policeman. But we could do much more to support the people being murdered over there, and if we do nothing, we are morally empty and have no right to speak to the world about anything. Calling for the remembrance of the Holocaust on the fiftieth anniversary of its end is hypocritical if you are not willing to intervene to prevent one.