Monday, July 21, 2008

News from Serbia

News today out of Serbia is that Radovan Karadzic has been arrested. (See the CNN report here). Most Americans are probably skimming right over that bit of news and going on to the latest on Angelina Jolie's twins. But to me, this is important stuff. I was part of the peacekeeping forces in Bosnia in 1996, right after the conflict ended. It was an extremely tenuous period. All three sides (Bosnian, Croat, and Serb) were ready, even eager, to go after each other again. But international pressure, lack of resources, and their own people's disenchantment with war finally led them to halt the violence. Still, there were occasional attacks across the boundary lines during my time in Sarajevo.

One time, I inadvertently crashed a working lunch for negotiations between the Bosnian and Serbian sides. I've seen friendlier faces at an Appalacian family feud. It was a damn good thing their weapons were checked at the door.

The whole peace process almost came unglued one night when a Serbian general took a wrong turn and wound up at a NATO checkpoint at the border between Serb and Bosnian sides. The NATO soldiers arrested him, as they were supposed to do under the accords signed by all sides. Holy moly, you'd have thought we launched an unprovoked attack on the Serbian Motherland! Things were hot and testy for quite a while, and the Serbs were a millimeter away from pulling out of the agreement. But eventually everybody understood that the Serb general really did take a wrong turn, nothing more, and relations returned to their "Appalacian family feud" normality.

What's this got to do with Karadzic? Well, at the time, there was a huge push in Western countries for NATO forces to arrest Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the senior Serb general in Bosnia. It was a thirst for blood masquerading as "justice". However, the NATO commander at the time, Admiral Smith, didn't want to do it. His rationale was that NATO was there to bring peace to the country. Once peace was established, then you could bring about justice. But if you wanted "justice" first, then there would be no peace.

Admiral Smith was right. Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia have been at peace now for twelve years. It's not the greatest peace, and they're certainly not bosom buddies, but there has been no large-scale violence. And rather than NATO military forces shooting their way into some Serbian stronghold to bring Karazic to "justice", it was Serbian forces themselves who arrested him. They finally got tired of dealing with economic sanctions from the European community. And they're better prepared to deal with disgruntled Serbians than NATO is.

Let's hope this experience is not lost on those negotiating in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

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