Bosnia- lifting the embargo

Chris Burford cburford at
Wed Aug 2 08:08:36 MDT 1995

Although seems often to expect to get into a fight, and does, I think
Leo asks very penetrating questions. [Sorry if that sounds patronising
but I wanted to comment on a phenomenon of this list which has been
puzzling me for some time. Be that as it may, the question below
requires an answer, whatever the counter reply may be]

From: LeoCasey at
Date: Tue, 1 Aug 1995 11:47:19 -0400
Subject: Re: Yugoslavia -Reply

Question ---

For those who favor lifting the arms embargo: how do you respond to the
argument that lifting the embargo (indeed, even announcing a lifting of the
arms embargo) will lead to the removal of the UN peacekeeping forces, and the
massacre/ethnic cleansing of Bosnians in Gorazde, Sarajevo, etc. before any
meaningful arms get to Bosnia? (Dole and the Congressional Repubilcans are
not about to supply arms, just to lift the embargo.)


Answer by Chris B:

Bodies of armed men are a conflict-management mechanism of almost all
societies. The situation in former Yugoslavia became dangerously
unstable not only because there was disagreement about dividing up
economic resources and about the right to secession, but because there was
a great disparity in the access to arms at the time that contradictions
became antagonistic. As a result the Serbs opposing secession had access
particularly to heavy artillery which could pound cities indefinitely.

The answer to heavy artillery is either air power, but that is not quite
as accurate as those who would believe in the wonders of High Tech would
imply, or arming infantry to atttack and seize the gun emplacements.

The Bosian soldiers are extraordinarily highly motivated to save their
homes. The defenders of Zepa hung out for a week longer than anyone
expected. They should be given arms on a very clear condition that they
respect the Geneva convention.

It is in their interests to do so. Their political position is that the
majority of the inhabitants of Bosnia voted to secede to maintain a
multi-racial society, rather than to form a greater Serbia. They know
by geography that they must cooperate with people on the Dalmatian coast
and with Croats. There is a suburb of Sarajevo that is predominately
Serb. They must handle relations with Serbs fairly. It is not in their
interests to persecute Serbs.

So how should the arming be done: by trusting people on a graduated but
rational basis. What is in common in the policy of all the imperialist
powers over Yugoslavia is that they have not based themselves on a trust
of the people. They have therefore become preoccupied with what is going
to happen to "their" boys in blue helmets, who are going to be taken

I am very pleased with the large House of Representatives vote on lifting
the arms embargo, because whatever the many cynical political factors that
may have gone into it, this is a vote that is not anti-muslim.

How should the arms be delivered? The terms of the conditions are critical.
No one is in favour of a blood bath. But that is what is so hypocritical in
the handling of the news by the British government, as if anyone would.
The condition in the resolution that the defenders must wait 12 weeks
after the "off" is ridiculous and in discussions will emerge as
ridiculous if it has not done so already.

Arms should have been dropped to allow the defenders of Zepa to hold out,
until it became quite clear to the Serb attackers that they would never
succeed in displacing more people, and it would be in their interests to

Arms should be dropped to Gorazde.

As for Sarajevo, we will soon be reaching the 50th anniversary of the
glorious (touch of irony here) Berlin Airlift. Nobody can convince me it
cannot be done again. I am not so much in favour as Jerry, [but I respect
him for grasping the nettle too] of the use of air power. But if it is
necessary to hit gun emplacements around Sarajevo or Gorazde, to enforce
the exclusion zone, I do not see why that should not be done. But there
could be discussions with the Bosnian government about whether there are
infantry options for taking certain positions out.

Anyway Knin may be hostage too soon and that might be a basis for
negotiations about Sarajevo.

British wingeing about our boys in blue helmets should be dealt with by
contingency plans, of course using the SAS to get them out without a
scratch, and it must be made clear that control of food supplies to
force people to leave their homes through starvation is a centuries old
weapon of war, and arms should be titrated again until food and other
vital supplies are guaranteed to everyone in their current homes.

Conflict management and trauma reducing policies, relying on local civil
society are a vital part of reconstruction. [It is not that there is
a revolutionary proletariat in the former Yugoslavia waiting for
a massive revolution. Faith in the masses is a question of recognising
*now* the existence of hundreds of thousands of people of good will and
ability on all sides who will wish to work for the reconstruction of
human society and *backing* them. That is the really revolutionary
position in August 1995.]

Now the news has gone quiet because the western media sympathise with
the Croat government and it has the carefully amassed power either to
take Krajina, or to force massive concessions. At the very least we
should expect that the Serbs will have to agree to northern Krajina being
demilitarised to remove the rocket sites from which Zagreb civilians were
shelled, and probably to provide continuity of supplies to the Bihac
region so that it can never fall to Serb attack.

What should the democratic people do? Judging from the displacements
from Western Slavonia, following the Croat capture earlier this year, the
left should be demanding that western governments get the clearest
specifications from Croatia about respecting human rights, including the
right to live in your own home, in any part of Croatia they are seeking
to bring back under their state control.

That is a very clear proposition, and could reduce the suffering of tens of
thousands and the deaths of at least thousands. [Very modest estimate made
so as not to sound despairing, but the situation is not despairing.
Actually we are moving from chaotic blitzkreig in which there were many
deaths to one of stabilising borders with more careful planning, where
supply routes and discipline of soldiers makes a difference. The stage
after this is that in an advanced capitalist society you have to
trade across borders.]

Leo, It was a very important question, and I am sure there are holes
in my answer. It was not the point of my post to imply that I have a
perfect solution on my own  but to say we can move towards a more coherent
and even marxist, left-wing democratic response, and if we do that it
makes it easier to know how to criticise our own governments and link up
with democrats and socialists of good will in the former Yugoslavia.

Chris Burford, London

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