Balkan Ghosts | Oliver Kamm

Balkan Ghosts: that’s the title of our main leading article (£) in today’s paper. It’s about Syria. It argues that there are heavy costs to not intervening. The ghosts are the victims of the Bosnian war of 1992-95, which killed almost 100,000 people in a country the size of Scotland. Historical counterfactuals can never be proved or refuted, but I have little doubt that many of those victims might have lived if Nato airpower had been deployed earlier in the conflict. I make this case in an article in the current issue of Prospect magazine.

The names of the peace plans for Bosnia have passed into history: the Carrington Plan, the Vance-Owen Plan, the Owen-Stoltenberg Plan, the Contact Group Plan. Their principal common feature was that they failed. The aggressor in Bosnia, Slobodan Milosevic, would not be dissuaded from his pitiless and deranged pursuit of an ethnically pure Greater Serbia. The appearance of diplomatic movement gave him the cover for this. President Assad has a similar approach to the Six-Point Plan proposed in February by Kofi Annan.

The appalling implication is that Assad will probably continue to mount a military assault on town after town and village after village sooner than relinquish power. The Monday after the Houla massacre I spent the afternoon looking through the photographs obtained of its aftermath. We can’t publish them: they show, close up and in detail, the bloodied corpses of children lying in rows on the floor of a mosque. Some of these children would have been barely at the stage of toddling. The Editor felt that it was important I see these pictures before writing another word on the subject.

If there is a case – more than that, a humanitarian imperative – for intervention, what can the West do? Anne-Marie Slaughter, the Princeton academic and former State Department official, gave a powerful answer in a Washington Post op-ed on Saturday. A UN Security Council resolution, contingent on a request by the Arab League:

…should resolve to protect the establishment of no-kill zones by local Syrian authorities by whatever means necessary, short of foreign troops on the ground. These means would include the provision of intelligence and communications equipment, antitank and anti-mortar weapons, and, crucially, air support against Syrian government tanks and troops that seek to enter or overrun a zone. The provision of such support would also require the disabling of Syrian air defenses.

This isn’t a strategy for regime change. It’s intervention for the direct purpose of saving lives. A resolution in these terms would compel Russia and China to be open about their motives for blocking international relief for the victims of Assad’s terror. And how notable it is that the stickler for national sovereignty is Henry Kissinger, who argues: “In the absence of a clearly articulated strategic concept, a world order that erodes borders and merges international and civil wars can never catch its breath.”

But this isn’t a civil war. This is an assault by a psychopathic regime on a captive population. It may become a sectarian civil war if all elements of Syrian civil society are obliterated. Kissinger’s record in office was marked by a search for Cold War alliances. The fate of smaller nations, and of the peoples within them, was subsidiary. That approach persisted. And it had its apotheosis in Western policy towards Bosnia.

Twitter: @OliverKamm

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