Is Syria like Bosnia?

Reuters

Thick smoke rises out of burning vehicles at the site of a car explosion on the Syrian border crossing of Bab al-Hawa, at the Syrian-Turkish border which is manned by Free Syrian Army members, in Harem, Idlib Governorate September 17, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • Kandel: in 1994, Russia stepped in to supervise Serbs surrender weaponry. Sound familiar?

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  • Kandel: When Serbs took back weapons in 1994 Bosnia, NATO finally had to intervene with air strikes

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  • Parallels between Syria and Bosnia not perfect but scale of brutality, reluctance to take military action by US, others similar

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Sophisticated folks like to tell themselves that history doesn’t repeat itself.  Life, politics, and diplomacy are all driven by a multitude of circumstances that make every moment different and every judgment so much different … except of course when they aren’t.  But as Maya Kandel, an analyst at Institut de Recherche Stratégique de l'Ecole Militaire, a French defense ministry think tank, and a specialist on American foreign policy, wrote in a recent email:

“This past week can’t help be reminiscent of Bosnia back in 1994. On February 5, a Serb shelling of the Sarajevo main market wound up killing some 68 individuals, with nearly three times that number wounded.  In the aftermath, President Clinton and NATO issued an ultimatum to the Serbs—this coming nearly two years after the war had been going on. Suddenly Russia stepped in and ‘supervised’ the Serbs ‘surrendering’ their heavy weapons to UN soldiers stationed around Sarajevo.

“It was all a farce, and very beneficial to Russian prestige, allowing Moscow to jump back in to the great power diplomatic game.  And Washington and the West were relieved not to have to intervene militarily. 

“A year later, Serb soldiers just went to the unprotected UN warehouses and took back their heavy weapons. A second shelling of the market occurred in late August 1995, killing and wounding scores more.  NATO then intervened, conducting a bombing campaign involving some 400 NATO aircraft against Bosnian-Serb forces that proved key to ending the war there.” 

The parallels with Syria are not a perfect match, of course.  But in both cases tens of thousands have died, innocents have been brutalized, and massive numbers have been exiled from their homes, towns, and country.  And what is a match as well is the never ending hope by Washington and other capitals that a deal can be struck that will take the burden of military action off their shoulders. 

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