“Proxy War” in Balkans Harks Back to Cold War


Two years after the outbreak of ethnic conflict in the rapidly disintegrating Yugoslavia, Cold War-era tensions between the N.A.T.O. nations and Russia have reemerged as a “proxy war” that threatens to escalate and draw in the remainder of Europe. Caught in the middle of the conflict is the former Yugoslavia’s civilian population of over 23 million people, many who have been forced to flee their homes, and whose future remains uncertain.

Russia has deployed roughly two thousand soldiers to Yugoslavia – which now comprises the regions of Serbia and Bosnia – in support of the Serbian plurality, whose leader, Slobodan Milosevic, had taken control of the Yugoslav government in 1988. Serbia has traditionally held pro-Russian sympathies based on a common Orthodox Christian faith. N.A.T.O., in turn, has deployed comparable forces in support of the newly-formed Croatia to balance Russian influence.

Complicating the issue is the arrival of Islamic militants, allegedly from Egypt, who have deployed to ethnically-fragmented Bosnia in support of the Bosniak Muslim population. Bosniak Muslims, a significant minority in the Balkans, have faced persecution by the Milosevic government.

The General Assembly has convened to discuss draft resolutions supporting regional de-escalation and ensure the security of Yugoslavia’s multiplicity of ethnic minorities. Australia’s representative told Le Figaro, “it’s looking pretty bad but we’re here to prevent it from getting worse.”

Two competing draft resolutions have been proposed. One, signed by the United States, Russia, Kenya, and the United Kingdom, titled “Law and Order,” calls for Milosevic and Croat leader Franjo Tudman’s removal and the creation of a “Truth and Reconciliation” committee, similar to that employed in South Africa, to address minorities’ grievances. It also provides for proportional, graduated withdrawal of the Russian and N.A.T.O. forces; and increased counterterrorism efforts by U.N. member states.


The delegate of the  United States addresses the General Assembly

The other draft resolution, signed by France, Guatemala, Poland, and others, titled “Diplomacy with Direction for Resolution,” (D.D.R.) calls for Russia and N.A.T.O.’s immediate withdrawal and for a capacity increase of the United Nations Peacekeeping Taskforce, which would oversee ceasefire efforts and protect the lives and security of civilians “by any means necessary.”

The delegate of Afghanistan, a signatory of the D.D.R. resolution, decried N.A.T.O and Russian influence in Yugoslavia and in the stabilization process, calling their involvement “neocolonialism.” Neither Russia nor the United States, N.A.T.O.’s largest contributor, has signed onto the resolution, and their cosignatory Kenya has described the competing resolution as “extreme.”

Nick Dorzweiler, an assistant professor of political science at Wheaton College, in Massachusetts, says that the stakes in the conflict have been very high for Europe, even those countries are as far from the Balkans as France and the United Kingdom: “European powers [are] very much concerned that a breakdown in the Balkans [will] spill over into their countries.  Not in the sense of the conflict itself spreading, but there [is] real worry about refugee flows, arms trades, black market economies, and so forth.”

The resolutions are due to be voted on tomorrow. In the meantime, the U.N., and its European countries in particular, have the world’s eyes.

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