Commentary

Bringing Politically Correct “Democracy” Back to Bosnia

The Clinton administration insists that the goal of the U.S.-led mission in Bosnia is to bring democracy as well as peace to that unhappy country. Indeed, the 1995 Dayton Accords go far beyond such mundane matters as establishing a cease-fire between the belligerents and recognizing the respective territorial jurisdictions of the Bosnian Serb republic and the Muslim-Croat federation. Numerous provisions deal with the political structures of a rebuilt Bosnia and its subnational units.

Critics of the Bosnia intervention warned from the outset that those provisions would entangle the United States and the other NATO powers in the country’s complex political rivalries. Such fears are being borne out with a vengeance. Not only is the NATO Stabilization Force (SFOR) caught up in the quarrels between the Serbs and their Muslim and Croat adversaries, it is now deeply involved in an intramural struggle among rival Bosnian Serb factions.

Even worse, U.S. and NATO meddling in the internal politics of the Bosnian Serb republic has taken the form of actions that make a mockery of any meaningful concept of democracy. Those actions reflect the vision of democracy that advocates of speech codes and other forms of political correctness would love to impose in the United States—if only they had unchallenged power. The Bosnian Serb republic has become a laboratory for their experiments in Frankenstinian democracy.

U.S. and West European policymakers have thrown their support to Bosnian Serb president Biljana Plavsic in her power struggle with her onetime mentor, former president (and accused war criminal) Radovan Karadzic. There are few ideological differences between the two politicians on such matters as ethnic cleansing, but the United States and its allies concluded that Plavsic would be a more pliable client.

Consequently, SFOR has become her combination palace guard and political sponsor. The extent of Western meddling is breathtaking. When the Bosnian Serb republic’s constitutional court ruled in August that Plavsic’s dissolution of parliament and call for new elections was illegal, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—the civilian arm of the Bosnia mission—summarily dismissed the court’s decision and proceeded to organize the disputed elections. That is a curious way to give lessons in democracy.

SFOR and OSCE have taken it upon themselves to decide which faction was entitled to control police stations in several cities. (Invariably, it was the Plavsic faction.) They also sought to impose political purity tests on candidates for office. In September, an OSCE functionary disqualified a slate of candidates because of their “continuing ties” to Karadzic. Former State Department official Robert Frowick, who now heads the OSCE operation in Bosnia, overruled that decision—but he did so not because it was anti-democratic but because he feared that Karadzic supporters might violently retaliate against American and West European election observers.

The exercise in U.S.-sponsored politically correct micromanagement reached new heights in early October when SFOR troops seized four television stations operated by Karadzic supporters. Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO’s new supreme commander, informed reporters that the stations would quickly re-open “under new management.” The “new management” turned out to be supporters of Plavsic.

Even more disturbing than the high-handed action of shutting down the stations were the justifications given. Anonymous “senior Western officials” emphasized that the purpose was to force a “more balanced presentation” of views. Walter Slocombe, U.S. undersecretary of defense, stated that the raids would end “the poisonous stream of material” coming from those stations. Another Western official boasted, “We are in a position to do whatever we want with transmitter sites” and that the goal was to ensure “responsible broadcasts.” The Action Council for Peace in the Balkans, a prominent American cheerleader for the Bosnia intervention, praised the crackdown, noting that Karadzic’s supporters “will no longer be able to use the transmitters to disseminate anti-NATO commentaries” or other odious messages.

Among other things, pro-Karadzic broadcasters had dared to argue that both SFOR and the special UN war crimes tribunal exhibited an anti-Serb bias. One might think that freedom of expression, even when the views expressed are strident and one-sided, is an important feature of democracy. But that is not the attitude of the nation builders in charge of the Bosnia operation.

The U.S.-led democracy mission in Bosnia has become a grotesque parody of democratic principles. We are propping up an authoritarian Serb chauvinist whose primary appeal is that she is willing to be Washington’s quisling—at least for the time being. American troops are entangled not only in the petty politics of Bosnia as a whole but also in the even more petty politics of the country’s Bosnian Serb subunit. Moreover, we are teaching the Serbs the virtues of democracy by showing them that an outside power, if it possesses enough military clout, has the right to overrule court decisions, establish political purity tests for candidates for public office and suppress media outlets that transmit politically incorrect views.

It would be a tragedy if the life of even a single American soldier were lost to implement such an ugly, hypocritical mission.

Ted Galen Carpenter is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and the author of Beyond NATO: Staying Out of Europe’s Wars.