However, there have been other, less apparent, mistakes that produced highly negative outcomes. One of those blunders was U.S. policy toward the civil war in Bosnia during the mid‐1990s. America’s entanglement in the violent disintegration of Yugoslavia was unfortunate on two levels. It was a missed opportunity in the vastly changed post–Cold War security environment for the United States to off‐load responsibility for a subregional problem onto the European members of NATO. The way Washington ultimately handled the Bosnia conflict also created an unhealthy precedent. It transformed NATO from a purely defensive alliance designed to deter or repel an attack on its members into an organization with an offensive orientation. Specifically, in Bosnia the alliance projected military power against an insurgent movement and secessionist government that had not attacked or even threatened a NATO member.
As Yugoslavia began to unravel in the early 1990s, George H. W. Bush’s administration seemed inclined to let the leading European powers manage the situation. And those powers, especially Britain, France and Germany, did take some initiative, including working to get the feuding ethnic factions in the newly minted country of Bosnia‐Herzegovina to work out a peaceful political solution. The centerpiece of that effort, orchestrated by the European Union, was the Vance‐Owen plan, named for former British foreign secretary David Owen and former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.
Yet even at that early stage, U.S. officials found it difficult to resist the temptation to meddle. The new Clinton administration spurned the Vance‐Owen plan, and it sent subtle signals to Bosnia’s president—and the leader of the country’s Muslim faction—Alija Izetbegović to resist provisions of that plan. Emboldened, Izetbegovic then spurned the initiative, and the three‐sided armed struggle among Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs intensified.