The British Foreign Office has pursued a policy consistently favorable to Belgrade and hostile to Croatia and Bosnia
The American Spectator
The railroading of a former U.S. ally.
America, The Hague, and Ante Gotovina
THE CHARGES AGAINST GOTOVINA are baseless
GREAT POWERS LIKE AMERICA CANNOT AFFORD to be too sentimental about foreign friends whose purpose has been served. But sometimes it pays to keep faith with individuals who collaborate successfully in one's policy goals. This is particularly so when those
concerned know the inside story of U.S. covert activity and when their fate sets a precedent that jeopardizes U.S. personnel. Such is the case of the former Croatian General Ante Gotovina, arrested in Tenerife in December for alleged war crimes and now in prison at The Hague.Gotovina's arrest was widely welcomed. Even the Croatian government was delighted, since the failure to apprehend him had served as a reason, or excuse, to delay Croatian membership of the European Union. He had been on the run since 2001, when he was first indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Aptly for a man whose name translates as "Tony Cash," Ante Gotovina had a high price on his head -- $5 million from the U.S. State Department alone.Gotovina was made for the role of international ogre. At different times a French legionary, soldier of fortune in South America, "muscle" in the political underworld of Paris, he was the kind
of shady swashbuckler that the world of NGOs, diplomats, and international lawyers loves to hate. Gotovina was also no fool. He had a shrewd idea that he would never gain a fair trial. So he disappeared. Or more
precisely he "appeared" wherever it was convenient to locate him. The ICTY chief prosecutor,
Carla Del Ponte, claimed that she "knew" he was in Croatia. In September 2005, she also knew that the Vatican "knew" exactly which Croatian monastery he was in. This turned out to be completely wrong. When he was arrested three months later, Gotovina's passports revealed that he had been in Tahiti, Argentina, Chile, China, Russia, the Czech Republic, Mauritania, and Mauritius, but not Croatia. By now,
though, Gotovina was notorious. His name was uttered in the same breath as those of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. But unlike the butchers of Sarajevo and Srebrenica, Gotovina is not accused of ordering anyone's murder, let alone genocide. The military operation, "Storm," conducted by Croatia in early August 1995 to recover territory, the so-called Serb Republic of Krajina (SRK), occupied by rebel
Serbs supported by Belgrade, was an act not of aggression but of self-defense. The indictment mentions 150 Serb civilians as having died. These deaths were caused by Croat civilians bent on revenge, while Croatian police did nothing to help. That was, indeed, shameful. But it happened after the conclusion of the military campaign, not during it. Responsibility for maintaining order had been formally transferred by the Croatian government from the military to the civil authorities. Gotovina himself was no longer even in the area. He had joined Muslim and Croat forces in the continuing campaign within Bosnia. Despite these facts, which are not contested, Gotovina is now accused by the court of a series of crimes which could result in his lengthy incarceration. The explanation lies in the opening section of the indictment. This describes Operation "Storm" as part of a "joint criminal enterprise, the common purpose of which was the forcible and permanent removal of the Serb population from the Krajina region." The question, though, is: If "Storm" was indeed a "criminal enterprise," were high officials of the United States not also morally, and even criminally, culpable? IN FACT, EVEN TO POSE THE QUESTION exposes the foolishness and injustice of the case. The United States does not participate in or close its eyes to war crimes. Yet the U.S. certainly encouraged, assisted, and monitored "Storm" at every stage. The various accounts of what happened --official and unofficial -- make that crystal clear. The CIA knew what was happening, because it had provided the intelligence and technical support to make it happen. The Pentagon knew, because approved U.S. military advisers were involved. The White House and the State Department knew, because since the previous year's Washington Agreement it had been U.S. policy to create a Croatian-Bosnian military alliance to roll back Serb territorial gains, so as to make a just peace possible. One should recall the dire position. After four years of aggression, Greater Serbia had come to occupy 70 percent of Bosnia and a third of Croatia. Britain and France had vetoed America's plan to lift the arms embargo against Bosnia and to launch air strikes at Serb forces. The UN "safe areas" in Srebrenica and Zepa had fallen. Thousands of Muslim men and boys were being massacred. Sarajevo was under continuous siege. Above all, another strategically vital "safe area" at Bihac in northwest Bosnia was under attack by Serb forces from Bosnia and from the SRK. The fall of Bihac would not only have created another humanitarian tragedy. It would have put the seal of victory on Serb aggression and prevented a viable Bosnia from surviving. Only in these circumstances was "Storm" finally launched. It was a minor military triumph, a textbook NATO-style operation based on overwhelming fire-power, real time intelligence, efficient logistic support, and the avoidance of civilian casualties. Within 72 hours Krajina was re-occupied. As Croatian and Muslim armies then attacked Serb forces inside Bosnia and U.S.-led NATO air strikes broke Serbia's will to resist, the outlines of a new, imposed peace settlement emerged. Flawed as the Dayton Agreement of that November was, it has since brought peace, reconstruction, and some return of refugees. A less satisfactory result of "Storm" was the mass departure of the Serb population -- probably between 80,000 and 150,000 people -- from the area. The indictment alleges that this was the whole purpose of the operation. But the exodus was ordered by the Serb leadership itself, for its own reasons. The text of the order from Milan Martic, so-called president of the SRK, was published some weeks later in the Belgrade journal Politika. It was endorsed by the SRK military chief, General Mile Mrksic, an appointee of Milosevic. The military evacuation was designed to retrieve heavy armor to be used in Bosnia. But why the civilians? The answer makes complete sense in Balkan terms. It was to advance Belgrade's policies of ethnic cleansing and re-settlement of Serbs in eastern Bosnia and Kosovo, parts of a planned Greater Serbia. Accounts given in evidence before the ICTY show exactly how the Krajina Serbs were funneled down to these areas. Whether the Croatian government was pleased or displeased to see the Serb exodus is unclear. President Franjo Tudjman had ambiguous feelings about the Serbs, as opposed to Muslims, whom he despised. But whatever Tudjman and others felt is irrelevant. The point has been made very clearly by Peter Galbraith, U.S. ambassador to Croatia at the time: "The fact is, the [Serb] population left before the Croatian army got there. You can't deport people who have already left."
THE CHARGES AGAINST GOTOVINA are baseless. They are also in the widest sense politically motivated. They were brought primarily because the ICTY needed to prove to Serb opinion that it was not biased against Serbia. This, it was hoped, would make it easier to arrest Karadzic and Mladic, both still at large.But there were other motivations too. It suits many international interests to place aggressors and victims of aggression on an equal footing when rewriting the history of recent Balkan wars. The implication that all sides were equally to blame goes some way towards vindicating the egregious policy failures of the European Union and particularly Britain. Since the breakup of Yugoslavia, the British Foreign Office has
pursued a policy consistently favorable to Belgrade and hostile to Croatia and Bosnia. Britain has been the main block to Croatia's bid for EU membership. It is now very keen to see Gotovina sentenced. Britain is also a leading proponent of universal international jurisdiction, of which the ICTY was the forbear and the International Criminal Court is the full expression. The main loser from this trial -- apart from Gotovina -- is the United States. Its successful intervention to end the Bosnian war will be effectively criminalized. It will be exposed as an unreliable sponsor of potential surrogates in areas where it wants to exert influence. It will have its intelligence methods and sources embarrassingly revealed. On top of all that, if it is finally established that commanders of legitimate operations which incidentally lead to the exodus of civilian populations can be tried as participants in a criminal enterprise, it is difficult to see how future U.S. interventions can safely be conducted at all. So there is more at stake in The Hague than the rights of Tony Cash.
Robin Harris was a member of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Policy Unit. He writes on the Balkans and is the author of Dubrovnik: A History (London: Saqi, 2003).