CroatiaEnded Up Being The Solution
Vecernji List (Zagreb daily)
March 2, 2003
Why Croatia Should Say Yes to America
by V. M. Raguz
When deciding on the difficult issue of whether or not to give outright support to the US regarding Iraq, Croatia should consider its own experience with the right to self-defense and unilateralism. The operation Storm was carried out in 1995 despite opposition from the United Nations Security Council, and, we should not forget, only the clandestine support of one state - the US.
In the end, the controversial Storm reintegrated the bulk of the occupied territories, saved Bihac, and offered BiH a chance for survival. As pointed out by a Washington Post editorial when the Storm ended, Croatia ended up being, not the problem, but the solution.
[Croatia's experience suggests that on the issue of self-defense, a state must be allowed to say on its own when enough is enough.] Zagreb waited for four years for the Security Council to act: to restore Croatia's territorial integrity and establish security. The UN employed UNPROFOR and UNCRO and had at its disposal numerous Security Council resolutions, but it failed repeatedly.
In fact, in early July 1995, after the Srebrenica massacre, it appeared as if the UN policy in the region was about to collapse completely. [The Europeans were preparing to withdraw from BiH, and the Americans were preparing a plan that would have divided BiH in two, and allowed the Republika Srpska a referendum on independence as early as 1997.]
The US has been waiting for the UN to do its homework in disarming Iraq for even a longer period. Zagreb remembers all of the Security Council resolutions that remained un-implemented. Washington has a litany of similar resolutions that also exist only on paper. In fact, the Bush Administration has challenged the Security Council to implement its resolutions, or lose relevance. Did we not hear the same appeals in the early 1990s, when the radical Serbs were disobedient day after day.
Now the US has said enough is enough. Its national security, and of much of the Western world's, is being threatened by the radical regime in Iraq, its weapons of mass destruction, and its history of supporting international terrorism. As a victim of such terrorism that seems to have no bounds, the US is compelled to exercise its right to self-defense, now that it appears that the Security Council has failed.
The US faces strong worldwide popular opposition to its likely invasion, but when has there been popular support for war. What is important is that the US has substantial support of allied governments in Europe and elsewhere. They will provide support in various ways, including combat.
Croatia will also be in position to help, but that help will likely be limited to intelligence sharing and use of airspace and territorial waters [for transport of materiel and personnel]. What limited assistance, given the assistance the US provided Croatia in 1995, to liberate itself from terrorism and secure its statehood.
The US help in 1995 was substantial indeed. When the Zagreb plan to deblockade Bihac and reintegrate Krajina was presented in Washington by special envoy Miomir Zuzul in mid-July, the US jumped in and provided intelligence and direct military assistance. By the time the Storm started, Washington had set up a 40-person intelligence-gathering base in Sepurina that monitored the Serb troop movements using Predator drones. On the day the Storm commenced, under the guise of enforcing the UN no-fly zone, the US sent in two special-purpose Prowler aircraft to disable the Serb communication systems.
To be sure, the US did not do this to help Croatia, but to help the Bosniaks in BiH. To that end, after the Storm, it used the Croatian Army troops in western Bosnia to supplement the first NATO air intervention since WWII. [Nevertheless, Croatia substantially benefited from the US role. So when it has to make those difficult decisions today, it just may recall that relationship from 1995.]
On the eve of the Storm, the Security Council was preparing a Presidential Statement calling on Croatia to desist. As usual, the Croatian diplomats were working the halls and lobbying the members of the Council to change some hard wording in the draft that was being circulated. Croatian charge d'affaires Vladimir Drobnjak approached the US ambassador Madeleine Albright as well, with the same request. She was brief, took him by the hand, and said: "We shall see what can be done, and by the way, good luck tomorrow."
Thinking back to 1995, about the only thing Croatia can do to Larry Rossin's (US ambassador in Zagreb) requests these days, is take him by the hand, and say clearly, we shall see what can be done, and certainly, good luck later in the month. Not much to ask.
V. M. Raguz was adviser to Croatian diplomats at the UN in 1995, and later BiH ambassador to the EU and NATO. This article is based on his essay written for the "Journal of Croatian Studies."