Protection from tragedy: Developing effective and legitimate safe zones after the tragedy of Srebrenica.

AuthorRapp, Kyle
PositionBosnia and Herzegovina - Report

Over the course of a week in July 1995, genocide on a scale not seen in Europe since the Holocaust occurred. In the midst of a bloody civil war, the Bosnian Serb Army slaughtered more than seven thousand civilians. These massacres followed the collapse of the United Nations (UN) safe area around Srebrenica, where thousands of Bosnian Muslims had gathered under the illusion that the UN force in the village would protect them from Serbian aggression. However, the UN presence and safe area in Srebrenica failed to protect the population from Serbian forces, which overran the village and committed a series of violent crimes against humanity, including genocide and ethnic cleansing. In addition to the deaths and immense destruction caused by the failure of the UN safe area, its collapse resulted in long-term harm to the UN's reputation, casting doubt on the viability of the safe area concept.

It is not surprising that some question the safe area concept after Srebrenica, and indeed some concerns are valid. However, this failure does not mean that safe areas are not an effective and legitimate tool for the UN to protect endangered populations. Instead, Srebrenica can serve as a guiding experience moving forward. Analyzing what went wrong in Srebrenica can provide the UN and the international community with the knowledge needed to affect a new approach to safe areas and titled safe zones, and to protect populations who are at risk of crimes against humanity, specifically genocide and ethnic cleansing. Combining the lessons of Srebrenica with recent developments in international law, specifically the international community's responsibility to protect, safe zones may be one of the most useful tools to protect populations in these instances. It is the aim of this paper to propose a new kind of protection, legitimate under international law, informed and molded by what went wrong with the UN safe area around Srebrenica: safe zones. This will be done through an analysis of the literature surrounding the events of Srebrenica, deterrence and peacekeeping, and the responsibility to protect. These ideas will then be brought together to give guidance to future application of the safe zone concept.

Literature Review

The safe zone concept is an original idea, albeit built upon several different fields of scholarship and research. The first field of research which contributes to the safe zone concept is work on the events surrounding and leading up to the failure at Srebrenica. The idea of a safe zone is that an area of land within a conflict area is declared to be free from military operation and attack. The goal is to offer a relatively secure area for civilians to seek refuge during conflict. The November 1999 report of the Secretary-General, which details the events related to Srebrenica, including background information on the Yugoslav crisis, details on the creation of the safe areas, the fall of Srebrenica, its aftermath, and an analysis of 'lessons learned,' is a key document for understanding the events of Srebrenica. This report cites numerous flaws in the safe area concept, including limitations in the mandated structure, forces assigned, air power utilization, the role of the United Nations, and limitations inherent in traditional peacekeeping operations. (1) Jan Willem Honig and Norbert Both also studied the events of Srebrenica and reached similar conclusions, noting that the institutional and operational shortcomings in the United Nations safe area predicated the failure of Srebrenica. These shortcomings include issues with the forces assigned to safe area duty, the system by which air support was used, the understandings of neutrality and impartiality utilized by the UN, and shortcomings within the safe area mandates and Security Council resolutions, which will be addressed in this paper. (2)

Sheila Zulfiqar Ahmad offers another view on the events of Srebrenica, focusing on the role of the UN in the Bosnian Crisis as a whole, but seeing the events of Srebrenica and other safe areas as "the UN's most conspicuous failure" (3) during the Bosnian Crisis. Ahmad elucidates three causes for the failure of the UN during the Bosnian Crisis. Her first critique, echoed throughout the literature, is that peacekeeping was an inappropriate response to the situation. Ahmad instead argues that the situation called for a peace enforcement action, noting that peacekeepers were not prepared to handle the situation in Bosnia, especially when faced with non-compliance by various actors. (4) Ahmad's second claim is that since no major powers had a major national interest at stake in the Bosnian Crisis, those powers acted to prevent the adoption of a peace-enforcement model. Ahmed claims that these major powers, referred to as the "Western Allies," and mentioning the US by name, acted in self-interest to minimize their own involvement until the matter could be delayed no further, and NATO took over the operation for the UN. (5) The final cause put forth by Ahmed is that a "crusade syndrome," the belief that fears of the creation of an "Islamic State" in Europe, (6) limited the effectiveness of the UN. Ahmed argues that Serb leaders like Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic created this fear and limited the UN response to the situation. (7) In some regards, Ahmed's work agrees with much of the other scholarship on the topic, especially her views on the unsuitability of the Bosnian Crisis for peacekeeping intervention. Her second claim, although likely controversial to many, is not without its merits and backers. Her third claim is by far the furthest from most scholarship on the topic but introduces a view that is held by some, primarily non-western scholars.

The safe zone concept also draws from research on deterrence, starting with Thomas Schelling's seminal work Arms and Influence, particularly its first and second chapters, "The Diplomacy of Violence," and "The Art of Commitment." Schelling claims that military force can create compliance via coercion. Schelling posits that the threat of force being used can create coercion, as long as the threat is credible. Additionally, the threat of force may be stated or unstated, as long as it is understood. The credibility of the threat is found in the commitment to use force and the believability that sufficient force would be used. If those conditions are met, if sufficient force is promised and the commitment to use force is credible, then coercion can be exerted and the mere threat of force used or not, can create compliance. (8) Schelling's work provides the theoretical foundation for safe zones, particularly how the use of adequate force under a strong mandate can be used to establish compliance.

Timothy Crawford offers an analysis of deterrence more focused on the Bosnian situation that serves to link the theoretical work of Schelling with the situation that occurred at Srebrenica. Crawford proposes two points that a peace enforcement doctrine must fulfill to be successful. His first point is that the enforcing powers must have clear policies in place to guide the use of force if deterrence does not prove to be enough. Secondly, he notes that the doctrine must "communicate threats and promises to local belligerents in a credible and convincing manner." (9) Crawford is clear in his belief that the 'minimum force' doctrine was ineffective because it failed to have clear policies on how to respond if deterrence proved inadequate, and it failed to communicate the intended threats and promises credibly. Crawford claims that the UN attempted to apply a traditional peacekeeping doctrine to the Bosnian Crisis, and that this doctrine "sacrificed military effectiveness" based on an assumption of compliance, and in doing so reduced the deterrent power of the force. (10) Crawford argues, in short, that to create extended deterrence a peace enforcement mission must have the ability to carry out offensive operations "in order to provide extended defense." (11) Crawford shows how insufficient force and a lack of willingness to take credible action hamstrung the defense of Srebrenica, and proposes ways that future action may better balance traditional peacekeeping deterrence with the use or threat of force to create greater extended deterrence.

Scharff's work Protecting Minorities: The Lessons of International Peacekeeping supports the claim that peacekeeping missions need stronger and clearer mandates to allow for a more effective use of force, including a strong argument for utilizing Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows the use of force, in situations where the goal is to protect civilians. (12) Scharff's research draws from UN peacekeeping missions throughout the 1990s, helping also to provide a wider frame of reference to this research otherwise focused only on the Srebrenica incident. (13) The Relativity of Humanitarian Neutrality and Impartiality, by Marc Weller, further supports and reinforces the changes needed to UN peacekeeping mandates. This work draws especially from Weller's definitions of neutrality and impartiality, in particular the difference between the two and how force can be used to protect a safe zone without violating the impartiality of UN forces. (14) Moreover, how a nuanced understanding of those concepts allows for stronger and more effective UN action. (15)

The original report by Gareth Evans and Mohamed Sahnoun (16) provides the foundational understanding of "responsibility to protect" as used in this paper, while recognizing that later adaptations of the principle by the UN have altered the principle to a degree. Works by Alex Bellamy (17) and Gareth Evans (18) are foundational for developing a nuanced understanding of the legal and practical applications of merging the responsibility to protect with UN peacekeeping and peace-enforcing operations. Bellamy's work provides a link between UN General Assembly action, UN Security Council actions, and an...

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