U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Europe and Canada Bureau

U.S. Department of State
95/11/09 Remarks: Strobe Talbott on the Balkan Challenge
Office of the Spokesman

(As Delivered)

Remarks by
Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott

National Press Club
November 9, 1995

"U.S. Leadership and the Balkan Challenge"

Thank you, Bud [Karmin]. And thanks to all of you for the chance to be here today. I've been to many of these events over the years, and I'm glad to return for the first time in an official capacity.

I do so to discuss with you the American effort to bring peace to the former Yugoslavia.

Let me begin with an update on the Dayton talks.

I was out there on Monday to meet with Dick Holbrooke's team, with Carl Bildt and the Contact Group, and with the leaders of the parties to the conflict. Most of the draft documents that comprise the overall peace agreement are now in the hands of the parties. Those include detailed constitutional and territorial proposals for a future Bosnian state; a separation-of-forces agreement; a plan for national elections; and an agreement on the return of refugees. There are, every day, numerous, intensive meetings on virtually every aspect of the prospective settlement. President Tudjman returned to Dayton last night. We hope to use his presence to make some progress on the problem of Eastern Slavonia. Secretary Christopher will be going to Dayton tomorrow to provide further high-level support for the process.

That's it.

The lid is back on until about this time tomorrow, when you can tune in with Nick Burns for your next glimpse into what we're trying, for solid diplomatic reasons, to keep as tightly under wraps as possible.

What I'd like to do now is step back and look at the larger question of what's at stake in Dayton.

That means having a clear sense of the consequences for our country and for the world if the talks were to fail and the Balkans were to be plunged back into war. Then I'd like to look ahead to the challenge we will face if the Dayton talks succeed.

Many of you have pointed out that the Administration has a tough job of persuasion here on the home front -- up on the Hill but beyond the Beltway as well.

We know it.

It's not self-evident to the American people why a conflict nearly 5,000 miles from here matters enough to justify a heavy investment of our treasure, prestige and military resources.

So let me start right there.

Bosnia matters to Americans because Europe matters to America. War in Bosnia threatens the peace of Europe -- particularly, though not exclusively, those parts of Europe that are emerging from Soviet-era dictatorships. And that means it threatens the transatlantic community of which we are a part -- and of which we are a leader.

The conflict in the Balkans is a direct consequence of the end of the Cold War. During that nearly half-century-long struggle, we were concerned about the spread of Communist order. Now that the Cold War is over, we face a very different threat: the spread of post-Communist disorder.

That danger exists in part because of where the former Yugoslavia is -- it's on a fault line between East and West, between Europe and Asia. If warfare breaks out anew and continues unabated, it could suck in other nations to the north, south and east. Albania could intervene to protect the ethnic Albanians who live in the southern Serbian province of Kosovo. Fighting there could cause a massive flow of refugees into Macedonia, destabilizing that fragile, newly independent country, and perhaps drawing in, on opposite sides, Greece and Turkey. A widening of the war might also tempt Hungary to come to the rescue of ethnic Hungarians in the Vojvodina region of northern Serbia.

Meanwhile, the entire Islamic world is watching. Muslims everywhere are waiting to see whether their co-religionists in Bosnia will be accorded the same rights and protections as other Europeans. The answer to that question could have an impact on the future of moderate, pro-Western leaders such as Prime Minister Ciller of Turkey and Prime Minister Bhutto of Pakistan. Other forces in the Middle East and Persian Gulf see the Balkans as a target of opportunity. Iran's repeated offer to send so-called "peacekeepers" to Bosnia is hardly motivated by altruism.

Then there is the fate of NATO. A continuation of the war would threaten the viability of an organization that is vital to us and to Europe. If we were to adopt a posture of standing aside with our fingers crossed behind our backs, we would harm our bilateral relations with Britain, France and other Allies that have troops on the ground in Bosnia; we would also discredit the Alliance as a whole and our role in it.

Another point: If the fighting in Yugoslavia resumes -- and if it escalates and spreads -- it would put increasing strain on relations between the United States and Russia, and it would do so at a time of ferment and uncertainty in Russian domestic politics.

In short, a new eruption of fighting in the Balkans would undermine our twin strategic objectives in Europe. Those are, first, to advance integration between East and West and, second, to restrain post- Communist disintegration in the East.

So those are the stakes.

High stakes justify -- indeed, require -- bold action.

We must, of course, be hard-headed in assessing the costs and risks that come with such action.

But we must be just as tough-minded in recognizing the costs and risks that we will incur if we choose inaction -- particularly inaction, or inadequate action, in the face of atrocities like mass rape, concentration camps, massacres, and forced deportations.

As recently as August, the Bosnian Serb authorities in Banja Luka made local Muslims wear special white arm bands and marked their homes with white cloth, all as a prelude to "ethnic cleansing." That administrative euphemism, coupled with the deja vu of the arm bands, makes clear what we have been up against in Bosnia: In a word -- and it is the right word -- it is genocide in our time, genocide on the continent of Europe.

At issue here is not just an outrage against humanity but a challenge to American interests and American leadership. Far-away peoples look to us and count on us not just because of our economic strength and the power of our armed forces, but also because of what we stand for -- and what we're prepared to stand up against.

Taking decisive action in the Balkans has been especially difficult. There were, for a long time, severe limits on what the international community could do to make peace until the parties themselves were prepared to do so.

But there is no question what is required today. It is a combination of diplomatic skill and the credible threat of force to keep the parties at the negotiating table; and that means keeping them from returning to the battlefield -- not to mention the killing fields. It also means putting an end to genocide and bringing to justice the perpetrators of crimes against humanity.

That is why we fully support the work of Judge Richard Goldstone and the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal. We have dispatched 23 officials of our government to work as prosecutors and researchers for the Tribunal, and we are fighting on Capitol Hill to preserve its funding. We are also making an energetic, systematic effort to provide the war- crimes investigators and prosecutors with the facts they need to do their work. Even when relevant information comes from intelligence or other classified sources, we'll find a way to get it to Judge Goldstone in a timely and useful manner.

John Shattuck, our Assistant Secretary for human rights, is now traveling across Bosnia. This is his fourth trip there in two months. His mission is to mobilize the full resources of the U.S. government in the investigation of atrocities and to gather additional material that we will provide to the Tribunal.

Let me add that all of us recognize the crucial, sometimes heroic role that the press has played in informing the world about the horror in the Balkans. You, like we, have lost colleagues. Even with a ceasefire in place, covering the situation remains dangerous, as we were all reminded by the ordeal of David Rohde. In talking to Mr. Rohde yesterday, President Clinton and Secretary Christopher made it clear that we intend to hold Serb officials to their commitments that Western journalists as well as Western diplomats will have access to the suspected sites of human-rights violations.

The War Crimes Tribunal has already issued 46 indictments, including three more this morning, and Judge Goldstone, who will be in Washington next week, has told us to expect dozens more to come soon. We have made it clear that no indicted war criminals will be involved in negotiations, in the signing of agreements, or in subsequent elections. The peace process will not impede the investigation of atrocities or the prosecution of those responsible. Indicted war criminals like Dr. Karadzic and General Mladic should recognize that amnesties and immunities are not on the table in Dayton or anywhere else. If we or any other responsible members of the international community apprehend them, they will get a quick, one-way trip to the courtroom at Churchill Plein #1 in The Hague.

Let me say a few more words about "ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans, and why that phenomenon, by that or any other name, is not only an issue of moralpolitik; it is also an issue of realpolitik. Even when the phrase ethnic cleaning means "merely" mass deportation rather than mass murder, it captures the essence of what is most insidious -- and most contagious -- about the catastrophe that has befallen the former Yugoslavia.

Too many leaders of those republics-turned-independent-states have tried to define statehood, citizenship and international boundaries in terms of ethnic homogeneity and ethnic purity. Hence the dream of Greater Serbia, which is a nightmare for all non-Serbs, whether they live in Serbia proper or amid ethnic Serbs in neighboring states.

Equally unacceptable is the idea of an ethnically "pure" Croatia that would deny the legitimate rights of Croatian Muslims and Serbs. We have given President Tudjman a clear, unambiguous message -- and we have given it to him in Dayton as well as in Zagreb: If Croatia wants the benefits of membership in the community of market democracies -- if it wants to enjoy international respectability -- then it will have to ensure that the non-Croats in its population have the full rights and protections of citizenship. Our support for Croatia is contingent on Croatia's continuing support for the Bosnian Federation. Moreover, we will, along with our Allies, do everything we can to discourage the irredentist fantasies of any leader in the Balkans.

I stress this point because if aggressive nationalism triumphs in the former Yugoslavia, it will not only be devastating in that region -- it will be ominous elsewhere as well, especially to the north and to the east.

Throughout the former Soviet empire, dark forces similar to those that have convulsed the Balkans are vying with those of freedom and tolerance to fill the partial vacuum left by the collapse of Communist rule. Just to cite one example: the lethal syndrome we often call Balkanization could just as well be termed Caucasus-ization. The peoples of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia have suffered in much the same way as the people of the Balkans. Indeed, the term "ethnic cleansing" originated in the context of the Caucasus.

If there is to be a post-Cold War peace in Europe -- and not a cold peace, but a real one -- it must be based on the principle of multiethnic democracy.

The United States is one of the first and one of the greatest examples of that principle. What's more, the civic behavior and constitutional structures associated with pluralism are conducive to regional peace and international trade. Hence, it is in our interest that multiethnic democracy ultimately prevails in Europe and elsewhere.

Can those values and institutions ever take hold in the former Yugoslavia?

I realize there is a lot of skepticism if not cynicism on that point. Many assert, or at least imply, that the conflict among Serbs, Croats and Muslims is, quite simply, insoluble; that the region is a permanent and hopeless quagmire -- a word intended to have, in our ears, cautionary echoes of Vietnam. Listen carefully and you sometimes will sometimes hear in the current debate a hint that there's something in the air or the water of the Balkans that dooms those wretched people to slaughter each other. That's often the subliminal message, I believe, of the cliché about "ancient hatreds."

Having lived in Yugoslavia for two years -- and having seen how the South Slavs could live harmoniously with each other -- I find this view wrong-headed in the extreme. There was nothing predestined about the horror that has been raging in the Balkans for the past four years. It was foolish, demagogic local politics, along with short-sighted international diplomacy, that helped trigger, in the late 1980s and early '90s, the Third Balkan war of this century.

By the same token, it will take sound, far-sighted diplomacy -- including plenty of American leadership and statesmanship -- to head off a resumption and escalation of that war now. That task will be hard enough without encumbering ourselves with the excess baggage of historical, not to mention ethnic, determinism.

Let's remember, as we put our shoulder to the wheel in the Balkans, that patience and persistence have paid off in other areas that were long believed to be in the "too hard" category: the Middle East, Northern Ireland, and South Africa. There's hope for the former Yugoslavia, too.

Why is that hope realistic today when it seemed so forlorn only a few months ago?

President Clinton has pressed for the vigorous use of NATO air power as a necessary component of peacemaking since the early days of his presidency. But it took two and a half years for the pieces of the puzzle to come together in a way that would permit that strategy to work.

The murderous Serb capture of Srebrenica in early July was a turning point. It moved the international community to take a quantum leap in what it was willing to do to protect the United Nations-designated safe areas and to punish continuing Serb aggression. As Secretary Christopher's urging, the London Conference in late July streamlined the mechanism for backing diplomacy with real force: no more cumbersome "dual key" arrangements; no more pinprick air strikes.

Seizing the moment, President Clinton undertook a new diplomatic initiative. Secretary Christopher, Tony Lake, and Dick Holbrooke worked the diplomatic front. Meanwhile, U.S. and NATO warplanes, no longer grounded by the dual key, reinforced much more convincingly than before the message that the time had come to stop the killing and start talking about the terms for a lasting political settlement.

Since then, our negotiating team has made real progress.

The parties have accepted the continuation of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a single, multiethnic state within its current, internationally-recognized borders. Within that state, the parties have agreed that there will be two constituent entities. That arrangement will, we believe, make it possible for fratricidal passions to cool. The people of Bosnia need time to recover from the disintegration that they've been through -- and to rediscover first the possibility, then the advantages, of integration.

If -- and it's still a big "if" -- the Dayton talks succeed, and the three heads of state agree on a peace settlement, then the tough work of implementation will begin. There, too, the United States must lead. That means we must be willing to send troops.

Let me walk you through the logic of why that is true.

After four years of brutal war, there is, to put it mildly, little trust left among the different communities in Bosnia. Peace will require an armed international presence to give the parties the confidence that they need to carry out the settlement, and to begin the long hard work of rebuilding and living together again.

Only one organization can enforce a peace, and that is NATO.

Both the parties to the conflict and our NATO Allies have made clear that they are counting on significant U.S. participation in the implementation force. Without our being there, the force as a whole won't be there, in which case there will be no peace, and we will face the array of consequences I have outlined here.

Let me stress, as President Clinton did again yesterday in meeting with Congressional leaders, two points:

-- first, the implementation force will be deployed only if the parties agree to a real peace;

-- and second, the force will be militarily formidable. It will be capable not only of defending itself but also of compelling the parties to the peace agreement to live up to the commitments embodied in the peace settlement.

We believe that 12 months is a reasonable period of time for the implementation force to accomplish its mission.

While this will be a NATO-led operation, other nations, not members of the Alliance, will also participate. So far more than a dozen states, including Poland, Hungary, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Ukraine, and Pakistan, have expressed an interest in contributing.

So has Russia.

Yesterday, Bill Perry and Pavel Grachev, his Russian counterpart, met in Brussels to hammer out the details of a joint operation. It will represent the most concrete example of U.S.-Russian military cooperation in the post-Cold War era. It is welcome in its own right and also as a precedent for the future -- a future in which we hope that Russia and the U.S., and for that matter Russia and NATO, will find numerous ways to work together in building an undivided Europe.

Let me conclude by expanding on that last point:

The conflict in the former Yugoslavia has gone on for far too long; it has been the cause of far, far too much carnage, too much misery, too much frustration, too much tension between us and our partners, old and new. All of us wish that something like the Dayton talks could have taken place a year ago, better yet two years ago -- better still three or four. But we are where we are, and we must make the best of what we have before us today.

And what we have today is an opportunity, far from certain and still fraught with danger but nonetheless real, to turn Bosnia from a synonym for past failures and an evil portent for the future into something positive. Bosnia could yet turn out to be a demonstration, however belated, of international resolve to meet the first major challenge to the collective security of post-Cold War Europe.

Taking advantage of this opportunity and passing this test will require steadfastness in our diplomatic efforts and in our military commitment. But success will also require public and congressional support. And to muster and sustain that support, we had better have the best possible answers to the toughest possible questions -- starting with yours right now.

Thank you very much.


Return to the Electronic Research Collection Geographic Bureaus Home Page

Visit the Electronic Research Collection Home Page

Go to the U.S. State Department Home Page

To top of page