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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Collapse of Europe

Television announcers have already learned to fluently pronounce the previously unknown name "Bihac," but whether or not the town falls to the Bosnian Serbs will have little impact on the country's military/political situation. Nonetheless, Bihac has become a landmark in the Yugoslav crisis because it was there that the fiasco of UN and NATO involvement in the situation and the contradictory strategies of the great powers were most fully exposed.

There has been a lot of speculation as to exactly why the peacekeeping effort has failed. Part of the blame certainly lies in the inability of the great powers to rise above their own shortsighted interests and to stop using the Bosnian tragedy for their own internal political purposes and as a tool in the rivalry among themselves. Also, the bankruptcy of the existing doctrines and infrastructure of international peacekeeping has played a crucial role.

The result has been that now the unlucky peacekeepers find themselves in a trap where both action and inaction can only lead to harm. Lifting the arms embargo against the Bosnian Moslems will cause the war to flare up with renewed strength and risk spreading the conflict beyond the confines of Bosnia. Maintaining it, though, leaves the Serbs in a dominating military and political position.

If United Nation forces remain in Bosnia, even with NATO air support, they will be unable to end the fighting. The key to keeping NATO and the UN from working together -- detaining UN personnel on the ground -- has already been discovered and effectively used. However, a withdrawal of UN forces would be difficult, especially during a Bosnian winter. Most likely, a withdrawal would lead to increased fighting. The Serbs would probably take advantage of the inevitable confusion in order to launch a decisive offensive. Likewise, the Moslems, deprived of the hope of international intervention, might also take some desperate measures. Military formations from a number of Islamic countries are ready to come into Bosnia to replace the current peacekeepers, either as a UN force or simply as allies of the Bosnian government.

After the establishment of the Bosnian-Croatian confederation, there was no longer any basis for denying the Bosnian Serbs the right to form a similar confederation with Yugoslavia. But such a confederation would mean nothing less than the world community's endorsement of the creation of an ethnically homogenous state by force of arms and the use of violence to redraw national boundaries.

At any rate, the initiative and the decisive role in ending the conflict are now firmly in the hands of the Bosnian Serbs and Yugoslavia. If they gave a prize -- a sort of anti-Nobel Peace Prize -- for the particularly successful violation of world peace, then the clear winner would be Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic, rivaled only by Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. They have attained their common goals: Despite UN resolutions and peacekeeping troops, NATO air strikes and an economic blockade, it is just a matter of time before we see a Greater Serbia.

From the outside, what is going on in the former Yugoslavia today seems like absurdity and chaos. But out of chaos comes order, and out of the Yugoslavian chaos, before our very eyes, a new European order is being born. It is not the order that everyone was expecting when the Cold War ended, but one that is forming even against the will of all the leading players on the world stage. Although the Bosnian war is not yet over, the historical consequences of the crisis have already become clear and the world is already learning to live in the "post-Yugoslavian" era.

What is this new world order? The force of truth yields to the truth of force. Consequently, accumulating military strength is an imperative of international relations. Violations of the principles of the UN and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe are tolerated and even useful for making territorial gains. Is it at all surprising that in such an atmosphere new Milosevics and Zhirinovskys are popping up like mushrooms after a rain? Despite all talk of abstractions like "regional stability" and "international law," the great powers have demonstrated that they are unwilling to make sacrifices unless their own vital interests are at stake.

The conflicts between the European powers, the United States and Russia are sufficiently large that even a small state can play them against one another in order to gain its own ends. At a time when there is a clear security vacuum in southeastern Europe, NATO is offering to extend its "umbrella" not to the potential victims of the next Balkan war, but to the countries of Central Europe. It can only be assumed that NATO will continue to stand aside during the ethnic/political conflicts that are yet to come in this region.

International arbiters are not capable of achieving a just settlement; they are constantly leaning to one side or another. And the great powers are not prepared to back up their guarantees with concrete action. The result is that the formation of ethnically homogeneous states has gained international legitimacy and a corresponding precedent has been formed. The lesson has been learned: The best way to solve domestic problems is the cruel suppression of national minorities and the aggressive support of ethnic kin in neighboring countries.

Everyone will have to pay for this mess for a long time to come: the Americans and the Europeans because of their faint-heartedness in the face of militant nationalism, and the Russians for pandering to it. And the price will be the continued erosion of international stability, new outbursts of ethnic and territorial conflict and the creeping "Yugoslavization" of the post-Soviet space.

Pavel Kandel is an expert at the Academy of Sciences' Institute of Europe. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.