. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bosnia: Justice or Peace

However paradoxical it may seem, the more professional military servicemen are, the more they are peace-loving. The same cannot be said, though, of politicians. People in uniform can clearly imagine, although will not necessarily tell you, what losses will result from a certain order or how many people will die under one or another turn of events. A week-long trip to Bosnia, which was organized by NATO public-information representatives in Moscow, once again convinced me just how true this rule is.

When I asked commanders of the international forces in Bosnia, or IFOR, whether they would be hunting for people accused of war crimes, I couldn't help but feel their irritation. This is because it is precisely such a perspective that could erase all they have accomplished since the mission was launched six months ago. In fact, 60,000 of some of the best soldiers and officers from 30 countries managed to resolve problems that seemed to be unsolvable. Forces that had never worked together before joined to form a single contingent. Moreover, this multinational force turned out to be effective enough to get the conflicting sides to stop the fighting, which had been going on for four years, surrender their heavy weaponry and demobilize a significant number of their soldiers.

Those who have been observing the attempts of the world community to force peace on the participants in the ethnic conflict these past few years cannot help but admit the IFOR operation was the only mission that succeeded. According to the commander from the British division of the multinational forces, Major General John Kiszley, this occurred because the introduction of forces preceded the agreement of the conflicting sides. And the peacekeeping forces had the right to use their weapons without lengthy deliberations, which the participants in the conflict understood full well. The commander of an operative group, Lieutenant Colonel Hamish Macdonald, assured me the Challenger tanks are precisely what is needed to convince those who would like to break the agreement to stick to it. I would add that the three Challengers on the commanding heights halfway between the Moslem town of Sanski Most and the Serb town of Priedor look very impressive indeed. There has not been a single attempt in this region -- or, for that matter, in any other region in Bosnia -- to violate the military part of the Dayton accord.

Like American Major General William Nash and his Russian counterpart, General Alexander Lentsov, who both managed to convince the conflicting sides of their impartiality, Macdonald is certain that everything will be carried out within the limits of the Dayton accord, but not beyond them.

If the military part of the peacekeeping operation can be declared an undeniable success, the same cannot be said of the civilian part. The right to freedom of movement is guaranteed by the military, but even on the busiest routes, only a few cars travel daily between the two sides. Refugees, in essence, have not begun to return. "In a country where almost everyone has lost a relative, people will not soon forgive each other and will never forget anything," said Major Mark Shaw, whose company controls the borderline between the two sides. The major should know: He observes on a daily basis how Serbs and Moslems relate to each other.

All participants in the operation, from the generals to ordinary soldiers, are convinced that the remaining months will not be enough to make peace in the region irreversible. It will take some time before the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina can do without IFOR. Almost every military officer there agrees that Bosnia vitally needs a continued international military presence. And they are not the only ones to think so. A high-level official from one of the international organizations, who assured Russian journalists there was enough time left to carry out the Dayton accord, told me privately that he was not so sure. He said in all candor he would be leaving Sarajevo at the same time as IFOR.

It is particularly tempting in such a situation to put all the blame for the failure to carry out the Dayton accord on the people who violate it. In my view, this is the reason why, of all the many problems in Bosnia, only one has been given particular attention -- bringing Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic to the international tribunal in The Hague. I don't mean to condone the actions of those who are accused of war atrocities. But in private conversations with officers from IFOR, they rather openly told me that today the world community has a real choice, however cynical it may be, between peace in Bosnia and punishing those accused of war crimes.

This is why the military people I questioned grew stone-cold when I asked them whether they would go after the Serb leaders. The IFOR mission has a mandate to detain figures who are accused of war crimes, but only in cases in which the accused are within the international force's usual zone of activity. No special operations at this point have been planned.

The coldness of the servicemen is understandable: They cannot rule out that they will receive such an order. But having kept in constant contact with Serb military circles, they are sure such a move would lead to a renewal of armed conflict. The professional servicemen would simply consider it a shame if all the work they had done to carry out the seemingly impossible were lost because of the short-sightedness of some politicians. They clearly would prefer to treat with kid gloves a situation in which they are being pushed to use an iron fist.

Alexander Golz is a senior political correspondent for Krasnaya Zvezda. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.