SEE books - Part 6

posted by sabine Ballata on 2006/07/08 15:56

[ SEE books ]

Since I am in London at the moment, here’s one book review from Balkan Academic News about Britains’s role in the Balkan conflicts:

The book’s title is: Britain and the Balkans: 1991 until Present, Carole Hodge, Routledge Advances in European Politics Series, Abingdon: Routledge, 2006. 260 pp., GBP 65.00, ISBN 041529889X (Hardcover). and you can buy it here.

Reviewed by Dimitar Bechev (European Studies Centre, University of Oxford), Email:

The overwhelming influence of the Great Powers on local developments is a familiar theme in Balkan history and politics. One school of thought tends to blame external interventions for many of the region's misfortunes over the past two centuries. Another draws attention to the aptitude with which the locals have used the mighty outsiders to secure their own interests. Carole Hodge's critical account of the UK policy in the Balkans, meaning former Yugoslavia as she is careful to point out, is much closer to the former mode of thinking. The book deals with Britain's involvement in a series of crises marking the break-up of the federation and its aftermath: from the war in Croatia to the turmoil in Macedonia during 2001. The author's assessment is certainly not sympathetic to. While many have blamed Germany for pushing for early recognition of Slovenia and Croatia, this time Britain emerges as the chief culprit behind the EC/EU's impotence to tackle the wars in ex-Yugoslavia and their aftermath. While this claim has been developed by others before, notably by Brendan Simms in his Unfinest Hour: How Britain Helped to Destroy Bosnia, Carole Hodge pushes it a few steps further. Like Simms, Hodge accuses the Conservative government of John Major for its policy of non-intervention in Bosnia based on the 'ancient hatreds' interpretation of the conflict, which ultimately cost more than 100,000 lives on all sides by the time the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed. However, what Simms sees as a failure of judgment, Hodge interprets as a pattern of behaviour stemming from Britain's positioning in post-Cold War Europe.

Thus, the first chapter on the war in Slovenia and Croatia argues that the Britain's initial support for preserving the unity of Yugoslavia and focus on Milosevic as the main interlocutor of the EC helped Belgrade to establish control over Croatia's territory (pp. 21-3). Even at this early stage, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd rejected European military involvement in the conflict which Hodge attributes to the apprehensions over the potential development of robust European foreign and security policy under the Maastricht Treaty which was being negotiated at the time. What follows is five chapters focusing on the war in Bosnia. Here, the author scores a few points in favour of her main argument. For instance, she takes issue with the notion that the UK government's support for the sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro demonstrated a more even-handed approach towards the crisis, in that and shows that this move too late to halt he Serb aggression (pp. 32-3). Moreover, sanctions were initially imposed on Yugoslavia as a whole they were inherited by the successor states which greatly disadvantaged the Bosnian Muslims. Later in the conflict, Britain engaged in what Hodge terms 'diplomacy by cartography': a series of peace plans which sought to accommodate ('appease') the Serbs and in effect inaugurate the principle of ethnic partition. This, in her view, provided an incentive for the Serbs and Croats to push with territorial conquest (p. 79). UNPROFOR and, in particularly, General Michael Rose are equally a butt of criticism for their role in undermining the NATO efforts to deter the Bosnian Serbs in 1994. Hodge portrays the US turn towards interventionism manifest in the Bosniak-Croat alliance, the rearmament of Croatia and, ultimately, NATO's attack against the Serb forces in Bosnia.

The chapters on the post-Dayton era are equally condemning but far less convincing. Hodge is highly critical of the Dayton Accord itself but overlooks the fact that back in 1995 Dayton was the best amongst many bad solutions. In any case, blaming British diplomacy for the arrangement's shortcomings as well as for the involvement of private company, NatWest, as a consultant in the ill-famed purchase of Serbia's Telecom by a Greek-Italian consortium is off the mark. It is hard to accept the claim that New Labour continued the policy of the Tory government too. Thus the Franco-British deal of St Malo European Council (December 1998) laying the foundations of the European Security and Defence Policy is interpreted as a Machiavellian maneuver ensuring Europe does not develop a robust security policy (pp. 144 ff). Oddly enough, sections devoted to that issue are bundled together in a chapter dealing with Labour government's conciliatory approach to Serb nationalists in Bosnia.

The book's analysis of the British foreign-policy behaviour during the Kosovo crisis is no more persuasive. The author rightly recognizes that Tony Blair's strong support for military action was a clear departure from the policy of appeasing Milosevic in the early 1990s. Still it is a bit too far-fetched to claim that what was at stake was scoring a point against the EU as a leading security institution in Europe. The implication is that Tory non-interventionism in Bosnia was, in fact, not much different from Blair's (and his EU counterparts') interventionism. For one thing, interventionism reflected the lessons learned during the preceding stages of the Yugoslav drama – notably the failure to project military force in order to stop Milosevic. It is also a stretch of the imagination to claim that a NATO ground operation in Kosovo, as advocated by Blair to the skeptical US policy-makers and military commanders, would have led to Bosnia-style compromises with Milosevic (p. 163).

The author ends with three chapters on the post-Milosevic period. Here, Britain 's attitude to the Balkans is described as favouring Serbia as a provider of valuable commercial and investment opportunities. While this observation may be correct to the extent that the UK policymakers has recognized Serbia as a pivotal state in the Western Balkans economic interest provides no clue. In fact, other EU states such as Austria, Greece or Italy have been much more important as trading and investment partners for Belgrade. The author also seems to imply that Serbia's failure to deal with its past, unlike other countries in former Yugoslavia like Croatia, has been overlooked. This is, however, hardly the case given the very slow progress Belgrade has been scoring on the path to NATO and EU membership compared to other parts of the former SFRY. Apart from being too keen to bolster Serbia Britain is accused of a number of sins including Paddy Ashdown's heavy-handed style of governance in Bosnia (incidentally affecting the same nationalist forces in Republika Srpska whom Hodge speaks against earlier in her book), the incompetence of British employed in UNMIK's economic pillar, the dysfunctional union between Serbia and Montenegro and even imperialism.

The book contributes to our understanding of the break up of Yugoslavia and international involvement but should be taken with a few grains of salt when dealing with post-1995 Western Balkans.



The imagineSEE-weblog is a space about ideas, images, (re)inventions and (re)constructions of and about the Balkans, from outside and within SEE.

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This is a part of the collage 'The Black File' by Croatian artist Sanja Ivekovic, who will be represented at documenta 12 (16/6-23/9) in Kassel this year.

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