Balkan conflicts hold clear lessons on intervention in Syria
As policymakers in Europe, the United States, the Gulf states, Turkey, and the Arab League search for ways to resolve the conflict in Syria, they should consider what the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo have to teach about outside intervention. The main lesson? Do it – to stop the killing.
The latest estimates put the number of dead in the Syria conflict at more than 36,000, with a million people internally displaced. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled to neighboring countries. A second day of government shelling of the Syrian border town Ras al-Ayn continues to drive refugees into Turkey.Skip to next paragraph
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The killing continues in large part because Russia, China, and the United States are deadlocked in the United Nations over intervention, the Syrian government is determined to destroy the rebels, and the rebels are equally committed to the destruction of the Bashar al-Assad regime. Britain and France have each expressed increasing support for the opposition, confirming a shift in their approach to the conflict. The Gulf Cooperation Council has announced formal recognition of the Syrian National Council, and Britain plans to meet with the opposition group later this week.
As policymakers in Europe, the US, the Gulf, Turkey, and the Arab League search for ways to resolve the conflict, they should consider what the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo have to teach about what can and cannot be achieved by outside intervention.
The past in the Balkans is hauntingly similar to the current situation in Syria. As in Bosnia and Kosovo, Syria’s ethnic groups lived together harmoniously for decades. In both cases, unexpected developments – the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dismantling of Yugoslavia in the Balkans, and the momentum of the Arab Spring uprisings in Syria – triggered dissent. And in each region, repression and reprisal destroyed the opportunity for peaceful change.