Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Blame Aplenty

The Dutch have lost a lawsuit--some Bosnian Muslims were suing the Dutch for failing to protect them when the Bosnian Serbs overran the UN safe area of Srebrenica.  The Dutch already blame themselves in a 2002 report that led to the fall of the government for events in 1995.  This is most striking for a variety of reasons.
  1. The Dutch were under UN command at the time, so one could blame the United Nations for failing to give the Dutch the necessary support to defend the sector.  Specifically, the Dutch called for air support, which NATO was willing to provide, but the UN leaders said no.  As a result, the Dutch now always bring their own air support with their own rules so that their troops on the ground never are left with such dire choices.
  2. Ratko Mladic is now at the The Hague for instigating, planning, and leading the attacks and the killings.  So, the timing is interesting and raises questions of who should get the blame: the international community or those who commit the crimes?  The answer apparently is: both.  I would weight more heavily the guilt of the guy driving the car directly into a crowd than the police officer who fails to get the crowd out of the way.  Yes,  a gross simplification, but the Bosnian Serbs led by Mladic are the folks who are most responsible.  But, yes, this was a failure of the international community as well.  But suing the Dutch may only discourage other countries from joining UN operations since they, too, may be left hung out to dry.  
  3. The Canadians deftly escaped responsibility.  They had peacekeepers initially deployed in Srebrenica but re-deployed to another part of Bosnia because they knew the situation was fraught with peril.  The Dutch were in place to face this horrible situation--fight despite having no UN support or surrender the Bosnian Muslims--because the Canadians could see further down the road (or game tree). 
  4. The Canadians were not alone.  Lots of other countries could have done more and acted earlier.  So, should everyone be sued?  Should the Belgians be sued for their failures on Rwanda?
The one striking thing in all of this is that the court did recognize something that the Dave and Steve project on NATO and Afghanistan emphasizes--the key decisions are in the national capitols, not within international organizations.  BUT, to be fair, the Dutch decisions in 1995 were critically constrained by the lack of UN support.  The Dutch could have fought in a hopeless situation rather than essentially surrender to the barbarians.  Might not made much of a difference, except where we point the finger.

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