Branko Pribicevic. Relations with the Superpowers. 1995

Relations with the Superpowers


Source: Branko Pribicevic; “Relations with the Superpowers” – in Beyond Yugoslavia - Politics, Economics, and Culture in a Shattered Community, Colorado: Westview Press, 1995;
Transcribed: by Patrick Olofsson.

Relations with the Superpowers

Post-World War Two Yugoslavia – the “second” Yugoslavia, given the dismantlement of the interwar kingdom in 1941 - was an important factor not only in the Balkan and East European regions, but on the world stage as well. Its international position was, in some respects, quite unique. It was certainly almost without precedent that a country of this size and with such modest economic potential could play such an active and salient role in international politics. An American expert recently said that Tito’s Yugoslavia had enjoyed “a singular role in the balance of East-West relations.”[1] One might add that Yugoslavia, beginning in the mid-fifties, was also very present in the political processes in some parts of the Third World. This international position of Yugoslavia was also manifested in its relations with the two superpowers. Both of them often paid special attention to their relations with Yugoslavia, which they viewed as an important factor in the relations between the two blocs. This was the case particularly in the late forties and early fifties, and again in the late sixties and seventies.

There are a number of reasons for this specific international position and role of Yugoslavia. The most important ones are the following:

The Soviet-Yugoslav Rift in 1948

This was the first case ill the history of international communism that a communist party had had the guts to say no to Moscow’s diktat, and not only to defy Moscow but also to be strong enough to survive almost seven years of confrontation with Moscow and the entire communist world. During the conflict, Moscow used all sorts of pressure short of direct military intervention. As is well known, the instruments of pressure used against Yugoslavia were really drastic and brutal, but in spite of that, this was the first battle (in the history of the communist movement) that Moscow had lost. The official ending of the conflict was also without precedent. The new post-Stalin Soviet leadership made a journey of repentance to Belgrade in May 1955 and publicly admitted that the conflict had been due to the “mistakes” of the former Soviet leadership (i.e., Stalin). Thus, the Soviet Union had lost this battle, and Yugoslavia had won. As a result, Yugoslavia’s international position improved enormously.

Yugoslavia’s Geopolitical Position

Yugoslavia was located on the territory which, for quite some time, has been very important for the balance of power in Europe. Furthermore, Yugoslavia occupied the borderzone between different cultures, even civilizations, with its Western-oriented, Catholic cultures in Slovenia and Croatia, and its Eastern-oriented, Orthodox cultures in Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. In antiquity, this region had been divided between the West and East Roman empires, and later between the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Turkish empires. Moreover, Bosnia (together with parts of Serbia and Macedonia) was the only part of Europe where Islam penetrated (after 1463). The geopolitical position of this country became particularly important after the Soviet-Yugoslav split and the Cold War confrontation between the East and the West. Robin Alison Remington, one of the best known American experts in the field of Yugoslav studies, stresses the importance of this factor: “ . . . although Yugoslavia is roughly the size of Wyoming, geography magnifies the strategic importance of the area it covers. Yugoslavia is the heart of the Balkans ... Physically, ideologically, even economically, it has been the dividing line between East and West.”[2] One should keep in mind also the fact that World War One was ignited here (in Sarajevo).

The Yugoslav Model of Socialism

Within the context of the Soviet-Yugoslav confrontation, this country rejected not only Soviet dominance but also the Soviet model of socialism .[3] Step by step, it shaped and asserted a new model of socialist society which, in spite of all the inconsistencies in its implementation, was in some respects really very different from the Soviet one. Thus, while the Soviet model provided for the most centralized type of political system available, the Yugoslav model represented, in some respects, the very opposite – viz., extensive decentralization. In the sphere of civil and political rights, there were also considerable differences. If nothing else, the Yugoslav system was no doubt far less repressive than the Soviet system, and Yugoslavia was, for more than 30 years, a relatively open country – (its citizens enjoyed, for example, freedom of travel) – as against the Soviet bloc countries which were, to varying degrees, much more closed. That is particularly important. Yugoslavia opted for self-management (workers’ participation in decision-making at the enterprise level, as a form of direct democracy); Yugoslav socialism did not concentrate decision-making in the hands of bureaucratic structures, in fact, but developed a system which was neither Western nor Soviet-inspired. Yugoslavia was indeed a maverick state. Thus, for a number of reasons, the Yugoslav political system attracted a lot of attention in many parts of the world, both in the East and in the West, and again both in the North and in the South.

The Role of Yugoslavia in the Nonaligned Movement

At the time of escalating Cold War confrontations, when it seemed that the world was heading toward total bipolarization, and that all countries would sooner or later have to side with either one side or the other, Yugoslavia had a really important, even central, role in launching this new policy and movement. It was obviously not an accident that the founding conference of the nonaligned movement was in Belgrade (in 1961). This movement was, one way or the other, joined by a very large number of developing countries, including almost all of the African countries, the majority of the countries in South and Southeast Asia, and a large number of Latin American countries. The movement did play quite an important role in the development of international relations, particularly in the sixties and seventies. As Yugoslavia had one of the key roles in this grouping, it further strengthened its international position.

A Triangular Relationship

In my analysis and assessment of the development of interactions in this triangular relationship (Yugoslavia, US, USSR), it would be useful to keep in mind the following propositions and characteristics:

First, these relations were marked, to a large extent, by frequent fluctuations, including sometimes really dramatic and sudden changes. There was not much stability and continuity. This was the case particularly in the first 25-30 postwar years.

Second, the relations in the triangle were very much interrelated. The relations with one of the superpowers had a direct bearing on the relations with the other; specifically, any improvement in the relations with one had negative implications for the relations with the other, and vice versa. At the same time, one should stress that this was not the only determining factor. In some cases, oscillations in these relations reflected Yugoslav responses to some other international policy moves of the two superpowers (for example, the war in Vietnam and the Soviet military intervention in Czechoslovakia in August 1968 caused problems in the relations between Yugoslavia and the two superpowers although these military operations did not directly affect Yugoslavia). This is closely related to the active role Yugoslavia had in the world arena.

Third, changes in the relations between Yugoslavia and the two superpowers were not important only for Yugoslavia and the corresponding superpower. In some cases, Yugoslavia was an important issue in the relations between the two superpowers themselves.

Fourth, these relations were often asymmetric.[4] This was the case even in the periods when the policy of equidistance was officially proclaimed by the Yugoslav leadership. Thus, Yugoslavia several times was restrained in criticizing some Soviet moves and actions although they were in disagreement with them (e.g., in the connection with the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, or with regard to the Soviet military presence in some African countries in the 1970s and 1980s).

Fifth, these inconsistencies in Yugoslav policy are to be explained not only by reference to political interests and considerations, although the Yugoslav leadership was basically motivated by the real interests of the country; ideological considerations were also present. In spite of all criticisms they had with respect to the Soviet model of socialism and their resolve to distance themselves from this model, it was, after all, a socialist country. Therefore, the feeling was widespread, not only among the ruling strata but also in some sections of the society at large, that Yugoslavia and the USSR had some basic values in common, as well as common principles of social organization. After all, Yugoslavia had not defected from the world of socialism, only from the Soviet bloc. This traditional socialist orientation also presupposed, at the same time, a critical stance toward the other (“capitalist”) system. In 1963, Tito said that Yugoslavia’s “ .. . independent foreign policy must not be detrimental to the socialist countries and workers’ movement.... We must always keep in mind that we are part of that [revolutionary left] movement.”[5]

Sixth, the Soviet Union was geographically closer than the United States, and hence its presence was more closely felt. Indeed, until the end of World War Two, the US had no special interests in this area. But after the war, the US, as a superpower with global interests, became steadily more concerned about and involved in this part of Europe. Much later, in the course of the 1980s, the Soviet Union was obviously losing ground. The eventual collapse of the Soviet system in Russia left only one superpower for the time being.

Historical Stages

Three main stages can be identified in the development of Yugoslav relations with the two superpowers. The first covers the years 1943-1948, from the establishment of a federal Yugoslavia (“second” Yugoslavia) under communist rule, to its emergence as an important political factor with its expulsion from the Moscow-controlled Cominform on 28 June 1948. The second stage is the era of intense Soviet-Yugoslav conflict and tension, ending with Khruschchev’s visit to Belgrade on 13 May 1955. A third stage ran from that landmark to the end of the 1980s, when this “second” Yugoslavia broke down. Tito’s death in May 1980 divides the third stage into two subphases.

In the first period, the relations with the two superpowers were very different. Tito’s Yugoslavia, formed and led by a communist party, was at this time very closely aligned with the Soviet Union. Many observers believed that the two countries were the best of friends, perhaps even that the Yugoslav leaders were the special darlings of the Kremlin, among all the new communist leaderships in Eastern Europe. In my view, this interpretation does not tell us the whole truth. The Soviet-Yugoslav relationship was not as simple as that. There is no doubt that the bonds were very strong, that the Yugoslav leadership identified the interests of the country with those of the Soviet Union. At the same time, even in this period, there were some differences and disagreements concerning both domestic and foreign policy issues. As is well known, Moscow was very critical, for example, of some of Belgrade’s attitude about its anti-fascist liberation struggle. The Soviet leadership criticized Tito (albeit not publicly), saying that he was going too far, that he should slow down and make more concessions to the Yugoslav government in exile (in London), that the social and political dimensions of Yugoslavia’s liberation struggle should be, for the time being, set aside, and that Tito’s people should avoid using the words “socialism,” “class struggle,” and “proletariat.” Moscow strongly criticized Tito when he formed the National Liberation Committee (29 November 1943) as the provisional Yugoslav government. There were also disagreements concerning the civil war in Greece. Moscow also opposed Yugoslav initiatives to form the Balkan Federation, and even more so Tito’s ideas of a Balkan-Danubian Federation. The reasons for opposing these moves were obvious: Stalin was afraid that it might further strengthen Tito’s position. It was very difficult to control him as the leader of Yugoslavia. It would have been even more difficult had Tito become head of a much larger state. Moscow also refused to support Tito’s territorial claims against Italy (for Trieste and additional parts of Istria), and against Austria (for Carinthia). Tito reacted, for the first time publicly, when he said in his speech in Ljubljana (in May 1945): “We have no wish to be dependent on anyone ... We do not want to be small change, we do not want to be involved in any policy of spheres of influence.”[6] The next day, the Soviet ambassador informed the Yugoslav leaders that his government regarded this speech as an act of hostility toward the Soviet Union.[7] There were also disagreements concerning the economic relations between the two countries, concerning Yugoslavia’s strategy of economic development, the scope of Soviet economic assistance, and the Soviet offer to form joint enterprises. To put it briefly, the problems appeared because the Yugoslav leadership, even in this period, was not prepared to “tow the line” completely or to accept the position of obedient satellite regime.

In the Yugoslav-American relationship, one can identify two phases in this period. In 1943/44, the relationship was reasonably good. The US government realized the importance of the Yugoslav contribution to the anti-fascist coalition and decided in 1943 to establish direct contact with Tito and to give the Partisans military assistance. The US was not, however, very much involved in these contacts. Washington agreed that Great Britain should have the central role in this area in representing the interests of the West. By the end of the war, the policy of cooperation was more and more pushed out by various problems, differences, and disagreements. Very soon the relationship between the two countries became very tense and bad in general. In summer 1945, when the US and Great Britain demanded that the Yugoslav army should leave Trieste, the Yugoslavs backed off and direct armed conflict was averted at the last minute.[8] The following year, two American Air Force planes were shot down as they were flying over Yugoslav territory without permission. There were three main reasons for this negative turn. First, the US government was very critical of Tito’s policy of eliminating all noncommunist political groups and parties and establishing single party communist rule. (Yugoslavia was the first East European country in which this was done.) Second, it was believed in Washington that Yugoslavia went too far in aligning itself with the rival superpower. Third, Yugoslav territorial claims against Italy and Austria, involvement in the Greek civil war, and military presence in Albania were resented in Washington. All this contributed to bringing Yugoslav-American relations to the lowest point in the whole postwar period.

The second period brought radical and dramatic changes in the relationship within the “triangle.” Yesterday’s best friends and allies (the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia) became the worst of enemies. The YugoslavAmerican relationship moved in the opposite direction, quickly forging very friendly relations. The Yugoslav-Soviet relationship was marked by total confrontation.[9] The Yugoslav party was expelled from the international communist movement and the people’s democracies terminated all friendly ties with Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav leadership was accused not only of various ideological and political “deviations” (nationalism, petit bourgeois liberalism) but also of being “imperialist stooges.” Tito was accused of having collaborated with Hitler and of having later become an “imperialist” spy. Following through in economic relations, an economic blockade was imposed on Yugoslavia. Large numbers of Soviet armed forces were positioned close to the border, as the armed forces of Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria were suddenly (and without explanation) strengthened and expanded. Soviet intelligence also tried to organize popular uprisings against Tito’s government, and to recruit agents within Yugoslavia. For nearly five years, Yugoslavia faced the threat of direct Soviet military intervention.

The US and the whole world were really taken aback by these developments. No one had anticipated the conflict, which “ ... had an effect everywhere nothing short of a bomb.”[10] One analyst said that “the condemnation of Tito and his party caused a stir for which we have to go back to the excommunication of Luther to find a parallel.”[11] This is the explanation why the US and the West in general were restrained and very cautious in their first reactions to this sudden change. There was a lot of disbelief with respect to this change. The idea was widespread that the conflict was “fake,” reflecting a Soviet gameplan to insert a “Trojan horse” into the Western camp. It took the US almost a year to realize that the conflict was not fake. Once this was realized, the US changed its policy toward Yugoslavia. Within a short period of time (half a year or so), the relationship between the two countries improved enormously. The US realized that it should support the Yugoslav side in this new conflict, as this suited the interests of the West. This approach was founded on a correct assumption that the survival of an independent Yugoslavia, not under Soviet domination, would be a very serious defeat for the Soviet Union. As Warren Zimmermann has noted, “US support for Yugoslavia has been founded on a bedrock of US national interest: (a) to encourage socialist countries to assert and maintain their independence; (b) to encourage the development of alternative non-Soviet models of socialist development; and (c) to promote stability in this historically turbulent area.”[12]

The US decided to give full support to Yugoslav resistance to Soviet pressures. One might say that this was the first time in its history that the US had come to have such an important role in political developments in this part of the world. It is also beyond doubt that American support was an important factor that affected the final outcome, viz., the Yugoslav victory in this conflict. The US and its Western allies offered Yugoslavia not only large quantities of economic assistance but, what is even more important, also badly needed military assistance. As the Yugoslav economy reached the point of collapse, as a result of the total blockade on the part of the East, the West stepped in with its direct economic assistance. It is estimated that this economic and military assistance was worth about $15 billion (in 1992 prices). The US share in this was almost 90 percent. Military support was of critical importance too, and here the US helped to modernize the Yugoslav army, by supplying it with all sorts of modern armaments. Not a small number of Yugoslav army officers went to the US to attend army training schools and centers. US army officers were even sent to Yugoslavia to help in modernizing the Yugoslav army.[13] At the peak of the Soviet-Yugoslav confrontation, the American government warned the Soviets that in case of their direct intervention, the US and the West in general would not be in the role of passive observers, and that this intervention might have very serious implications for global international realities. There is no doubt that these warnings from Washington were a central reason why the Kremlin finally called off plans to launch direct war against Tito’s Yugoslavia .[14]

Under the circumstances, Yugoslavia had to change its international policy. Although it was in principle against switching from one bloc to the other, it had to establish, in this tense period, close linkages with the US and other Western powers. As a result, the Tito regime signed a “Treaty of Alliance, Political Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance” with Greece and Turkey in 1954; this treaty became known as the Balkan Pact. The Pact provided that in case any of the three countries should be attacked, the other two would immediately step in with their full support; since Greece and Turkey were already members of NATO, the security implications of this pact were clear. Not a few analysts were in fact convinced that this was a step in the direction of direct Yugoslav affiliation with NATO. Some said that by signing this pact, Yugoslavia was already semi-affiliated with NATO. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the future US President, told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May 1951, “You do not have to be a great soldier to know the great value which would accrue to freedom by including [in NATO] these countries: Spain, Turkey, Greece, and Yugoslavia.”[15] It seems that it was not only General Eisenhower’s idea at the moment – it had some support also in the US administration. The idea was not realized, first, because Tito and his leadership were not yet ready to affiliate directly with NATO. Also important was opposition from the British and French governments. The Yugoslav leadership, no doubt, wanted and needed close contacts and cooperation with the US and NATO, but at the same time, they realized that joining the pact would be too risky for them, for both political and “ideological” reasons. They thought that joining NATO would be incompatible with their resolve to preserve their version of communism (“self-managing socialism”). They looked at their close political cooperation with the West, at their policy of “semi-affiliation” with it as a marriage of convenience. It is quite possible that this policy was also largely influenced by changes in Moscow which followed Stalin’s death. On the other hand, there is no doubt that if Stalin had lived for a few more years and the Soviet Union had persisted with its aggressive policy vis-&agarve;-vis Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav leadership would have moved closer yet to the West.

The third stage (from 1955 until the end of “second Yugoslavia”) was characterized by the assertion and long-term stabilization of Yugoslavia’s policy of equidistance, its nonalignment, and its resolve to develop and maintain good political and economic relations with both superpowers. At the same time, this was a period when the relationship with both superpowers was marked by frequent fluctuations. This was the case particularly in the Soviet-Yugoslav relationship. In spite of these fluctuations, Yugoslavia did stick to its basic strategy of equidistance, consolidated its position of a buffer zone, a dividing line between the two blocs.

The central problem in the Yugoslav-Soviet relationship throughout almost the whole of this period was their fundamental disagreement as to the purpose and scope of the “normalization” of their relations which had been initiated in 1955. The Soviet Union had, for years, tried to persuade the Yugoslav leaders to return their country to the socialist bloc. They tried very hard to bring it back to the fold. On the other hand, the Yugoslav leadership was strongly opposed to it. The Yugoslavs considered it essential that the Soviets accept their nonaligned status, and neither challenge it nor try to subvert it. The Soviets found this easy to concede in theory, and more difficult in practice, and this gave rise to many problems and disagreements over the years. At the same time, one should keep in mind the fact that the Yugoslav leadership several times did make some concessions to the Soviet Union, that were, to some extent, at variance with its longterm strategy of nonalignment.

Here I shall briefly present the most important trends and junctures in the Soviet-Yugoslav relationship in this period. To begin with, Khrushchev’s “Canossa” visit of May 1955 obviously ushered in a dramatic change for the better, and within a year or so, the relationship between the two countries was largely normalized both in political and economic terms. But this proved shortlived. By the end of 1957, the two countries were again engaged in serious political controversy, provoked, in part, by growing realization on the part of the Soviets, and hence also by growing Soviet disappointment, that the Yugoslavs were not intending to rejoin the Soviet bloc as such. When the Yugoslav communist party published a draft party program in Autumn 1957, the CPSU responded with brutal criticism. Within a few weeks, relations were almost as tense as they had been in the preceding years. The Kremlin accused the Yugoslavs of various political “deviations” and denied that the Yugoslavs were good Marxist-Leninists. The Soviets now boycotted the Seventh Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY) in spring 1958, and compelled the other bloc parties to do likewise. The Soviets also canceled some economic agreements. The Yugoslav party had, for its part, refused even earlier to sign the declaration adopted at the 1957 conference of ruling communist parties. After that, the LCY was to refuse to attend international conferences organized by Moscow. In the early sixties again, the two sides reached a compromise and there was a transient improvement in relations in the years 1961-1968. This improvement was canceled and reversed by the Soviet military intervention in Czechoslovakia in August 1968. But the pendulum soon swung the other direction, and there was yet another rapprochement in the early 1970s. The relations between the two countries improved so much that some people even speculated that Yugoslavia was about to join the Warsaw Pact. Yugoslavia supported some Soviet foreign policy initiatives in this period. The two sides, for instance, took very similar stands on the Arab-Israeli war of October 1973. Yugoslavia even opened its air space to the Soviets to airlift weaponry to the Arabs.

Relations soured once more beginning in late December 1979, when Soviet forces were sent into Afghanistan, a member state of the nonaligned movement. But this time the disagreement did not take the dimensions and forms characteristic of the earlier years. Moreover, the Soviets seemed to be prepared to accept the Yugoslav view that friendly relations did not require an identity of views or monolithic unity.

Fluctuations in the Yugoslav-American relationship reflected, to a large extent, changes in Yugoslavia’s relations with the Soviets. Thus, for example, when the rapprochement of 1955 was achieved (via Khrushchev’s “Belgrade Declaration”) and it seemed that the two communist states were about to consolidate reasonably good relations, the US reacted by reducing and cooling its relations with Yugoslavia. American military advisers were withdrawn from Yugoslavia. Economic assistance was radically reduced, military assistance even more so. There were, however, a few cases in which changes in American-Yugoslav relations were not directly correlated with changes in Soviet-Yugoslav relations. Thus, in 1953 and early 1954, while Soviet-Yugoslav relations were still bad, serious problems appeared in the American-Yugoslav relationship as a result of YugoslavItalian territorial disputes in which the US quite understandably sided with Italy. Serious problems appeared again in the early 1970s, when Washington’s appraisal was that Yugoslavia had gone too far in its cooperation with Moscow.[16] But in spite of these fluctuations, one might say that American-Yugoslav relations in this period were more stable than was the case with Soviet-Yugoslav relations. Nor did occasional political disagreements impose barriers on bilateral cooperation in other spheres (such as the cultural and economic).

Disintegrative Tendencies

The 1980s and early 1990s represent the last stage in the history of “second” Yugoslavia. These were the years of crises affecting practically all the components of its political and economic system. The problems that had been simmering below the surface for some time during the 1980s erupted and assumed really dramatic dimensions.[17] These developments within the country had direct bearing on its international position. Within a short period of time, the country had lost much of its international prestige and position. Yugoslavia had lost its credentials as an important positive factor in the world arena. The country that had, in the preceding three decades, been widely recognized and respected as an important factor of stability not only in the Balkan region, but also in Europe and the world at large, had turned into an important source of instability. Indeed, with the total collapse of the system 1989-91, the disintegration of the federation, and the rise of ethnic tensions and internecine armed conflict, Yugoslavia became, by 1990-91, the most dangerous powderkeg in all Europe.

Yet another factor contributed to these disintegrative trends, viz., the collapse of the communist order throughout what had been the Soviet bloc and the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact. As a result of these developments, Yugoslavia lost one of the most important credentials it had to justify its specific international position, as a buffer zone between the two blocs. The end of the Cold War also had serious ramifications for the nonaligned movement.

The crises and processes of disintegration in Yugoslavia produced important changes in the relationship within the triangle. First, important changes emerged with respect to the strategic interests of the two superpowers in this region. While their interests had been divergent and conflicting in the past, now their interests converged to the point of being almost identical. More specifically, while it had been the US interest since 1948 to support independent Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, until the mid1980s, was preoccupied with the thought of bringing Yugoslavia back into the bloc. The independent position and role of Yugoslavia were incompatible with the longterm strategic interests of the Soviet Union as they were conceived in that period. Now, however, both superpowers had the same basic strategic interest of keeping Yugoslavia together, to prevent its total disintegration. Second, this stage was also characterized by important changes with respect to the presence of the two superpowers in the area. In the past, the Yugoslav regime had taken care to keep the Soviet and American presence, such as it was, in some kind of balance. But as time went on, the Soviet Union was becoming less and less important as a factor on the international scene, while the US gained much more weight. The reasons for this change are obvious – at the time when the Soviet Union was facing escalating crises in the country, the crises that would lead to its ultimate disintegration and the breakdown of the entire system. The Soviet Union was so preoccupied with its problems that it had no chance to take a more active role with respect to developments in Yugoslavia.

Third, as time went on, Yugoslavia was rapidly losing its position as an important partner of the two superpowers. Both of them were by now assessing the unfolding Yugoslav drama primarily as a regional (i.e., not continental) problem. Although they were publicly supporting the preservation of Yugoslavia, they were either not able (as in the Soviet case) or not willing (in the American case) to get too directly involved in the sundry international initiatives and actions undertaken after June 1991 to try to bring the warring sides in ex-Yugoslavia to the negotiating table. This change is particularly important in the case of the US. While in the preceding decades (between the early 1950s and the late 1980s), the US had been by far the most active state in shaping Western policy toward Yugoslavia (and was more active in its relations with Yugoslavia than any other Western state except perhaps Germany), this was not the case in the final stage of the process of disintegration and disappearance of “second” Yugoslavia. The burden of this role was now handed over to the European community and Western Europe in general. It seems that it was agreed among them that the European Community should take over the role of mediator between Serbia and Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia.

It is still an open question why the US handed over this key role to the European Community, why it partly retreated from its earlier position of central Western actor in confronting major problems in this part of Europe. It seems that two reasons were most important. The first was the US government’s assessment that the Yugoslav crisis was basically local and regional in character, and that, under the new circumstances entailed in the disappearance of the Soviet bloc, it could not seriously threaten the balance of power in Europe and the world at large. It seems that the view prevailed in Washington that the US need not be as directly involved in European affairs as hitherto. This did not mean, however, that the US was willing to “withdraw” from Europe. Though the main role (with respect to the Yugoslav crisis) was handed over to the EC, the US has not been just a passive observer. Washington has been quite active, 1990-92, in negotiations and initiatives affecting Yugoslavia. Until April 1992, in fact, the US remained opposed to the idea of recognition that Yugoslavia had disintegrated and steadfastly refused to extend diplomatic recognition to the new states of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia. On a number of occasions, the US government made it clear that it supported the preservation of unified Yugoslavia. As late as October 1989, President Bush had said (during a meeting with Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante Markovic) that the US was “ ... committed to support for Yugoslav independence, unity, and sovereignty.”[18] That these were not just statements of intention is clear from the US refusal to follow the EC lead in recognizing Slovenia and Croatia in December 1991. When the EC finally decided to accord recognition to these two new states, that month, setting the ex pected date of recognition for the following month, the US’s first reaction was critical. The US refused to follow suit, and only three months later, after the escalation of interethnic conflicts, did the US belatedly extend recognition to the republics of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The decision of the US to recognize those three republics (in April 1992) reflected a shift in the American approach. It seems that, in the meantime, the US government had realized that the Yugoslav crisis had assumed such serious dimensions that it could no longer be seen as a purely local or regional problem, but that it could have very dangerous implications for Europe as a whole, even to the supposed “new world order” proclaimed by President Bush. As a result of this new assessment, the US became once again more active in numerous initiatives to stop further escalation of the Balkan war. Once it became clear that the EC and the West European Union could not successfully handle this problem alone, the US strongly supported and to some extent initiated the idea that the Council on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and the United Nations should be directly engaged in tackling the problem of the Serb-Croat (and Serb-Muslim) war. Serbia has been particularly blamed for spreading the war to BosniaHerzegovina, and was warned (on 15 April 1992) that if it did not cease its “aggressive policy” in Bosnia-Herzegovina, it would have to face very serious sanctions. It seems that Washington, with its allies, was planning not only economic sanctions but some other forms of direct pressure – political and even (so it seemed at the time) military.

The Soviet Union was not able to become more involved in the final stages of the Yugoslav drama. Apart from making some general statements in support of continuation of a unified Yugoslavia, it was not in a position to do anything in practice. It abandoned its traditional view that the Balkan peninsula was of strategic interest to Moscow, and failed to play any substantive role in the emerging Western debate about the Yugoslav crisis. Russia not only had nothing to say against the West’s involvement but even supported some Western initiatives and steps. This Russian stand implied that Moscow was prepared to accept the central role of its recent Western rivals in attempting to defuse the Yugoslav crisis. As time went on, the Russian role actually became more and more marginal. Moscow undertook no initiatives of its own, and simply endorsed various initiatives coming from the major Western powers. How much things have changed in the Russian approach to Yugoslavia was clear from Moscow’s decision to recognize the independence of Croatia and Slovenia even before the US did. This was a shock for the Serbs, who had seen Russia as a traditional Serbian friend. Russia’s recognition of Croatia and Slovenia was no doubt of great importance for these two new states and they welcomed it publicly. At the same time, this was a great blow for Serbia, where it was received as a “betrayal” of a centuries-long friendship. It seems that this switch in Russia’s policy with respect to the Yugoslav crisis was not the result of a reassessment of developments in former Yugoslavia, but rather of more general strategic considerations. Russia badly needs economic assistance, and the West is the only part of the world that could provide such assistance.

The War in Bosnia

America’s and Russia’s responses to the latest developments in the region that once comprised Yugoslavia continued in the same direction through much of summer 1992. The tragic events in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the escalation of war helped to bring the total number of war-related deaths to 60,000 by August 1992, made it clear that all international efforts to stop the war were failing utterly, and that the sundry diplomatic and economic pressures exerted by the UN, the European Community, the CSCE, and some individual states have not been strong enough to compel the chief antagonists to change their policies and thus bring about the restoration of peace in the region. The US played perhaps the key role in the preparation of UN Security Council resolutions 752 and 757 that imposed drastic sanctions on “third” Yugoslavia,[19] total economic blockade (which did not prove entirely effective), a transport and communication blockade, the withdrawal of ambassadors from Belgrade, the reduction of the number of diplomatic representatives assigned to Belgrade, a cessation in cultural cooperation, etc.[20] While some Western countries were advocating milder sanctions, the US insisted on a more rigorous stance. Thus, the US was the first Western state to close a number of “Yugoslav” diplomatic outposts, including, for example, the Consulate-General and Cultural Center in New York. In addition, the US asked the Belgrade’s ambassador in Washington to leave the country. All (more than 270) branches and agencies representing Yugoslav companies in the US have also been closed. Washington was also very active in the CSCE discussions that led to the temporary exclusion of “third” Yugoslavia. Washington insisted on the complete exclusion of Belgrade, but the majority opted for a temporary exclusion, until mid-October 1992.[21] The US government refused to recognize “third” Yugoslavia as the (sole) successor to “second” Yugoslavia, insisting that all five new states (i.e., also Slovenia, Croatia, BosniaHerzegovina, and Macedonia) must have the same rights as far as succession status is concerned. The US has played a very important role in vari

ous international initiatives to restore peace in Bosnia and to establish humanitarian aid corridors to Sarajevo, and in August 1992 also to some other parts of Bosnia. Perhaps the most indicative of this new approach is the fact that the US seemed to be ready now to consider the possibility of military intervention to stop the war in Bosnia. President Bush said in August 1992 that the US would do “everything necessary to restore peace in Bosnia.” The message to Belgrade was obvious – if the Serbian side did not stop the war, i.e., if the UN sanctions were not enough, military intervention might be considered. At this writing, the US was still debating the intervention option, and seemed reluctant to make a final decision. Typical of American hesitation was George Bush’s comment in early August: “Before I’d commit American forces to a battle,” President Bush said in reference to the Yugoslav crisis, “I want to know what’s the beginning, what’s the objective, how is the objective going to be achieved, and what’s the end ... I don’t see the answers to my questions.”[22] Administration spokesmen stated on several occasions that Washington was, at the given moment, ready to use only its air force and naval units, not ground forces. The reason for hesitation is obvious: the commitment of ground forces in Bosnia could be very costly in terms of human lives. Washington has “offered” this commitment to its West European allies.

In early July 1992, the US revised its stand vis-&agarve;-vis the war in a potentially significant way. While in May and June, Washington had held exclusively Belgrade, the Serbian side, responsible for these developments, Washington now criticized the Croatian Republic as well, for its involvement in Bosnia.[23] Washington was beginning to face the fact that Zagreb had also contributed to spreading the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Russia was largely, and in some respects completely, supportive of America’s new approach to the Yugoslav crisis. Shortly after the US recognized Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina (on 7 April), Russia also recognized Bosnia as an independent and sovereign state. What was an even greater surprise and shock for Belgrade, and not only for Belgrade but also for a large part of the Russian public, was that Moscow fully supported the UN sanctions against “third” Yugoslavia; indeed, the Russian representatives in the UN voted for the sanctions. Moscow not only voted for the sanctions but declared its willingness to impose a complete economic blockade on “third” Yugoslavia. In July 1992, Moscow addressed some stinging criticisms at Belgrade, that seemed to represent a radical shift in Russia’s approach to Belgrade. Russia’s Foreign Minister stated that he had been disappointed by the results of his talks with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.[24] He even said that the Serbian leadership had been pursuing an “aggressive policy” toward some of its neighbors, particularly Bosnia-Herzegovina. In his opinion, Serbia had made a big mistake when it refused to recognize all the newly formed states on former Yugoslavia’s territory, i.e., to do what Russia did when it recognized all the ex-Soviet republics as independent and sovereign states. The Russians also accused the Belgrade regime of being a national-communist and even “national Bolshevik” regime, for its blend of traditional bolshevism with aggressive nationalism.

The only aspect in which Moscow did not support the new policy of the West was the proposal to exclude “third” Yugoslavia from the CSCE. When the initiative was launched, Russia voted against it and blocked the American/EC proposal. Instead of complete expulsion, Russia proposed the “empty chair” option which was ultimately adopted.[25] As the CSCE decisions presupposed unanimous support, all the other member states had no other option but to accept this compromise proposed by Moscow. With regard to the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Moscow took the position that Serbia was not the only culprit, and that the Muslims and the Croats must also share some blame.

The Yugoslav drama gradually assumed the characteristics and dimensions of a major policy problem for the Russian government. Moscow’s support for the policy of the US and the EC was no doubt well received in the West, and might have positive implications with respect to Western policy toward Russian problems, including financial support. At the same time, this policy has not been well received within Russia itself. Quite a number of important political organizations and groups have already strongly criticized President Yeltsin and his government for his “betrayal” of fellow-Orthodox states, Serbia and Montenegro, and for subordinating Russian policy to the interests of the West. In the Russian parliament, a special session was held at which opposition groups strongly criticized Russia’s support for the UN sanctions against Yugoslavia and asked that Russia should reject these sanctions or delay its own adherence. Yeltsin’s government experienced the worst defeat since it was formed – only seven MPs voted for the government, while 130 voted against it (with a few abstentions). The same groups and organizations mentioned above have been demanding that Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev and some of his associates resign.[26] It is also interesting to note that this “pro-Serbian lobby” in Moscow has support both from the left and from the right (i.e., from oldstyle communists and right-wing nationalists alike).

But as the months went by, the Russian government has come under increasing domestic pressure to break ranks with the West and to assist Serbia openly and energetically. Russians taking this view speak of Russia’s “national shame” in letting down the Serbs and call Russia’s cooperation with the sanctions “capitulation.”[27] Various intelligence services have indicated, beginning in November 1992 if not earlier, that Russia was shipping oil to Serbia in violation of the embargo. In late February, the Russian parliament returned to the issue once again and called for lifting the sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro and for imposing them against Croatia. And on 1 March 1993, British defense analysts issued a statement claiming that Russia had signed “a secret deal to supply Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia with tanks and anti-aircraft missiles. “[28] Meanwhile, there have been repeated reports of Russian mercenaries fighting on the Serbian side in Bosnia.[29]

In January 1993, Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas took office as the new American president and immediately announced a serious review of the Balkan situation. A month later, President Clinton and his Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, gave a qualified endorsement to the Vance-Owen peace plan (discussed in the following chapter), and the Russian government declared its satisfaction and concurrence with the Clinton administration’s stance.[30] Meanwhile, Russian President Boris Yeltsin faced a growing challenge from the Russian parliament, a struggle which could have wide implications for Russia’s foreign policy, in the Balkans and elsewhere.

“Second” Yugoslavia is no doubt finished. But this is not the end of this historic drama. Not a single one of the problems that led to the disintegration of the country and the present interethnic war have been solved. On the contrary, the problems and conflicts are still escalating, assuming more dangerous forms and dimensions. The territory of former Yugoslavia will unfortunately remain one of the central problems for the international community for quite some time. The country is in the process of radical “Lebanonization.” There is also the threat that the Yugoslav powderkeg could eventually threaten regional and international security. For this reason, the US and all other important states have to pay special attention to developments in the territory of former Yugoslavia.


1. David Anderson, “Europe in the 1990s,” in P. Simic, W. Richy, and M. Stojcevic (eds.), American and Yugoslav Views on the 1990s (Belgrade: Institute of International Politics and Economics, 1990), p. 64.

2. Robin Alison Remington, “Yugoslavia and Foreign Affairs,” in Gary K. Bertsch and T. W. Ganschow (eds.), Comparative Communism (San Francisco, Calif.: W. H. Freeman & Co., 1976), p. 421.

3. For discussion, see Dennison I. Rusinow, The Yugoslav Experiment, 1948-1977 (London: C. Hurst Co., 1977).

4. Anton Bebler, “The US Strategy and Yugoslavia’s Security,” in Simic et al. (eds.), American and Yugoslav Views, pp. 183-185.

5. Josip Broz Tito (13 May 1963), quoted in Savez komunista Jugoslavije u medjunarodnom radnickom pokretu, 1948-1968 (Belgrade: Sedma sila, 1968), pp. 98, 103.

6. Quoted in Fernando Claudin, The Communist Movement from Comintern to Cominform (London: Penguin Books, 1975), p. 489.

7. Francois Fejto, History of People’s Democracies (New York: Praeger, 1971), p. 85.

8. Bebler, “The US Strategy and Yugoslavia’s,” pp. 173-176.

9. Radovan Radonjic, Sukob KPJ sa Kominformom (Zagreb: Globus, 1975); Adam B. Ulam, Titoism and the Cominform (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1952); and Robert Bass and Elisabeth Marbury (eds.), The Soviet-Yugoslav Contro versy, 1948-58, Documentary Record (New York: Prospect Books, 1959).

10. Claudin, The Communist Movement from Comintern to Cominform, p. 486.

11. R. N. Carew Hunt, The Theory and Practice of Communism (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Great Britain: Penguin Books, 1973), p. 251.

12. Warren Zimmermann, “American-Yugoslav Relations in the Light of Current Changes in East-West Relations,” in Simic et al. (eds.), American and Yugoslav Views, p. 156.

13. Bebler, “The US Strategy and Yugoslavia’s Security,” p. 176.

14. See Bela Kiraly, “The Aborted Soviet Military Plans Against Tito’s Yugoslavia”, in Wayne S. Vucinich (ed.). At the Brink of War and Peace: The Tito-Stalin Split in a Historic Perspective (New York: Brooklyn College Press, 1982).

15. Eisenhower Public Record Office, CAB 125/45 CP(51),17 May 1951.

16. See Laurence Silberman, “Yugoslavia’s ‘Old’ Communism: Europe’s Fiddler on the Roof,” in Foreign Policy, No. 26 (Spring 1977).

17. See Marijan Korosic, Jugoslavenska kriza, 2nd ed. (Zagreb: Naprijed, 1989).

18. Quoted in Zimmermann, “American-Yugoslav Bilateral Relations,” p. 156.

19. By “third” Yugoslavia, the author means the rump Yugoslavia consisting of Serbia and Montenegro. – Eds.

20. Politika (Belgrade), 1 June 1992, p. 3.

21. NIN (10 July 1992), p. 50.

22. Quoted in Wall Street journal (5 August 1992), p. A16.

23. NIN (10 July 1992), pp. 52-53.

24. Izvestiia (Moscow), 8 June 1992, pp. 1, 4.

25. Borba (Belgrade), 11 July 1992. pp. 2-3.

26. Ibid. (1 July 1992), p. 17.

27. Neue Zürcher Zeitung (3 February 1993), p. 3.

28. The Times (London), 2 March 1993, p. 14.

29. See, for example, Radio Bosnia-Herzegovina (Sarajevo), 26 January 1993, trans. in FBIS, Daily Report (Eastern Europe), 27 January 1993, p. 37.

30. Neue Ziircher Zeitung (14/15 February 1993, p. 3; and 16 February 1993, p. 1).