At the outset of the present century there emerged in the United States, England, and other parts of northern Europe a vigorous movement for strengthening and consolidating world peace, primarily by the developing of new legal codes of international behavior. The movement was given a significant fillip when Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in 1899 issued a call for an international conference on disarmament. This curious initiative, largely the product of the immature dilettantism of the Tsar himself and elaborated by the characteristic confusions of the Russian governmental establishment of the time, was not a serious one. But it was at once seized upon with enthusiasm by adherents of the peace movements and had consequences the Tsar himself had not anticipated. Of those, the most important were the two Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907, resulting in a modernization and renewed codification of international law and in a significant elaboration, in particular, of the laws of war.
Beyond that there was, especially in the United States, a marked surge of interest in and enthusiasm for the negotiation and adoption of treaties of arbitration and conciliation. And these governmental efforts were supported by a number of private institutional initiatives, of which one of the most lasting and notable was the founding, in 1910, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. That institution was only one of the several creative initiatives of Andrew Carnegie on behalf of world peace, another being the erection of the great “Peace Palace” at the Hague.
It is both sad and ironic to reflect that these so far-seeing and commendable efforts on behalf of international peace were proceeding simultaneously with the intensive pursuit by the great European powers of what were, whether so intended or otherwise, preparations for the First World War. As recently as 1894 the French and the Russian general staffs had linked the fates of their countries in a secret treaty of alliance, so worded as almost to ensure that there could be no further minor complication in European affairs that would not lead to wider hostilities among the great powers. It was in 1898 that there had been inaugurated, for the first time in earnest, the unnecessary and dreadfully misguided effort of Kaiser Wilhelm Il’s Germany to compete with Great Britain in the development of naval power. And throughout all of it the great powers were busy with other military preparations that, however defensively conceived, simply diminished whatever small possibility of avoiding a general conflagration might still have existed.
In the face of all the preparations, the strivings and enthusiasms of the peace movement of those first years of this century might appear, in retrospect, unrealistic, naive, and pathetic. But they were, in addition to being—as we see today—profoundly prophetic and well justified in the concerns they reflected, deeply, almost desperately, believed in by those who experienced them. And they were not wholly without justification. Nearly a hundred years had then elapsed since the last great all-European military conflagration, that of the Napoleonic wars. An entire generation had intervened since the last great bilateral intra-European conflict, the Franco-Prussian War. Was there not then, people could ask themselves, a possibility that the great European powers could now be brought, with sufficient outside encouragement and pressure, to perceive the folly of war among highly industrialized powers in the modern age and then to retire at the brink?
It was in the entertainment of such hopes, fears, and aspirations that the protagonists of the American and European peace movements were struggling along as Europe entered the second decade of the present century.
A hundred years before that time the entire Balkan Peninsula, from the Aegean Sea and the Turkish straits to the borders of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires, had been, with minor exceptions, embraced by the Turkish empire. But in the course of the nineteenth century the Turks had been compelled to withdraw southward and eastward, to a point where all that remained of their European dominions were the southernmost parts of the peninsula, primarily Thrace and Macedonia. By the beginning of the twentieth century a number of new states—notably Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, and Romania—had sprung up in the area thus liberated from Turkish control. Those states were, without exception, monarchically governed; and the monarchs were, as a rule, somewhat more moderate and thoughtful than their subjects. But their dynasties were not well established. Their powers were usually disputed by inexperienced and unruly parliamentary bodies. Borders were in many instances vague and lacking in firm acceptance. The entire peninsula was, in short, devoid of international stability.
It was, of course, a time when the powerful forces of modern nationalism were achieving everywhere, but particularly in nations new to the experience of political independence, their greatest intensity. And nowhere did this have a more violent, intoxicating effect than on the politicians and military leaders of the newly founded Balkan countries. If, initially, the leading impulses for the expulsion of the Turks from European Russia had come from the neighboring great powers, Russia and Austria-Hungary, the political leaders of the newly established Balkan states were now beginning to take matters into their own hands. And it was hard for people who had recently achieved so much, and this so suddenly, to know where to stop. Dreams of new glories to flow from territorial expansion bemused many minds. The air was clouded by visions of a greater this or that: a “greater Serbia,” a “greater Bulgaria,” and so on. And while the remaining areas of Turkish control in the southern Balkans, Thrace and Macedonia, were by no means the only objectives of such aspirations, it was no more than natural that they should have been the principal ones. Turkey was regarded, in the common phrase of the time, as “the sick man of Europe.” If this “sick man” had now been expelled from most of the peninsula, was there any reason why he could not be similarly expelled from the remainder as well? For that, however, alliance and common action were required. “Let us unite to complete the expulsion of the Turks,” was the general feeling. “And then, when we are free,” as one Bulgarian revolutionary put it, “each shall have what belongs to him.”
Vague impulses of that nature, hastily linked together by a flimsy patchwork of secret and poorly thought-out military engagements, led the Serbs, Bulgarians, Greeks, and Montenegrins to launch conjointly, in the early autumn of 1912, a military action against the Turks. That was the first of the two Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913. The Turks, as it happened, proved to be considerably weaker than had been generally supposed. Within a few weeks they had been driven to the gates of Constantinople, and the war was over.
But never, surely, did any coalition of powers launch a war on the basis of flimsier understandings among them about what it was they were fighting for than did the participants of this military action against the Turks. The relations among the supposed allies, and particularly the most prominent of them—Serbs, Bulgarians, and Greeks—had, even before this, been of the worst kind, ridden by rivalries, suspicions, and conflicting aims. The result was predictable. The defeat of the Turks ended with forces of Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece occupying portions of the helpless Macedonia. Each had aspirations with relation to the territory that could be satisfied only at the expense of the others. It was not surprising, therefore, that in June 1913 war broke out among them. It was this that was known as the second Balkan war.
This second fracas centered upon the fighting between the Serbs and the Bulgarians, longstanding rivals for preeminence in that southern part of the Balkans. Hostilities were furious but brief, lasting only over the midsummer of 1913. The Bulgarians, already overextended by their action against the Turks, were decisively defeated. A species of peace treaty (like many such arrangements, in essence a provisorium) was signed in Bucharest on August 10, 1913.
The news that war had broken out in the Balkans, reaching the major Western countries in the early autumn of 1913, naturally came as a shock to the adherents of the European and American peace movements. The shock was modified, to be sure, by the fact that in Britain and America public opinion, and in particular the liberal opinion so prominently represented in the peace movements, had for years been strongly, sometimes fulsomely, sympathetic to the Balkan Slavs in their struggle for liberation from Turkey. Many well-meaning people in the West found it easy, in the light of this enthusiasm, to forget that the hostilities had been inaugurated in the first war by the Balkan Slavs themselves, in ways that constituted violations not only of international law but of existing contractual agreements of one sort or another.
In the case of the second war, the situation was different. The Turks (although they took advantage of the occasion to recover a small part of the territory they had lost) were no longer a principal party to the hostilities. Not only that, but reports were now coming in of the extreme savagery of the fighting that had marked the first war and of the many atrocities against war prisoners and innocent civilian populations that had accompanied it. It was becoming evident that by no means all of the atrocities had come from the Turkish side. Altogether, it was now being realized that the continuation of the Balkan hostilities constituted a serious challenge to the peace movements of the time.
By no institution in the West could that challenge have been more keenly felt than by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Only three years had elapsed since its founding. What was happening was plainly in flagrant conflict with its commitment. But what could be done? What action could it take? Disturbing as the situation was, the information coming in from the area of hostilities was still for the most part fragmentary, indirect, and unsatisfactory. Little of it was fully reliable. It was hard to know how to distinguish fact from fiction, reality from exaggeration, the known from the merely alleged. Before far-reaching decisions could be made, one had to gain a clearer picture of what was happening.
This was the background for the decision of the Carnegie Endowment, made immediately upon the outbreak of the second war, to set up a prestigious international commission and to charge it with the task of establishing the facts and giving to Western opinion a clear and reliable picture of what was going on in the affected region. Once this picture was available it would be easier, one felt, not just for the Endowment itself but for the many others as well who were committed to the cause of international peace to determine what might be done to set things to rights.
The commission, then, was duly established. It consisted of seven members: one each from the United States, Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia, and two from France. They were all men of some prominence in their respective countries, chosen particularly for their interest in the peace movements. The presidency of the commission was exercised by a French senator, Baron d’Estournelles de Constant, a man of much eminence who had not only taken a prominent part in the peace movement, serving as the French representative to the Hague conferences, but had considerable familiarity with at least one area of the Balkans.
Four of the men were designated to serve as a special fact-finding subcommittee charged with visiting the region of the Balkan hostilities on behalf of the commission. There included the American, Dr. Samuel T. Dutton, professor at Teacher’s College, Columbia University; the French lawyer and member of the Chamber of Deputies M. Justin Godart; and the well-known Russian professor, historian, writer, and liberal political figure Paul Milyukov (destined later to play so prominent a role in the provisional government of 1917). The fourth was a British journalist, a man whose distinction was also to reach its acme in later years: Henry N. Brailsford. A person of outstanding intelligence, literary talent, and scholarly diligence, Brailsford would appear to have had extensive previous experience in the Balkans and was conversant with at least two of its languages. He had lived in both Greece and Macedonia and had written, some six years earlier, an excellent book on the Macedonia of that day. Milyukov had also had earlier experience in the Balkans, particularly as a dilettante archaeologist in Bulgaria and Macedonia between 1897 and 1899.
These men set forth from Paris on August 2, 1913, shortly before the ending of the second of the two wars. Their journey took them, together or severally, to Belgrade, Salonica, Athens, Constantinople, and Sofia. Although the commission’s report includes no account of their experiences, reason tells us that it must have been, to say the least, an eventful journey; and that supposition is confirmed by several hints given us in Baron d’Estournelle’s introduction to the report. From these hints we may conclude, for example, that the Serbian government, resenting (for different reasons in each case) the inclusion of Milyukov and Brailsford in the delegation, not only declined to give any official recognition to the commissioners but also was initially reluctant to assist them in practical ways. The commissioners persisted, however, and in the end the government provided them “with every facility for reaching the frontier and Salonica.”
The Greek government, similarly motivated, officially denied permission for Brailsford (who had once fought with the Greeks against the Turks but had later been critical of the Greeks in certain respects) to come to Kilkich, and limited his movements while he was in Salonica. As a result of these reactions, Milyukov curtailed his participation. But the other three commissioners, undismayed by the rebuffs, pushed on with their mission; and after nearly eight weeks of strenuous travel, returned to Paris on September 28. They had seen little of the actual hostilities, which ended at roughly the same time the commissioners arrived. But they had seen much of their immediate aftermath, and had tapped the fresh memories of many survivors, military and civilian. That, in the circumstances, was quite enough.
The report of the commission consisted of seven chapters beginning with a long historical introduction leading up to the outbreak of the first war but no further.* There followed three chapters, comprising 135 of the report’s long and finely printed pages, forming the very body of the document. Those chapters dealt exclusively with the excesses, and particularly the atrocities, that marked the hostilities and their aftermath: in short, the abundant evidences of violations not only of international law but of the minimum dictates of common humanity. While the final report, issued unanimously in the names of all the members of the commission, did not identify the authors of the various chapters, the Carnegie Endowment’s archives clarify the matter, without indicating the degree of collaboration among the principal authors. The first chapter, the historical résumé, was written by Milyukov. The following three, concentrating on the atrocities, were from the pen of Brailsford (chapter two) or Milyukov (chapters three and four).
There followed a chapter on the precise relationship of the two wars to the principles and accepted provisions of international law—a document that also came from Milyukov’s pen. A further chapter, on the economic consequences of the two wars, was written by the French authority, Godart. The brief final chapter of conclusions, written by Dutton, was a sad and penetrating document, not hesitating to recognize the two wars as “a ghastly chapter of horrors,” declaring that the commission’s members could “indulge in no optimism regarding the immediate political future of Macedonia” in particular, and confessing that for the region in general the case for the future seemed “well nigh hopeless” in the light of prevailing conditions.
Following the return of the three commissioners who visited the affected area, the report was rather laboriously put together—laboriously because the several members of the commission were living in widely dispersed geographical locations; and it was not completed and made public until the early summer of 1914. It was, of course, destined to be at once blanketed, in the attention and reactions of the world public, by the more sensational event of the outbreak of the First World War—a circumstance that offers all the more reason for its republication today, when the attention of world opinion is once more so unhappily drawn to the still unsolved problems of the region with which it dealt.
Examined from a distance of some eighty years, the report makes today, in some respects, an odd impression. There seems to be little unity among its various parts. In the narrative chapters, the ones describing the atrocities, no effort seems to have been made to relate the happenings to the political and military events that supplied the background for them—not even noting the beginnings and endings of hostilities in the various wars and regions. There was no attempt to analyze the political motivations of the various governments participating in the wars, or to suggest what might be done by the peace movements to prevent the war’s recurrence. But the document is replete with interesting and often penetrating passages on individual matters; and it may stand, in its entirety, as one of the most eloquent and compelling pleas for recognition of the folly of modern war and the essential need for international peace, not just in the Balkans but everywhere in the civilized world.
All of the above having been said, the importance of the report for the world of 1993 lies primarily in the light it casts on the excruciating situation prevailing today in the same Balkan world with which it dealt. The greatest value of the report is to reveal to people of this age how much of today’s problem has deep roots and how much does not. It will be easier to think of solutions when such realities are kept in mind.
The measure of historical continuity should not be exaggerated. There are significant differences between the Balkan situation of 1913 and that of the present day. There has been since that time a revolution in weaponry. In 1913 even the machine gun was in its infancy. There was no air power. Motor vehicles were so scarce that they played no significant part in military transport. For the most part the atrocities recounted in the report were ones committed by the bayonet, the rifle butt, the cudgel, and the whiplash.
The revolution in communication, so predominant in daily life in our day and strongly affecting military affairs, would have been not only implausible but probably wholly unimaginable to the peoples and the soldiers of 1913. The outside world knew of the horrors and atrocities of that day only from the reports of itinerant journalists. The report of Carnegie’s Balkan commission was, in its capacity as a thorough survey of at least one outstanding aspect of those wars, a unique phenomenon. Today the evidences of all the excesses, and in some instances the excesses themselves, are on the screens of hundreds of millions of homes across the globe. And the publicity has had much to do with the prominent involvement of Western governments and other outsiders in the hostilities, an involvement taking the form of the presence of many thousands of Westerners—UN and Red Cross personnel, reporters and photographers for the press, representatives of private charitable organizations and official conciliators—at or near the scenes of hostilities. The commissioners of 1913 were almost alone in their effort to bring to the attention of the world the truly alarming aspects of Balkan violence. Today, they would have had a host of collaborators in such an effort.
But even more significant than those differences are the many and depressing evidences of similarity between what was occurring in the Balkans in 1913 and what is going on there today. There are too many to be listed here, but a few examples will suffice.
Let us take just the general manner in which warfare is being waged. The common feature of Balkan wars, it is said in the 1913 report, is that
war is waged not only by the armies but by the nations themselves.… This is why these wars are so sanguinary, why they produce so great a loss in men, and end in the annihilation of the population and the ruin of whole regions.
The object of armed conflict, the report continued, was “the complete extermination of an alien population.” Villages were not just captured; they were in large part destroyed. The inhabitants were driven out (where they had not already fled), and their houses burned. Woe betided the man of military age, or the woman of “enemy” national identity, who was found alive in the conquered village. Rape was ubiquitous, sometimes murderous. Victims, now wholly dispossessed and homeless, were obliged to take to the roads or the mountain trails by the thousands, in a frantic search for places where they could at least lay their heads. Great streams of pathetically suffering refugees could be seen on many of the roads of the peninsula. Little pity was shown for the sick and the wounded. Prisoners of war, if not killed outright, were sometimes driven into outdoor compounds or ramshackle buildings and left there to die of hunger and exposure. There was in general a total hard-heartedness toward the defeated, whether military or civilian. Some of this was carried beyond just the level of neglect and indifference and into the realm of sickening and deliberate cruelty.
The similarity of all this with what is happening today is inescapable. And comparisons of who, statistically, committed the most atrocities are idle. A single person’s painful death under such treatment is always alone a measureless tragedy. That there were any such horrors at all in the Balkan wars was an abomination. Very often, as the 1913 commissioners discovered, the rumors of the scale of the atrocities turned out, upon careful examination, to be exaggerations. But the commissioners were also obliged to point out, in many such instances, that the residue of reality discovered to lie behind the quantitative exaggerations was in itself enough to turn the stomach of any reasonably decent person.
It was often similarly charged in 1913 that those who ordered the excesses were not the regular governments and commanders—that the atrocities were carried out by armed bands of like political sympathies, but operating semi-independently under their own chieftains. The 1913 commissioners found this a lame excuse. If the behavior in question was not ordered by the regular commanders, they pointed out, it was certainly tolerated and winked at, sometimes actually encouraged, by them. Again, the comparison with what is going on today is obvious.
The 1913 commissioners found it hard, in investigating all the excesses, to distinguish comparative degrees of guilt among the various belligerents. The Serbs, indeed, figured as major offenders, particularly for the manner in which they treated the Macedonians in the liberated territory of which they were in occupation in the aftermath of the first of the two wars. But the Serbs happened to be, as they are described to be in the hostilities of 1992 and 1993, the strongest party. And who could say with certainty or even plausibility that the other parties, had they been in the driver’s seat, would have behaved any better? None, after all, was entirely innocent in that respect. It was emphasized, in the words of the commission’s report, that “there is no clause in international law applicable to land war and to the treatment of the wounded, which was not violated, to a greater or lesser extent, by all the belligerents.”
The question arose in the minds of the commissioners of how much the ferocity of these hostilities could be properly attributed to religious fanaticism. That religion played a part at many points in the animosities that motivated the fighting was clearly recognized. This was particularly the case in the first of the wars, which found the other parties, mostly Christians, ranged together against the Muslim Turks. And similar situations had some part in the second war as well, there being Muslim elements in both the Bulgarian and Macedonian populations.
But to conclude that those differences were the principal cause of animosity would be to go too far. The Turks, for one thing, appear to have been, in the centuries of their one-time ascendancy in the Balkans, relatively tolerant in their treatment of non-Muslim religious institutions. Their treatment of such institutions was in any case not the leading grievance against them. And as the future was to demonstrate, the Christians were capable of being just as violent and savage in their conflicts with other Christians as they were with the Muslims. In the period of these Balkan wars, the Croats, as the only Roman Catholic people, were still, with very minor exceptions, living in areas belonging to, or under occupation of, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were not, therefore, directly involved in these two Balkan wars; and the Eastern Orthodox vs. Roman Catholic religious antagonisms that were to play so unfortunate a role in later years were not at that time prominently involved.
No, the strongest motivating factor involved in the Balkan wars was not religion but aggressive nationalism. But that nationalism, as it manifested itself on the field of battle, drew on deeper traits of character inherited, presumably, from a distant tribal past: a tendency to view the outsider, generally, with dark suspicion, and to see the political-military opponent, in particular, as a fearful and implacable enemy to be rendered harmless only by total and unpitying destruction. And so it remains today.
In attempting to reason with the respective governments about these matters, the 1913 commissioners found themselves up against blank walls. What was called in the report “the megalomania of the national ideal” had room for neither reason nor compromise. Statistics used to support a government’s case were distorted to the point of sheer absurdity. Those invoked by different governments differed so widely as to afford no conceivable basis for reconciliation. Yet anyone who challenged a given government’s version of the truth documented himself thereby, in the eyes of that government, as a committed enemy. “It is,” wrote Baron d’Estournelles in his introduction to the report, “impossible to avoid the reproach of a party, if one does not take sides with it against the others, and conversely.” In the face of extreme nationalistic self-admiration and suspicion of every neighbor, there was little room for anything resembling conciliation.
One cannot end this summary of the similarities between yesterday and today without noting some of the reminiscences and reflections of the president of the Balkan commission, Baron d’Estournelles, as recorded in his introduction to the report. He had served, many years before, as a member of the international commission set up to delineate, on the spot, the Balkan boundaries described in the Berlin Treaty of 1879–1880. He had taken advantage of those duties to travel independently through much of Albania and Macedonia. Those countries were then very little known. They “were then, and are still, unlike Europe,” he wrote, “more widely separated from her than Europe from America.” Such were the impressions he had gained that he had, “as a matter of professional discretion,” he said, “scarcely dared” to publish any of them.
Even then there had been hesitations about the desirability of sending a commission to investigate the circumstances of the Balkan wars. What if the commission should find “that the atrocities were inevitable, inseparable from the condition of war…? What an exposure of the powerlessness of civilization!” And would its efforts not merely stimulate the animosities? It was that anxiety, “the fear of compromise, the fear of displeasing one or another of the nations, the terror, in short, of intervening reasonably and in time, which has brought about a crisis, the gravity of which is not only of yesterday and of today, but also of tomorrow.”
Others were saying, of course, why go further afield to seek troubles and duties? Have you not enough to do at home? “Yes,” was Baron d’Estournelles’s answer. “We have plenty to do at home.” But “my own imperfection,” he argued, “need not prevent me from doing my utmost to be useful.” And, after all: “All this horror will not cease to exist as long as Europe continues to ignore it…. The spectacle of destitute childhood in a civilized country is beginning to rouse the hardest hearts. What shall be said of destitution of a whole people, of several nations, in Europe, in the Twentieth Century?” And then came this paragraph:
This is the state of things which the Americans wish to help in ending. Let them be thanked and honored for their generous initiative. I have been appealing to it for a long time…. We are only too happy today to combine our strength, too willing to raise with them a cry of protestation against the contempt of skeptics and illwishers who will try to suppress it.
Well, here we are, in 1993. Eighty years of tremendous change in the remainder of Europe and of further internecine strife in the Balkans themselves have done little to alter the essence of the problem this geographic region presents for Europe, for our own country, and for the United Nations. Obviously, it is a problem with very deep historical roots. Those roots reach back, clearly, not only into the centuries of Turkish domination but also in the Byzantine penetration of the Balkans even before that time.
One must not be too hard on the Turks. The atrocities attributed to them in this report were no worse than those that the Christian peoples were inflicting both on the Turks and on each other in these wars. The report makes reference to the fact that there were those in Macedonia, in the period of Greek and Serbian occupation, who began to long for the return of the Turks. But that this effective separation from Europe during three centuries of immensely significant development in the civilization of the remainder of the European continent had profound effects on the development of the Balkan peoples cannot be denied. The author of the first historical résumé in the 1913 report referred to the Turkish conquest as “leveling all the nationalities and preserving them all alike in a condition of torpor, in a manner comparable to the action of a vast refrigerator.” And it is worth noting that the events of the second part of the present century, and, most prominently, the thirty years of Communist power, were not helpful in thawing out that congealment; in a sense, they may be said to have prolonged it.
What we are up against is the sad fact that developments of those earlier ages, not only those of the Turkish domination but of earlier ones as well, had the effect of thrusting into the southeastern reaches of the European continent a salient of non-European civilization which has continued to the present day to preserve many of its non-European characteristics, including some that fit even less with the world of today than they did with the world of eighty years ago.
It will be argued that these states of mind are not peculiar to the Balkan peoples—that they can be encountered among other European peoples as well. True enough. But all these distinctions are relative ones. It is the undue predominance among the Balkan peoples of these particular qualities, and others that might have been mentioned, that seems to be decisive as a determinant of the troublesome, baffling, and dangerous situation that marks that part of the world today.
What, then, can be done?
That question has already been the subject of much extensive discussion and altercation in Western opinion; and this is not the place for any attempt at a definitive answer. But there are two or three observations that might serve as a suitable termination for this introduction:
First of all, let it be noted that while this Balkan situation is one to which the United States cannot be indifferent, it is primarily a problem for the Europeans. It is their continent, not ours, that is affected. They have the physical and military resources with which to confront the problem. And if they claim, as many of them do, that they lack the political unity to confront it successfully, the answer is that perhaps this is one of those instances, not uncommon in the lives of nations as of individuals, when one has to rise to the occasion.
Second, it is clear that no one—no particular country and no group of countries—wants, or should be expected, to occupy the entire distracted Balkan region, to subdue its excited peoples, and to hold them in order until they can calm down and begin to look at their problems in a more orderly way. Conceivably, such an occupation might be momentarily helpful; but even that is not certain; and in any case any effort along that line could be only the most tenuous and temporary of improvisations. In the long run, no region can solve any other region’s problems. The best the outsider can do is to give occasional supplementary help in the pinches.
And finally, there is the question of the more distant future. When the present hostilities are ended (as someday they must be) there will still remain the question of how the Balkan peoples are to interact with each other in the years that lie ahead.
Let us glance at what will presumably be the formal international structure of the Balkan community in the post-hostilities period. We may start by leaving aside two of the possible actors on that scene: the Slovenes, who are really an alpine people and who will, let us hope, remain remote from Balkan political affairs; and the Montenegrins, who have so extensively identified themselves with the Serbs in the recent unpleasantness that we may regard them as effectively subsumed by the Serbian state. There will then presumably remain eight countries actively involved in Balkan problems: Greece, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Bosnia (or as much of it as survives). That is three more than there were before the breakup of Yugoslavia.
If there is to be followed the modern custom of conferring upon any body politic of whatever size or quality that demands membership in the United Nations the status of a fully sovereign state, theoretically equal to every other state in its proud independent quality, then each of the Balkan states will presumably be given that status, if it does not already enjoy it. And each of them, we might note, will then have the right to develop whatever armed forces its resources and circumstances will permit.
Now, the practice of conferring that status on Balkan peoples is not new. The same practice was followed more than a century ago when the first of them were liberated from Turkish rule. Even then, the result was not a happy one, as is so clearly shown in the Carnegie report of 1914. It very soon became evident that the new states had great difficulty in relating to one another in a mature and peaceful manner. In a sense, there was more peace when they were still under Turkish rule than there was after they gained their independence. (That is not to say that the Turkish rule was in all other respects superior to what came after.)
Eighty years have now passed since the Carnegie commissioners paid their visit to that region. And this writer knows of no evidence that the ability of the Balkan peoples to interact peaceably with one another is any greater now than it was those eighty years ago. If proof of that were needed, it would be abundantly there in the appalling state of hostilities that now prevails in the region. And the difficulty of such interaction can only have been heightened by the fact that the number of players at this tragic game has now been significantly increased.
A further complication exists, in that connection, in the question of the future relationship of certain of those peoples, and particularly the Serbs, to the United Nations. The Serbs, just to take them as the leading example, have violated in every conceivable way the one and only requirement for membership in the United Nations as specified in its Charter: “to accept the obligations contained in the present Charter, and, in the judgement of the Organization, [to be] able and willing to carry out these obligations.” Not only have the Serbs consistently and contemptuously flouted, for months on end, the obligations in question, but they have repeatedly exerted themselves to frustrate the UN’s efforts to relieve the sufferings of the civilian population in the region of hostilities. In some instances they would appear even to have opposed UN efforts by force of arms. And there could have been no behavior more fundamentally contrary to the first principles of the UN Charter, not to mention the provisions of international war and the laws of war, than the persistent artillery bombardment over weeks and months on end of the helpless civilian populations of entire cities. Something of the same could be said, no doubt, of the behavior of certain of the other parties; but if so, it would have been true in far lesser degree.
What account is to be taken of such conduct, one wonders, when it comes to a peace settlement and the determination of future international relationships in the region? To date, no one has suggested that the membership of Yugoslavia in the UN should even be suspended in the light of the behavior of the Serbs in the theater of hostilities. Are we to assume that when it comes to designing a post-hostilities settlement all this is to be forgotten and the Yugoslavs (read: the Serbs) and the other parties are to be welcomed back to their normal position and role in the United Nations, as though none of this had ever happened? And if so, what would that say to any other UN member that found itself in some sort of military conflict and thought it to its advantage to ignore and flout its obligations as a member of that organization? And what, indeed, would it say to the world as a whole about the UN as the only living and accepted symbol of the community of fate that links all the peoples of this planet? Are we to understand that membership in it involves no significant obligations at all? That the Charter’s provisions on membership are meaningless and that the persistent and contemptuous disregard of them has no effect on a country’s membership?
Those are questions that are bound to present themselves when the necessity arises of devising some future status quo for international life in the Balkans to replace that which has now broken down so disastrously. If all these countries are to be established or reestablished as fully independent and sovereign states, members of the United Nations, with no serious obligations to flow from UN membership and without any other significant restraints on their conduct, what are we to expect, on the record of the more remote past and of the immediate one, of their future interaction? Let us recall, as just one example of the potential instability, that at least three of them—the Bulgarians, Greeks, and Serbs—and possibly a fourth—the Albanians—have political or territorial designs on one of their neighbors, Macedonia—designs that are sure to come to the surface of their interrelationships as soon as attention is withdrawn from the present hostilities.
It is relentlessly obvious that when the present military conflict is over, the international community, and particularly the European community, is going to find itself up against a very ugly problem in this southeastern part of the European continent. Two things will be necessary: the first, a new and clearly accepted territorial status quo; the second, certain greater and more effective restraints on the behavior of the states of the region. It would be naive to suppose that the first of those requirements—the designing of a new territorial status quo—could be met solely by negotiations among the various parties themselves. Their views should, of course, be heard and seriously considered; but it will take outside mediation, and in all probability outside force, to devise a reasonable settlement and to bring the various parties to accept and observe it. As for the second, the restraints on the Balkan parties, in the exercise of what they view as their unlimited sovereignty and freedom of action, will clearly have to be greater than those that are now normally applied in the international community.
There will, therefore, be two necessities to confront those who, from the outside, try to be helpful in the solution of this great problem. One will be a capacity for innovation with respect to the rights and duties implicit in the term “sovereignty.” The other will be force—minimum force, of course, but force nevertheless—and the readiness to employ it where nothing else will do.
Those, will, I repeat, be necessities confronting in the most immediate way the European community; but the wider international community will also have a serious interest in seeing them met. Is there any reason to believe that in either of those communities the necessary resolve to tackle this problem, and the necessary readiness to accept the attendant agonies of effort, will be forthcoming? The answer is that there is only one reason; and that is the fact that the alternatives, for anyone who looks realistically at the problem, will clearly be worse.
July 15, 1993
The present essay appears as an introduction to the new edition of the report, just published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and distributed by the Brookings Institution. The full title is: The Other Balkan War: A 1913 Carnegie Endowment Inquiry in Retrospect, with a new Introduction and Reflections on the Present Conflict by George F. Kennan. ↩