Sometimes the intervention by the great powers in Serbian affairs has been beneficial, but more often intervention has spelled tragedy and despair for the Serbia people. Above all the involvement of the great powers has never been motivated by concern for Serbian interests but only for the benefit and interest of the intervening state.

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In the nineteenth century, Russia was willing to help Serbia in its efforts to win freedom from Turkish domination but only when it served Russian interests. During Tito’s regime the United States was forthcoming with assistance and support but only after Tito’s break with Stalin. When the Soviet Union self-destructed, United States interest in Yugoslavia came to a sudden and abrupt halt.

Ironically, it was the end of the Cold War that also hastened the down fall of the Yugoslav Federation and helped to bring about the events that subsequently overwhelmed Serbia.
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The dismantling of Marxist ideology that preceded the break up of the Soviet Union forced the socialist leaders of Eastern Europe to find other means of retaining the support of their people. In Yugoslavia the leaders of the Republics turned to religious and ethnic nationalism.

Moreover, the collapse of the USSR meant that Yugoslavia no longer enjoyed its privileged position as a buffer between the world’s two super powers. The United States quickly acted to remove Yugoslavia from the list of countries eligible for financial credits. Yugoslavia suddenly found itself in the position of being just another unimportant Balkan country. It then became vulnerable to the separatist movements that had been awaiting their moment to be launched.

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It is too early for historians to ascertain whether it was inevitable that Yugoslavia would break apart after the death of Tito and the end of the Cold War. What can be stated with certainty is that intervention by the Western democracies played a leading role in the break up and by their actions guaranteed that the break up would be accompanied by bloodshed.

Once again outside intervention in Balkan affairs resulted in disaster and wreckage for the people living there. As if it were not enough to have endured the Ottoman Turks, the Austrian - Hungarian Hapsburgs, the German Nazis and then the communists- the people of Serbia were once again held hostage to the manipulation by outside powers. Sadly, this time, the powers were the democratic countries of Western Europe and North America.
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As the Canadian Ambassador to Yugoslavia I was a first hand witness to the events that led to the break up of the nation. I also was a witness to the duplicity, the lies, the misinformation and hypocrisy that characterized the behavior of the intervening powers. This subversion of the truth and hypocrisy continues today.

There are few people in the United States or Canada who do not believe that everything that went wrong in Yugoslav was the responsibility of Slobodan Milosevic and Serbia, that it was Milosevic’s dream of a ‘Greater Serbia” that started the violence and the ethnic cleansing. They also believe the lie that it was Serbian genocide in Kosovo that forced NATO to intervene in a humanitarian effort to save the Albanian Kosovars.
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These untruths are repeated almost automatically in the daily media whenever the bombing of Yugoslavia is mentioned or whenever there is reference to the Hague war crimes tribunal. Over time lies if repeated often enough take on the cloak of truth. They become accepted as unquestionable and those who challenge them are looked upon as eccentric or as someone who has an axe to grind.

The reality is that Germany and Austria must accept much of the responsibility for the breakup of Yugoslavia. Germany gave active encouragement to Croatia to secede and this included the provision of arms, finances and later active diplomatic support for recognition.
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But it was the United States that should be held primarily responsible for the civil war in Bosnia. It was through the intervention of the United States that Alija Izetbegovic was persuaded to renege on the agreement he had signed in Lisbon with his Serbian and Croatian counterparts that stood a good chance of preventing the subsequent bloodshed in that Republic. Again it was the United States that encouraged and supported the terrorist KLA to use violence and take up arms in open rebellion in Kosovo.

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At the beginning of the Yugoslav breakup, the United States did make a half hearted but belated diplomatic effort to keep the nation united. When it became apparent that Germany was determined to force premature recognition of Croatia and Slovenia, the United States deferred and chose not to become actively engaged in the dispute. It was, after all, a European problem to be resolved to be solved by Europeans.

Nevertheless, as the fighting spread and it became evident that the European Community was powerless to bring the conflict to a peaceful end, the United States decided once more to become engaged in Yugoslavia. A decision was made to intervene in Bosnia. It was not because the United States was particularly concerned about the issues on the ground. After all, few Americans understood the difference between Serb, Croat or Muslim peoples. Indeed few would have been able to find Bosnia on a map.
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The reason the Americans decided to intervene was because they suddenly discovered that arising out of the Yugoslav turmoil there was an opportunity of pursuing two short term United States foreign policy objectives
The first of these occasions was the opportunity presented in Bosnia of displaying to the Islamic world that the United States was not anti-Muslim. This was particularly important following the first Iraq war. It was thought that by throwing US support behind Alija Izetbegovic and promising him US recognition for Bosnian statehood that US relations with the Muslim world would be strengthened. Izetbegovic’s dream of becoming the leader of the first Muslim state in Europe since the Ottoman Empire was to be realized.

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The certainty that this policy would cause a civil war in Bosnia and lead to the death and displacement of many thousands was of little importance. Similarly, the possibility that in the long term United States intervention on the Muslim side would create a potential base for Islamist terrorists in the Balkans was obviously not considered.

The second opportunity for the United States was offered later by the deteriorating situation in Kosovo. By intervening on the side of the Albanians the USA was able to reassert its primacy over NATO and to revitalize a dormant institution that had lost its reason for existence after the Warsaw Pact armies had gone home.
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Like many features of US foreign policy since the end of the cold war the decisions to intervene in Bosnia and to back the terrorist KLA in Kosovo and later in Macedonia have been disastrously wrong headed and strategically unsound. Curiously, few people in the Western democratic countries were concerned about the illegal bombing of Yugoslavia. Even those who acknowledged that the bombing was a violation of the UN Charter and international law seemed to hold their noses and suggest that since the intervention prevented genocide and ethnic cleansing it was justified.

There was nothing like the current out cry over the invasion of Iraq that was also done without United Nations authority. The demands to have proof of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq contrasted sharply with the almost blind acceptance of allegations of human rights violations in Kosovo. No one asked for proof of genocide in Kosovo before the bombing started. When no evidence was found of mass graves in Kosovo where was the demand for accountability on the part of those who made those false charges?
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The Canadian Prime Minister willingly had Canadian forces participate in the bombing of Yugoslavia but refused to participate with the USA‘s war in Iraq on the grounds that it was done without UN approval. Robin Cooke, the British Foreign Minister, who was an ardent proponent of the Yugoslav bombing, actually resigned in protest over the war in Iraq. President George Bush has received scathing domestic and international criticism over Iraq, yet former President Clinton was looked upon as a hero for leading the attack against Yugoslavia.

I would like to be able to say that as a result of all the lies and misinformation about the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and about Kosovo that we have learned a lesson. It would be nice to believe that as a result of Kosovo, our democratic electorate and media have become more discriminating and more demanding of our political leaders in matters affecting foreign policy.
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Could it be that the Kosovo experience has made the leaders of the European Community more skeptical of United States intelligence reports about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Could this be the underlying reason why France and Germany did not support the United States war against Saddam Hussein? Did the Western democracies learn something from the bitterness of the Yugoslavian debacle? I think not – but I will leave it to the historians and others to provide the answers to those questions.

I conclude this presentation not necessarily on a note of optimism but rather on one of hope. The events of 9-11 confronted the United States with its own mortality. It should now be obvious to every American that small democratic countries such as Serbia are not a threat to their existence. That threat comes from elsewhere. It comes from extremist Islamists and their ability to smuggle nuclear devices and other weapons of mass destruction into the United States and cause a horrific catastrophe - a catastrophe that could spell the end of civilization as we know it. After 9-11 it has become evident that so soon after the end of the cold war we all again live in perilous times.
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It is my hope therefore that in formulating its foreign policy the United States will realize that awesome military and technological power does not protect it from suicidal fanatics who are desperate to fulfill their fantasies of martyrdom. America must rely on reliable friends and allies who share a long history of individual freedom and a love of liberty. In the Balkans that tradition is not to be found among the Albanians in Kosovo or the Muslims in Bosnia. It is to be found in Serbia. And it is to found there because the spirit of the Karadjordje continues to live in the hearts of the Serbian people.