“To Intervene or Not to Intervene” by Riada Akyol

“To Intervene or Not to Intervene, that is the Question: Lessons from Bosnia and Herzegovina in Retrospect” by Riada Akyol is a postmortem on the international community’s ineffective response to the Bosnian crisis with particular prevalence in today’s geopolitical landscape. This article is not merely a chastisement of the international community’s action and inactions– it’s a call to apply these lessons to the conflicts in Syria, the Congo, and Mali. This article brilliantly catalogues and explores the numerous causes of the fiasco: the empty threats, the lack of leadership, the inefficiency, the lethargy, the lack of a unified vision, the “delusion of impartial intervention”, and the list goes on. The author, a Ph.D. student raised in Bosnia, is uniquely close to the issue, which simultaneously biases her and equips her to study this issue. Should this piece garner the attention it deserves amongst the great and good, there could be no doubt that the world would be better equipped to prevent mass carnage, the likes of which the world witnessed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Why did intervention take so long? The most compelling answer Akyol gave was that each country was too happy to shift ultimate responsibility to some other. The Clinton administration believed that Europe needed to be responsible for what happens in its backyard. Many European countries feared that a solely European response would cause the U.S. to abdicate any responsibility for what happens in eastern Europe. The international community was playing a game of chicken.

Another contributing factor the article mentions critical to understanding the inaction is just how easily citizens are placated. Leaders could pacify their publics, appalled by what they saw on the news, with symbolic actions that served mainly to “satisfy the CNN factor.” This would never have been necessary if not for governmental inertia. Inertia rooted partly in the fear that rocking the boat with a military intervention would do more harm than good. This isn’t to say that leaders weren’t conflicted, though. As Akyol points out, the Clinton administration sent mixed messages and seemingly reconsidered its stance numerous times. Following the Srebrenica massacre, though, large-scale NATO military actions were conducted.

Akyol also discusses the inefficacy of NATO’s “impartial intervention” strategy, and this is, I think, the most widely applicable takeaway of this piece. The author notes the paradoxical nature of bringing aid to Bosniaks yet not being able to repel Serbian harassment of aid convoys. As Akyol notes, “impartiality can work only where wars have played themselves out and the fighting factions need only the good offices of mediators to lay down their arms.”

Riada Akyol’s exhaustive list of lessons learned could help modern observers strike a “balance between interests, strategy and values” in today’s conflicts.



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