The Impact of Internal and External Factors on the European Community's Failure to Prevent the Dissolution of the Former Yugoslavia and the War in Bosnia: United Nations' Paralysis in Srebrenica

Date of Award

Winter 12-15-2013

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

International Affairs

Additional Affiliations

University College

Degree Name

Master of Arts (AM/MA)

Degree Type



In the early 1990s, the world witnessed a bloody and malignant crisis: Yugoslavia had imploded. Brutal wars killed hundreds of thousands of people and turned millions more into refugees. The humanitarian massacre that pervaded Bosnia and Herzegovina, hereafter Bosnia, revived in the international political lexicon a form of human rights violation – ethnic cleansing – which caused the European Community (EC) to intervene (Hauss, 1999). Although many scholars have argued that the demise of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) was probably inevitable, I argue that the EC bore tremendous responsibility for the way in which the dissolution of the federation unfolded. For this reason, this thesis focuses on a set of internal and external factors which undermined the EC’s capacity to diffuse the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Being careful not to demean or devalue any the outstanding research or opinion on this topic, I claim that internal rather than external factors most affected the EC. Research and studies on the topic offer a myriad of factors that contributed to the EC’s failure in the former Yugoslavia. This research, however, will highlight three salient features in the European failure during the Yugoslav conflict. Firstly, the EC was inhibited by its own structure to act effectively in the disintegration of the federation: (i) Lack of political will of the European powers failed to improve bilateral relations; (ii) Ambiguity of the European policy towards the conflict allowed member states to influence policy matters; (iii) Inability to produce successful mediation efforts left the Yugoslav parties to pursue nationalist policies.

Secondly, not only was the EC inhibited by its own framework to implement effective policy measures, but the EC’s internal failures allowed individual member states to practice great power politics. I support the premise as set forth by E.H. Carr (1964) in The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919-1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations, that “statesmen think and act in terms of power considerations when calculating national interests.” As a result of diverging interests, the EC made matters worse: (i) The leading member states such as France, Great Britain, and Germany could not agree on a coherent policy with regard to recognition of states; (ii) The inability to adopt a common foreign policy advanced the notion of a separate legal arbitration commission; (iii) The member states acted contrary to the Badinter Arbitration Commission, which advised against the recognition of nation states until the rights of minorities were guaranteed in the republic of Croatia.

Finally, outstanding research on the Bosnian conflict shows that the EC acted in accordance with the balance of power interests, even without the slightest consideration of the repercussions that would follow. Since the EC was not willing to ensure the protection of the ethnic minority groups in the republic of Croatia and Bosnia, I believe it was immoral for the European powers to disregard the recommendations of its own legal committee by recognizing the independence of Slovenia and Croatia.

For external factors, I will consider other issues that may have contributed to the conflict; yet, ultimately as a result of EC’s efforts, European nations inadvertently affected the United Nations’ (U.N.) peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. A host of other organizations and actors were pulled into the Bosnian conflict as a result of the EC’s handling of the disintegration of the federation. I will take into account the following external factors: (i) The impact and influence of the Cold War conflict on U.S.-E.U. relations; (ii) The role of the U.S. leadership and the expansion of NATO; (iii) The U.N.’s paralysis in Bosnia. Because of the EC’s failure to contain the conflict from spreading to Bosnia, the U.N., the only institution that could legally prevent or mitigate the struggle, exacerbated the problem substantially before any progress was made.

Despite the fact that the U.N. launched a humanitarian intervention in Srebrenica, however, the presence of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) troops in Bosnia, neither deterred Serbian aggression nor stopped the ethnic cleansing.

The purpose of this thesis is to examine the role of the EC during the disintegration of the federation. I use Bosnia as a case study, because the massacre of Srebrenica illustrates a perfect example, where the Western powers failed to protect innocent civilians and failed to implement a common foreign and security policy. Without doubt, the EC presided over the bloodiest war in Europe since World War II. Thus it is important to understand the reasons that informed the EC’s inability to uphold the main lessons of the Nuremburg Tribunal: “Never Again” (Cohen, 1993, p. 1).


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Marvin Marcus


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