Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Karadzic factor

Did the US promise Karadzic lifetime immunity in exchange for Karadzic dropping out of politics?

Some newspapers in Serbia suggest it is true.

ETA: Holbrooke says it isn't so.


Daniel said...

If I believed what Serbian newspapers said, then I would be the biggest fool that has ever walked this earth.

Hey, you might check Ian Williams blog, here:

Also, I found one excellent video site with academically focused content (lots of good stuff with regards to international justice + my next post on my Blog will include some really cool stuff and a link to that site), I know you will like it:

Kirk Johnson said...

I hope this isn't true, because if it is I'm going to not only be pissed at Holbrooke, but lose whatever little respect I had for the Clinton Administration's policy towards Bosnia.

Bg anon said...

I dont see this just as rumours from Serbian newspapers.

This story has been doing the rounds for years although until now a document wasnt produced.

The wider point. You know one is pretty familiar with the reasons why Serbia has not extradited Mladic or at least we know he was recently in Serbia and so on...

With Karadzic nobody can deny that the situation has been very fishy or dubious. There were some attempts to say that he was in Serbia to draw attention away from the fact that he wasnt being arrested in Bosnia but these have been dropped.

The question thus remains why hasnt Karadzic been arrested by the internationals after all these years. Either there is some behind the scenes deal (as most of us suspect or worry about) or he has the skills of Houdini.

I never really had much respect for Holbrooke so I wont be disapointed or surprised if this is true. In fact I actually have more respect for Clinton.

Shaina said...

I hope it isn't true either.
But one doesn't need to be paranoid or a conspiracy buff, or even believe the worst allegation to be somewhat "questioning" of the International Community commitment to capture Karadzic; especially given the first few years where Karadzic was seen in public; but still allowed to roam free.

András said...

I think it is more likely than not that there really was a deal of some sort in 1996, offering immunity from arrest in exchange for a promise from Dr. K. and General M. that (a.) they would withdraw from direct participation in public life, and that (b.) they would refrain from making any trouble for IFOR (later SFOR), specifically by guaranteeing that their hardline Serb-nationalist followers would not be taking shots at American or other NATO soldiers in BiH.

Whether there really was a signed document to that effect - who knows? It would
of course have been unwise for Holbrooke to sign such an incriminating document, but it's conceivable that the crafty Dr. K. may have insisted on it -- or else no deal; it
hardly matters - signatures are easily forged... and just as easily denied. Whether or not the document reproduced in FOKUS is genuine, the terms laid out in it sound plausible, given what we have seen (and heard) since then.

And it seems like the deal did work out for the Americans. In all the years of IFOR and SFOR deployments and rotations of troops, out of the tens of thousands who've been stationed in Bosnia not even one US soldier has been injured or killed as a result of hostile action in BiH (the only casualties have resulted from a handful of accidents and suicides). Actually, since American troops were forbidden the use of alcohol while in Bosnia and were restricted to base most of the time, they wound up having a much lower rate of accidents than the troops who stayed back home in the US (or those stationed in Germany - where they are free to go off base, to get liquor and to get into trouble on their days off).

Assuming there was a formal or informal deal, was the quid-pro-quo worth it?
You and I may not think so, but an experienced political operator like Holbrooke may have considered the price to be worth it. At the time, the fear of American
casualties was what was keeping everyone in US policy and military circles awake at night -- there were absurdly exaggerated notions circulating in the Pentagon
during the early 1990s about the supposed prowess of the Bosnian Serbs as guerrilla fighters. In fact, Mladic's VRS was a stolid conventional army, used to fighting against ill-armed adversaries and wedded to conventional tactics (trench warfare, shelling); it was neither prepared nor trained for irregular combat. What US commanders and their political bosses dreaded turned out to be a historical fiction -- see: Norman Cigar, "The Serb Guerrilla Option and the Yugoslav Wars: Assessing the Threat and Crafting Foreign Policy" In: Slavic Military Studies, vol. 17, no. 3 (Sept. 2004), pp. 485-562.

At the time, the possibility of American casualties at any level was thought to be politically too costly for the US administration (those were the innocent days, before Iraq), while allowing Dr. K. and General M. to remain at large was at worst no more than a slight public relations embarrassent (easily covered by the much-publicized
5-million-dollar reward) and it carried no domestic political cost to speak of.

My impression is that those sporadic high-profile searches of the homes of Karadzic's "helpers" are just p.r. exercises to impress the media. Odds are, the US and allies know where he is and could deliver him anytime they wanted to, but they have no intention of doing so. The rationale has been and remains "pragmatic" -- in 1996, it was a question of averting potential US casualties; now it's a Realpolitik calculation: "why complicate things in the Balkans with arrests, when we already have problems like the Kosovo status issue and the prospect of a Radical election triumph in Serbia to worry about?"

Realpolitik is much overrated and often turns out to be not very realistic in practice. In this case, it may one day backfire on the smug politicians in Washington, London, Paris and Berlin, who imagine that they're getting something for nothing by allowing the architects of genocide to roam free in the Balkans.

Daniel said...

Washington. The State Department on Friday denied the existence of a US document reportedly guaranteeing safety for indicted Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in exchange for his withdrawal from public life, AFP news Agency reports.
The Republika also published what they said was a copy of the June 1996 agreement apparently bearing the signatures of Karadzic and Richard Holbrooke, the former US envoy to the Balkans.
The document is "absolutely false," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on Friday.
"We continue to call for (Karadzic) being handed over to The Hague so that he faces justice for the crimes that he has committed."

Daniel said...

Is this authentic Holbrooke signature? Take a look:

András said...

It may be a copy of an authentic Holbrooke signature taken from another document, then transferred to the bottom of a fake document by Photoshop... or by the use of more old-fashioned cut-and-paste techniques (scissors, glue and a photocopy machine). It's easy to do, and impossible to disprove or to authenticate on the basis of an image reproduced in a newspaper, without access to the original.

But the real question is not whether the "document" reproduced in FOKUS is or is not a fake (it probably is), but whether there was an impunity deal between the US and Karadzic (there probably was such a deal, for all the reasons discussed above).

The other question is whether or not the US will continue to abide by the terms of the deal, made in 1996 under different circumstances. Remember the US also had Milosevic as a partner at Dayton (and, I'm told, also had deals with people such as Jovica Stanisic, who was said to have been "helpful" in guaranteeing the safety of US troops in the early days in Bosnia). But things changed, and both Slobo himself as well as his pal Jovica eventually ended up in The Hague. So maybe there's some hope. But I wouldn't hang that hope on the probity, morality or wisdom of either Mr. Holbrooke or of his successors in Washington.

Shaina said...

Daniel, thanks for the newsbrief.

Andras, thanks for the analysis.
I think the point about the fear of possible American, NATO troop casualties is well taken; and if a deal was made between Holbrooke and K&M than that was probably the reasoning behind such a deal.

The Balkans is no longer on the political radar (if it was ever there in the first place) of most Americans, including those in government. If a deal was made, and if news of said deal is confirmed; beyond some protests and noise made from human rights groups, and from various political factions (probably more out of their own political/ideological interest rather than any genuine concern about Bosnia or international justice); news of the deal would have no political consequences or cause much of a PR incident.
Now, perhaps if news of the deal (if one was made of course) was made public in 1996, there would be a greater chance of public outrage and as a result, greater poltical consequences for making a deal with Karadzic and Mladic; but in 2007? Capturing Karadzic and Mladic is not an important issue for the US.