International Affairs — 27 May 2011
Ratko Mladic, the UN & NATO in the dock

The “law” finally caught up with Bosnian Serb army Commander General Ratko Mladic, some 16 years after the genocide he oversaw at Srebrenica, Bosnia in July 1995, where the local Bosnian Muslim population suffered abuse, rape and massacre by troops under his instruction. Conservative numbers of Bosnian Muslim men killed and buried in mass graves reach more than 8,000. While others such as Osama Bin Laden, or the multitudes of victims of America’s illegal predator drone killings are not to be afforded any due process, this war criminal was arrested and is to be tried at the Hague.

At the same time, many in NATO and the UN are nervously awaiting the start of any possible trial, given the complicity of the West in the genocide of the Bosnian Muslims at the time with UN troops reduced to watching Mladic’s forces do as they pleased . As mentioned by BBC’s John Simpson the trial of Mladic would cause “endless embarrassments” to the United Nations and NATO, given that the “way that the UN forces, the way that NATO behaved during that entire war was pretty despicable and much of it had to do with the way that Mladic himself was treated and rather allowed to do what he wanted.”

Among the images of the despicable affair which highlight the events more than any words is the picture of the the then Dutch UN Commander Tom Karremans sharing a toast with Mladic on the 12th July in a small village some few kilometers from Srebrenica one day after the Serbs had taken control of the town after “overrunning” UN forces. The response to the attack of the Serbs was a desultory two NATO air strikes, leading the then  Bosnian Prime Minister, Haris Silajdzic to call the NATO response “too little, too late” and that the people of Srebrenica had been “betrayed”. The UN and NATO had taken on the mandate to defend the enclave, while taking away the people’s ability to defend themselves by placing the Bosnian’s under an arms embargo which effectively left them completely reliant upon outside support and defense. The Dutch government at the time refused to apologize for the failure of their troops to prevent the genocide taking place, and a NIOD Report was produced by the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (hardly a neutral party) effectively attempted to wash their hands of responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre.

Today, the UN and NATO have taken on a new mission in Libya which began under the guise of the UN’s “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine  to prevent the expected massacre of civilians in Benghazi. Meanwhile, the Libyan rebels have also been denied arms via an arms embargo which denied them the ability to level the field with Gaddafi’s much better equipped regular and mercenary army units (with some of their arms purchased from their fickle allies in the West only last year). In the same manner that the “international community” withdrew agency from the Bosnian Muslims through denying them access to arms leaving them reliant upon the “West” while the Serbians were able to access arms from their Russian allies, today the Libyan opposition has become totally dependent upon the West to settle its political future.

Just as the formulation of the “responsibility to protect” could be seen as the response of some Western academics to international shortcomings in responses to the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda and the discrediting of the initial doctrine of “liberal interventionism”, the arrest of Mladic and his delivery to court will be seen in some quarters as a way to atone for the sins of the past. However, just as the responsibility to protect is considered by others to be the new terminology for liberal interventionism which in itself was a cover for maintaining imperial interests, given the extent of the West’s failure and complicity in the Bosnian genocide if the trial is transparent and goes ahead as planned it is not only Mladic who will stand in the dock.

Reza Pankhurst is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics, and also blogs at

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