Date of Graduation

2010

Document Type

Dissertation/Thesis

Abstract

American leadership proved indispensable in resolving the Yugoslav wars of succession. Yet it would take time for the United States to accept the responsibilities of leadership. In 1991, the dissolution of Yugoslavia precipitated the wars of succession. The George H.W. Bush Administration permitted the European Community and the United Nations to direct international negotiations for the purpose of resolving the crisis. The Bush Administration's rationale was pragmatic in nature, represented by Secretary of State James Baker's infamous remark that the United States did not have “a dog in that fight.” The Yugoslav wars of succession did not threaten vital American interests. The Administration also feared entanglement in a potential Balkan quagmire and doubted Congress and the American public's willingness to accept casualties in the endeavor. Furthermore, the United States was then preoccupied with developments elsewhere, particularly in the Soviet Union and the Middle East. Since the Europeans desired more responsibility for their own security after the Cold War, the Bush Administration was more than willing to oblige them in the former Yugoslavia. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the William Jefferson Clinton Administration initially adopted a policy similar to that of its predecessor regarding the Yugoslav wars for comparable reasons. Although the Clinton Administration continued to defer leadership, it failed to remove itself completely from the negotiating process. Consequently, the Administration's rhetoric and actions undermined the international negotiators' efforts to achieve a resolution. It was only after the Administration's perception of the threat to its interests changed in 1994 and 1995 with regards to fighting in the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia that the United States assumed leadership of the negotiations, which ultimately resulted in the Dayton Peace Accords. The Clinton Administration had belatedly found its “dog in that fight.” In comparison to the Yugoslav wars of the first-half of the 1990s, the Bush and Clinton Administrations consistently maintained that the United States had “a dog” in the Kosovo crisis. When the unstable situation in the province turned increasingly violent in 1997 and 1998, the Clinton Administration assumed a prominent role in negotiations. Once the negotiations collapsed, it directed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's air campaign in 1999 to compel Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's compliance with prior UN Security Council resolutions, thus restoring the sovereignty of the province. American leadership, although in this case controversial, helped restore peace in Kosovo. The Yugoslav wars of succession provide a compelling case to analyze America's quest to determine its post-Cold War international role. The United States emerged from the Cold War as the lone superpower. Its unique position meant that other countries and institutions would place demands on the United States to participate, if not to lead, initiatives to resolve international crises. Both the Bush and Clinton Administrations emphasized that the United States could not and would not act as the world's policeman; therefore, each Administration had to make difficult decisions concerning possible interventions. If an Administration decided against intervention, then it had to resist the temptation of interfering as others sought to find a resolution. Similarly, an Administration had to avoid making promises that it was unwilling to fulfill. To do otherwise threatened to undermine America's international credibility. In general, if the United States desired a leadership role, it had to accept the responsibilities of leadership. Concurrently, a dilemma existed that focused on the predominance of American power after the Cold War. If the United States intervened in a crisis, other countries and institutions might feel threatened even if they agreed with the appropriateness of the intervention. This concern predated the presidency of George Walker Bush and American foreign policy after September 11, 2001. It was evident in the international response to American actions during the Yugoslav wars, particularly concerning Kosovo. Thus, the developments of the 1990s and the experiences of the Clinton Administration highlight the need for the United States to act whenever possible in a multilateral manner through international or regional organizations. While some might still consider an American intervention illegal, as was the case in Kosovo, acting multilaterally would help American actions retain much international legitimacy.

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