Operation Deliberate Force Review: The Economist

Operation Deliberate Force by Tim Ripley

Reviewed in The Economist, 20th November 1999

A different version of history at close quarters is served up by specialist defence writer Tim Ripley, who has reconstructed the events of the summer and autumn of 1995. He describes how advances by the Croatian army, followed by offensives in Bosnia by NATO bombers, as well as French, British and Dutch artillery, helped to roll back the Bosnian Serbs to a more “realistic” frontline which could also form the grounds for a settlement based on a soft form of partition [in the final peace talks at Dayton].

Using long, detailed interviews with key players, Mr Ripley offers some intriguing insights  and posses some unanswered questions about the backroom manoeuvrings by which the United States asserted its primacy in south-eastern Europe. The biggest of these questions is also a simple one: precisely who was guiding American, and hence NATO, policy in the Bosnian end-game?

Whether in good faith or bad, senior diplomats and generals complain to Mr Ripley about their mysterious exclusion, at key moments, from the policy making process. For example Peter Galbraith, America’s envoy to Croatia, is frustrated by his masters’ utter lack of interest in stopping the Croatian offensive of August 1995, even after the Serbs had accepted all the Croats terms.

A month later, NATO’s notional military and political bosses were bewildered by the twists and turns of “their” air campaign against the Serbs: somebody other than themselves was directing when to bomb. Reading Mr Ripley’s account, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that certain people in America were by-passing the regular channels in order to impose their will.

Whoever they were, these quiet Americans had a sophisticated, if cynical understanding of the dynamics of the conflict in the Balkans. They seemed to have made the calculations that the only way to break the cycle of killing and displacement was to condone or even encourage, one more round of killing displacement, this time at the expense of the Serbs. They knew all about history  as well as 16th century Italian statecraft.


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