Aid to the Former Yugoslavia

Mar 27, 2001

To aid or not to aid -- that is the question the international community has been asking of the former Yugoslavia ever since Slobodan Milosevic was overthrown and Vojislav Kostunika took over as democratically elected leader. It was the subject of the 3/27/01 Balkans Forum held on Capitol Hill by the Carnegie Council's Conflict Prevention Program. The meeting, attended by a number of Congressional staff, took place just days before President Bush decided to certify the former Yugoslavia's progress in fulfilling the criteria -- protection of minority rights, cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal, and implementation of the Dayton Accords -- that would qualify it to receive $100 million in U.S. financial assistance.

But was it the right -- in the sense of ethical -- decision? Panelist Mohamed Sacirbey, who is the permanent representative of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the UN, thinks so. In his view, economic sanctions on Serbia, of which the threats to withhold financial aid are another version, have imposed suffering on all Yugoslavians, regardless of their feelings about Milosevic and whether or not he should be tried in the Hague. "Not certifying [Yugoslavia's progress] punishes all of the Serbs," Sacirbey said, "which in turn feeds into their sense of victimhood." If sanctions must be imposed, he added, they should be targeted at Milosevic supporters. The rest of the Serbs should be given a chance to rebuild their economy and government, which would improve their attitude toward the West, hence their receptiveness to Western ideals.

Law professor Paul van Zyl, who had recently returned from a trip to Serbia, rejected Sacirbey's utilitarian view that Serbia be given the chance to recover economically and politically before it can address issues of justice. "You can't have political and economic reform without justice," van Zyl said. Financial conditions on aid would keep up the pressure on Serbia to hand Milosevic over to the UN war crimes tribunal -- which, in his view, is the only just way to proceed.

This difference in opinion over the issue of Serbian certification and continued aid conditionality speaks to an even more fundamental difference in ethical approaches toward conflict resolution. The central issue at stake is the role of the international community in resolving a conflict that took place within sovereign boundaries.

Those in favor of aid conditionality signal their belief that under certain exigencies, the international community has the right to interfere in a sovereign nation's affairs. In the case of the former Yugoslavia, that interference has taken the form of imposing conditions in order for Yugoslavia to qualify for financial aid. To justify their right to treat Serbia in this manner, the proponents of this policy argue that Milosevic and his followers have committed crimes against humanity -- thus the rest of humanity, as represented by the Dayton Accords, has the right to judge the moment when Yugoslavia deserves to be restored to the ranks of sovereign nations.

By the same reasoning, the international community is entitled to insist that the leading perpetrators of these crimes be brought to justice -- in an international, not a domestic, court. Because Milosevic stands accused of crimes against humanity, humanity itself has the right to try him where, when, and how it sees fit: i.e., before a specially assembled United Nations tribunal located in the Hague.

In contrast, the anti-sanctions group believes that for the greater good of humanity, national sovereignty must be kept sacred; otherwise, we will be establishing a dangerous precedent whereby some countries have the right to tell others how to behave. Thus Yugoslavs themselves should be given the opportunity to decide what to do with Milosevic, even if that means trying him in a domestic court on the grounds of political corruption, embezzlement, and election fraud -- a far cry removed from crimes against humanity. However distasteful and insulting that is, it is Serbia's right. It is also Serbia's law: extradition of Yugoslav citizens is illegal.

Proponents of this line might also argue that the Dayton Accords, because they were not made of the Serbians' free will, are not necessarily valid. Since the status of the Dayton agreement is unclear, then the international community can hardly be said to have a moral mandate to force the extradition of Milosevic to the Hague, let alone require that Serbia become a multiethnic state.

The Yugoslavian example raises even broader ethical questions about the feasibility of an international criminal court. Backers of the current plan to establish an International Criminal Court (ICC) claim that the best way for humanity to deal with atrocities is to internationalize the justice system and give the ICC universal jurisdiction. In other words, the ICC would have the right to try the perpetrators of crimes so egregious that they can be taken as assaults on humanity -- Augusto Pinochet, Chile's former dictator, being a prime example. But while this strategy might succeed at a political level, is it a just way to proceed?

Editor's Note: Since the decision to grant $100 million in U.S. financial assistance, the United States imposed financial conditions on Yugoslavia again, indicating it would not take part in an international donor conference in Brussels at the end of June unless it is satisfied that the Kostunica government has taken concrete action to cooperate with the tribunal. (Without American participation, the Yugoslavs would have difficulty raising the $1 billion they need to overhaul their ruined economy.) This time, the threat worked. On June 28, 2001, exactly ten years after the outbreak of war in Slovenia and Croatia, and on the fated Serbian holiday of Vidovdan (marking the anniversary of a battle the Serbs lost in Kosovo in 1389), Milosevic was extradited. He will now face the international war crimes court in The Hague, the first former head of state to do so.

This report includes annotated links to primary source information, special reports, thought-provoking online articles, online debates, and video/audio features on the ethical issues surrounding the question of aid to Serbia and the punishment of Milosevic.

Primary Sources

Nuremberg Principles, August 8, 1945
Milosevic and his deputies stand accused of "crimes against humanity." The Nuremberg trials of Nazi German officials set the original definition for such crimes as:

Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.

The Dayton Peace Accords on Bosnia
The extent to which Serbia has complied with the terms of the Dayton agreement is one of the determinants in whether or not it will receive financial aid.

Text of the Milosevic indictment
Read the full charges against Milosevic by the International Criminal Tribunal on

Special Reports

In Depth: The fall of Milosevic
This page compiles all the relevant links to BBC news articles, analysis, profiles of key players, and online discussions of the Balkans crisis.

The End of Milosevic's Rule's special report is a gateway to all of its articles and materials on Serbia since Kostunica took over.

Special report: Yugoslavia War Crimes
This special report on the award-winning Guardian newspaper site links to frequently asked questions about war crimes and war crimes tribunals.

Special report: Serbia
Another special Web report by the award-winning Guardian newspaper presents links to the latest news on the Milosevic extradition.

A Fair Exchange: Aid to Yugoslavia for Regional Stability
This 6/15/01 International Crisis Group (ICG) report argues that "an effective strategy of conditionality would require donors to find a new clarity of purpose and cohesion in their relations with the governing coalition in Belgrade." If Western powers aren't careful, there's a risk that donor aid will strengthen the legacy of violence in the region. Since 1997, ICG has issued over 25 major policy reports analyzing events in Serbia.

Online Articles

"This is the Balkans. No one is nice."
Novelist Christopher Hope visited the Balkans for the first time ten years ago, when it was on the brink of disintegration. Retracing his steps ten years later, he despairs at how little has changed: "Ex-Yugoslavia is a morality play in four wars. It puts an old question with grim relish: can different tribes with different faiths inhabit the same territory in peace? On the evidence so far the answer is no." Hope paints the on-the-ground reality so vividly that one can appreciate why the Balkans poses such a moral dilemma for the rest of the world.

"The Road to Bosnia and Kosovo: The Role of the Great Powers in the Balkans"
Transcript of a talk by Balkans expert Misha Glenny (April 4, 2000, Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, D.C.) in which he argues that the West should bear some of the blame for what happened in the Balkans during the 20th century -- something that has yet to be acknowledged by Western powers and if it were, presumably might affect their view of financial conditionality, as suggested by panelist Mohamed Sacirbey at the Carnegie Council meeting (see above).

Online Debates

Talking Point: Will Milosevic face a fair trial?
One of the most interesting features of the BBC Online materials, from the standpoint of ethics and international affairs, is this online discussion over whether the international community has the right to judge Milosovic.

Should there be one court for the world?
Visitors to BBC Online are invited to debate whether we need one court for the world, for the occasions when governments are unable or unwilling to punish the guilty. You can also read the transcript of an 11/3/00 BBC World program on this topic, featuring interviews with a number of Rwandans.

The Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.

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