Historical and bureaucratic context
Ethics and political deliberations
Conflict frames and timing
Intervention and decision-making
Identity, credibility and the “stalemate machine”
Towards a new social memory
Did intelligence fail Srebrenica?
Negative peace at Dayton
'The fundamental problem in Bosnia was that the political boundaries of the individual republics did not match the ethnic and religious boundaries.' —Dr. Timothy Walton
Dr. Timothy Walton, a CIA veteran who worked on intelligence gathering during the Bosnian War, provided the historical and bureaucratic background of the documents.
In fall 2013, the CIA’s history staff in conjunction with the Clinton Library agreed to release some 300 documents related to the conflict—an early release by CIA standards for such sensitive documents.
Originally, when the fighting broke out in Yugoslavia in 1991, the U.S. was preoccupied with many other issues and the prevailing thought was the Bosnian situation was a problem best left to the U.N. After three years, it became clear that U.S. intervention was necessary. The documents reveal how intelligence gathering and analysis led to that decision.
Walton noted that on any given day, information related to a myriad of problems is received by the government, typically through agency channels such as the State Department, the Defense Department, and the CIA. Information is sorted and analyzed to reveal whether those problems have the potential to impact U.S. interests, which ultimately leads to the development of options for action being presented to the U.S. President for decision-making. "The decision-making process is rarely neat," Walton said. "Each governmental department brings its individual agenda and perspective to the process. Reconciling interdepartmental differences can make decision-making a long process."
A report on the panel discussion Beyond Bosnia: Ethical Reasoning in Political Deliberations about Humanitarian Intervention by JMU professors Pia Antolic-Piper, William Hawk, David McGraw and Mark Piper
By James Heffernan
'With respect to the Bosnia situation, we can say that both the moral intuitions and the outcomes were relatively good—moral atrocities were stopped. But the question is, had there been ethical reasoning, could it have turned out even better?'—Dr. William Hawk
Political realists view the international arena as inherently competitive, with each nation focused on preserving its own interests. For those opposed to the realist position, there are four general categories of response: critiques of descriptive claims made by realists; critiques based on the intrinsic value of ethical goals over narrow national interests; the argument that incorporating ethical reasoning into political deliberation can often best help realists achieve the aims they want; and a pedagogical critique that says that political actors simply need to be taught how to go about ethical reasoning. U.S. involvement in Bosnia was certainly motivated by ethical concerns. President Clinton, in his address to the American people, justified the decision as “the right thing to do.” But wider ethical reasoning was largely absent in the deliberations.
The intelligence community and policy makers often reveal clear motives for shifts in an administration's policy by the way they communicate about, or "frame," the issues they are addressing. Surprisingly, that did not happen in the nearly 300 documents JMU researchers reviewed concerning the Bosnian war.
"The big overall question we tried to answer is why did the U.S. intervene when it did," said Dr. John Hulsey, assistant professor of political science. "We knew what was going on in Bosnia in 1992. It's very clear from the documents that the CIA was on top of it." Yet the U.S. did not take action leading to the Dayton Peace Accords and an end to the war until the middle of 1995.
Throughout the documents, studied by Hulsey; Dr. John Scherpereel, associate professor of political science; and students Megan DiMaiolo and James Leigh III, the intelligence community and policy makers never wavered in the way they discussed the conflict. One of the more interesting findings, Hulsey said, was how various people from various parts of the government characterized the conflict.
"They didn't use buzz words, there was very little talk of this being a civil war, a war of aggression. So we were surprised that that wasn't the debate. There wasn't a shift between '93 and '94 or '95. Nothing to say we've identified the side to support and so now we should act. We don't see that shift."
Another eye-opener, he said, was that people from various parts of the government—from the CIA to the White House to the State Department—all talked about the conflict in the same way. "We expected them to talk about the conflict in different ways. Based on the information contained in these documents, they don't, which suggests they had, for the most part, a shared understanding," he said.
The JMU researchers concluded that strategic concerns—how U.S. actions would be perceived by allies and others at an unstable time for Europe (Russia was shifting from communism to a market economy)—primarily dictated U.S. policy decisions throughout the conflict as opposed to what they knew about the fighting on the ground.
'The collection shows us a textbook example of high-quality analytical intelligence reporting, but it also underscores the fact that quality analytical intelligence remains secondary to the personal, political priorities of policy makers, especially the president.—Steven Burg
Burg said the documents made clear a "reality gap" between the intelligence and the policy until the Clinton administration turned to a strategy of "coercive diplomacy" to bring about the peace forged at The Dayton Accords.
"I think this collection really gives us a great view of intelligence reporting vs. decision making."
"What these documents tell us, in my view, is that the intelligence community routinely, from 1990 on, up until the end of Bosnia, with a few exceptions where even the intelligence community got cold feet, continued to provide what I would characterize as analytically sound and accurate understanding of realities on the ground, and essentially the course of the war in Bosnia."
Burg suggested reading the intelligence reports first and then reading the policy decisions. By reading the intelligence reports, "you will be in touch with reality."
"When you look at these documents this way, what the analytical intelligence is telling us and what the policy makers are doing, you realize that the change in policy that occurred in 1995 has very little to do with policy makers' sudden apprehension of issues and interests underlying the war, they didn't suddenly see the light."
Burg said the delay in using a strategy to force an end to the war was dominated by concerns of putting U.S. ground forces in a hostile environment they couldn't control.
"The collection tells us, shows us a textbook example of high-quality analytical intelligence reporting, but it also underscores the fact that quality analytical intelligence remains secondary to the personal, political priorities of policy makers, especially the president."
A “machine” constructed by political leaders and illustrated by U.S. foreign policy toward Bosnia is central to a new theoretical framework outlined by three JMU political scientists.
Drs. Bernd Kaussler and Jonathan Keller presented a paper, “Explaining U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Bosnia, 1993-95: National Identity, Credibility, and the ‘Stalemate Machine,’” which they co-wrote with Dr. Edward Yang. The trio applied the phrase, coined by Daniel Ellsberg in the context of the Vietnam War, more broadly.
The faculty members put forth the idea that U.S. national identity prompts political leaders to set very bold goals involving democracy promotion and maintaining international security, but constraints such as U.S public resistance to the costs of war and foreign involvement make it difficult for leaders to live up to their pledges.
But political leaders do their best to avoid a total collapse, and are content with an inconclusive, simmering conflict as long as there is not a glaringly obvious collapse. Examples of this policy abound, Keller said, and include President Barack Obama’s decree of a “red line” being the use of chemical weapons in the Middle East and President George W. Bush’s ambiguous support of free people in the world.
Recently released documents from the archives of the Central Intelligence Agency relating to the Bosnian crisis show that the “stalemate machine” was in operation until late in the conflict. “It was quite painful to read the documents,” said Kaussler. During a White House briefing, for example, Vice President Al Gore said that the U.S. could not send ground troops to Bosnia, a statement that spurred President Bill Clinton to respond that the U.S. could not get out of the situation and let the Europeans handle it.
A dynamic of the “stalemate machine” and sub-optimal U.S. foreign policy during the Bosnian crisis was that U.S., as well as NATO credibility and leadership, was compromised for most of the conflict, the authors stated.
Later, in 1995, the United States committed resources, including possible use of military force, to stop the conflict. The change in policy led to the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords and the end of the fighting in the region.
A report on Towards a New Social Memory of the Bosnian Genocide: Countering Al-Qaeda’s Radicalization Myth with the CIA “Bosnia, Intelligence, and Clinton Presidency” Archive by JMU professor Frances Flannery, Ph.D.
By Martha Graham
'The past is not static; rather it is in constant conversation with the dynamic present….a refusal to remember can achieve the perpetuation of conflict.'—Frances Flannery
In her presentation at the War to Peace Conference, Frances Flannery, associate professor of religion at JMU and director of the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Terrorism and Peace, explained how social memory, history and common mythology, and their convergence, are revealed in the newly-released archive of documents.
Flannery underscored how the Clinton administration, determined to consider the human cost of the conflict, had to surmount both an international community that was slow to acknowledge what would later be acknowledged as genocide and the historic and over-simplified version of the Islamic fight between good and evil.
“These competing social/religious frameworks,” she said, “influenced divergent policy and analytic narratives…..the social memory that each party constructed for the identify label ‘Muslim’ within the conceptual space of the Balkans resulted in widely differing assumptions about who the Bosniaks were and even what they were experiencing…..these assumptions informed the degree and nature of political, military, and humanitarian intervention.”
Russians, for instance, drew from their national memories of experiences with Islam during the Afghanistan incursion, she said. The European community had a different perspective, viewing the conflict as little more than a centuries-old ethnic battle. The United States, at the beginning of the Clinton administration, understood the gravity of the situation, but had to weigh the cost of military intervention with the realities of geo-political interests.
The necessity of analyzing international crises based on diverse perspectives and interests, she said, is clearly apparent in the Bosnia documents. Flannery contends that only by understanding the players in this conflict and the Muslim ethos, can one fully understand what happened and, most importantly, prevent similar scenarios happening in the future.
'Nobody was sharing intelligence with anybody else. Nobody trusted anybody because they all had different political agendas. It was a failure in communications and served as a wakeup call … a lesson of Srebrenica … sharing has improved dramatically as a result.'—Dr. Cees Wiebes
A report on the Panel Fallen Off the Priority List: Was Srebrenica an Intelligence Failure by Bob De Graaff, Netherlands Defense Academy and University of Utrecht and Cees Wiebes, National Coordinator for Counterterroris staff (retired)
By Rob Tucker
The list of people missing or killed at Srebrenica in July of 1995 contains more than 8,000 names. At least 6,838 victims have been identified through DNA analysis of body parts recovered from mass graves. The United Nations described this atrocity as the single worst crime on European soil since World War II. The UN and numerous countries were monitoring the Bosnian War, yet were caught by surprise when the massacre at Srebrenica unfolded.
Was this genocide an intelligence failure or political failure? Or both?
Dr. Cees Wiebes, Dutch counterterrorism analyst and scholar, says countries weren’t sharing the information they were gathering. The Dutch, for example, were the UN’s peacekeeping force at Srebrenica, and refused assistance from the CIA.
'Conflict resolution is not about conflict avoidance; it’s about harnessing the power of conflict, nonviolently, to allow societies to evolve toward goals of social justice.'—Rhian McCoy
Increasingly, the intelligence community will be asked to employ conflict resolution analysis as a means of supporting peace. This relatively new framework is aimed at the prevention, de-escalation and solution of conflicts by peaceful means and therefore requires a different type of analysis than is commonly used in deciding whether to go to war. In the case of Bosnia, U.S. intelligence framed the conflict in simplistic, black-and-white terms irrespective of the realities of life in the Balkans. Even today, our leaders tend to cite the “inevitability” of conflict in the region and make comparisons, often unfairly, to what’s happening in other parts of the world. The 1995 Dayton Peace Accords may have ended the fighting in the former Yugoslavia, but many of the citizens of Bosnia remain subject to structural violence — shut out of having their basic needs met because of their ethnicity. From a conflict resolution perspective, these victims are casualties of war. Conflict resolution analysis has an important role to play in Bosnia in shifting the focus from negative peace, the mere cessation of violence, to positive peace, the conditions that eliminate the causes of violence.
Dr. Walton confers with a panel of JMU students.
'Intelligence makes sure decisions are best informed but does not set policy'—Dr. Tim Walton
A four-member student panel presentation titled “Lessons Learned” was the culmination of JMU’s conference “Intelligence and the Transition from War to Peace: A Multidisciplinary Assessment.”
Katelyn Dickey, Scott Lidell, Justen Silva and Kayla Wollums, all intelligence analysis majors, applied the lessons learned from ending the war in Bosnia to current crises such as Syria, Ukraine, and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. “Their briefings were a great demonstration of the analytic skills we teach here,” says Tim Walton, conference coordinator, intelligence analysis professor and 24-year veteran CIA analyst. The students researched the similarities and differences of the Bosnian and Syrian conflicts, including ethnic differences, historic turmoil, social division, interethnic violence, economic instabilities, ineffective economic reforms and ideological differences.