Yugoslavia Then and Now

Feb 01, 2007

In December, the History and Public Policy Program (HAPP) held an international conference on the role and legacy of U.S. intelligence on Yugoslavia during the Cold War, in cooperation with East European Studies and the National Intelligence Council (NIC). The conference aimed at drawing lessons from past intelligence work by scholars, analysts and policy veterans. Leading historians and specialists joined with former and current intelligence and policy analysts to assess the predictions and explanations garnered from the intelligence-gathering process in light of the way history actually unfolded.

The basis for discussion was the National Intelligence Council's recently published declassified national estimative material in a collection titled, From "National Communism" to National Collapse: U.S. Intelligence Community Estimative Products on Yugoslavia, 1948-1990. Along with documents provided by the NIC, HAPP distributed a substantial volume of documents from U.S. and East European archives, including never-before-seen documents from the Tito Presidential Archives in Serbia.

The NIC publication contains 34 documents covering the history of Tito's Yugoslavia to its ultimate collapse a decade after his death. They also reflect the growth and development of the intelligence community's estimative process during the Cold War, from early coordinated reports to the comprehensive and highly detailed national intelligence estimates (NIEs). The companion briefing book focused intelligence analysis in the context of U.S. policy decisions, while the documents further elucidated Yugoslav policy analysis and decision-making from that time.

The judgments made in the NIEs reflect some variance of opinion. While the final national intelligence estimate presciently predicted the impending failure of the Yugoslav state, it provided little "actionable" intelligence or "opportunity analysis." This critique raised a core question at the nexus between analysis and policymaking: how can analysts gain the attention of policymakers without violating strictures against directly proposing policy? Conference speakers agreed that analysts have a duty to provide policymakers with the best analysis available and that NIEs can prove useful, even if they do not directly translate into "actionable intelligence."

Keynote speaker Lawrence S. Eagleburger, secretary of state during the George H.W. Bush administration and former ambassador to Yugoslavia in the 1970s, emphasized that one of his biggest mistakes in dealing with the former Yugoslavia was underestimating the mendacity and ill intentions of the late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. Eagleburger stressed, however, the road to chaos and tragedy in the breakup of Yugoslavia was not Milosevic's fault alone, but could be attributed to a whole series of factors. He cited possible factors such as Germany's early recognition of Croatian and Slovenian independence and the tendency in both Europe and the United States to view the Croatian independence movement and its leader, Franjo Tudjman, solely through rose-colored glasses. He also stressed the importance within intelligence-gathering institutions, such as the NIC and the State Department, to create an atmosphere open to fresh, unconventional analysis and ideas. This, he said, is the only way to avoid so-called "group think," which leads to one-sided and often unproductive policies.

The NIC book is available at www.dni.gov/nic or can be ordered from the Government Printing Press. Serbian documents will soon be available at the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program's Virtual Archive and a transcript of the conference will be made available to researchers.

Future Status of Kosovo
More than 15 years after Yugoslavia began splintering apart in 1991, the status of Kosovo (a former autonomous province of Yugoslavia) remains unresolved. The NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 ended Slobodan Milosevic's attempts at ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, but the UN Security Council stopped short of deciding whether to give Kosovo the status of an independent country or have it remain a part of the rump of Yugoslavia. The past eight years have not cooled the passion of either side, so the international community concurs that the time has come to determine Kosovo's status.

To that end, UN-sponsored status talks with delegations from Serbia and Kosovo began in early 2006, but have not progressed substantially, a conclusion of a recent East European Studies meeting. Veton Surroi, president of the ORA Party and member of the Kosovo status negotiation team, reminded the audience that the current talks are the result of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, which has a history of violence and wars. Thus, while he agreed with the goal of bringing the countries of the former Yugoslavia into the sphere of peaceful and productive members of a united Europe, he stated that expecting it to happen in a one-year time span was unrealistic.

According to Surroi, most of the international community takes the unofficial position that Kosovo should be declared an independent state. However, there is mounting fear that Russia would block such a declaration in the Security Council and that this decision would bring political instability to the region. Nevertheless, Surroi argued that Kosovo needs a clear outcome on status-—and soon—-so that it can progress toward a fully accountable democratic society. Surroi said the status decision must address three basic needs: security that eliminates irredentist goals by neighboring countries, political stability, and European integration—-all of which are impossible without independence. Instead, Serbia has expended considerable energy crafting arguments for why Kosovo must not become independent, rather than preparing its electorate and the Serbs living in Kosovo for the separation that appears imminent.

After the status decision is made, an extensive, continued international political and military presence will be necessary, said Christopher Hoh, director for South Central European Affairs in the Department of State. The Kosovars will need to adopt the necessary economic and political reforms, while the European Union should take the lead in guaranteeing the rule of law. The Contact Group's original plan, called "Standards before Status," identifies 13 policy areas that need attention in Kosovo, he said, and there has been significant progress within eight of these areas. Hoh asserted that it is crucial for Kosovo to implement its new laws to protect national minorities and facilitate local self-governance.

Wilson Center Senior Scholar Ross Johnson said the international community and the government in Pristina must ensure the full inclusion of Serbs (who comprise about 8 percent of the population) as a constituent people of an independent Kosovo. Johnson urged the international community to address certain issues concerning the Serb minority, including protecting property and heritage sites, guaranteeing Serbian representation in the government—-possibly through reserved seats in the cabinet, and opportunity for local self-rule by creating additional municipalities. Avni Mustafa, executive director of the National Albanian American Council, added that the Kosovar Albanian leadership has worked to ensure protection of Serbian monasteries and help Kosovar Serbs gain freedom of movement. Their situation is not made any easier by Belgrade's calls for Kosovar Serbs to boycott elections in Kosovo.

Whither Bosnia
Meanwhile, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, post-war construction and nation-building has been significant but is far from complete. This trend continued in 2006, according to East European Studies staff, who met a wide range of Bosnian and international officials in Sarjevo in September. The policy of U.S. military withdrawal from Bosnia has been implemented over the last two years, as the United States continues to downgrade its presence in the Balkan region.

There is debate within the EU over whether the Office of the High Representative—-the international community's envoy in Bosnia-—should be shut down by June 2007. If this happens, the Bosnians would then have to govern themselves without the international intervention that has helped quell ethnic conflict and drive the reform process over the past decade.

The European Union will eventually help guide Bosnia into the community of stable democracies. The international community has hoped that Bosnia would make necessary reforms toward achieving EU member state status. But in the past year, constitutional reform, adoption of a unified Bosnian police force, and full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia have not been successful.

Still, eventual integration into the EU is the only reasonable solution for the future of Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo. Membership would finally turn these sources of instability in the Balkans into viable members of the international community.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Kristina N. Terzieva // Program Assistant
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant