From "Green Light" to Flashing Red: Humanitarian Interventionism in the Balkans and the Clinton Administration's Iran-Bosnia Affair

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Qu, Bo, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Zelikow, Philip, AS-History, University of Virginia

This essay examines United States policy towards the Bosnian War of 1992-1995. It focuses on a case study of the Clinton administration’s decision to tacitly permit the shipment of Iranian weapons to Bosnia through Croatia in the spring of 1994. Understanding this decision complicates the conventional narrative of Bosnia policy, which is usually one of gradually building up the will to take forceful action. It also complicates narratives about post-Cold War humanitarian interventions, which are often seen as the logical outgrowth of the ‘unipolar moment’ and American hubris. In reality, the Iran arms decision resulted from a tension between a desire to do more to help Bosnia and serious constraints like NATO relationships, domestic and international law, and the need to balance opposing views within the administration. This case demonstrates that American foreign policy immediately after the end of the Cold War reflected neither indifference nor hubris, but a strong sense of constraint. The administration’s apparent success in ending the Bosnian War in 1995—Clinton’s first big foreign policy win—helped to unravel some of that constraint.

MA (Master of Arts)
Iran, Bosnia, NATO, Clinton
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