If allowed to burn itself out, war itself brings peace--by destroying the will and the means to keep fighting. Except in rare cases of total conquest, peace negotiations can then begin. At that point, the very killing, destruction and suffering of war can promote the making of peace by inducing each side to tolerate concessions previously felt to be intolerable.
Throughout history, that is how wars have ended--by peace settlements between losers afraid of further defeats and winners uncertain of keeping all of their conquests.
But this classic remedy, both cruel and highly effective, has been denied to the peoples of the former Yugoslavia. Instead of the decisive surgery of war, painful but swift, or at least not normally hugely protracted, they have been subjected to the new post-1945 therapy of "war control" by outside powers: Britain, France, Germany, the United States and Russia--and indeed all others implicated in the doings and undoings of the United Nations in all its guises, of the European Union as the sponsor of mediation and negotiation attempts, and of NATO as the provider of combat forces meant to support the U.N. presence in the former areas of Yugoslavia.
From the start, military operations on all sides have repeatedly been interrupted by U.N.-imposed cease-fires and persistently circumscribed by the mere presence of U.N. units in key locations, by no-fly zones, weapon-exclusion zones, no-pass lines and "safe zones," however fragile.
In all these ways, the propensity of war to destroy itself has been subverted, and indeed blocked.
The outside powers, moreover, began their mediation attempts and even tried to convene peace conferences very soon after the first battles of the war--long before conditions were ripe, or even marginally favorable for any sort of peace-making.
Instead of losers afraid of further defeats, or victors uncertain of further victories, with both sides more or less exhausted and sobered by their losses, the mediators of the European Community and the United Nations originally encountered embryonic states determined to stake out maximum claims and fresh forces eager for war.
Fatally, the very act of mediation in the name of such seemingly powerful entities as the European Union and the United Nations encouraged each side to demand the most--much more than they could hope to seize, or defend. Equally, the peace conferences were doomed to fail because neither side could yet know what it might conquer or lose by war, nor at what cost in lives, property or military capacity.
Because it induced weak Bosnia to be bolder than its strength, because it frustrated strong Serbia into a frenzy of resentment and because it implicitly sanctioned Croatia's destabilizing maneuvers, all this most premature peace diplomacy was not merely useless but very damaging, even as all U.N. attempts at war-control only prolonged war, till this day.
Why has misguided interference persisted so long? Why have we all tolerated the catastrophic misconduct of the outside powers acting through United Nations, the European Union and lately NATO? One explanation is a sort of cultural lag: Outside intervention in local wars was once a most urgent Cold War imperative, and it remains an automatic habit even though it is totally outdated.
So long as the Soviet-American confrontation still lasted, it was indeed essential to intervene quickly to control local wars, before they could entangle the superpowers in a direct clash that might lead to nuclear war. But so long as the Cold War lasted, the United States and the Soviet Union could actually stop local wars when they both wished to, by applying overwhelming pressure on their respective allies. At that point, with war extinguished, U.N. troops needed no military strength at all to enforce cease-fire lines, weapons-exclusion zones and all the rest.
Now by contrast, there is no such power to stop local wars. Instead there are only the hollow Great Power pretensions of Britain and France, American hesitations and Russian posturings behind the unchanged procedures of war-control, which U.N. or indeed NATO troops cannot or will not enforce (even now the British and French units near Sarajevo would only fire to protect themselves, and not Sarajevo).
Now powerless, these procedures do not stop or truly contain war, but merely prolong it, constantly adding to the sum total of killing, destruction and human suffering. That the peoples of the former Yugoslavia have been inflicting all that killing, destruction and human suffering upon themselves in exact proportion to their power to inflict harm does not diminish the responsibility of the evil doctors who have tortured them with useless therapies while denying them the decisive surgery of war.