Courtesy Reuters

Saving America from the Coming Civil Wars

ECHOES OF YUGOSLAVIA

Recent events have given the lie to the conventional wisdom on civil wars: that they are private matters which great powers may simply ignore. Over the past ten years, America has again and again found itself in the middle of foreign, internal conflicts, from Haiti to Somalia. And nowhere has the focus been so acute or the consequences as immediate as in the Balkans. The United States and its Western allies have worked hard -- though with limited success -- to end the wars that erupted when Yugoslavia collapsed. Western interests were directly implicated; concern over humanitarian abuses, the risk of war spreading to neighboring states, and the future of NATO itself justified American and European intervention. Dayton seemed to win a fragile peace for Bosnia. But the threat of war in Europe now looms as likely as ever, as elections return Bosnian hard-liners to office and the uprising simmers in Kosovo. The prospects of achieving a lasting peace in the region are slim, and these problems are likely to vex American policymakers for years to come.

The attention paid by the West to the wars in the former Yugoslavia should come as no surprise. Only recently have superpowers refrained from involvement in internal conflicts. Traditionally the case has been just the opposite. And with good reason: revolutions in France, Russia, and China sparked profound changes in the international system that remain with us today. During the Cold War, internal conflicts in Korea and Vietnam drew the United States into costly interventions, while domestic strife in El Salvador and Nicaragua dominated American foreign policy through the 1980s. For the Soviet Union, internal wars provided the source for both one of Moscow's greatest victories (Cuba) and one of its most costly defeats (Afghanistan).

Since the collapse of the U.S.S.R. (brought on in part by the Afghan disaster) and the end of the Cold War, new questions must be asked about civil wars and American interests. Proxy

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