Lift and strike (Bosnian War)

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Lift and strike was the name of an American policy, which sought to improve the chances of a political settlement in the Bosnian War. The idea of the proposal was to lift a United Nations arms embargo in order to allow the poorly armed Bosniaks to arm with imported weapons, thus balancing the conflict, along with the threat of air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs.[1][2] The policy was initially called for in the summer of 1992 by the then Bosnian President Alija Izetbegović,[3] and later adopted by several US Senators including Joseph Biden. After initially opposing the policy, Bill Clinton adopted it as a part of his 1992 campaign platform, in an effort to distance himself from George H. W. Bush on foreign policy.[4]

United States Secretary of State Warren Christopher visited European governments in May 1993 in order to persuade them to support the strategy, which would have required their involvement, but the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Russia rejected the proposal,[1][5] fearing that it would endanger UNPROFOR troops and the UNHCR's humanitarian programme.[6]

In 1994, the United States Congress and Senate called for the arms embargo to be lifted, but by this time Clinton opposed it because of previous European opposition.[7][8] Several important political figures had called for military intervention, including US Senator Bob Dole and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.[3]

The conflict was finally brought to an end in 1995 by the Dayton Agreement, following NATO bombing of Bosnian Serb Army positions.[9]


At the beginning of the Yugoslav Wars, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 713 on September 25, 1991. The resolution imposed an international arms embargo on all Yugoslav territories, in an effort to prevent escalating violence. At the time the embargo was imposed, only the Yugoslav National Army (JNA), which was believed to be neutral, had significant supplies of heavy weapons. However, as the conflict progressed the JNA fell under Serb control. As a result, Serb forces from Serbia, the Republika Srpska and the Republic of Serbian Krajina inherited large weapons stockpiles from the JNA, leaving Croatia and Bosnia struggling with what they had captured during the Battle of the Barracks or smuggled under difficult conditions. Thus, the arms embargo "cemented an imbalance in weaponry" among the sides in the conflict.[10]

In response to the uneven situation, President Izetbegović and the Bosnian government made repeated calls to lift the arms embargo, so that they could arm their army to resist the Serbs. Izetbegović and other Bosniak politicians also claimed that the embargo was an illegal violation of the Bosnian right to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.[11]

Spread of the idea[edit]

Starting in 1992, a number of US foreign policy experts and politicians began to warm to the idea of lifting the arms embargo to even the playing field, and a number advocated air strikes against the Serbs, as they were perceived to be the principal aggressors. In July 1992, Bill Clinton adopted the idea of lift and strike as part of his call for "real leadership" in Bosnia, an effort to strengthen his foreign policy platform. While President Bush was seen as a foreign policy expert, the Clinton team identified Bosnia as one of his weaknesses. Clinton "called on Mr. Bush to seek United Nations authorization of selective bombing of Serbian targets in Bosnia", and delivered strong rhetoric on the Bosnian crisis.[12] In early August, in response to Congressional debate, Clinton declared himself in favor "of lifting the arms embargo on the former Yugoslav republics of Bosnia and Croatia." [13]

Throughout August 1992, the "lift and strike" idea began to catch on in the press. New York Times correspondent Leslie Gelb proposed that US officials could "threaten air strikes against targets in Serbia...and threaten to arm the virtually defenseless discourage Serbia from spreading its policy of ethnic cleansing".[14] Also, in late August, Senator George J. Mitchell met with President Izetbegović, and after the meeting told reporters "that Izetbegović had made 'a very strong case that an arms embargo freezing a military imbalance in place was inherently unjust." [15]

Growing support for the idea culminated in Senate Resolution 341 on September 16, 1992, which called on the President to end the arms embargo.[16]


  1. ^ a b Bacevich, Andrew (2002). American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of US Diplomacy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-674-00940-0. 
  2. ^ Safire, William (23 November 1995). "Essay: Biting Bosnia's bullet". New York Times. Retrieved 10 August 2008. 
  3. ^ a b Silber, Laura; Little, Alan (1996). The Death of Yugoslavia (2nd ed.). London: Penguin/BBC Books. p. 254. ISBN 0-14-024904-4. 
  4. ^ Gordon, Michael (23 August 2008). "A democratic leader on foreign policy, in Iraq and the Balkans". New York Times. Retrieved 17 February 2009. 
  5. ^ Daalder, Ivo H. (2000). Getting to Dayton: The Making of America's Bosnia Policy. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. pp. 14–18. ISBN 978-0-8157-1692-1. 
  6. ^ Fenton, Neil (2004). Understanding the UN Security Council: Coercion Or Consent?. Aldershot: Ashgate. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-7546-4092-9. 
  7. ^ Safire, William (11 April 1996). "Oversight evader". New York Times. Retrieved 16 May 2008. 
  8. ^ Peceny, Mark; Sanchez-Terry, Shannon (1998). "Liberal interventionism in Bosnia". The Journal of Conflict Studies. 18 (1). 
  9. ^ "Operation Deliberate Force". NATO. 16 December 2002. Archived from the original on 10 November 2008. Retrieved 26 November 2008. 
  10. ^ Gow, James (1997). The Triumph of the Lack of Will. Columbia University Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-231-10916-1. 
  11. ^ Gow, James (1997). The Triumph of the Lack of Will. Columbia University Press. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-231-10916-1. 
  12. ^ Rosenthal, Andrew (28 July 1992). "Clinton Attacked on Foreign Policy". New York Times. Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  13. ^ Ifill, Gwen (10 August 1992). "Clinton Takes Aggressive Stances On Role of U.S. in Bosnia Conflict". New York Times. Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  14. ^ Gelb, Leslie (27 August 1992). "The Awful Choice in Bosnia". New York Times. Retrieved 18 February 2009. 
  15. ^ Maass, Peter (25 August 1992). "Bosnia's Muslims Press Appeals for Western Arms". The Washington Post. 
  16. ^ "Calling for the termination of the arms embargo imposed on Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia (Introduced in Senate)". Retrieved 18 February 2009.