Warren Zimmermann

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Warren Zimmermann
Warren Zimmermann.jpg
Warren Zimmermann speaking
at the Library of Congress.
21st United States Ambassador to Yugoslavia
In office
July 11, 1988 – May 16, 1992
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by John Douglas Scanlan
Personal details
Born (1934-11-16)November 16, 1934
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America
Died February 3, 2004(2004-02-03) (aged 69)
Great Falls, Virginia, United States of America
Profession Career Diplomat

Warren Zimmermann (November 16, 1934 – February 3, 2004) was an American career diplomat best known as the last US ambassador to SFR Yugoslavia before its disintegration in a series of civil wars.[1][2]

Zimmermann was a member of the Yale Class of 1956, and a member of Scroll and Key Society.


Warren Zimmermann served in Moscow (1973–75 and 1981–84), Paris, Caracas and Vienna, where he headed the US delegation at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (1986–89). But it was Yugoslavia that marked him more than any other phase in his professional life, and brought him to prominence.[2]

Bosnian War[edit]

Zimmermann played an active diplomatic and geopolitical role during the initial stages of the Bosnian War.

According to Robert W. Tucker, Professor Emeritus of American Foreign Policy at Johns Hopkins University and David C. Hendrickson, a Professor at Colorado College, Zimmermann may have scuttled the Lisbon Agreement also known as Carrington-Cutileiro peace plan.[3] This was an agreement that would have made peace between three main ethnicities, Muslims, Serbs, and Croats, living within the bounds of Bosnia and Herzegovina by the creation of a cantons system, such as exist in Switzerland. At a time when Bosnia-Herzegovina was sliding into war along ethnic lines, this plan proposed ethnic power-sharing on all administrative levels and the devolution of central government to local ethnic communities. On 28 March 1992, ten days after the agreement had been signed by each of the three sides, Zimmermann came to Sarajevo to meet with Alija Izetbegović, leader of the Bosnian Muslims, giving Izetbegović assurances of U.S. support for a full independent nation without internal division.[citation needed][4] Within days of meeting Zimmermann, Izetbegović withdrew his signature and renounced the peace plan he agreed to in Lisbon, suddenly declaring his opposition to any type of ethnic division of Bosnia. Within weeks a full blown war developed in Bosnia. Three and a half years later, the Dayton Accord that all three sides accepted in November 1995 thus finally ending a bloody civil war, featured a very similar canton system, dividing Bosnia-Herzegovina internally along ethnic lines.[5] Writing in 1997, Alfred Sherman, British political analyst and an adviser to Margaret Thatcher, described Zimmermann's involvement in Bosnia, along with American overall foreign policy in the Balkans, as: "lying and cheating, fomenting war in which civilians are the main casualty, and in which ancient hatreds feed on themselves".[6]

As the Bosnian conflict developed into a full war during spring 1992, Zimmermann supported the policy of foreign military interventionism.

According to journalist Samantha Power, the author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Zimmermann’s career in Yugoslavia was marked by "frustration with the resistance of the Bush administration to intervene". His last official act before he was recalled to the United States on 16 May 1992, was to write a confidential memo called Who Killed Yugoslavia? to the secretary of state. Each of the five sections of the memo was headed by a verse from the poem "Who Killed Cock Robin?". In Zimmermann's analysis, the nationalism of the Balkan leaders had led to the demise of the country.[7]

Zimmermann resigned from the diplomatic service in 1994 in protest at President Bill Clinton's reluctance to intervene in the Bosnian War.[citation needed] He campaigned to persuade America that it must act to end what he reportedly saw to be "Serbian aggression in the killing fields of Bosnia"[2] and was of the opinion that "NATO air strikes against the Serbs at any point during the war would have stopped the war and brought a negotiated agreement".[8]

Zimmermann went on to teach at Johns Hopkins University (1994–96) and Columbia University (1996–2000), and spoke out against human rights violations.[2]

Zimmermann wrote an account of his experiences in Yugoslavia, The Origins Of A Catastrophe (1996).[2] According to what he wrote in the book, Franjo Tuđman claimed that Bosnia should be divided between the Croats and the Serbs in what came to be known as the Karađorđevo agreement. "Tuđman admitted that he discussed these fantasies with Milošević, the Yugoslav Army leadership and the Bosnian Serbs," writes Zimmerman, "and they agreed that the only solution is to divide up Bosnia between Serbia and Croatia".[9][10] Much maligned as a war criminal, Milošević was eventually posthumously exonerated at the International Court of Justice, after being scapegoated for two decades and dying in custody.


Following his ambassadorship in Yugoslavia, Zimmermann authored two books: Origins of a Catastrophe: Yugoslavia and Its Destroyers — America's Last Ambassador Tells What Happened and Why,published in 1996, and First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power, a work about Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, John Hay, Elihu Root, and Admiral Alfred T. Mahan, published in 2002.



External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
John Douglas Scanlan
United States Ambassador to Yugoslavia
Succeeded by
William Dale Montgomery
Government offices
Preceded by
Princeton N. Lyman
Director of the Bureau of Refugee Programs
June 15, 1992 – March 3, 1994
Succeeded by
Phyllis E. Oakley