No-Fly Zone Fallacy

Navy F-16 heads to Libya

Originally published a The Daily Censored for Project Censored.

This past weekend, under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, the United States and its allies began enforcing a “no fly zone” over much of Libya. One of the most frequent comparisons used to justify our actions has been that of the Bosnia-Herzegovia war.  Recently, Mo Sacribey of the European Courier, laid out the essential argument:

“Air power applied resolutely by NATO in Bosnia brought about a conclusion to war, and with no NATO planes shot down despite Serbian anti-aircraft systems that are more than not in relative terms comparable to Gaddafi’s…Bosnia offers several tactical lessons as well. Bosnian Government forces were able to rapidly erase Serbia’s weaponry advantage once NATO air power was applied. As was the case in Bosnia, there is a capable and motivated force to take advantage on the ground and to reverse Gaddafi’s recent gains (mostly achieved as result of Gaddafi’s unchallenged air power.)”

But is Sacribey’s account of what happened in Bosnia accurate? First of all, the Bosnian War officially ended in December 1995. However, NATO began enforcing Resolution 816, authorizing the Bosnian no-fly zone, in April 1993. And so, the claim that NATO air power brought about the “conclusion of the war” is historically incorrect. The fact is, after the U.N. and NATO’s involvement, the Bosnian war dramatically escalated.

Like in Bosnia, the need to implement a no-fly zone in Libya has been primarily based on humanitarian reasons. However, did Bosnia actually turn out to be a humanitarian success story?  Consider the two main reasons for the U.N.’s involvement in Bosnia, mass executions amounting to “ethnic cleansing” and concentration camps.

Prior to the U.N.’s involvement in Bosnia, the media had widely circulated the story that some 8,000 civilians had been massacred in the growing conflict. However, scholars Edward Herman and David Peterson have studied these stories and pin-pointed the main source of this erroneous number of 8,000 killed. Herman and Peterson write:

“[T]he list of 8,000 missing persons originally came from the Red Cross, that this 8,000-figure referred to the non-duplicate tracking requests for missing persons then in the Red Cross’s database but did not refer to deaths at all, and that the 8,000-figure most assuredly was not based on any evidence of executions.  In fact, as late as November 2003, the “total number of individuals located in the Srebrenica mass grave sites” was reported by ICTY Prosecution expert Dean Manning to have been 2,570 — and this number did not distinguish between civilians and armed combatants, or between those killed in battle and those executed.6 But, for the establishment media, the 8,000-figure was already in wide usage as referring to executions at the time Manning testified to 2,570 bodies found, and this 8,000-figure has become even more firmly entrenched in the years that followed.

… the Bosnian Muslim Chief of the Supreme Command Staff General Enver Hadzihasanovic testifying at the ICTY that he could “claim for certainty that 2,628 members, both soldiers and commanding officers, members of the 28th Division, were killed” during this retreat,7 and the Bosnian Serbs admitting between 300 and 500 deaths on their side.8

Herman, Peterson, and other scholars have pointed out that prior to U.N. involvement in the Bosnian War, the death toll between the three warring factions had totaled less than 4,000 people. The vast majority of those killed were actually combatants.

But what about the concentration camp? In early 1992, images of a so called “Bosnian concentration camps” made the front pages of ever major newspaper in the western world. Time Magazine featured a picture of an emaciated man standing behind a barbed wire fence. The images were taken from a British film crew ITN, which was narrated by correspondent Penny Marshall. However, a second film crew was with ITN on the day the infamous “Bosnian Death Camps” videos and they tell a shocking different story. Unfortunately, the second film crew didn’t have the support of the corporate media and major western nations.

Jared Israel was part of that second film crew and eventually put together a 30 minute video in 2000. The video can be found in three ten minute segments on YouTube. Here is Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. What the videos prove, without a shadow of a doubt, is that the Penny Marshall and the ITN crew cropped and masked the video in order to deliberately fabricate the concentration camp narrative. The facts are shocking.

As horrible as it is that some 4,000 combatants were killed prior to the U.N. Resolution 816, which authorized a no-fly zone over Bosnia, what happened after the U.N. and NATO’s involvement became dramatically worse. By early May 1992, the Serbs had fully encircled the city of Sarajevo creating a blockade, and a 44 month long siege had begun.  The largest single massacre in the Bosnian War occurred in March 1993 in the Lašva Valley. According to the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Center, around 2,000 Bosniaks from the Lašva Valley were killed.

By the time the Bosnia conflict ended, in December 1995, the Red Cross and Amnesty International estimated over 102,000 people were killed, 3.3 million were displaced, real concentration camps were being set up, all sides were committing horrific acts of ethnic cleansing, and some 20,000 to 50,000 women were raped.

To recap, prior to the U.N. involvement in Bosnia, less the 4,000 people, mostly combatants, were killed in an minor civil war. After the U.N. authorized and NATO started imposing a no-fly zone, more than 98,000 people, including more than 55,000 civilians were killed in the conflict. I’m not sure how the U.N, NATO, and the U.S. measure a humanitarian success, but the U.N. no-fly zone over Bosnia did not quickly bring “a conclusion to the war.” And certainly, it did not lessen or halt the war crimes in Bosnia.

Today, the U.N., the U.S., NATO, and its allies are once again imposing a no-fly zone, this time over Libya. In fact, U.N. Resolution 1973 authorizes both a no-fly zone and the use of “all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya.

However, the AP reported today, March 22, 2011, “Muammar Gaddafi’s snipers and tanks are terrorizing civilians in the coastal city of Misrata, a resident said, and the U.S. military warned Tuesday it was “considering all options” in response to dire conditions there that have left people cowering in darkened homes and scrounging for food and rainwater.”

Given the history of the U.N. record in authorizing militaries to enforce no-fly zones to protect civilians, we may be witnessing the opening salvos of a long and protracted war that ends with tens of thousands of innocent civilians killed. For the sake of peace, let’s hope the horrors of Bosnia do not prove to a good example of what we might experience in Libya.


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