September 25, 2022

Montgomery vs. Galbraith

The Balkans is not my area of expertise, but the issue of territorial gains from genocidal policies is going to come up in the future of Darfur as it is today in Bosnia, which it why it seems relevant to highlight this recent interaction between former US diplomats in the Balkans, William Montgomery and Peter W.Galbraith, on the pages of the Global Ed. of the NYT

In an op ed, The Balkans Mess Redux, Montgomery writes:

“. . .we continue to insist that it is possible, with enough pressure and encouragement, to establish fully functioning multiethnic societies in Bosnia and Kosovo with no change in borders. And we have consistently ignored all evidence to the contrary and branded as obstructionist anyone who speaks openly about alternative approaches.” Later he continues that vis-a-vis Bosnia, ” a solution probably involves shaping a different relationship within Bosnia and permitting the Republika Srpska, the Serbian portion of the divided country, to hold a referendum on independence.”

When I read it, I thought about the former Bosnian Army soldier, Nadeem, I spent the day with in Sarajevo last month. He insisted that the Serbs attacked Sarajevo because it was an example of a functioning multi-ethnic society, and they wanted to prove this was not a viable state of affairs. In other words, I read Montgomery’s article  and thought, if Nadeem read this he would think Montgomery is a spokesperson for the Serbian position during the war.

Enter Peter Galbraith with the response: “Don’t reward genocide.”

In a letter to the NYT Galbraith writes:

“The Bosnian Serb entity exists on the land it now occupies because its wartime leaders committed genocide against the Bosniak (Muslim) and Croat populations on that territory. While a move toward independence for the Bosnian Serbs could be just and lead to greater stability, the international community has a far greater interest in not rewarding genocide and other heinous crimes. A referendum on independence in the Serb part of Bosnia and Herzegovina would vindicate the genocidal policies for which Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serbs’ first president, will soon stand trial.”

Their debate is actually just another iteration of  “peace vs. justice.” On the one hand, Montogomery argues peace is more likely if war time gains are to be solidified. On the other, Galbraith argues that such an outcome would be unjust. My general approach is that unless there is justice there is a low likelihood of sustainable peace (emphasis on the word sustainable). Rewarding victors who used illegal means to gain territory may provide the appearance of peace, or at least a sort of uneasy but calm holding pattern – in the short to medium term. But it also sets a precedent that encourages instability over the long term. Knowing that clearing the land of a population you don’t want there actually works will only encourage more of such behavior in the future.

Montgomery Vs. Galbraith? I come down on the side of Galbraith.


  1. […] were waiting in my inbox from two journalists I admire. The first, from Jeb Sharp, is apropos my recent post, Montgomery vs. Galbraith. Jeb runs a series on her site called How Wars End (a useful line of […]

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