The United States policy community was sent a grim warning in the form of National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) 15-90 on October 18, 1990. Within a year, Yugoslavia will no longer function as a federal state, and within two, it would likely dissolve entirely. Divorce cannot be prevented by economic reform. […] Full-scale war between the republics is not likely, but substantial intercommunal strife will accompany and persist beyond the dissolution. The fighting will be hopeless and sour.
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The United States and its European allies can do very little to prevent the disintegration of Yugoslavia. An outline of the region that was formerly known as Yugoslavia, from 1993.
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“(Central Intelligence Agency)” Thomas Shreeve, writing about NIE 15-90 for the National Defense University in 2003, remarked that the October 1990 assessment of the U.S. intelligence community “was analytically sound, insightful, and well written.” It had almost no effect on US strategy and was fundamentally at odds with what US policymakers had hoped for in the former Yugoslavia. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had broken apart into its individual nations by January 1992 and so ceased to exist.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire’s Holdings in Croatia
After World War I, the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s holdings in Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia unified with the Serbian Kingdom to form a new nation called Yugoslavia, or the Land of South (i.e. Yugo) Slavs. During World War II, a Nazi-allied autonomous Croat state was established, but the country was reunified after the war by a communist-dominated partisan army led by Josip Broz Tito. After WWII, the United States placed a premium on maintaining Yugoslavia’s unity.
Yugoslavia was a communist state throughout the Cold War, although it was distinct from the Soviet Union after it declared independence in 1948, joined the Non-Aligned Movement as a founding member in 1961 and instituted a more decentralized and less authoritarian system of governance. Cultural and theological differences among the nation’s ethnic groups, memories of WWII atrocities committed by both sides, and centrifugal nationalist impulses were just some of the many factors that contributed to the country’s dissolution. Nonetheless, a chain reaction of significant political events exacerbated preexisting tensions in the Yugoslav country.
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The Massive Economic and Financial Support
After Tito’s death in 1980, the 1974 constitution established a collective presidency of the eight provincial representatives and a federal government with little control over economic, cultural, and political policy, effectively devolving all real power away from the federal government to the republics and autonomous provinces in Serbia. Some of the effects came from beyond the system itself. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, the unification of Germany one year later, and the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union all served to erode Yugoslavia’s political stability.
As Eastern European republics abandoned communist rule in favor of free elections and market economies, the West’s attention shifted away from Yugoslavia, weakening the massive economic and financial support needed to keep a Yugoslav economy on the verge of collapse from collapsing. When the Soviet Union no longer posed a direct danger to Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity and unity, a major motivator for cohesion and collaboration vanished. When the central state in Serbia began to disintegrate in the late 1980s, Serbia’s then-president, Slobodan Milosevic, seized the opportunity to utilize Serbian ultra-nationalism to stoke strife among the country’s constituent republics and bolster his own legitimacy at home.
Which Was at The Time Governed by The Albanians
In the 1980s, Milosevic switched careers from banking in Belgrade to politics. In 1986, he easily ascended to the position of leader of the Serbian Communist Party. Serbians in the province of Kosovo, which was at the time governed by the Albanians, rioted in the streets in May 1987 while attending a party meeting. Milosevic addressed the crowd and heard their grievances against the predominantly Albanian police and government.
Yugoslav media under Serbian control widely covered his acts, setting the stage for the transformation of the once-respected banker into the unwavering emblem of Serbian nationalism. Milosevic immediately strengthened his grip on power in Serbia by consolidating his hold on the party apparatus and the media after discovering a fresh source of legitimacy. Using rallies of the masses, he attempted to replace the local leaderships of Kosovo and Vojvodina with those he liked, so stripping both provinces of the autonomy they had enjoyed under Serbia’s constitution. In the middle of 1989, Milosevic allies had taken over Montenegro and reintegrated Kosovo and Vojvodina into Serbia.
Slovenia and Croatia Started Working Together
Yugoslavia was not immune to the ripple effects of democratization that have been spreading across Eastern Europe. In 1990, as Milosevic attempted to solidify power in Serbia, elections in Slovenia and Croatia swept non-communist parties into office. As early as 1990, Slovenian lawmakers declared that Slovenian law will supersede Yugoslav law, making it the first country to make such a “sovereignty” proclamation. And then in May came Croatia, and in August it was the turn of the Yugoslav country of Bosnia-Herzegovina to declare independence.
Slovenia and Croatia started working together to make Yugoslavia become a confederation rather than a federation. Yugoslavia had lost the geostrategic importance it had during the Cold War as the Bush administration focused on the Soviet Union, Germany, and the issue in the Persian Gulf. In the summer of 1990, Washington tried to organize minimal coordination with its Western allies in case the Yugoslav situation turned deadly. However, governments in Western Europe took a wait-and-see approach. At the same time, tensions escalated between Yugoslavia’s constituent republics.
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The Country’s Serb Minority Announced Its Independence
In December 1990, Slovenians voted decisively in favor of independence. Full independence was also supported by a referendum held in Croatia in May 1991. The trip to Belgrade by Secretary of State James Baker to meet with Yugoslav authorities and promote a political settlement was fruitless. On June 25, 1991, Slovenia and Croatia both formally declared their independence. After intervening for 10 days, the Yugoslav Army (JNA) withdrew, validating Slovenia’s independence. Conflict broke out between armed groups in Croatia after the country’s Serb minority announced its independence from the republic and its desire to join Serbia.
It was initially thought that the JNA would intervene to separate the fighters, but it soon became clear that they were siding with the Croatian Serbs. The subsequent war wreaked havoc on Croatia, killing thousands and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. When a referendum on independence was held in Bosnia and Herzegovina in March 1992, the Serb minority boycotted it. In May 1992, the republic announced its independence from Yugoslavia, and the Serbs in Bosnia also declared their own districts to be independent republics. Following a referendum in September 1991, Macedonia also declared its independence, and the United States deployed a peacekeeping and monitoring force to the country’s border with Serbia to keep an eye on the situation.