Administrative Failure in Bosnia:United Nations Crisis Management During the Fall of Srebrenica

Katherine Cook
On July 11, 1995 nearly 8,000 Bosniac men and boys were massacred following the fall of the United Nations Protected Area at Srebrenica. The massacre along with the displacement of over 25,000 refugees was carried out by the Bosnian Serb Army as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign aimed at eradicating the Bosnian Muslim population from their shared homeland. This case study highlights limitations in crisis management response and preparedness within the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations and Field Services offices. This paper investigates the struggle between the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) and the Army of the Republicka Srpska in the days preceding the safe area take over by Bosnian Serb forces. Exploration of these events reveals imbedded value conflicts internal to UN administration. As such, this case offers key areas of applicability to the study of public administration and crisis management. First, the case highlights failure to coordinate international communications systems, specifically, in addressing language barriers between Dutch UN peacekeeping forces on the ground and the UN Peacekeeping Headquarters. This issue is an all-too common oversight in dealing with crisis management, and this case delineates the intricacies of this issue for public administration students. Second, the case explores political implications of the UN’s “impartiality” doctrine. As such, the case addresses issues dealing with implementation failure in the policy making process. Special Representative to the Secretary-General Yasushi Akashi withheld NATO air strikes as a preventive measure, and in doing so, he circumvented UN policy guidelines. The fall of Srebrenica reveals inadequate international political will as reflected in the weak mandate provided to UN forces, and a lack of anticipation of the crisis within Bosnia by the international community.
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