United Nations Authorizes Troop Deployment to the Balkans Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

As chaos spread in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s, the United Nations sought to minimize casualties by creating safe havens and deploying a lightly armed protection force in that violently disintegrating country.

Summary of Event

By the time the Security Council of the United Nations authorized the formation of the first U.N. Protection Force (UNPROFOR I) for deployment in the former Yugoslavia on February 21, 1992, political circumstances had been deteriorating there for years and warfare had been sweeping across the nation’s westernmost corner for more than six months. Indeed, with the exception of its years under Tito’s rule, Yugoslavia had been troubled by communal conflict in general, and the tension between its Serbian and Croatian communities in particular, from its earliest days. Even its post-World War I creation in 1918 as the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes had less to do with the contracting parties’ strong desire for union than with Croatian fears that if the state was not quickly finalized they would find themselves facing alone an Italy that was already attacking Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline. Thereafter, matters worsened. United Nations;peacekeeping UNPROFOR I[UNPROFOR 01] Racial and ethnic conflict;Yugoslavia [kw]United Nations Authorizes Troop Deployment to the Balkans (Feb. 21, 1992) [kw]Troop Deployment to the Balkans, United Nations Authorizes (Feb. 21, 1992) [kw]Deployment to the Balkans, United Nations Authorizes Troop (Feb. 21, 1992) [kw]Balkans, United Nations Authorizes Troop Deployment to the (Feb. 21, 1992) United Nations;peacekeeping UNPROFOR I[UNPROFOR 01] Racial and ethnic conflict;Yugoslavia [g]Europe;Feb. 21, 1992: United Nations Authorizes Troop Deployment to the Balkans[08310] [g]Balkans;Feb. 21, 1992: United Nations Authorizes Troop Deployment to the Balkans[08310] [g]Bosnia and Herzegovina;Feb. 21, 1992: United Nations Authorizes Troop Deployment to the Balkans[08310] [g]Croatia;Feb. 21, 1992: United Nations Authorizes Troop Deployment to the Balkans[08310] [g]Macedonia;Feb. 21, 1992: United Nations Authorizes Troop Deployment to the Balkans[08310] [g]Serbia and Montenegro;Feb. 21, 1992: United Nations Authorizes Troop Deployment to the Balkans[08310] [g]Slovenia;Feb. 21, 1992: United Nations Authorizes Troop Deployment to the Balkans[08310] [c]United Nations;Feb. 21, 1992: United Nations Authorizes Troop Deployment to the Balkans[08310] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Feb. 21, 1992: United Nations Authorizes Troop Deployment to the Balkans[08310] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Feb. 21, 1992: United Nations Authorizes Troop Deployment to the Balkans[08310] Milošević, Slobodan Tudjman, Franjo Boutros-Ghali, Boutros Nambiar,Satish

To Serbian nationalists, the new state was a means of achieving a Greater Serbia, which would unite all of the Balkans’ Serbs (including the sizable Serbian minority in Croatia) under Belgrade’s centralized rule. In contrast, the country’s minority communities (Slovenes, Montenegrins, Bosnian Muslims, Kosovo Albanians, Macedonians, Montenegrins, and, in particular, the Croats) wanted maximum regional and/or local autonomy in any union. During the interwar period, Serbian objectives generally prevailed, although at a cost. In 1929, for example, the kingdom’s Serbian ruler, Alexander I, reacted to minority demands for federalism by assuming essentially dictatorial powers over the state even as he renamed it Yugoslavia (land of the Slavs), only to be slain five years later himself by an assassin with ties to Croatian nationalists.

Even the country’s occupation by German forces during World War II exacerbated Croat-Serbian antagonisms when the occupiers established puppet regimes in Croatia and in Serbia’s heavily Muslim Kosovo province in order to control Yugoslavia more easily. With German approval, these rump governments soon set about settling scores against their former Serbian rulers. In turn, they soon also became the targets of the anti-German underground led by Tito Tito (née Josip Broz, a Croat by birth) that is estimated to have killed at least 200,000 (mostly Croat) collaborators before the war ended.

It was only during the era of Tito’s rule (1945-1980) that Yugoslavia at last achieved a measure of unity and such an appearance of stability that when the 1984 Winter Olympic Games were held in Sarajevo, the host city was held out to the world as a symbol of interethnic harmony. In reality, even then the fissures separating Yugoslavia’s communities were again widening. Tito had been a major unifying element in his own right—a Yugoslav wartime hero who had offered Yugoslavia’s principal minorities substantial federal autonomy within the framework of the country’s (mostly Serb-dominated) Communist Party. With his death in 1980, old rivalries and resentments quickly resurfaced, and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia began to disintegrate into ethnoregional wings.

By the late 1980’s, the country’s survival depended precariously on the long-standing shared fear of its various communities that a disintegrating Yugoslavia might easily fall into the Soviet Union’s Central European empire. Thus, when the Soviet Union itself began to disintegrate in 1989-90, that unifying element, too, dissolved, and—often with Western European encouragement—in June of 1991, Croatia and Slovenia seceded despite Belgrade’s threat of military reprisals.

Belgrade was soon true to its word, and the summer of 1991 witnessed a brief war in Slovenia before the Yugoslav military conceded the independence of that barely (3 percent) Serbian republic and applied its full weight to crushing Croatia’s attempt at secession. By December, the world’s twenty-four-hour cable television news networks were carrying to their Western audiences grim live coverage of the heavy fighting in Croatia. The United Nations acted shortly thereafter, diplomatically recognizing the independence of Croatia and Slovenia on January 15, 1992, and—at approximately the same time that Bosnia was voting to secede from Yugoslavia despite the overwhelming opposition to separatism of its plurality Serbian community—on February 21 authorizing the creation of a U.N. military presence in Croatia to establish and maintain a cease-fire and safe havens there.


Debate has long lingered over the value of and the lessons to be drawn from the deployment of UNPROFOR I and its companion peacekeeping force, UNPROFOR II, which was established with similar charges in Bosnia when that republic seceded and the Yugoslav civil war spread to Bosnia and remained concentrated there until November, 1995, when the official conclusion of the war was negotiated at Dayton, Ohio. On the positive side of the ledger, the diplomatic intervention of the United Nations in the war in Croatia did produce the desired cease-fire between Belgrade’s forces and those of the Croatian government as well as the withdrawal of the Yugoslav army from Croatia. Similarly, the “safe” areas designated by the United Nations, first in Croatia and later in Bosnia, did provide a sanctuary and, much of the time, safety for those displaced civilians who were able to make it to them. In addition, the lightly armed peacekeeping force deployed in Macedonia in December of 1992 may have played a small part in preventing the warfare from spreading to that breakaway republic.

Nonetheless, the consensus is that the UNPROFOR missions were, on balance, failures—so systemically flawed that future peacekeeping missions of their design should probably be avoided. At its inception, UNPROFOR was meant to be a middle-ground form of military intervention located between the traditional U.N. peacekeeping missions, which were normally deployed in areas where there was a peace to be kept (a cease-fire line or treaty provisions to be policed, for example), and the type of large-scale military operation that would have been required to end the fighting in the former Yugoslavia (that is, “peace-making” forces). Hence, except where cease-fire lines were temporarily arranged while diplomatic efforts were being pursued to end the fighting, military operations continued despite UNPROFOR presence both throughout Bosnia and around such areas in Croatia as the self-proclaimed (and short-lived) independent Serbian Republic of Krajina.

Moreover, as the fighting increasingly came to involve the extremist, paramilitary organizations of each community, ethnic cleansing and other war crimes at times escalated even in those theaters where the U.N. units were present but too lightly armed to provide the protection they were suppose to offer noncombatants. Sometimes UNPROFOR personnel were themselves taken hostage and bartered by their captors for goods that allowed the paramilitaries to pursue their belligerent ways more effectively. Sometimes the outcome was tragic, as in the “safe” city of Srebrenica, where on July 11, 1995, thousands of Muslims were massacred by Serbian forces almost before the eyes of the few hundred Dutch peacekeepers deployed there when the Serbs seized control of the city.

Ultimately, it was the brazen and ultraviolent nature of the attack on Srebrenica that, combined with the subsequent Serbian shelling of two other U.N.-designated safe havens (Tuzla and Sarajevo), prompted the North Atlantic Treaty Organization North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to undertake the aggressive military action that finally led the protagonists to seek a diplomatic solution to the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia. The end of the Yugoslav civil wars, however, left still unanswered the basic questions raised when UNPROFOR I was authorized. If there is neither a peace to keep nor the will to undertake costly peace-making operations, is there an effective means of protecting noncombatants available to the international community when civil warfare occurs, or must outsiders accommodate themselves to watching the casualties mount? United Nations;peacekeeping UNPROFOR I[UNPROFOR 01] Racial and ethnic conflict;Yugoslavia

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Biermann, Wolfgang, and Martin Vadset, eds. U.N. Peacekeeping in Trouble: Lessons Learned from the Former Yugoslavia. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1998. Presents a critical analysis of the U.N. peacekeeping operations in Croatia and Bosnia, drawing heavily on the experiences of those involved in the operations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Esman, Milton J., and Shibley Telhami. International Organizations and Ethnic Conflict. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1995. Discusses the general challenges facing peacekeeping forces in civil war zones. Includes several chapters on U.N. peacekeeping in Yugoslavia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ramet, Sabrina P. Balkan Babel: The Disintegration of Yugoslavia from the Death of Tito to the Fall of Milošević. 4th ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2002. Outstanding work helps readers to understand the context and consequences of the U.N. decision to deploy a peacekeeping force in war-torn Yugoslavia. Includes maps, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Silber, Laura, and Allan Little. Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation. New York: Penguin Books, 1997. One of the most informative and widely available short accounts of Yugoslavia’s final days.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thakur, Ramesh, and Carlyle A. Thayer, eds. A Crisis of Expectations: U.N. Peacekeeping in the 1990’s. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1995. Collection presents interesting essays on both the U.N. protection forces in Yugoslavia and the general problems that confront peacekeeping operations in civil war zones.

Death of Tito

Ethnic Violence Erupts in Yugoslavian Provinces

Civil War Begins in Yugoslavia

Yugoslav Army Shells Dubrovnik

Serbs Face Charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia

Dayton Negotiations Produce Bosnian Peace Accord

Hague Court Convicts Bosnian Croats of 1993 Massacre

Categories: History