Accessibility links

Breaking News

Karadzic In The Hague A Victory For EU Values

The arrival of Radovan Karadzic in The Hague serves as an important vindication for the EU. It shows that reconciliation, not just force, can bring justice. But it also highlights the complex problems the EU faces in attempting to bring about change in difficult neighborhoods such as the western Balkans.

Karadzic's arrest is a triumph for the EU in several ways. First, it is a symbolic reprieve for a union whose ultimate raison d'etre has been the prevention of war. Born of the devastation of World War II, the EU failed to prevent the conflagration in the western Balkans in the 1990s. Karadzic's impending trial in The Hague brings to a close the most humiliating chapter in the EU's history which began in 1991 with the now infamous words uttered by the then-foreign minister of Luxembourg, Jacques Poos -- "Europe's hour has come."

It took the United States and NATO a decade to finally pacify the region.

Together with former Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic, Karadzic was one of the chief political architects of the worst atrocities to befall Europe since World War II. His trial will give substance to one of the cornerstones of the EU's self-image -- that war is not an acceptable continuation of politics. War is Europe's cardinal sin, and in this sense Karadzic's capture is more essential than that of General Ratko Mladic, who is still on the run. For the EU, Karadzic represents the pinnacle of political authority, which is ultimately responsible for war.

Second, the arrest is an important vindication of the EU's preference for "soft power" over military force. Even if Europe should miss the hour, it gets it right eventually -- and hopefully with lasting results. Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer made this point when he quipped in an interview to "Die Zeit" on July 23 that "God's millstones grind slowly, but they do grind."

NATO Peace, EU Reconciliation

NATO brought the Balkans peace, but the EU aims to bring reconciliation. Both have struggled bringing justice, but both the handover of Milosevic to The Hague tribunal in 2001 and the transfer of Karadzic owe much more to the EU's transformative power than to the force of arms. Neutral Finland's Defense Minister Elisabeth Rehn noted on July 23 that NATO had proved "inadequate."

Both men were captured by Serbian governments that came to power partly in response to overtures from the EU. The current one so much so that the EU has been accused of influencing the Serbian elections after Brussels explicitly made offers of closer cooperation and visa-free travel conditional on the victory of pro-European forces.

There is little doubt in Brussels that Karadzic would still be free had a different government taken office in Belgrade earlier this month.

Third, Karadzic's capture reaffirms the EU's adherence to international law. This is where the EU emphatically differs from the United States. Brussels has long castigated the United States for failing to sign up to the International Criminal Court and taken exception to a number of U.S. practices in the war against terror -- such as the "extraordinary renditions" of suspects and the use of interrogation methods that many describe as torture. Both practices are illegal under EU law -- though individual member states may have secretly cooperated with the United States.

Preconditions And Cooperation

However, the Karadzic arrest is also a reminder of the difficult dialectic at the heart of the EU's foreign policy of "soft power." It overwhelmingly relies on suasion, which in turn presupposes dialogue. And this opens up a space of moral ambiguity -- to open a dialogue, some values at least need to be suspended. Serbia is a mild example; the cutting edge of this debate involves countries like Uzbekistan and Russia.

But Serbia is nonetheless a case in point. Some preconditions for cooperation can only be attained once there is cooperation. In order to influence developments in Serbia in a direction that eventually resulted in Karadzic's arrest, the EU first had to find a way of backing out of a self-avowed refusal to allow relations with Belgrade to advance before the capture of all main war crimes suspects.

The best way to engage Belgrade was to sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Serbia. Not all member states were happy to do this before the arrests of at least Karadzic and Mladic. The Netherlands, deeply traumatized after the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995 of 8,000 Muslim men and boys while its peacekeepers stood by, was particularly insistent. Britain and Belgium also had doubts.

EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana had to resort to vigorous shuttle diplomacy within the bloc itself to get all member states on board. In the end, this strategy paid off. But the events serve as another reminder that the EU's preference for engagement and dialogue needs to be backed up by a continuous reference to the values and standards on which the bloc is ultimately predicated.

Ahto Lobjakas is RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

An Architect Of War

Photo Gallery

An Architect Of War

Karadzic is regarded as the mastermind of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II.