At the end of the Cold War, the Republic of Bosnia sought to declare its independence from Yugoslavia and demonstrated its commitment to democracy by holding free and fair elections.
By 1991, the Bosnian movement for independence had devolved into violent conflict throughout the region, stoked in large part by neighboring Serbia who not only supplied arms to Bosnian Serbs but also committed its own military in attacks against Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats.
Sen. Dole, as Senate Republican Leader, led a multi-year bipartisan Congressional effort opposing both President George H.W. Bush and President Clinton’s policies that left the US standing idly by alongside NATO allies while the Serbs perpetrated genocide against the Bosnians.
“Little did we think that at the end of the Cold War we would not find a new world order in the Balkans, but a new world horror… The time to act is now. The lives of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children are at stake.” – Bob Dole, August 11, 1992 press release
While the Bosnians were left defenseless by the international community, between 1991 and 1995 Sen. Dole introduced multiple legislative initiatives with Senators Joe Biden, George Mitchell, and Joseph Lieberman, as well as John McCain and Patrick Moynihan, aimed at lifting the 1991 United Nations arms embargo against former Yugoslav republics, which included Bosnia.
“The U.N. forces must withdraw and the arms embargo must be lifted. The United States cannot continue to subsidize and support a U.N. mission that serves largely to supervise ethnic cleansing and aggression. The United States must exercise leadership and support the fundamental right of self-defense.”
– Sen. Dole in a press release, July 13, 1995
In 1995, Bosnian Serb troops massacred 8,000 Bosnians seeking refuge in the UN protected safe zone of Srebrenica. President Clinton sought to authorize a series of air strikes against Bosnian Serb forces and asked Dole, now Senate Majority Leader, to rally Congressional support for NATO military action. Dole informed the president that he would support the action, making the NATO involvement a bipartisan issue. The ensuing air strikes pressured Serbian President Milosevic to participate in peace negotiations that resulted in the 1995 Dayton Accords, which ended the war.
Dole was unwavering in his support for Bosnia, and in an October 2009 op-ed, he expressed concern that the Obama administration’s support for multilateralism and diplomacy would replace U.S. leadership, saying, “Bosnia is in dire need of another principled commitment to its survival and prosperity as a democratic state.”