The Guardian has cited declassified documents as revealing that then-US President Bill Clinton tried to coax the Muslim-led government of Bosnia and Herzegovina into making territorial concessions to Bosnian Serbs after the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995.
The documents include Clinton's phone calls with foreign leaders at the time, during which the US president, in particular, blamed the Bosnian army for failing to defend Srebrenica.
"In Srebrenica there were about 3,000 Bosnian troops but they […] left without putting up a fight. I will talk to my military advisers, but they are very skeptical about bringing in forces with helicopters, especially if the Bosnians won't fight. We cannot defend democratic values in the abstract", he said.
Clinton was apparently not aware of the scale of the massacre, claiming in a conversation with then-UK Prime Minister John Major on 14 July 1995 that "the casualty rate has gone way down and central Bosnia is at peace because of contributions made by [the UN peacekeeping force] UNPROFOR".
According to the US president, the average American TV viewer "[…] thinks it's as bad or worse than it was in 1992; there's no telling them it's different".
The strategy stipulated forcing a peace deal to divide the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina on a roughly even basis. In the event of the deal's collapse, the plan envisaged withdrawing UNPROFOR, lifting the arms embargo on Bosnia, and providing its Muslim-Croat Federation with support in the form of air strikes.
The goal was to help the federation become strong enough to fight the Serbs on its own, which in turn stipulated the Bosnians making a whole array of concessions related to territorial integrity.
Under the first annex to the endgame strategy, the key task was to conduct "a heart-to-heart talk with the Bosnians" to make them understand that in the wake of the Srebrenica killings, "they need [to] think more realistically about the shape of a settlement".
The US would consider "pressing the Bosnians to agree that the Serbs can conduct a referendum on secession after 2-3 years. If the Bosnians cannot persuade the Serb population that their best future lies in reintegration, there is no point blocking the peaceful separation of the Union along the lines of the Czechoslovak model", according to the annex titled "gameplan for a diplomatic breakthrough in 1995".
Some members of the then-US administration, including David Scheffer, an adviser to the American ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright, expressed concern over what Scheffer described as "a very slippery slope".
"The Serbs have seized enormous territory through ethnic cleansing, and then we hold a 'democratic' referendum to confirm such aggression? A very transparent act of appeasement", he noted at the time.
The "gameplan", however, was never implemented, with a Croatian offensive against the Serbs in western Bosnia in August 1995 forcing them to sit at the negotiating table without demanding the promise of a referendum.
The massacre in Srebrenica, a town in western Bosnia close to the Serbian border, was staged by the Bosnian Serb army in July 1995 and left more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys dead. It is considered the biggest mass murder in Europe since the end of World War II.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice have classified the massacre in Srebrenica as genocide. Bosnian Serbs as well as Serbia do not deny the killings took place, but dispute the acts were genocide.