GIBBS, N. David. FIRST DO NO HARM: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia


About the Author


GIBBS, N. David

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FIRST DO NO HARM: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia.

Place of Publishing:


Published by:

Vanderbilt University Press



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In June 2009, Professor Gibbs published his book “First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia” that is primary focused on the issues of the Balkans and the collapse of former Yugoslavia. The book offers a spectacular insight into the puzzling games of grey diplomatic elites acting behind the official scenes of diplomatic negotiations on the Balkans. The Balkan issues have attracted attention of many academics and reports for a very long time and will do so for another significant period of time. It is a place showing hidden interests of great powers searching for maximising their benefits at the expense of human suffering. As it has continuously revealed, the situation in the Balkans in the last ten years of the 20th century presented by world media and top political leaders was not fully in step with real life. The Balkans offer very illuminative aspects of human history, and new evidence is emerging in successive steps. The whole Balkan region is a mystic place attracting problems and horrific moments deeply rooted in human souls.

The book pays attention to the last ten years of 20th century and all Balkan secessions including all wars. Professor Gibbs divided his book into eight centrobaric chapters handling different historical moments of any crucial milestones changing the face of the Balkan relations. All historical moments are set up into broader context giving them clear meaning. Great care is devoted to explanation of key diplomatic aspects playing role behind the official negotiations. The aim of the book is to shed light upon historical moments starting in ruins of bipolar world and finishing at the birth of the new century.

Both, first and the last chapter have a special position within the book’s framework where they can be interpreted as introductory and conclusive normatives. Six remaining chapters embody chronological structure of the book dealing with different aspects of Balkan tensions. The first chapter marks out potentially theoretical scope for institute of humanitarian intervention and grounds for establishment akin institute in real life. Gibbs feels no burdens to being open about the arguments leading him to write the book and freely speaks about his negative attitude towards humanitarian intervention applied in the Former Yugoslavia with a great deal of critique. Next two chapters deal with two, at the first glance, different topics. However, analysing them more closely, both topics are fully interconnected and demonstrate common characteristic strains. The second chapter still reminds a trip and readers are taken into history of the Americans. The chapter offers cross-section of historical milestones helping the USA to fasten their position in the world as a global power.

The problem of Balkan conflicts is as complicated as the history of the Balkans itself. To understand or at least to get a little comprehension of the roots of the conflicts, Gibbs decided to devote the third chapter to an historical excursion of the Balkans. It is not a tour into history in the true sense of the word; rather, it is an evaluable guide for readers to understand the most significant points in the Balkan history contributing to the constellation of the last-decade-of-twentieth-century relations in the Balkans. The chapter has an effect of entrance into key breaking points of the 20th century. There can be found a tiny connection between the third and four chapters. The fourth chapter pay attention to a short historical passage of the years of 1990 and 1991. Gibbs describes this period as a time of confused international relations with an emphasis on revealing crucial conditions of grey diplomatic intervention of the Europeans with the Germans in the frontline. A gap of international-relations order was strengthened by bravura search of the Americans for a new strong leading position in world politics. The chapter does not by-pass the problem in Slovenia, its secession and the first short war in the Balkans in the 90’s, however, comparing to other forthcoming wars there can be seen only a minimal work-out of the conflict. More heed is given to describe a broader political context contributing to the start of the collapse of former Yugoslavia. The international ignorance of Slovenian conflict and country’s later secession started uncontrollable patriotic emotions throughout the Balkans. Bosnia and Herzegovina followed the suit trying to break out and tear off the chain tying down the country to the federation.

War in Bosnia and Herzegovina presented the first large-scale conflict in the Balkans. Complicated process of handling the situation gave rise to prolonging the drama, human suffering and consequently to painful solutions. Conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina is worked out in two chapters – chapter five and six. While the Europeans played an important role in the secession of Slovenia, the Americans reappraising their policy in Europe entered into the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina aiming to make it harder for the Europeans to solve the emerging conflict in the territory in a short time. Missing strategy and a lack of interest of the Americans in the Balkans led to deterioration of the situation and in the end, to regional destabilization. The fifth chapter deals with mostly confusing strategy of Bush administration in Bosnia and Herzegovina on one side, but on another one, the chapter directs points at changing air in American politics and interest rising up with new Clinton administration. The chapter offers logically constructed insight into the step-by-step proceeding conflict, preparation of diplomatic negotiations and subsequent military operation under the auspices of the NATO in the air and Bosnian and Croatian army troops on the ground. The final part of the chapter handles Dayton peace negotiations and secret intervention conspiring behind officially “visible” theatre and revealing strong discourse between Europe and America.

The penultimate chapter closes the last decade of the 20th century in the Balkans and works with the most impressive conflict in our modern history. On one side, Gibbs offers a sight of the deadlock in Euro-Americans relations, both searching for strategies ensuring one or the other strong influential position in the region. The second half of the 90’s of the 20th century brought many economic, political and strategic problems that put the problem of Kosovo at the edge of any kind of interests. Instead of solving Kosovo’s problem at Dayton peace Conference, prolonging ignorance consequently resulted into an open and hard-to-solve conflict. The chapter brings new look at the problem of Kosovo, process of negotiations and varieties of conflict solutions. The author openly criticizes taking decisions pointing at inadequate evidence presented to justify proposed military solution of the conflict, as well as overwhelming and exacerbated numbers of casualties primarily used to get wide public support for huge response to the destabilization in a military way.

In general, Gibbs’s publication offers enough room for his readers to think about currently embracing values defending contemporary system of humanitarian intervention. A key aim of the book is to bring new evidence, a brand new look into manipulations taking place behind all conflicts in the Balkans, proclaiming facts presenting and using to defend and legitimize all military strikes in the name of humanitarian intervention. Getting through the book, readers should approach the book from a wider perspective. The structure of the book is remarkable and easy readers can go smoothly throughout the writing. It is difficult to find some negatives.

In particular, Gibbs has fully fulfilled his ambitions to offer a new view of the Balkan issue. He analyzes new evidence; thinks about possible consequences, without any hesitation underlining tensions rooting in behind-the-scene-contest between Europe and the USA, and openly speaks about them. To read the book and wait for detailed information about military tactics taking place during particular wars would be a mistake. The book brings a complex and unique flow of new information related to hidden tactics and propaganda forming an influence, the power and position of all parties in question. Gibbs offers dimensions for taking a new look and thinking one more time about the relations forming the latent attitude at the end of the bipolar world that finally resulted in a complicated contest of main world powers.

From a professional point of view, the book is processed in high quality, well-organized, and proposes a number of new evidence based on Gibbs’s long-taking analyses and research. The book is primary directed to professionals and students studying in the field of international relations, political science and military area. The book cannot be taken as a textbook; on the contrary, the book presents a comprehensive unit that will shortly fuel ongoing international debate about the contemporary system of humanitarian intervention and further system of conflict solution of war-torn societies. The book opens new horizons for research and widens the room for thinking. Indisputably, the book should find its place in any good library promising its readers generous recourses as well as in the library of any student studying in the field.

Title in English:

GIBBS, N. David. FIRST DO NO HARM: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia.

Title in Czech/Slovak:





Book Review






Obrana a strategie (Defence & Strategy)


University of Defence


ISSN 1214-6463 (print) and ISSN 1802-7199 (on-line)




Volume 10, Number 2 (December 2010)



Received: 20 October 2010

Accepted: 22 October 2010

Published online: 15 December 2010

Created 15.12.2010 4:37:48 | read 6624x | Hlavacek


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