Comparison between the Bosnian war and the invasion of East Timor



The latter period of the 20th century was decorated with a couple of military conflicts across Europe, Asia and even in the Middle East. One of the major military conflicts that stood out during this time was the Bosnian war between 1992 and 1995 and the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia in the 1970s. The two wars marked one of the deadliest military conflicts that the world has ever experienced after the world wars and registered a high number of fatalities as well as having a negative impact on the economies of the respective nations. The paper is aimed at conducting a comparative analysis of the two military stand offs, evaluating the cause of the wars and the efforts that were put in ending the wars. Moreover, the paper will aim at analyzing the aftermath of wars and how the nations have recuperated ever since.

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The Bosnian war was perhaps one of the most terrifying wars in Europe after the World War II. Based on the repercussions that came along as a result of the war, the military standoff of Bosnia was to a large extent, very catastrophic. The war took place within the territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina between early 1992 and the fall of 1995. The foremost belligerents of the war were forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, The Serbians that lived in Bosnia and The Croats who also resided within the territories of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina1. The war, which was highly unforeseen, was to a large extent fueled by the Yugoslavian Breakup which led to the secession of Slovenia and Croatia. As a result, a declaration of independence for the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was made following a referendum that was conducted in February of 1992. Consequently, the new nation received global recognition. However, due to the multi-ethnicity of the republic, uniting the nation would prove to be a difficult task. Thus, three major ethnic groups were profiled, which included the Islamic Bosnians, Orthodox Serbians and the Catholic Croats. The war developed from initial acts of violence perpetrated by the Bosnian Serbs who were totally against the referendum for independence. Following their loss in the referendum and the declaration of independence, the Bosnian Serbs were infuriated and as a retaliation strategy, they militarized their forces in a bid to secure their ethnicity within the new country.

Considering the fact that the Serbs were a minority compared to the Islamic Bosnians, they felt their ethnic territory was threatened and thus waged war against the Bosnians and the Croats, who were on one side2. The conflict turned into a full-scale war for the rest of the year 1992, as the supremacy battles were fought with an aim of gaining ethnic control in the new republic. The military standoff was highly characterized by ethnic cleansing where there was widespread killings and expulsions of the Croats and the Bosnians from territories deemed to have belonged to the Serbians2. In the year 1993, the war shaped up in a completely different way that was clearly unexpected. Increased tension between the Islamic Bosnians and the Catholic Croats resulted to a falling out that led to an escalated war for the rest of that year2. As a result, The Orthodox Serbians thrived in the war especially due to their superior weaponry and heavy artillery. Nonetheless, their momentum was later subdued as the Croats and the Bosnians came together once again in 1994. However, the war finally came to an end in 1995 as a result of the intervention by NATO that led to the signing of a peace deal in the country in December 19952. The perpetrators of the ethnic violence had to face the full consequences of the law and thus close to 60 people were sentenced for crimes against humanities with regards to the 4 year war. Approximately 100,000 fatalities were recorded and millions of people were displaced from their homes in a war that was characterized by indiscriminate killings, mass rape of Bosnian women, bitter war and destruction of cities considered to belong to the enemies.

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Apart from the Bosnian war, another devastating war to be experienced after the World War II was the Indonesian Invasion on East Timor. The war that began in December 1975 came to be known as ‘Operation Lotus’. The then Portuguese island near Australia had, for a long time, been under the command of Portugal as a foreign province. However, upon their departure in early 1975, Indonesian forces pounced at that opportunity and infiltrated the territory of the island from the west under the ploy of anti-colonialism. The departure of the Portuguese from the island left the country susceptible to the invasion of interested parties. In a move to avoid this, the government declared its independence as the democratic republic of East Timor3. This however would not work out as they had expected as the looming invasion by Indonesia couldn’t be stopped whatsoever. The invasion would thus, mark the onset of a 25-year annexation that resulted in the awarding of the independence for the democratic republic of East Timor. The seizure began in the fall of 1975 as the Indonesian troops bombed the Coastal City of Dili which subsequently followed the landings of troops that would penetrate the boarders into the main land of East Timor. A second invasion battalion captured Baucua, which was the second largest city in the country at that time3. This would be attributed to the superior military muscle that Indonesia had compared to East Timor. However, East Timor would continue to resist the invasion from the Indonesian troops for close to three years. The resistance was a fully-fledged war between East Timor forces and the battalions from Indonesia. The war was highly characterized by mass killings of East Timor citizens as the Indonesians sought to gain as much territorial grounds as they possibly could, with an aim of capturing the whole island of East Timor. However, the military power of East Timor would prove to be no match for Indonesia’s continuous attacks. By 1978, Indonesia had completed the capture of the island. The capture lasted for a quarter century until 1999 where the Indonesian dictator was overthrown after which East Timor would then hold an independence referendum that was braced overwhelmingly6. This led to the declaration of independence in 2001 bringing an end to the 25-year colonial rule. Slightly over 100,000 deaths were recorded during the war with the majority of the fatalities being East Timorese citizens who were anti-annexation.

Looking at the 2 wars fought in the late 1900s from a broader perspective, it is easy to identify similar aspects of the wars as well as clear differences between the two. Comparatively, the Bosnian war and the Indonesian Invasion are both similar in the sense that they both faced resistance from the opposing sides. In as much as the Bosnian war was fought internally, a certain degree of resistance was experienced in both case scenarios. In addition, the two wars required foreign intervention in order to bring an end to the military conflicts. The Bosnian war was intervened by NATO whereas the Indonesian invasion on East Timor was intervened by a United Nations Mission and both delegations succeeded in bringing to an end to both wars. However, the two wars differed greatly in various aspects. For instance, the Bosnian war was more of a battle for supremacy and ethnic superiority in the newly formed nation of Serbia and Herzegovina. The war was characterized by bitter ethnic profiling and cleansing. On the other hand, the East Timorese war was largely a fight for independence4. The struggle for self-rule and governance finally led to the declaration of independence whereas in the Bosnian war, it led to the signing of a peace deal in the country.


In conclusion, the two wars are true testaments that bitterly contested wars end up in thousands of civilians paying the highest price with their lives for the sake of superiority and self-rule. In light of these, peace and reconciliation has been embraced in these nations ever since with an aim of enforcing peace love and unity. The discussion and comparison of the wars is important in understanding the catastrophic effects of war on the social, economic and political situation in a country or even and region. Therefore based on the understanding of the wars, the global community can identify sustainable means of managing regional conflicts in the world.

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  1. Costalli, Stefano, and Francesco Niccolò Moro. 2012. “Ethnicity And Strategy In The Bosnian Civil War”. Journal of Peace Research 49 (6): 801-815. doi:10.1177/0022343312453593.
  2. Fernandes, Clinton. 2015. “Accomplice to Mass Atrocities: The International Community and Indonesia’S Invasion of East Timor”. Politics and Governance 3 (4): 1. doi:10.17645/pag.v3i4.272.
  3. Justino, Patricia, Marinella Leone, and Paola Salardi. 2011. “Education and Conflict Recovery: The Case of Timor Leste”. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.1948671.
  4. Kartsonaki, Argyro. 2016. “Twenty Years after Dayton: Bosnia-Herzegovina (Still) Stable and Explosive”. Civil Wars 18 (4): 488-516. doi:10.1080/13698249.2017.1297052.
  5. Maksić, Adis. 2015. “Priming the Nation for War: An Analysis of Organizational Origins and Discursive Machinations of the Serb Democratic Party in Pre-War Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1990–1992”. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 35 (3): 334-343. doi:10.1080/13602004.2015.1073959
  6. Timor, Indonesia. “Indonesia Invades East Timor – Dec 07, 1975 – History.Com.” History.Com, 2017,
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