In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Yugoslavian Civil War, 1991–1999

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Historical Surveys
  • Journals
  • The Eastern Question and Great Power Involvement in the Region
  • The Emergence of Yugoslavia
  • War, Ethnic Tension, and Revolution
  • Tito’s Yugoslavia
  • An Imploding Yugoslavia
  • The Collapse of Yugoslavia
  • The First War Begins (Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia)
  • The Second War Overlaps (Bosnia-Hercegovina)
  • Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide
  • Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina (the UN, EC, and NATO on the Ground)
  • The Threat of War in Macedonia
  • Legacy of International Intervention in Yugoslavia
  • Successor States of War

Military History Yugoslavian Civil War, 1991–1999
Laurie Van Hook
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0118


While many observers speculated that Yugoslavia escaped the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 because of its long-term “special path,” its subsequent demise in the 1990s proved more violent and prolonged. With its collapse came the argument of ancient hatreds between its constituent peoples as an explanation for the bloody disintegration of the country. But that was an oversimplification. Indeed, to understand the wars of Yugoslavia 1991–1999 requires a knowledge of its past, especially since 1878 when the “Eastern Question” dominated Great Power politics. As Yugoslavia emerged at the end of World War I (known as the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes until 1929), it struggled to balance competing views of identity in a troubled interwar period that witnessed the failure of nascent democracies. During World War II, Tito emerged as a national hero as his Partisans resisted the Axis. But he was not a non-controversial leader, and the system he established suffered cracks during his lifetime. The decade between his 1980 death and the country’s 1991 collapse again saw competing views of national identity, with more virulent notions popularized by the political elites in the dominant republics gaining influence. Thus, the wars of Yugoslavia brought to the forefront ethnic issues, with the international community unable to stay ahead of the country’s collapse. The failure of the United Nations, European Community, and Contact Group (United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and Italy) to stop war and find a peaceful solution finally prompted NATO, as it searched for a purpose in a post–Cold War world, to intervene. The Dayton Peace Accords brought a modicum of stability to the region in 1995. But trouble continued to brew in the southern area of the rump Yugoslavia. The 1999 Kosovo war prompted a longer NATO air campaign. Peace ultimately prevailed, but issues continued into the next decade as Milosevic fell from power and faced trial in The Hague, while Kosovo sought full independence, and Macedonia struggled to stave off full war. In the post-9/11 world, the example of Yugoslavia prompted a wider debate about the justification of international military intervention on humanitarian grounds as well as the fate of the successor states. Literature on Yugoslavia can be detached, persuasive, or polemical. The citations in this article seek to avoid the polemical while describing where a debate exists. Diacritics have been omitted for the sake of consistency as many works no longer utilize them.

Reference Works

A variety of reference materials facilitates the gathering of background research for someone starting with the basics as well as providing in-depth coverage of the events of the wars in the 1990s, the peace negotiations, and the successor states. Many of these resources are accessible online, through library subscription services or through library microform and print records. A starting point for background information is the Central Intelligence Agency with its well-known World Factbook, as well as downloadable versions of the agency’s extension and impressive map collection. The website is best searched by looking up the current countries. A second online starting point is the generically named Information Please Almanac, which provides an atlas, encyclopedia, biographies, timelines, and country information. A third online starting point is the Library of Congress Guides, which has extensive research guides on the countries of the former Yugoslavia. There are a variety of ways to track daily reporting from the region without benefit of knowing the local dialects. Two translation services are particularly helpful. The Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) traces its roots to 1941 and eventually ended up as part of the Central Intelligence Agency when it was created in 1947. Transformed into the Open Source Center in 2005 after the passage of congressional legislation on intelligence reform, the government agency provided translations from local newspapers and media in the Balkans during the 1990s. Available in university libraries in paper form or microform, the daily reports are also now available digitally for 1974–1996 through Readex, a publisher of historical digital collections to which universities can subscribe. Similarly, the BBC Monitoring International Reports, established in 1939, provides a British version of similar items with an online archive up to 1997 available to subscribers. Additionally, two non-political entities provided in-depth reporting and analysis of the region and continue to monitor the successor states and ongoing issues from the war years. The International Crisis Group, an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization maintained an office in Sarajevo and produced numerous helpful updates and studies. Similarly, the United States Institute of Peace, a congressionally created, non-partisan organization, produced numerous studies during the wars. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was founded in 1950 and received early funding from US Government agencies. It was based in Munich and targeted Communist countries during the Cold War. Moving to Prague in 1995, the organization provided detailed accounts and analysis of the wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Finally, Yale University provided an early digitization of documents on important historical events, including the Yugoslav wars (see Avalon Project).

  • Avalon Project.

    A project of the Yale Law School, this pioneering project digitized important documents in history, making them easily accessible. Most notable for the wars of Yugoslavia are complete versions of the Dayton Peace Accords, including annexes and side letters, and UNSC Resolutions 1160 (3/31/98) and 1199 (9/23/98) pertaining to Kosovo.

  • BBC Monitoring International Reports.

    While the online archive is available only to subscribers, the website still has fully accessible profiles of the region’s current countries on the subjects of overview, facts, leaders, media, and timeline.

  • Central Intelligence Agency.

    This unclassified government website contains valuable background information on the constituent parts of the former Yugoslavia in the World Factbook as well as an excellent collection of downloadable maps.

  • Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS).

    Commonly known as FBIS, this governmental translation service dating back to World War II translates daily newspaper articles, periodicals, and radio and television broadcasts from the original language into English and thus provides a wealth of detailed information on the daily happenings from all sides of the conflicts. FBIS was absorbed by the newly created Open Source Center (OSC) in 2005.

  • Information Please Almanac.

    This one-stop shopping website contains helpful sections titled “Atlas,” “Encyclopedia,” “Dictionary,” “Almanac,” and “Biography” and is helpful on finding background and current information on the constituent parts of the former Yugoslavia.

  • International Crisis Group.

    Known for its reporting about regional conflicts around the globe, the ICG writes highly respected and balanced analysis of events and their meaning and benefits from having field offices in regions of conflict. It produces reports in English and regional languages.

  • Library of Congress Guides.

    The library is a repository of newspapers for the former constituent parts of the former Yugoslavia. Go to the Balkan Studies heading. Some of the diaspora papers link to repositories of newspapers.

  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

    During the 1990s, RFE/RL produced excellent reporting of all sides in the wars. Research beyond their website would produce a wealth of material. Today the Balkans section no longer covers Slovenia and Croatia, perhaps due to their political evolution, and instead limits coverage to Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Serbia.

  • United States Institute of Peace.

    USIP has hosted numerous scholars over the years who have provided well-researched analysis about conflicts around the globe, including in the former Yugoslavia. Many of their holdings from 1995 on are posted on their website; but a search through their holdings for materials not yet digitized would produce additional material.

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