The capture of Ratko Mladic begins at least to bring to a close some of the unfinished business remaining from the terrible Bosnian War.
Forty years after the end of World War II, which saw the Balkans drenched in blood, the old demons had risen again.
Tito’s dictatorship had scotched the snake of nationalism, not killed it. In the fears and confusions of political and economic disarray, ancient hatreds and the crazy myth of ethnic purity attracted enough adherents to turn the region into a cockpit again.
Whatever the failures of that time, international intervention did in the end result in stability of a kind, an end to the killing and the chance to grow resilient democratic institutions.
The same may come to be said of Iraq, and perhaps even of Afghanistan, in the distant future; it may come to be said of Libya. And the Arab spring has not yet declined into a lazy summer or decayed into autumn.
This is not to pass judgment on whether these interventions were right.
But it is true that the greater willingness of democracies to support the victims of aggression or oppression – and with as wide an international mandate as possible – is changing the world’s political and humanitarian landscape.
President Barack Obama said in his Westminster Hall address on May 25 of Britain and the United States, “As millions are still denied their basic human rights because of who they are, or what they believe, or the kind of government that they live under, we are the nations most willing to stand up for the values of tolerance and self-determination that lead to peace and dignity.”
Make of that what you will, and there will be plenty of opinions about the desirability or morality of the use of force as part of this support, but a good number of old wounds on the world’s conscience are showing signs of healing.
We think, rightly, of those that are still weeping, but others have closed.
This is not to say that there are not sickening abuses of human rights in countries beyond the reach of democracy.
But we should be encouraged by the expanding range of what the international community finds unacceptable. When it expands to Uzbekistan or Congo, we will know we are making real progress.
There is some suspicion, among those in the know, that Mladic’s capture was expedited to make Serbia’s attempts to join the European Union more acceptable.
But if the right thing is done for the wrong reason, this is no more than a reflection of human nature, and an indication of the moral messiness of the world in which our politicians and diplomats have to operate, trying to build straight with the crooked timbers of humanity.
We should pray for them.