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Dayton Plus Ten

William Montgomery

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Richard Holbrooke's individual initiative, which resulted in the Dayton Peace Agreement, was a brilliant success, made all the greater because he had to overcome not only the irreconcilable ambitions of the three warring ethnic groups, but also strong factions within the U.S. government who wanted no part of the Balkan Wars. The more familiar one is with the internal workings of the Clinton Administration at the time and its relations with the European Union and the United Nations with regard to the Balkans, the more one can appreciate his achievement.

The Balkan Wars exposed in the most painful ways the incompetence of the United Nations. It also revealed the inability of the European Union to deal forcefully with an issue itself declared to be in its area of responsibility. The legacy of European peacekeepers helplessly standing by at the fall of Srebrenica, held hostage chained to bridges, and submitting meekly to the whims of armed combatants on all sides haunts the EU in the Balkans to this day and the reality is that few in this region trust its ability to manage crisis situations which might be right around the corner.

The role of the United States in the 1991-95 period was equally flawed. While unwilling to put our own soldiers in harm's way, we were quick to criticize those nations who were so doing. Four particular errors come to mind. First of all, not accepting that the breakup of the former Yugoslavia was inevitable and working harder with our EU allies to insure that it was done peacefully. Secondly, not being willing to use serious force earlier than we did. Thirdly, refusing to break the UN Arms Embargo ourselves to permit arms to flow to Bosniak forces, but knowingly turning a blind eye to Iranian weapons deliveries. This opened the door to outside forces that continue to attempt to radicalize the traditionally moderate Muslim community in Bosnia. Finally, not staying more in sync with our European allies. The gulf between us ultimately led to serious problems in implementation of the Dayton Agreement.

While the flaws of the Dayton Agreement become more and more obvious as time goes by, we must never forget that it did stop the fighting. That was no small feat, considering the orgy of violence of the previous four years and the potential for it to continue unabated. Given the limited room for maneuver which Holbrooke had (no changing of borders, no willingness by the U.S. or NATO in general to use combat soldiers in prolonged combat against hostile forces, a strong desire to have no further large refugee movements, a hostile U.S. military), the Dayton Agreement was the best that could be expected from a hard-fought negotiation between three warring ethnic groups, none of which perceived themselves as losing the war and none of which was in any way willing to forego the basic goals and objectives which led to the war in the first place.

The most significant feature of the agreement, however, was that it did not provide for a framework or roadmap for Bosnia to develop into a normal European country able to compete in the world economy. In fact, it did just the opposite. It fixed in place the importance of ethnic groups in all phases of political life and it allowed these groups to have a virtual veto power over any decision of any importance whatsoever. Effective government was never a major consideration. Rather than resolving the competing views of the three groups, it in fact incorporated all of them in the Dayton Agreement. The resulting government is a totally unworkable mish-mash with numerous Presidents and Prime Ministers, three Parliaments, ten Cantons, and two entities.

The problems inherit in the Dayton Agreement were compounded by the international community's implementation of it. The United States did not trust a European as High Representative, so it deliberately dispersed power and authority to rival institutions such as the OSCE (run by an American); the IFOR and later SFOR military forces (also commanded by an American officer) and the UN (in charge of the International Police Task Force). This significantly reduced the effectiveness of implementation efforts for several years. Finally recognizing this was counter-productive, the High Representative was given additional authority, known as the "Bonn Powers." This has led to the irony of the current High Representative, Paddy Ashdown, being the most powerful, most pro-active one of all. This has been a two-edged sword, however, as while the increased authority has enabled Ashdown to make progress (at least on paper) in key areas, it also perpetuates a system where the Bosnian people and their elected representatives do not have the responsibility and authority to run their own affairs.

Bosnia is a country frozen in time. While there have been undeniable steps forward in reconstruction, freedom of movement, absence of violence, and refugee return, fundamental questions still remain about its viability. Most people in Bosnia owe allegiance not to it as a country, but either to their particular ethnic group or to another country (Serbia or Croatia). Economically, it simply is not working. This at long last is beginning to be addressed by the international community. There have now been numerous calls for serious revision of the Dayton Agreement.

The only problem is that the timing is terrible. From the perspective of the people of Serbia (and Serbs in general), they are already facing the prospect of "losing" Kosovo and having Montenegro declare independence in the very near future. Most Bosnian Serbs have never abandoned their goal of either an independent Republika Srpska or one joined to Serbia. They see the current determination to revise Dayton as a threat to these ambitions and will resist it vigorously. While the International Community may well see these as three separate and distinct issues, for Serbs they are totally joined.

In short, while it is obvious that the Dayton Agreement needs significant revision for an effective government is to function and for Bosnia to move forward with the rest of the region, the International Community should not underestimate the difficulties inherit in this effort or the risks. All of the grievances, hatreds, suspicions, and fears, which existed during the wartime years, are still there, lurking beneath the surface, frozen in place by the Dayton Agreement and the presence of SFOR soldiers. There is a significant danger that the combination of diminished international authority and renewed discussion of major revision of Dayton will unleash the same sort of forces that got us into this mess in the first place. The Europeans and Americans are counting on the enticement of membership eventually in the EU and NATO as the way to convince the various ethnic groups to cooperate and to agree voluntarily on fundamental changes in Dayton so that Bosnia has a chance to escape its second-class status. This will be a very tough sell, particularly given the reality that membership in the EU both for Bosnia and for Serbia is a long, long way off under the best of circumstances.

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