Dayton at Ten: Preparing Bosnia for EU Membership?

by Peggy McGuinness

It is hard to believe that a decade has passed since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords that brought an end to the war in Bosnia. The peace in Bosnia certainly came too late for many (260,000 lost their lives in the war, over a million were displaced), but it did finally end the bloodshed. The implementation force for Bosnia — initially a NATO operation and now representing the first EU peacekeeping operation (EUFOR)– has succeeded in creating the conditions for democratic institution-building, resettlement, construction, foreign aid and investment, and some degree of reconciliation between the warring parties. And all this was accomplished with no casualties among peacekeepers deployed to enforce Dayton. UNPROFOR troops (those sent in under UN auspices to secure aid during the war) did suffer about 1,000 casualties pre-Dayton. So what made Dayton work?

First, the dispute was ripe for resolution. Bill Zartman at SAIS has defined ripeness in an armed conflict as a “mutually hurting stalemate.” Bosnia was not a prototypical stalemate in the summer of 1995; the Croats and Muslims had formed a coalition against Serb forces and had turned the tide by regaining territory on the ground. They were assisted by the decision of NATO to begin strategic bombing in response to an attack on Sarajevo and the massacre at Srebrenica. But the shifting fortunes on the ground made it clear that the US had the power to tip the balance in any direction. Second, the U.S. backed the peace. It was clear by 1994 that the earlier UN/EU peace process would not work. Engagement by the U.S., backed by NATO, made a difference. Indeed, it could be argued that by putting the credibility and the future of the NATO alliance on the line, the U.S. committed itself to success. Third, the appropriate number and right kind of troops were contributed to the implementation effort. The UN was kept out of Dayton implementation because they had failed during the UNPROFOR mandate. As Richard Holbrooke pointed out on the News Hour last night, if the ratio of troops currently in Iraq were as high as it was for the post-conflict phase in Bosnia, there would be 600,000 troops on the ground in Iraq, rather than 150,000.

Was Dayton perfect? No. There are flaws in both the process and the political arrangement – including the creation of two separate legal entities within Bosnia — that resulted at Dayton. The fact that Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are still at large ten years after their indictment by the ICTY is evidence, for example, that the “justice” part of the peace has had mixed results. And the governmental structures set up at Dayton have proved unworkable. That is why leaders of the main political parties in Bosnia committed themselves Tuesday to constitutional reform aimed at strengthening the central government. Such reforms are an important step toward European integration and eventual membership in the EU.

We will be studying and teaching the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia for many more decades to come. Dayton is just one piece of that complex case study.

For an additional view, Derek Chollet has this excellent analysis at Democracy Arsenal discussing lessons from Bosnia for the current crisis in Iraq.

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