02 February 2009

Was Dayton An Epic Fail?

The Dayton Accords in 1995 ended the bloody Bosnia civil war. But, the structure that replaced it, while staunching the bloodshed, has not produced a viable political entity and looks unlikely to do so any time soon.

On 17 October Peter Galbraith, former US ambassador to Croatia (1993-8), in an interview with the Sarajevo daily Dnevni Avaz described the wartime political and military leadership of the Bosnian Serb rebels as ‘fascistic and genocidal’, then continued: ‘Maybe it would have been better, and the region would have been more stable, if we had allowed their total defeat [in autumn 1995] instead of opting for a compromise’.

As everybody knows, but not everyone admits, the Bosnia that arose from the Dayton Accords is a state in name only.

[T]he Dayton peace agreement, which endorsed Milosevic’s main war aim of dividing Bosnia, was the least likely way to bring about a stable peace. On the contrary, by endorsing Bosnia’s de facto division, it ensured a continuation of the war by different means, with the aim of achieving what the military weakness of Belgrade and its Bosnian satraps for the moment made unattainable: Bosnia’s break-up. . . . All sides involved in the Bosnian war agree today that the Bosnia-Herzegovina which emerged from the peace settlement imposed at Dayton is unviable. Where they differ is on how to proceed from here. The major defects of the settlement, which are of both a practical and a principled nature, are obvious, including as they do: de facto partition on the basis of existing military positions; de jure division into ethnically based ‘entities’ (one of which, RS, includes an ethnic designation in its very name); destruction of the nationally equitable constitutional and civic order under which Bosnia-Herzegovina had functioned since the end of World War Two, and its replacement by one enshrining ethnic separation at every level; provision for Serbia and Croatia to establish special relations with the two entities, RS and the Federation; absence of any provision for a functioning central government, with most real powers being devolved to the entities; lack of a binding agreement on the return of refugees; the list could be extended. No country could function under such conditions, which are a travesty of the normal order pertaining to a democratic state.

The author of the material quoted above, Marko Attila Hoare, argues strongly that the best course is to forge a unitary state out of Bosnia, rather than ceding RS to the Serbians. Notably, "the staunchest defender" of the Dayton Accordsd in now Milorad Dodik, the RS leader, who follows in the footsteps on indicted war criminals and differs from his predecessors in the degree of his direct involvement in atrocities more than policy.

Bosnia [is] a ‘bigger and more dangerous challenge’ to peace than Kosovo. This for two reasons. First, because a Bosnia-Herzegovina independent from both Serbia and Croatia has been a foundation stone of the regional settlement reached at the end of Second World War, when Yugoslavia became a federal state with Bosnia as one of its republics. This settlement, breached by Milosevic in 1991-2, was not reconstituted at Dayton - despite the agreement’s nominal endorsement of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s territorial integrity - precisely thanks to the settlement’s division of Bosnia into Serb and non-Serb parts. Unlike Croatia, which no longer harbours any designs on Bosnian territory, successive governments in Serbia (perhaps excepting that of Zoran Djindjic) have treated RS as effectively part of Serbia, while the EU and the US have regularly turned a blind eye to Belgrade’s interference in Bosnia’s internal affairs. . . .

A key condition to be met by Serbia in its progress towards European integration should be that it ceases treating RS as anything other than an integral part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Any secession of RS from Bosnia-Herzegovina, furthermore, would inevitably re-open a Croatian dimension to the latter’s crisis, since Zagreb could not allow the country to break up, so would be obliged to engage there once again, if only to uphold Bosnia’s integrity. This prospect greatly exercises Croatia’s leaders, and explains their increasingly open criticism of Dodik’s provocative rhetoric and obstructive behaviour.

The second reason why the situation in Bosnia demands urgent attention is linked to the European desire in the medium term to bring the rest of the Balkans into the EU. The ease with which the latter has in Bosnia’s case allowed overlapping sovereignties to be created - in the form of dual citizenship, special agreements and territorial claims - has not merely enabled the criminal underground to survive the war, but also helped to consolidate its stranglehold on the Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian judicial systems. Absorption of these countries, at a time when their administrations do not fully control their borders, will pose a grave threat to the EU’s own internal security.

Post-War Germany, Italy and Japan were required to reform themselves and purge themselves of fascism before they could rejoin the international fold. The RS, in contrast, has been allowed to fester, with only the lighest intervention from forces that support Western style democracy and commitments to human rights.

An easy way out that simply cedes RS as a lost cause is certainly an alternative. But, some observers, at least, think that we can do better.

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