Bosnia Forever?

Charles Crawford
Visiting Fellow, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University;
Former British Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1996-98.

17 February 1999

What does the future hold for Bosnia Herzegovina and the western military presence there? What have we learned from the Bosnian experience? Have the Dayton Accords worked? If not, what are the flaws and can they be fixed? What does the experience of Bosnia and Herzegovina tell us about the likely future of Kosovo? These and other questions were the subject of Ambassador Charles Crawford's presentation, Bosnia Forever?

According to Crawford, the Bosnian problem must first be viewed in the larger context of changes in international politics since the end of the Cold War. Rather than seeing the demise of the nation-state in international politics, the post World War II period has witnessed an explosion of new nation-states. This process has occurred peacefully (as in the former Czechoslovakia) and with great bloodshed (as in the former Yugoslavia). In either case, existing states and international institutions have found it difficult to cope with this process. The break-up of states and the creation of new ones sets precedents feared by many existing multi-ethnic states: states are cautious of supporting the creation of new nation-states, not because they reject the idea, but because they fear that doing so may reward extremists. If the break-up of a state must occur, the goal should be to manage it in a civilized, peaceful fashion.

In a situation where all the parties are not in agreement over the outcome of the disintegrative process, then a host of diplomatic problems arise: (1) Local divisions play themselves out at the international level as local rivals search for sponsors. The problem rapidly becomes more about what divides the international community than what the locals want, or what might make sense. (2) It is difficult to disentangle what local moderates want from what local extremists demand. (3) Once fighting starts, moderates are marginalized, followed by new political polarization. This increases international agonizing over how to deal with "bad" extremists who say they can deliver and "good" but powerless moderates. (4) As disintegration continues with increased violence and new realities such as population transfers, the international community must then struggle over solutions that achieve "justice" versus solutions that achieve an end to the killing ("stability").

Bosnia Herzegovina has proven to be an extreme example of a new state challenged not only by part of the local population but also by its neighbors, and where no independent state has existed in modern times on that territory. The situation is further complicated by the communist legacy of repression and zero-sum politics. As a result no credible, non-nationalist democratic movements have got far in Bosnia. There are no modern precedents for making a state work in these circumstances. The Dayton Accords were an admirable attempt. A degree of peaceful relations among the various ethnic groups now exists. People can move freely without fear of attack. But the Dayton Accords contain numerous flaws, both conceptual and practical.

The conceptual flaws of the Dayton Accords include the following: (1) Some analysts argue that the Accords created not one state (Bosnia Herzegovina) but rather two quasi-states (Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina). (2) Moderates were not empowered, while "spoilers" are. (3) It failed to tackle quickly enough the war-crimes issue. (4) Insufficient awareness of the communist legacy made it difficult to address corruption and criminality.

The practical flaws of the Dayton Accord include the following: (1) The phasing in of the new Dayton institutions was mishandled. There were no concerted transitional arrangements from the prior Bosnian government, which claimed to represent the whole country, to the new system. (2) There is serious disfunction between civilian and military efforts. Dayton addressed military problems successfully, but not the civilian side. Above all, the civilian mandate was underpowered so that unlike Cambodia there was no authority empowered by the international community to break deadlocks and to encourage cooperation.

The result of these conceptual and practical flaws has been the emergence of a form of "Protectorate-Lite;" the international presence in Bosnia has increased rather than decreased. Continuing institutional paralysis in Bosnia elicits the concern of the international community, which then increases its involvement to the point of micro-management. The root of this problem lies in the fact that there have been no costs to the local authorities for irresponsible behavior.

The active international presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina is set to continue for years to come. The peace process is far from self-sustaining.

Unless the international community intervenes with the authority to change the underlying realities that led to the conflict in the first place, spoilers can threaten renewed mayhem. Ultimately, this is a problem of "bad" local leaders and the international community's inability to contain them.

In conclusion, international institutional cohesion looks to be eroding and there do not seem to be post-cold war replacements. Today there are more than 180 countries but no real checks on extremist behavior. In a sense the world is reverting to an 18th or 19th century situation without imperialist powers to keep the peace. The UN doesn't have sufficient power or resources; regional arrangements in Europe are weak and limited; Western politicians are reluctant to get involved in complicated conflicts; the impact of globalization and digitalization are ambiguous. In short, there is no ready recipe for dealing with "medieval politicians" in a 21st century world.

Charles Crawford, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London. From 1996-98 Ambassador Crawford served as Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina where he developed the British diplomatic presence after the war and worked closely with High Representatives Carl Bildt and Carlos Westendorp in advancing the Dayton peace process. Fluent in Serbian/Bosnian, he previously had served with the British Embassy in Belgrade and was the British Olympic Attaché at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics in 1984.

Ambassador Crawford also served as first secretary at the British Embassy in Pretoria during the end of the apartheid era, forging contacts across the political spectrum. He returned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where he helped manage the policy issues arising from the collapse of the Soviet Union. He served in the British Embassy in Moscow from 1993-96 before going to Sarajevo.

He earned his undergraduate degree in jurisprudence at Oxford and his master of arts degree in law and diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He is also a qualified Barrister.

Rapporteur: David Mendeloff

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