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Bosnia: Western Specialists Say Peace Prospects Are Bleak

By Peter Rutland and Don Hill

Boston, 18 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - A year ago this Thursday, in the U.S. city of Dayton, Ohio, international diplomacy claimed to have achieved what many believed unlikely: establishment of a lasting peace in the former Yugoslavia. A year later, maintaining the peace seems hardly more likely.

A year ago, a peace Implementation Force -- led by NATO and involving U.S. ground troops in Bosnia for the first time -- was established with a mandate to expire on December 20, 1996. U.S. President Bill Clinton, about to launch a campaign for re-election, promised his people that the troops would come home "in about a year."

Last week, the election past, Clinton announced the troops' stay would be extended, its term undecided. In Brussels today, NATO ambassadors met to determine the shape and size of the new "stabilization force." The force, to provide security for continuing efforts to rebuild the war-torn country, is expected to comprise around 30,000 troops, with 8,500 coming from the United States.

Serb, Croat, and Bosnian Muslim leaders signed accords in Dayton a year ago promising, among other agreements, to cooperate in enabling the return of more than two-million refugees to their homes. Faced with intransigence from all three ethnic groups, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the agency charged with overseeing the refugee returns, now has all but thrown up its hands.

In the words of UNHCR executive Randolph Ryan: "The answer lies in greater security and in attitude adjustments of the Serbs. Whether either one of those things is possible or realistic is a question that everyone has to face."

At the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies in Boston last week, specialists on the former Yugoslavia presented a gloomy analysis of the prospects for peace.

Susan Woodward of the Brookings Institution, author of the widely acclaimed book "Balkan Tragedy," said that the only way Dayton could be called a success would be with the understanding that "it is only a cease fire [and] not a peace accord." She said the main achievements of Dayton were temporarily halting the fighting, involving the United States, and "getting the pictures off the TV screens" in time for President Clinton's re-election campaign.

Woodward said it is time academics and policymakers admit that they simply do not understand how such wars can be brought to an end.

Woodward said the Dayton accords comprise four contradictory strategies: One, they set up a classic peace-keeping tactic, separating the warring parties; two, they mandate rearming the Bosnians to balance out their military power with that of the Serbs and Croats; third, they call for a just peace through prosecution of war criminals, which conflicts with the peace-keeping mission; and, four, they suggest a kind of Marshall Plan, which would take years, alongside the other three goals, which are measured in months.

James Gow, a London University professor who has been an expert witness for the War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, told the conference that the Dayton process "has been a success in so far as it has not yet failed, but the jury is still out." He said that five-sixths of the Dayton plan calls for progress in civil affairs, such as the return of refugees, and that five-sixths of the plans remains unfulfilled.

Gow called for greater de-centralization of political power to the regions, a proposal which was sharply criticized by Pittsburgh University Professor Robert Hayden. Hayden said more devolution would create a "donut" state, in which all power lies in the three sections of the Bosnian federation and leaves nothing the center.

MIT Professor Stephen van Evera, charged that "Dayton is failing and will fail." The only choice, he said, "is between a gradual failure and a catastrophic failure."

Van Evera said that U.S. policy consistently has underestimated the significance of nationalism. He said that the current, de facto partition of Bosnia must be recognized if a resumption of fighting is to be avoided.