The Long, Difficult Road to Dayton. Peace Efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Article excerpt

AS THE YEAR 1995 CAME TO A CLOSE, with people around the globe in festive spirits chiming in the new year, a drama was unfolding in Bosnia that was anything but festive. The world observed, through the eyes of CNN, how a US army engineering battalion tried to cross the Sava River from Croatia into Bosnia, setting up pontoon bridges to pave the way for entry into Bosnia by the NATO implementation force (IFOR). The crossing, conducted in poor weather conditions, took days longer than anticipated. One could observe the engineers and troops battling nature in the form of mud and dirt on the banks of the Sava River. The operation symbolized a new beginning for the war-torn state of Bosnia. International support, especially American, had been pledged for the implementation of peace. The Dayton accords, the basis for this new engagement, had been signed only weeks earlier, initialled by the warring factions at Wright-Patterson air force base in Dayton, Ohio, on 21 November 1995 and officially signed in Paris on 14 December 1995. The Sava River crossing, difficult as it was, also symbolized the long, hard, and awkward road that led to Dayton.

The wars that occurred in the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia were the most ferocious conflicts on European soil since the Second World War. Identified as "ethnic conflicts," the fighting in the Balkans exhibited complex ideological, religious, and ethnic roots, with historical grievances mixed up in all aspects. The Dayton peace process, under discussion here, focused on the situation in Bosnia. In the period between May 1992 and December 1995, Bosnia was the battleground for three ethnic groups, the Bosnian Muslims,1 comprising 43.7 percent of the Bosnian population, the Bosnian Serbs who represented 31.4 percent, and the Bosnian Croats, with a strength of 17.3 percent.2 The complicated origins of the war lay in part in the attempt by the Bosnian Serbs to break up Bosnia and link the areas which contained Serb ethnic majorities to the larger entity of Serbia. The goal was the establishment of what Serb propagandists called "Greater Serbia." The Bosnian Serbs rejected the alternative of becoming part of a unified, independent state of Bosnia, whose government would likely be dominated by the Muslims. The Bosnian Muslims, in turn, feared that they themselves would be dominated by Serbia if they were to remain in a rump Yugoslavia whose ethnic balance had been upset by the secession of Slovenia and Croatia. The Bosnian Muslims, after pursuing independence, consistently fought to retain a unified Bosnian state, a state that would include the Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats, but which would give the Muslims enhanced control of the government due to their relative population strength. These sets of incompatible visions, while not telling the complete story, were at the heart of the intra-ethnic Bosnian conflict.

By the time the Dayton peace initiative came to fruition, after four years of war, more than half of Bosnia's 4.3 million citizens had been displaced, either as refugees in host countries (1.2 million) or as internally displaced persons in Bosnia (1 million); roughly 250,000 were estimated dead or missing; and more than 200,000 were wounded, including 50,000 children. Physical and economic losses were severe, with total replacement costs of Bosnia's destroyed assets estimated by the World Bank at between US$15 billion and US$20 billion.3

How could this dire calamity, taking place in Europe in the 1990s, continue for four years and not be halted until 1995? It must be noted that at no stage in the period between 1992 and 1995 did any of the warring parties themselves take an initiative, or express their intention, to settle the conflict.4 The responsibility for making peace was passed to international actors. In order to understand why it took so long for the international community to develop a coherent Bosnia strategy, it is worth examining briefly the diplomatic overtures and peace initiatives that were conducted during the period from 1992 to 1995. …