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New Series no.1 November-December 1997
Way Forward in Bosnia
by Marshall Freeman Harris

Karadzic and Plasvic

When the Dayton Accords ended the war in Bosnia two years ago, President Clinton pledged that Radovan Karadzic would be removed from political life. Ever since then, however, the Administration has avoided this commitment, apparently out of fear of the military risks of apprehending Karadzic and extraditing him to the UN War Crimes Tribunal. Its state of denial has even run to the literal: US troops in Bosnia have repeatedly re-deployed or fled the scene to avoid contact with him.

Karadzic's continued impunity has enabled him to remain in de facto control of the half of Bosnia that US negotiators ceded to the Serbian separatists in the Dayton settlement. It has also thwarted justice, made a mockery of the UN Tribunal, entrenched Bosnia's ultranationalist forces, weakened its democratic ones, and poisoned the country's remaining multi-ethnic political, civic and cultural institutions.

Still unwilling to arrest Karadzic, the Administration is finding it useful instead to support Biljana Plavsic's attempt to marginalize him and win sole control over the Bosnian Serb entity. The military problem of Karadzic's impunity, it seems to be thinking, can be solved through political support for Plavsic.

Unfortunately, supporting Plavsic and isolating Karadzic - the centerpieces of current US policy - do nothing to further the Administration's avowed goals of reintegrating Bosnia and restoring even a remote form of democratic government. The way to achieve these goals would be, first, for President Clinton to order NATO troops to arrest Karadzic, Mladic and every other indicted war criminal. The Administration could then attempt to wean Bosnian Serb opposition figures and the general population from ultranationalism. Better still, it could cultivate and provide a voice for the true democrats among the Bosnian Serbs, who have been repressed in Republika Srpska and disenfranchised in the Federation. Such a comprehensive approach to defeating the nationalist cause would also ensure that Karadzic, Mladic and other architects of the genocide in Bosnia are not venerated as martyrs by their own people.

For now, however, the Administration seems determined to tout Plavsic loudly while quietly hewing to the course of least resistance. This policy simply reinforces Bosnia's partition and consigns much of its population to life in police-run ethnic-supremacist parastates.

The alternative to US withdrawal

Congressional opposition to continuing the US troop deployment in Bosnia beyond the summer of 1998 has been spearheaded recently by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. The Texas Republican claims that the Bosnians have been killing one another 'for ever', that a multi-ethnic society can never be restored, and that partitioning the country is the best solution. The United States should bring its troops home and stop pretending it can salvage the situation, she says. The senator is wrong on every count. More important, she is advancing the worst policy option at Washington's disposal. Partitioning would impose an artificial division that would drive Bosnia back to war.

Hutchison's profound misreading of the situation is all the more disconcerting because she was one of the strongest and most eloquent advocates of Bosnia's right to defend its people and territory against aggression. Her policy reversal, if enacted, would cede formal control of three fourths of the country to the genocidal Serbian and Croatian separatists who she believed could and should be challenged and defeated. It would also consign more than two million refugees to permanent exile from their homes. In short, it would appease aggression and invite wider disorder in the Balkans.

The frustrations that led Hutchison to the point where she would reverse her views on Bosnia are understandable. The promise of the US-brokered Dayton accords, which ended the fighting nearly two years ago, lies unfulfilled. President Clinton's personal pledge that war criminals would be removed from political life and that refugees would be allowed to return to their homes has proved empty. Bosnia today is more divided, its war criminals more powerful, and its refugee and minority populations more disenfranchised than they were when the Dayton accords were signed.

But there is an alternative to Hutchison's proposed disengagement from Bosnia and the Administration's false engagement. The United States could begin to honour its commitments to restore and reintegrate the country. US troops could be deployed not to divide Bosnia but to reunite it. They could patrol Bosnia's international borders rather than only its internal ones, and thereby minimize ongoing Serbian and Croatian interference in BH. They could facilitate the return of refugees rather than turn them away from their homes. They could arrest indicted war criminals rather than flee to avoid encountering them.

All of these tasks would entail risks. Yet all are already authorized under the Dayton accords' mandate to NATO troops in Bosnia. If the United States led the way, the country could survive and democracy could take root. Dayton could then be renegotiated, as Senator Hutchison suggests, but to reunite rather than divide the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Marshall Harris is Director of Policy at Freedom House in Washington D.C. In 1993 he resigned from the State Department in protest against US policies in Bosnia, and until earlier this year he was director of the Action Council for Peace in the Balkans, and the Balkan Institute.

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