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
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
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 ReÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ
publican 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.