This Peace Accord Failed to Create a Multiethnic Bosnia

By Mark Thompson - International Herald Tribune - 1999-11-20

LONDON - Four years ago on Sunday, the Dayton peace agreement brought an end to the killing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a cease-fire, Dayton was a success. As a peace treaty, however, it is an abject failure that requires a permanent, costly international presence.

In addition to the armistice and separation of forces, Dayton laid down the framework for a postwar democratic state. Four years on, the state remains stillborn. Security and stability are far-off dreams. Most refugees still do not know if they will return home. Government at all levels is dysfunctional. Political and economic power rests with the same factions that profited from war. Left to its own devices, Dayton's Bosnia would implode within weeks, if not days.

The peace has now outlasted the war, yet Bosnia is paralyzed. George Soros, considering a cut in his aid to Bosnia, rightly calls it a ''frozen society.''

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group has marked the anniversary of the Dayton accords with a report titled ''Is Dayton Failing? Bosnia Four Years After the Peace Agreement.'' It provides a conclusive audit, which finds that ''the ethnic cleansers have won: Bosnia is ethnically divided.''

The military aspects of Dayton have not been fully implemented, according to the report, which says that foreign military forces are still present throughout Bosnia.

A string of dubious elections has entrenched and legitimized the nationalist regimes, while compromising the international community in local eyes. The return of refugees ''remains almost entirely unimplemented,'' the report notes, with more than one million Bosnians still seeking permanent housing. Multiethnic administration, where it exists, is a sham. The three police forces are still controlled by political overlords, despite hundreds of international police monitors under UN control.

In addition to blatant noncompliance by Dayton's local signatories, the record on the international side is hardly flattering. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has defaulted on its support for civilian aspects of the agreement. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has disgraced itself by encouraging displaced persons to vote in their current municipalities.

It is easy to overlook the essential problem, which is the agreement itself. Dayton has confirmed the power of three monoethnic blocs. Electoral rules ensure that candidates do not need votes from more than one nationality.

Bosnia today cannot impose state-level decisions, raise taxes, possess an army or police force, execute a foreign policy, pay for a constitutional court or a broadcasting network. Dayton gives Bosnia's politicians and people precious little stake in being Bosnian. The Dayton constitution cannot produce citizens, only ethnic subjects.

As aid tails off, the centrifugal dynamic will strengthen. Yet no international exit strategy can be formulated, because the international community provides the executive enforcement that is lacking in the Dayton constitution.

The international stance is to await more pliable leaderships in Bosnia and neighboring states. But changes at the top of the Bosnian Serb and Croatian regimes have scarcely improved the implementation of Dayton. Resistance to the return of refugees, the arrest of war criminals or the efficiency of government is not a hard-line aberration but a natural consequence of the monoethnic blocs. Any successors to the regimes in Belgrade and Zagreb will be too weak or opportunistic to compel respect for Dayton by their ethnic kin in Bosnia.

The solution lies in treating Dayton as a cease-fire and replacing the doomed recipe of ''one state, two entities and three peoples'' with a constitutional settlement that emphasizes civic principles instead of ethnic categories. The powers in the Peace Implementation Council and NATO should pronounce Dayton unworkable, impose a temporary protectorate and dissolve the Serbian and Muslim-Croatian entities along with most of the dual and tripartite structures. Political parties that have resisted the peace process should be banned.

With NATO deployed in Kosovo as well as in Bosnia, the implementing powers can handle any resistance that might arise. But resistance would not be fierce or prolonged if the imposition is decisive.

The West already acknowledges that there is no quick exit from the Balkans, no short cut to stability. It is time to admit that Dayton offers no exit at all.

A new democratic deal for Bosnia would be welcomed by ordinary people and responsible leaders throughout the region, including Kosovo and Macedonia, which are now both headed for likely partition or collapse. Serbia and Croatia would be forced to accept that Bosnia is sovereign and indivisible. The Stability Pact for southeastern Europe could become more than a talking shop. This is the prize for the new millennium that the region deserves.

The writer is an author who has spent four years working for the UN and the OSCE in the former Yugoslavia. He contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

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