Kosovo's New Masters Slow To Learn From Bosnia Experience

Heads of states who met Friday in Sarajevo to discuss a stability pact for the Balkans, will be ill-advised to use the West's experience in Bosnia as a model for Kosovo without a full and frank appraisal of their failures there.

Kosovo's New Masters Slow To Learn From Bosnia Experience

Heads of states who met Friday in Sarajevo to discuss a stability pact for the Balkans, will be ill-advised to use the West's experience in Bosnia as a model for Kosovo without a full and frank appraisal of their failures there.

Thursday, 10 November, 2005

As some 40 world leaders and their entourages crammed into Sarajevo to devise a plan to restore stability in the Balkans, there was much talk of the 'lessons' of Bosnia, where the international community has been attempting to build peace for almost four years.


But without independent evaluation of the successes and failures of this experience, it is impossible to learn anything from it - let alone apply the lesson to the Kosovo situation.


The international community's High Representative Carlos Westendorp, just leaving the job after two years, paints the rosiest possible picture of Bosnia, writing in the Wall Street Journal this week that he will leave Sarajevo "full of optimism for the country's future".


There clearly has been progress in Bosnia in the past two years, but experienced international diplomats in Sarajevo privately recognise that the peace process is in crisis. The challenge facing Westendorp's successor, the Austrian diplomat Wolfgang Petritsch, is far greater than he implies.


To be blunt, the new High Representative will have to chart a radically new course if Bosnia is to join the process of wider European integration.


The annual bill for peace building in Bosnia is currently around nine billion dollars. Of this, more than seven billion goes on the 30,000 peacekeepers that make up the NATO-led Stabilisation Force, if the full cost of deploying every single soldier is included. A further one billion plus is aid and the balance accounts for the cost of the plethora of international agencies operating in the country, including, in particular, the Office of the High Representative, the OSCE, UN, UNHCR and European Community Monitoring Mission.


Given that Bosnia's population numbered 4.3 million before the war and that it is now probably only around 3.5 million, the scale of international spending has been colossal - vastly greater than that for any earlier or comparable international reconstruction effort. It would be extremely damning if Westendorp were unable to present the current situation in a positive light.


But with increasing demands from the rest of the region and in particular from Kosovo, expenditure at the current level appears unsustainable - no matter how great Petritsch's powers of persuasion.


The 5.1 billion-dollar four-year reconstruction programme drawn up by the World Bank for Bosnia comes to an end next year. Many part-international, part-local institutions created under the Dayton Peace Agreement, including the Property Commission, the Constitutional Court and the Human Rights Commission, are scheduled to shed their international component five years after the peace agreement came into force. And the IMF-appointed governor of the national bank, who has successfully established a Bosnian currency and currency board, bows out one year later.


The success or failure of peace-building efforts in Bosnia will only properly be seen when the country has to stand on its own two feet. However, few neutral observers are optimistic about Bosnia's prospects in the absence of the current international life support mechanism.


Power continues to reside outside official institutions in informal structures improvised during the war. Three ethnically based armies, telephone systems, electricity companies, and communist-area payment systems remain.


It is not simply that much remains to be done, but that workable strategies have to be devised to address these issues. Westendorp has pushed the peace process forward in Bosnia, as he points out, by dismissing "16 high-ranking officials from their positions, including the president of Republika Srpska", and imposing more than 45 decisions and laws on the country "on everything from the design of banknotes to the establishment of the courts".


While this has on occasion obviously been beneficial to ordinary Bosnians, it has also raised questions about the overall direction of the international involvement. There is no clearly articulated strategy as to which interventions and decrees are required to create long-term self-sustaining structures, and which are a response to short-term obstruction of Bosnian power-holders in an ad hoc manner.


The many inconsistencies of the Dayton Peace Agreement and the limitations of a policy based on decrees issued in a sometimes arbitrary manner were already becoming increasingly evident early in 1998.


That they have received little attention is, in part, a result of the almost total international focus on the war in Kosovo since violence first flared there at the end of February last year. And in part it is a result of the refusal of international agencies operating in Bosnia to examine critically the state of the peace process.


The greater the international role in Bosnia, the more time the international agencies devote to selling their achievements, rather than addressing the country's deep-rooted problems, since they fear that to recognise problems may be perceived as an admission of failure.


This attitude is wrong. What is being attempted in Bosnia is without precedent. Reconstructing a country out of three warring statelets; revitalising an economy which was already in dire straits before the war; and managing the transition from communism to a market economy - all are daunting tasks. Mistakes are inevitable and an integral part of the reconstruction process.


What is unacceptable, however, is to avoid an objective assessment of the current situation and critical evaluation of the experience to date. Unless the main institutional actors working in Bosnia, from the UN to the OSCE and the European Union, review their own programmes and bureaucratic mechanisms, it will not be possible to devise the kind of policies to build future stability.


There are lessons to be learned from Bosnia for the entire Balkan region. But, above all, the lessons from Bosnia have to be learned for Bosnia itself.


Christopher Bennett, a senior editor with IWPR, is author of Yugoslavia's Bloody Collapse (New York University Press, 1995) and a founding member of the European Stability Initiative, a Berlin-based think-tank set up to evaluate international strategies in the Balkans.


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