US to Rethink Bosnia Policy?

There are increasing signs that the US is preparing to review its commitment to the Balkans

US to Rethink Bosnia Policy?

There are increasing signs that the US is preparing to review its commitment to the Balkans

Washington this week strenuously denied claims by a leading United States army general that the Bush Administration has decided to withdraw US forces from the Balkans.

Deputy director of Politico-Military Affairs for Europe/Africa at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Brigadier General Keith W Dayton said Washington would pull its troops out of Balkans by 2003, a year before the next US presidential elections.

He was speaking as a private citizen at a Columbia University symposium on the future of the US presence in the region.

In addition, scholars and US military officers attending the two-day seminar appeared to be in almost unanimous agreement that current state boundaries in the Balkans should be redrawn to create "smaller, more stable mono-ethnic states".

According to the delegates, new boundaries enshrining homogenous ethnic entities would follow the historical patterns and "natural instincts" of Europe, as witnessed over the past 300 years.

General Dayton's remarks prompted an official and unusual "real time" response from the US government.

"The Administration has not begun to discuss the long term strategy on the Balkans," said David Foley, a State Department official with the Bosnia Implementation unit. "[US] Secretary [of State Colin] Powell has stated that the US will not cut and run."

Foley also stated that there would be no renegotiation of the Dayton accord. And even if there were, "it would not be about boundaries, but about democracy and rights...once you start redrawing lines, there's no stopping."

General Dayton also claimed that a radical reshaping of US troop involvement in S-For - the international peace-keeping force in Balkans - and a downsizing of commitments would be considered during the upcoming US review of S-For, scheduled for early May.

He said the military tasks as outlined under the peace accord had been accomplished and the remaining challenges were political and economic ones.

Foley disputed General Dayton's contention that a vastly different S-For US deployment was under discussion. "With regard to S-For and the six month review, nothing has been decided yet," he said.

General Dayton also led a discussion on policy changes in Bosnia, prompted by a request he said he received from S-For commander Lieutenant General Michael Dodson.

General Dayton said Dodson commander pointedly asked symposium participants to debate the international community's position on whether Bosnia should look East or West, the viability of multi-ethnic states and the Dayton accord.

He concluded that if the S-For commander was asking these types of questions after five years of the Dayton accord, the treaty is problematic and not working.

General Dayton indicated that while the peace accord had brought an end to fighting, big problems remained and the situation in Bosnia was not improving.

He felt Europe should play a bigger role in the Balkans, expressing strong support for the European Security Defense Programme, ESDP, which he believes will eventually absorb all peacekeeping duties throughout the Balkans - although he did not expect ESDP to be ready by its 2003 launch date.

The symposium came against a backdrop of calls from NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson and Powell for an easing of the Alliance presence in the 5km-wide buffer zone near the Presevo Valley in Serbia, the scene of an increasingly violent Albanian insurgency.

The US and NATO are backing the new Serbian government's request to take over military responsibility for the buffer zone. In return, they want Belgrade to make a number of concessions, including assurances those who were involved in ethnic cleansing in Kosovo will be barred from policing the conflict area.

The security situation remains fraught in the southern Kosovo region as well. The Macedonian government has called on NATO to make an assessment of growing attacks by Albanian insurgents near its border areas. Lord Robertson has ordered an immediate "political and military" mission to the region.

Tensions are also growing in Bosnia. The establishment of moderate governments at state and entity levels has been overshadowed by hard-liner Bosnian Croat threats to separate Croat-populated regions from the rest of the country.

Given all these developments, most US policy-makers, who are not on the ground in Bosnia, seem to conclude that both the Dayton peace accord and the Kosovo arrangement are not working and need to be reviewed.

While it refuses to say as much, the Bush Administration seems to be suggesting that it wants a change of policy and a much reduced leadership role in the region.

Tanya Domi is the former OSCE spokesperson in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She is now taking an advanced degree in Human Rights at Columbia University in New York

Africa, Balkans
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