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Lasting Peace in Bosnia: Test Case for US and World

By Edith B. Wilkie and Beth C. DeGrasse / November 18, 1996



The American GIs and many thousands of troops from 35 other nations who make up the Implementation Force (IFOR) in Bosnia have successfully separated the warring parties and, in the process, have started to redefine NATO for the post-cold-war era.

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But peace can't come through IFOR military power alone. For a civil society to emerge and peace to endure, the civilian component of Dayton is as fundamental next year as the military component was last year.

In the course of a week in the Balkans, our interviews with a cross-section of people - from United States generals, US ambassadors, and UN officials to relief workers, soldiers, and the citizen-survivors of four years of siege - failed to turn up one person who believes the present formula for civilian reconstruction and political integration can work.

The situation is devastating:

*Employment in Sarajevo is as low as 10 percent. Close to half the jobs that existed in Bosnia before the war were in industries that are never going to reopen because they were defense-related, environmentally hazardous, or otherwise obsolete.

*Phone communication doesn't exist over the 14 kilometers between Sarajevo and the Serb capital of Pale because forces hostile to the integrity of the Bosnian-Croat Federation refuse association. As a result, when the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Sarajevo was due to certify the elections, it couldn't inform the Serb representative of the meeting.

*Half the homes are damaged or destroyed. In the capital, the parliament building is a burnt-out shell; the rear garden of the national museum is laced with land mines; the independent newspaper's building, which published all but two days of the war, is a web of tangled electrical wires.

There is no single solution, but there are many options. Virtually everyone, most importantly US military leaders on the ground, believe that a continuing force - on a reduced level - is needed to provide the necessary climate for reconstruction.

President Clinton's announcement of the US decision to join NATO's follow-on Stabilization Force (SFOR) is a step in the right direction. SFOR should not only to separate the warring parties and enforce Dayton's limitations on arms imports, but also to help with the municipal elections scheduled for April and to allow refugees to reclaim their homes - a process recent headlines have shown to be potentially explosive. Many, including Bosnians distraught with fear that the leaders who waged the war will refuse to build peace, call for the formation of a protectorate. Under this formula, foreign leadership - perhaps an American, perhaps several Western leaders - would be authorized for up to or even more than five years to impose conditions for peace, including building rail lines, bridges, airports, and communications that connect people.

Others call for a strengthening of the powers of the Office of the High Representative - the position held by Swedish diplomat Carl Bildt, which was established by Dayton but is independent of the UN. Mr. Bildt is powerless to impose conditionality on Western aid, let alone to mandate phone connections or issue uniform license plates. He has "moral" authority, but in the former Yugoslavia, that doesn't count for much.

Still others call for more economic resources. In a week in Sarajevo, where two-thirds of the city's windows are sheathed with UNHCR plastic and entire blocks of houses are hollow shells, we saw only one bulldozer. In a country estimated to have 10 to 12 million land mines, only a handful have been removed. The longer we wait to address these realities, the more bitterness will swell and close the window of peace that US diplomacy and IFOR opened.

Nine months after Dayton, and more than four years after the failure of the world community to prevent the deaths of 250,000 people and the displacement of 2 million, we believe it may be as naive to think that these people can rebuild by themselves as it was to think that they could achieve peace by themselves.

Now, although the world community has brought an end to the shelling, it faces an upcoming year in which the euphoria of Dayton is over, fatigue is setting in, and the trauma of the past four years is taking its toll.

As Americans, it is our test-case as the remaining superpower. This is not a question of a UN mandate or a NATO military operation. America's leaders yearned for the world's designation as the world's sole superpower, and now we are. Bosnia is where we can show what that means.

*Edith B. Wilkie and Beth C. DeGrasse are, respectively, president and executive director of the Peace through Law Education Fund in Washington. They returned from Bosnia in early October.