ON Jan. 1, a four-month cease-fire agreement between the Bosnian Serb and Bosnian government forces was signed in Sarajevo. The accord was the latest move toward a regional peace attributed to the efforts of former president Jimmy Carter. Carter's earlier interventions in North Korea and Haiti, at the least, postponed crises and brought together parties in dispute.
The former president's personal prestige undoubtedly played a role in each of these disputes. But so did his application of a theory of conflict resolution popular among some academics. This approach assumes that agreements made under duress cannot last. The use of military force and sanctions should be avoided if possible. No leader should be demonized. A measure of respect to all parties is essential for effective mediation. Adversaries should be engaged in direct communication; confrontation is lessened by viewing negotiation as a common approach to a problem rather than a win or lose contest. Carter's methods illustrated both the possibilities and the difficulties of this theory.
To gain the confidence of parties to a conflict, including those considered unredeemable villains by official and public opinion in the United States, Carter made positive statements about them. After meeting Kim Il Sung of North Korea, he described him as ``vigorous, intelligent, surprisingly well informed about the technical issues and in charge of the decisions about his country.'' Haiti's military leader Raoul Cedras was called a man of honor. In Bosnia, Carter agreed with Serb leader Radovan Karadzic that the Serb side was not understood in America.
In each case, judgments were made in Washington that these leaders were guilty of serious crimes. Such assessments may have been justified. But to Carter they stood in the way of a peaceful solution.
In addition, Carter felt the need, if he was to achieve his objective of preventing conflict in Korea and Haiti or ending fighting in Bosnia, to reopen positions that had been reached in official negotiations. He denounced sanctions against North Korea and opposed a forceful invasion of Haiti. He suggested there was a Serbian point of view to be heard.
To Washington officials Carter's actions were unwelcome. His tactics required reopening positions that had been painfully negotiated. Those seeking war-crime charges against leaders were frustrated by the activities of a man once considered the champion of human rights. The ambiguities he created required further efforts to resolve. The North Korean commitment to freeze its nuclear program was vague. In Haiti it was not clear the military leaders would leave. In Bosnia, a commitment to peace was separated by a serious semantic divide.
The political realities surrounding each problem provided the opportunity for Carter's initiative. Under no circumstances could a US president or high-level envoy have met with either Kim Il Sung, Cedras, or Karadzic. No Western leader had the power or inclination to cut through the diplomatic web involving the United Nations, NATO, and the European Union in Bosnia.
Nevertheless, despite doubts and ambiguities, the momentum started by Carter has resulted in progress in each case. Not even a straying helicopter has derailed the US-North Korea agreement on nuclear weapons. The Haitian military leaders have left their country, and President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has returned. The guns may fall silent in Bosnia. None of these stories is finished; each agreement is fragile. But there are achievements.
Do Carter's accomplishments suggest that the way is open for more citizen diplomacy capable of cutting through the obstacles of formal diplomacy and politics? Do his successes demonstrate the validity of conflict-resolution theories? Probably not. Jimmy Carter is a unique individual. Only an independent negotiator with the standing of a former president could have spoken and acted as he did without being totally discredited at home, in the warring capitals, or by the major governments involved.