THE convergence of 60,000 soldiers on Bosnia will be the big story as NATO this week begins its largest military operation ever. But the story behind the story may prove even bigger - the start of what could become the largest effort at postwar reconstruction since the Marshall Plan in Europe at the end of World War II.
Having learned hard lessons from United Nations peacekeeping missions undertaken since the end of the cold war, NATO commanders have drawn a clear line between "peacekeeping" in Bosnia, which will be NATO's job, and political and economic "nation-building," which will not. Even so, say many analysts, the success of the former is directly linked to the success of the latter.
"You have to look at the mission as an overall whole despite the fact that it is divided into component parts," says Ambassador Robert Oakley, President Bush's special envoy to Somalia and now a visiting scholar at the National Defense University in Washington. "If one of the parts - political, humanitarian, or security - fails, then the whole thing is going to come tumbling down."
"Relief agencies have to use the time the soldiers are there to get the process of nation-building perceptively under way," adds John Lampe, director of East European studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. "Otherwise, the positive incentives for the Bosnian parties not to resume fighting after the NATO troops go home will be pretty small."
The task of reconstructing Bosnia, a state at war even as it was created in 1992, will be complicated by time constraints. NATO peacekeeping forces, which will provide security for private and international relief agencies, could begin disbanding after one year.
Whither relief aid?
The effort to create a viable nation out of the ruins of war could also be constrained by lack of funds. Although up to $6 billion has been committed to pay for the NATO military operation, international relief agencies are just now beginning to look for the equivalent amount that will be needed to put Bosnia on its feet.
Even so, the prospects for reconstruction are brighter in Bosnia than they were, say, in Somalia or Rwanda, where stable conditions were never achieved. That improves the chance that international donors and relief agencies will sustain their interest in the former Yugoslav republic.
"Who wants to spend a dollar in a country where the best you can hope for is crisis management?" asks a senior official of one international relief organization. "In Bosnia, there's a real chance that progress can be made."
The enterprise of nation-building in Bosnia will be manned by a host of United Nations agencies, multinational organizations, and nongovernmental groups. Their efforts will be overseen by former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, who was appointed two weeks ago to chair an international steering committee to coordinate civilian and humanitarian relief efforts.
Nation-building in Bosnia will occur on three main fronts:
*Reconstruction. According to the World Bank, one-third of the nation's health facilities, half of its schools, and nearly two-thirds of its houses and apartment buildings were destroyed during the war. Nine of every 10 Bosnians now survive on humanitarian assistance.
Industrial output, meanwhile, has been reduced to a fraction of its prewar level and most of the country's transportation and telecommunications systems have been destroyed, the Bank says.
The Bank is now seeking $5 billion from the international community to pay for a three-year effort to repair war damage, which means restoring food production, providing salaries for teachers and doctors, rebuilding roads, schools, and hospitals, and getting businesses and factories up and running again.
Beyond reconstruction will be the harder task of laying the groundwork for a modern, market-based economy in a nation that is still primarily rural and whose potential revenue-earning industries are either antiquated (steel, arms, and mining) or destroyed (tourism).
*Return of Bosnians displaced by the war. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 3 million people - nearly 80 percent of them women and children - have been displaced by the four-year Bosnian conflict: 1.3 million within Bosnia; 820,000 in other republics of the former Yugoslavia; and 700,000 in other, mostly Western European countries.
The planned Bosnia resettlement will be largest the agency has undertaken after Afghanistan, but will be probably the most challenging because of the ethnic cleansing that has occurred during the four-year conflict, according to UNHCR, which will oversee repatriation efforts.
The two-year operation is scheduled to begin in the spring and take place in three, possibly overlapping phases, at an estimated cost of between $300 million and $500 million.
Large numbers of refugees and displaced persons may choose not to return home because old neighborhoods have been destroyed or their ethnic composition has been transformed.
"If you look at it from a human dimension, there are a lot of people with a lot of weight in their hearts and souls," says Barbara Francis, UNHCR's US spokeswoman. "It will be a hard decision where and even if to go, especially for those in mixed [ethnic] marriages and for those who were brutally expelled."
UNHCR will try to find homes in third countries for those who do not choose to return.
For those who do choose to return, UNHCR and its non-governmental partners will provide temporary shelter and provisions until houses are repaired or rebuilt. A commission established in the peace accords signed last month in Dayton, Ohio, will help settle land disputes and possibly provide money or land for returning war refugees.
*Elections. Under the Dayton accords, elections are to be held within six to nine months for a three-member rotating presidency, an all-Bosnia parliament, and possibly municipal offices.
The elections will be supervised by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a European security and human rights organization.
Under the accords, voting is limited to Bosnians who were listed in the 1991 census, who can vote either in person or by absentee ballot.
In theory, the elections will make it possible for Bosnian Muslims to regain through the ballot box some of what they lost on the battlefield. In practice, enforcing the results may be difficult since candidates elected by an absentee ethnic group may be prevented from taking office by the rival ethnic group now in control.
Relief officials say that in at least one respect they will have an easier time of it in Bosnia that they did in Somalia and Rwanda - other nations where relief and humanitarian efforts have been undertaken during peacekeeping operations. They will not be caught in the middle of an ongoing civil war.
Even so, they will be mindful of hard lessons learned, as James Bishop, director of Humanitarian Response at InterAction, a Washington-based consortium of private relief agencies, notes.
"The main lesson," says Mr. Bishop, "is to stay out of the politics and maintain neutrality."
Just how much nation-building needs to occur in Bosnia before it becomes safe to withdraw NATO troops is hard to say. Relief officials point to the bare minimums: a reasonable degree of peace; elections held or clearly imminent; the process of returning and compensating refugees under way; some visible reconstruction, and the rudiments of an effective, impartial police force and justice system.
"The nation-building effort needs to proceed far enough so that most of the principal parties become more interested in continuing the reconstruction of Bosnia than in trying to gain some territorial advantage," says Mr. Lampe.
Whether so much can be achieved in 12 months remains to be seen.
"It's foolhardy to say we're going to leave after 12 months if you look at the situation on the ground then and realize it's all going to fall apart," says Mr. Oakley. "As they proceed they may find that [all NATO forces] can't leave at the end of 12 months."