GETTING TO DAYTON: The Making of America's Bosnia Policy By Ivo Daalder Brookings Institution Press 204 pp., $16.95
Two years ago Richard Holbrooke's "To End a War" told the story of the 1995 Dayton Accords from the perspective of the US negotiator who finally coerced and cajoled Bosnia's warring parties into agreement.
Now, Ivo Daalder, who coordinated US Bosnia policy while serving on the staff of the National Security Council from 1995 to 1996, offers another account to complement and correct his colleague's.
Rather than rehash the Dayton talks themselves, Daalder's book lays bare the diplomatic gruntwork that made them possible. The star here is not Holbrooke but Daalder's ex-boss, then-National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, whom the author credits with breaking a bureaucratic logjam and forging a robust Bosnia policy in the first place.
Washington had been paralyzed through the early years of the war, generally deferring to the equally hapless Europeans. But all this changed in the spring of 1995. Croatian leader Franjo Tudjman was preparing to retake Serb-held southeastern Croatia and Slavonia, while the Bosnian Muslims girded themselves for battle and the Bosnian Serbs were becoming ever more aggressive.
These developments seemed ready to converge and spark another round of open combat, redrawing the map of Bosnia at great human cost.
The American relationship with Europe, meanwhile, was strained to the breaking point, thanks largely to congressional insistence on a policy called "lift-and-strike." This would have broken the international arms embargo on the former Yugoslavia by sending weapons to the Bosnian Muslims while bombing the Serbs into submission. But the plan made no provisions to send in American forces or protect Bosnia's European peacekeepers - who would have become natural targets for Serb retaliation - and it smacked of irresponsible hypocrisy to the Europeans. In the background, NATO officials began formulating contingency plans for 25,000 American soldiers to rescue the peacekeepers should things fall apart.
Lake, according to Daalder, recognized that the only alternative to waiting until American troops were dragged into the conflict through the back door was for Washington to put forward its own "endgame" strategy first.
So, backed by then-UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright, he came up with a compromise plan: The European peacekeepers would withdraw first, followed by a Bosnian Muslim offensive in tandem with NATO airstrikes. The goal would be to give roughly half of Bosnia to the Bosnian Serbs and half to the Bosnian Muslim-Croat Federation, with carrots and sticks making sure all parties accepted and stuck to the deal.
Lake convinced Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Secretary of Defense William Perry, and - most important - President Clinton that the new strategy was worth trying. Finally setting off to Europe in early August, Lake quickly sold the initiative to America's relieved allies.
This diplomacy formed the backbone of the Dayton negotiation, but as Daalder acknowledges, it was events in Bosnia itself that ultimately made a settlement possible. Soon after Lake's trip, Tudjman launched his successful offensive, while Bosnian Croat and Muslim forces swept through much of Bosnia in September and October as NATO bombs rained down on Bosnian Serb targets. With their territory slipping away, the Bosnian Serbs let Slobodan Milosevic negotiate on their behalf, paving the way for the diplomatic wrangling at Dayton in November.
Lake emerges from Daalder's account as a heroic "policy entrepreneur" who broke the bureaucratic stalemate over Bosnia. Holbrooke, in contrast, is cast in a less favorable light. Although tempered by judicious language and discreet footnotes, Daalder's narrative portrays him as a sometimes irresponsible player who was out of the policymaking loop until the end.
Most readers, however, will value the book less for its inside-the-Beltway scuffling and more for its detail and candor about a important episode in recent history. Daalder frankly admits, for example, that Dayton's ambitious mandates regarding the arrest of war criminals and the repatriation of refugees were hamstrung from the outset by an unwillingness to use force to implement them.
Still, one crucial topic is mysteriously left out: Kosovo. Daalder never explains why, when Washington was finally getting its act together on Bosnia, it ignored the storm brewing next door. Lake may have made the best of a very messy situation in 1995, but the bill for dealing with Milosevic finally came due last year. Readers wanting a fuller account of the story will have to look elsewhere.
*Helen Fessenden is an associate editor at Foreign Affairs.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society