Lessons of War and Peace in Bosnia

On Friday, we had a most interesting and well-attended discussion at the European Policy Center in Brussels on the lessons of war and peace of the war in Bosnia.

A more detailed account of the rich discussion will follow, but in the meantime this newswire from AFP gives at the least a summary of the discussion.

BRUSSELS, Nov 25 (AFP) – Europe must learn the tough lessons from the war in Bosnia or be doomed to repeat them elsewhere, senior diplomats involved in the Balkan conflict 10 years ago warned on Friday.
A decade after a war that claimed some 200,000 lives and left more than two million homeless, the diplomats emphasised the need for focused diplomacy backed by force, then robust peacekeeping and concerted rebuilding efforts.
”There are new challenges around the corner of the same nature waiting for us,” Carl Bildt, EU special representative to the region in 1995, told experts, reporters and other participants at a conference in Brussels on Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war.
”From Bihac (Bosnia) in the northwest down to Basra (Iraq) in the southeast, the struggle between the forces of integration and the forces of disintegration goes on, that might be Kosovo or it might be Kurdistan,” he said.
Bildt, talking at the invitation of the European Policy Centre, with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and former EU peace negotiator Lord Owen, said politicians had badly under-estimated the horror the war would bring.
”This was a fundamental, a tragic mistake of historic proportions,” he said. ”Always do everything that can be done to avoid war breaking out, because when it breaks out you are out of control.”
”We need to learn the lessons from Bosnia: be very assertive in preventing the conflicts from breaking out, looking at the underlying currents, trying to settle with reasonable political deals, and the possibility to deploy military force to support diplomacy,” he went on.
”Then have the resources, the commitment, the patience and the time that is going to be needed for the state-building projects … all through this period.”
Owen, speaking as Bosnia marks the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, agreed on November 21, 1995 and signed that December 14, said Europe must not allow itself to be insulted by people like former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic.
”If you are serious … you can’t allow a warlord to cock a snook at you. We didn’t learn that in Somalia, and now we are seeing it in Darfur,” he said.
Mladic and former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic have been indicted for war crimes and still remain at large, 10 years on, which Owen described as ”a disgrace”.
The former British foreign secretary said that ”hard peacekeeping” — in which a robust military presence enforces peace and exits quickly to be replaced by traditional peacekeepeers — was also vital in dealing with conflicts.
”Hard peacekeeping must be done when you’re really serious and I doubt that it’s something for the EU or for the UN. I believe that is really going to be done by NATO or other regional military alliances,” he said.
Solana, who was Spanish foreign minister at the time and later led NATO, said that politicians need to act together closely with the military as soon as a potential conflict is identified.
”A clear lesson from the Balkan dramas is that when the European Union, the United States and NATO are united and work together, they can achieve great things,” he said.
He said the fact that this was done so late in Bosnia resulted in tens of thousands of needless deaths.
”The price of nationalism and our collective failure to end the fighting was very high,” he said. ”We got peace, yes, and ended the nightmare, yes, but a peace that came late and was full of painful compromises.”
And on the day that Bosnia begins talks on a stabilisation accord with the EU, a first step on the long road to joining the bloc, he said hopes for membership had been a decisive factor.
”The prospect of eventual European Union membership has been no doubt the overwhelming transformational force in Bosnia,” he said.
In the end though, Bildt said, prevention is far better than a cure.
”In retrospect the number one lesson of the Bosnian war is that we should have done more in order to prevent it from starting at all,” he said.

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