Worlds Apart: Bosnian Lessons for a Global Security

November 14, 2011 // 4:00pm5:30pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Global Europe Program

In Worlds Apart: Bosnian Lessons for a Global Security, Swanee Hunt, adjusts our lenses to a particular post-conflict approach that focuses on rebuilding relationships in order to create a common goal and process towards inclusiveness and sustainable peace.  “The absence of war is not enough; instead,” remarked Steve McDonald, who moderated the session, “policymakers must strive for sustainable peace, and it is at the community level that peace must take root.”

The Bosnian War

Ambassador Swanee Hunt began the discussion with some of her experiences in Vienna, Austria during the Yugoslav Wars.  As U.S. Ambassador to Vienna she had access to important meetings with government and military officials concerning the events unfolding in Yugoslavia, which allowed her to understand how this war was affecting policymakers, individuals and families.  Through these professional and personal experiences, Ambassador Hunt began writing  the “inside stories” of the people directly involved and affected by the violence on the ground and the “outside stories” of policymakers.  Her book is a compilation of vignettes that are meant to tell the story of the Bosnian War in a thought-provoking way and transform the way in which we approach conflict resolution and global security.  This compilation of stories offers six key lessons that can extend to any situation in which military intervention on humanitarian grounds is being considered: testing truisms, questioning stereotypes, finding out-of-power allies, appreciating domestic dynamics, fining fault, and embracing responsibility.

These stories from the “inside” and “outside” are an interesting reversal of the status quo use of these terms, said Gerard Toal, Professor and Director of Government and International Affairs at Virginia Tech University, in his respond to Ambassador Hunt.  Instead of the “inside” representing government and military officials in Washington and Yugoslavia, the “inside” represents the people of Bosnia.  It is the policymakers who are “outside” of the real conflict and who allowed the conflict to take place beside a relatively prosperous Europe.  Toal argued, however, that “in order to understand a war, one has to also understand its influential factors such, as the role of the media, and the historical and political context of the war’s foundation.”


In response to Toal’s question regarding diplomats’ “going native [and becoming] advocates for one particular side,” Ambassador Hunt emphasized that U.S. diplomats are expected to see the world as an American and not through the lenses of indigenous observers or those involved in the conflict on the ground.  Assignments are usually reduced during wartime to ensure that diplomats remain neutral.  The reality, however, is that diplomacy revolves around relationships since relationships build trust and trust builds peace.  There is, therefore, a real need for U.S. diplomacy to consider ways in which to remain neutral while maintaining these relationships.

The Future in Bosnia

Ambassador Hunt spoke of the necessity of continued work in the country and the region.  The Dayton Accord is flawed, she claimed, because having a system that requires three presidents, three prime ministers, and three parliaments, forces people to declare what ethnicity they are representing.  It does not solve the divisions between the ethnicities.

Finally, Ambassador Hunt expressed hope that her book will encourage dialogue and conversation.  Its intent is not to insinuate that we should stop listening to the “outside”, nor place blame on a particular actor, as Ambassador Hunt also considers herself as one of the policy makers that she criticizes.  On the contrary, Hunt underlines that the competing values of human rights issues on the ground, and the political interests of government officials are somehow combined in order to resolve conflicts.

Hunt concluded that, “we do know at the end of the day, if we have acted according to values and principles. We do not [however], know if we made a decision that could have turned out right or wrong… sometimes the right thing to do is only 55 percent right…and in that moment [of decision making], you can’t really know if you’re on the side of the 55 of the 45, all you can know is the basis under which you made your decision.”

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