272. Peacekeeping in the Balkans: An Assessment of the Decade

By
A. Ross Johnson and Misha Glenny

In April 1992, the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) was deployed to Croatia with a 12-month term and a mission to demilitarize and protect "the continuing functioning, on an interim basis, of the existing local authorities and police, under United Nations supervision, pending the achievement of an overall political solution to the crisis." More than ten years, thousands of peacekeepers, and hundreds of millions of dollars later, the former states of Yugoslavia are arguably as far from a political solution as they ever were. In a recent meeting sponsored by the East European Studies Program, two Balkans experts, A. Ross Johnson and Misha Glenny assessed the past ten years of peacekeeping in Southeastern Europe and offered alternative strategies for the future.

Martin Sletzinger, Director of the East European Studies Program began the meeting by pointing out the relevance of such an assessment for the situation today in post-conflict Iraq. "Debate and confusion have emerged over the possible duration and costs in terms of manpower, military expenditure and development of the subsequent nation-building exercise envisaged by the administration. A look at the US and allied experience in the ongoing nation-building efforts in Bosnia and Kosovo would help to put the costs and challenges of Iraq into realistic and sobering perspective," he said.

Misha Glenny offered insights from his recent participation on a panel that considered why reform had not delivered results since the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995. To Glenny, the single largest obstacle to reform is in convincing the people of Southeastern Europe that they have a stake in the peace process and in their future. This turned out to be a common theme throughout the meeting—the stability and viability of the states in the region depend on the full participation of the population and on constituents' ability to feel as if they have control over their lives.

One of the specific conclusions reached by the panel, Glenny noted, was that the process for providing assistance to the region had effectively squandered the money. Aid money has been channeled into central governments that have become hyper-centralized with the majority of aid going to cover budget deficits in the capitols or falling into criminal hands. Thus, one of the key issues the panel discussed was devolution in the region—both political and fiscal.

Encouragingly, Glenny spoke of attempts at reconstituting regional integration, as exemplified by a recent meeting he organized with four mayors from neighboring areas of Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Bulgaria. The mayors spoke of the destruction of the economic area due to the imposition of borders in 1992 and 1999. "The number one complaint was not problems due to ethnicity or language, but of getting goods across borders," Glenny said. After the success of this meeting, the group was expanded to include 18 mayors from Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania and Macedonia. Again, neither the issue of ethnicity nor language came up at the second meeting. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that resulted from this meeting instead focused on stabilizing trading routes between the towns, "so people whose farms had to be split by the border would be able to trade as before." The mayors also agreed to act as a group to pressure their central governments to address issues that affect life outside the capitols—areas that receive very little aid.

Overall, the prevailing problem Glenny cited was the failure of the international community to follow through with its commitment to provide economic aid and to foster development. Moreover, there are clear misperceptions about what the problems are. For instance, Glenny asserts that "communal conflict is much less significant than people imagine." Instead, economic issues seem most critical: "people are enjoined across borders by poverty and underemployment and they recognize where the problems are. They taught us an enormous amount about what is going wrong. Reform for people in these areas is at best a meaningless concept. At worst it is central to their misery and their sense of despair."

Another major obstacle to reform and to the possibility of development in Southeastern Europe is the problem of perception, public relations and communications. "This whole question about perception has a really damaging economic and social impact on the region," Glenny said. To combat this it is critical to point out successes such as the mayors' initiative, Glenny noted.

A procedural problem that has wide-reaching destructive effects is apparent in the political process and, more specifically, the running of campaigns and elections. According to Glenny, no one can run a campaign unless he or she has substantial funds and the only place to get these funds is from corrupt and criminalized interests. The result is that a significant part of the state is captured by corrupt interests. "What we have never funded is the key issue of the political process itself and that is something that has to change."

On a positive note, the EU is taking a more nuanced approach to the problems of the Balkans with the new European Stability Initiative founded by young Austrian experts on the region working closely with the Office of the High Representative. They have looked at the problems of chronic de-industrialization and rural underdevelopment and have begun to come up with solutions. The bottom line is that Europe and the US need to start looking at the Balkans not primarily as a region of ethnic complexity and conflict but also as one of social and economic complexity. He warned that the depth of the social and economic crisis may provoke further instability in the region.

Citing the recent progress made in Romania and Bulgaria, Glenny emphasized that the magnet of EU integration has been and will be a powerful incentive for helping to reform all the nations of Southeast Europe. The fundamental problem, in his view, is how to get the former Yugoslav states into the position Romania and Bulgaria (slated for EU membership by 2007) are today vis-à-vis the European Union, and this needs to be done by 2004 at the latest.

The critical point Glenny emphasized is that instability in Southeast Europe continues to be fueled by the existence of unstable and unsustainable political entities in the region. He noted that the current Union of Serbia/Montenegro has no future as a country. Its existence is solely the result of the effort of the EU to deal with this region as expeditiously as possible. Glenny also noted that despite valiant efforts, both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo remain dysfunctional entities that cannot exist by themselves without an international peacekeeping presence and political leadership provided by the international community. The problem here is a kind of catch-22. Most observers agree that the pull of EU integration could eventually help to resolve the underlying issues that make Bosnia and Kosovo so unstable, notably incompatible ethnic minorities and the need for large-scale economic transformation. The problem is, in Glenny's words, that the EU will not admit dysfunctional states. So, what is needed is a constitutional resolution of the status and functioning of these states before the EU can act effectively on their behalf. This will mean that at some point there will be a need to "cut the Gordian knot" of the status of Kosovo and perhaps move beyond the Dayton framework for Bosnia.

Finally, addressing the issue of conditionality and the ongoing Hague War Crimes Tribunal, Glenny emphasized that so far the results of this process have largely been negative. Whereas many factors were involved in the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, the pressure from the War Crimes Tribunal to produce further indictees may have played a role as well. Glenny urged the US and the international community to rethink the issue of conditionality, which he claimed was undermining the efforts of true democrats and reformers in both Serbia and Croatia to achieve desired results and to hold right-wing nationalist parties at bay.

Ross Johnson, a long-time and well-respected expert on Yugoslavia and the Balkans, elaborated upon six assumptions that have guided the US and international community's approach to the former Yugoslavia, and which now need to be reconsidered or changed. The first assumption is that there has been some degree of understanding and reconciliation emerging among the peoples of the region following the wars and conflict of the 1990s. Johnson claims that this is not the case and that very little convergence or understanding exists. For example, he noted Serbs still feel like victims and Croats feel they were victimized by the Serbs. He praised a recent program hosted by Radio Free Europe that brought opposing groups together to discuss issues in a reasonable discourse. "More of this is needed," he said.

Second is the assumption that this so-called mutual understanding has been facilitated and hastened by the Hague War Crimes Tribunal. Again, Johnson emphasized that in fact the opposite is the case and agreed with Glenny that the pressure of the court certainly played a role in the assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic. He noted that the War Crimes Tribunal has played a positive role in getting bad people out of the region, but the court, he regretted, is outliving whatever usefulness it had and is costing far too much money (the total ranging in the hundreds of millions of dollars) that might better be spent on other issues in the region.

The third assumption concerns nation building and the notion that a state—whether it is Bosnia or, in the future, Kosovo—can be built from the outside. Johnson stressed that this approach in the long run will not work. In the end analysis, states can only be built from within and with the "consent of the governed and the people that live within the state."

The fourth assumption concerns the limited role and duration of peacekeeping forces. In Johnson's view, while the peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Kosovo have played an important role in overcoming the "internal security deficit" in these regions, unless there is more success in nation-building, it is hard to see how these peacekeeping missions will ever be completed. As for Bosnia, according to Johnson, as long as the Dayton peace process remains in place, the NATO-led SFOR peacekeeping force or some smaller successor force would need to be there forever, it would seem. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just a piece of reality that the US and its allies need to accept. There is simply no internal stability without outside peacekeeping forces. He considers it a very dangerous assumption that despite the inertia, despite the maintenance of the status quo politically, we continue to expect the number of troops to shrink each year.

The fifth assumption is morally the most difficult—that it is possible to recreate multi-ethnicity in war-torn states that used to be multi-ethnic. Johnson believes this to be a near-impossible goal. A significant problem has been and will remain the resettlement of refugees. In the case of Bosnia, for example, it looks like at least 50 percent of its former residents will never return to their former home areas. The same problem exists in Kosovo, to which, in Johnson's view, it is highly unlikely significant numbers of ethnic Serbs will ever be able or willing to return. Also worth noting is the important distinction between refugee resettlement and refugee return. The UN has defined a ‘return' as a refugee who returns for one single night—but the important part is what happens after that. Johnson believes that more resources should be focused on resettlements rather than on returns.

Last but not least, the sixth assumption deals with the issue of the future architecture and constitutional order of the region. Ultimately, Johnson regretted, both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are not really viable as states—either on their own or with a continued peacekeeping presence. He emphasized that in the whole region of the former Yugoslavia, and in particular Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, the international community is dealing with arbitrary borders. Johnson stressed that he did not see how they would ever be able to act as sovereign, independent states. Bosnia, in his view, resembles ‘pretend land' where virtually all important decisions have been imposed by the High Representative. It is difficult to see how this situation can be altered in the short- or medium-term, even if (as threatened) the EU decides to terminate the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia, when the current holder's mandate, the UK's Paddy Ashdown, ends in about two years.

Both Glenny and Johnson concluded that the viability of both Bosnia and Kosovo depend on a consensual, indigenous political solution coupled with real economic development and stabilization, strategies that are not currently being pursued. It seems that the general approach is to put off dealing with the status of the two states—possibly the most irresponsible course of all.

Downloads


AttachmentSize
meeting report41 KB

EMAIL UPDATES

Upcoming Events

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Kristina N. Terzieva // Program Assistant
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant