282. Bosnia and Kosovo...Afghanistan and Iraq...Connecting the Dots Constructively

By
John R. Lampe

John R. Lampe is a WWICS Fellow and Professor of History, University of Maryland, College Park. Meeting Report 282.

Exploring the wider relevance of US policy in Bosnia was hard enough when I first addressed it in the early 1990s. Then, the fate of all Southeastern Europe was in the balance—whether these countries would be connected to a Europe whole and free or detached as the dangerous, dysfunctional Balkans. Today, our continuing commitments in Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH) and Kosovo are inviting comparison and contrast to the much larger and more daunting American commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I submit that we can learn at least something about how to proceed in the next year by recalling the experience gained over the last 10 years. Looking back across two administrations and several congresses, one can see that the US has faced a series of operations in peace-keeping and reconstruction that started after direct military intervention. Those experiences show us that in order to leave any of these post-intervention sites, the US needed a transition strategy, rather than an exit strategy, and resources for reconstructing failed states. As a historian, I resist the phrase "nation-building" since, to us, this means creating a national consciousness, which is clearly a step too far. The US can, however, realistically aim to assemble and aid existing domestic capacities to establish legal and sovereign states as defined and accepted by the international community.

Recently, I returned from a visit to Sarajevo where I was able to see how the process of state building in Bosnia has evolved. I met with local and international representatives, including the US Ambassador Clifford Bond. The fact that he had just returned from Baghdad where he counseled Paul Bremmer's office for two months suggests some official recognition of a link between past and present military interventions.

I should first acknowledge some obvious differences between the case of Iraq and that of BiH and Kosovo. Most obvious of all is the difference in their 20th century histories. This history should not be neglected, especially the interwar Iraqi experience with what is remembered as the British military occupation. Ambassador Bond emphasized two other differences: the absence of a secure environment for reconstruction and reconciliation, and a general distrust of the West. I agree with him, but note that the US did not perceive the environment in BiH or Kosovo as secure at the start, and that Serb and Croat distrust of the US was an initial problem. The insecure environment not only confined US troops to assuring base security but also kept the physically isolated American Embassy staffed with officers on one-year tours without language training or dependents.

Two other contrasts are often and rightly noted. Iraq is eight times the size and has six times the population of BiH. Former UN Representative Michael Steiner noted that a force in Iraq comparable to what was deployed in Kosovo and adjusted for increased size and population would be 450,000 troops and 160,000 civilians. Finally, it is important to remember that the US furnished only 15 percent of the troops and 15 percent of the funding for the interventions in BiH and Kosovo. Indeed, the combined military and civilian expenditure in the Balkans by the US from 1992 to 2000 was $21 billion. This figure should ring a bell—it is also the proposed appropriation for civilian purposes in Iraq alone for next year.

Some common challenges
Despite these differences, and the different levels of US involvement in the two regions, there are common challenges of postwar reconstruction and reconciliation under an international regime that apply across the board. And also, there is a common American resistance to making a long-term commitment to peacekeeping or to work closely with international agencies. In both BiH and Kosovo, that initial reluctance was overcome. We did it there; we need to do it in Iraq.

Perhaps the most important political lesson from BiH and Kosovo is that the foundation for any successful transition is establishing the rule of law. Consider the political lessons from Bosnia that were already clear by the 1999 intervention in Kosovo. The early and frequent elections in Bosnia simply allowed the wartime nationalist parties on all three sides to gain an upper hand. Their grip on power has proved hard to dislodge; witness the results of the most recent elections. In Kosovo, the delay of local elections until October 2000 and national elections until November 2001 allowed enough time for institutional reform—namely the adoption of a Constitutional Framework—and made way for more moderate candidates.

It has proved much harder in Kosovo, and will also be hard in Afghanistan and Iraq, to follow another of Ambassador Bond's political lessons from Bosnia: to avoid ethnic quotas for representation. Let the Bosnian Muslim, Serb and Croat experience of executive stalemate and legislative inaction stand as a cautionary tale. I would not, however, go so far as to rule out ethnicity-based representation altogether, as this may be a least bad alternative.

International coordination and cooperation
Our decade of Balkan experience with international cooperation, military presence and local police and army roles, offers a useful guide to what works and what does not work. Both Bosnia and Kosovo saw a multiplicity of agencies sharing the responsibilities of the international community from the start. Neither ensemble started well, as the current US Administration worries would happen in Iraq, but both have adjusted the original mandate in response to conditions on the ground. It may be instructive to review who is in charge of what. In Kosovo, the primary civil-military partnership, under UN Resolution 1244, is between the United Nations and NATO. The US, UK, France, Germany and Italy each have their military sectors, and the current US contingent makes up 2,300 of the 25,000 total stationed there. The UNMIK civil administrators may have been slow to arrive but have worked successfully with the NATO forces and with staff from the EU, OSCE and UNHCR. The image the UN had earned in the early days of UNPROFOR as an agency mired in caution and inaction today deserves to be shelved. Nevertheless, progress has been slow in creating a legal and judicial system that the Kosovar Albanian and Serb populations trust. A succession of European appointees to head the UNMIK mission have all entered with high hopes but achieved less than they had hoped. The result has been to reduce the level of violence and intimidation but not to establish the rule of law at a standard sufficient to lead to EU accession.

In Bosnia, coordination problems began soon after the Dayton Agreement was signed in December 1995, when the EU-led Office of the High Representative (OHR) was charged with the overall coordination of the international intervention. The OHR was made accountable to the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), whose 55 members represented all governments, donors and international agencies engaged in the region. But the general assessment was that the OHR was initially conspicuous by its absence. The OSCE was charged with arms reduction and organizing elections, and its work was greatly influenced by the US. Thus, the OSCE pushed for early elections in 1996, which would supposedly allow US troops to leave thereafter. The UNHCR was responsible for humanitarian issues, the largest being the return of refugees. Its work on returning refugees to majority areas proceeded apace, but it made little progress before 2000 on returning minority refugees to still-hostile areas. Part of the refugee problem was the underfunded International Police and Training Force (IPTF), passed off on the UN and left to its own meager devices by SFOR. Among the donors, the principal source of initial EU assistance, PHARE, was widely regarded in Sarajevo as an agency that worked too slowly to be helpful.

So what has happened after 2000 to create an international consensus? First, the able initial representatives of the World Bank and USAID, together with the director of the Bosnian Central Bank proved how much could be achieved when organizations cooperate. Second, the stabilization of the security environment allowed for normal staffing at the US Embassy as well as a US outreach program, reaching beyond Sarajevo to the Serb entity. Moreover, the OHR stepped forward, especially under the current High Representative Paddy Ashdown, to take the lead in coordination, a lead duly saluted by Richard Holbrooke as a lesson learned from previous experience.

Coordinating the military's role and police training
The experience of the police and military in BiH and Kosovo may offer some more immediate parallels to Iraq. The Bosnian story is the encouraging one. The more flexible use of SFOR troops and the effectiveness of the IPTF in training reliable local police combined to achieve a major post-2000 success. That success has been the return of minority refugees to majority areas. Nearly 400,000 have now come back, often just to sell their property but sometimes to stay or at least to be ready to work or do business there. In the process, almost 90 percent of outstanding property claims have been settled. The IPTF has now handed over its responsibilities to an EU Police Mission. A single State Border Service has also been trained, making the common customs regime now put forward by the OHR a realistic possibility. None of this could have happened if the SFOR mandate and US participation had not been flexible enough to move beyond the original concentration on base security and weapons collection in order to work with the UNHCR and the IPTF.

The further encouraging news from Bosnia is that domestic agreement has allowed the creation of a single multi-ethnic military command under the supervision of the civilian presidency, to replace the three ethnic-based armies that had been reduced but never disbanded after the war. Their units are yet to be integrated, but the promise of Partnership for Peace membership is pushing that prospect ahead. In Kosovo, meanwhile, the predominance of Kosovo Liberation Army officers in the all-Albanian Kosovo Defense Force holds promise only for an independent, all Albanian Kosova. These are sufficient considerations to persuade me that the way out of the international commitment in Kosovo is not yet clear. For either an independent Kosova or a partitioned Kosovo, I continue to endorse meeting the "standards before status" challenge, set out by the State Department in May, 2003. Several local observers in Sarajevo worry that a premature international departure from Kosovo would prompt a declaration of Kosovar independence and redraw borders in Macedonia and Bosnia, which would have catastrophic consequences. They exhibit similar anxiety over any signs of US support for an independent Kosova.

I reiterate my strong endorsement for retaining at least some of the small US troop contingent, which today numbers at barely 4,000 combined. National Guard reserves are already the full contingent in Bosnia, and part of it in Kosovo. Reserves could probably replace the remaining regulars in Kosovo. There is a cost attached, as the "Bosnia 2010" report from the Council on Foreign Relations, admits, amounting to at least another $8 billion total through 2010. But this is a price worth paying to demonstrate that the US finishes what it starts and that the US wants the NATO alliance to have a continuing function in Europe.

But I also conclude with the Bosnian lesson that a relatively small number of regular US troops can learn to carry out the civil-military and police functions that are so badly needed in Iraq today. The secure environment in Bosnia allowed on-the-job-training for infantry units to work with the UNHCR, local police and the IPTF in accomplishing the refugee return that looked impossible in the first years after Dayton. I therefore endorse the immediate training of a brigade, just 5,000 troops, in those specific civil-military and military police MOSs that are currently being filled by reserves in Iraq. A September 2003 study by the Pentagon's Office of Stability Operations put forward this very proposal. We need such a trained contingent of regular troops, perhaps added to Special Forces. Maybe the small Peacekeeping Institute at the Army War College could be not just preserved but expanded; perhaps BiH and Kosovo could be training sites as well as case studies.

The last and perhaps largest lesson from BiH and Kosovo is that the US and its international partners can learn to work effectively together once they are on the ground together. The US has boots on the ground again, as I used to say about needing them in BiH and Kosovo. Now we need some company and some coordination.
 

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