On December 14, 1995, the accord to end the war in the former Yugoslavia, having been negotiated in Dayton, Ohio, was signed in Paris. The agreement has been criticized by a wide range of voices, including the extreme right in both the U.S. Congress and the Russian Parliament, top U.S. military leaders, elements on all three sides in the former Yugoslavia, and some anti-war groups.
There are serious problems with the agreement. It legitimizes territorial gains made by aggression and violations of human rights, including genocide and ethnic cleansing. As its consequence, those most responsible for crimes against humanity will escape justice. It buries--probably forever--the dream of a multi-ethnic, tolerant Bosnia-Hercegovina. It favors the chauvinistic Croatian government of Franjo Tudjman. There are many possible scenarios for war breaking out again. The idea of selective rearming of sides to ensure a balance of power is problematic at best, and unfortunately, that operation is being carried out by NATO under U.S. leadership. Despite these problems, I support the Dayton accord because it is the best outcome that can be realistically accomplished under the circumstances.
Flawed as Dayton is, what are the alternatives? To continue the status quo would surely continue the war. Lifting of the arms embargo against one side would result in weapons going to all the sides, escalating violence. The Dayton agreement is preferable to further inaction. Indeed, many have asked why a similar arrangement couldn't have been made three years ago. Sadly, the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia could not, and still cannot, be resolved without the use of outside force.
If not a U.S.-led NATO force, then what other international organization could intervene? Both Europe and the U.N. have failed in their attempts and have lost credibility with the warring factions. U.N. forces, burdened by an impossible mandate and inadequate resources, had to stand by while war crimes were being committed.
Some have argued that U.S. sponsorship of the Dayton accord is motivated mostly by Clinton's electoral considerations. In reality, most Americans, including politicians and top military leaders, oppose any involvement of U.S. troops. Sending U.S. troops is a losing proposition for Clinton and one of the first principled acts of his presidency. With inevitable U.S. casualties, Dayton will be at best neutral, at worst destructive to Clinton's prospects for re-election.
Writing in Peace News, Howard Clark made the point that the Dayton agreement has been negotiated over the heads of the people of the region; that leaves grievances festering. I don't agree. The political leaders on the three sides are representing their people, although they have not necessarily been democratically elected.
The majority of the Bosniaks (a more appropriate term than Muslims), the greatest victims of the conflicts, strongly favor the accord. Grievances will fester longer if the violence continues than if it stops. Some, but not all, humanitarian and antiwar groups, described by Howard as the people who have an understanding of the situation and a commitment to establish peace in it, oppose the Dayton agreement. While I applaud their wonderful work, it is not sufficient. Given that the status quo is not acceptable, if not the Dayton agreement, then what?