The Dayton Accord: con: Dayton's a step back, way back!

By David L Parnas | 1996-03-01 12:00:00

Andrew Pakula has provided a reluctant defence of the Dayton document on Bosnia and defends it against some criticisms. I dislike the document (cannot even bring myself to call it an accord) and wish to respond. I have the following four primary objections.

1. The Dayton document does not represent an agreement freely entered by the parties. As such, it is unlikely to bring peace to the troubled region.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: The parties in conflict have shown themselves at an enormous cost to be unable to reach any agreement.

PARNAS REBUTS: This does not refute my statement and, besides, there is reason to believe that, had there been no interference from outside Yugoslavia, they would have agreed long ago.

2. Dayton is unfair to all parties, including the Serbs.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: Almost everyone except a few guilty politicians, military leaders, and war profiteers will benefit from the cessation of violence. Dayton is most unfair to the Bosnian people, and most favorable to the Tudjman regime in Croatia. The Serbs will gain a quasi-state as a result of aggression and the most massive violations of human rights in Europe since World War II.

The Serbs bear the greatest responsibility for the war in Bosnia and for most of the bloodshed, as noted by impartial observers, including Misha Glenny, Michael Ignatieff, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, and Belgrade's opposition journal Vreme.

PARNAS REBUTS: The guilty politicians, military leaders, and war profiteers actually will benefit from Dayton. The retired U.S. officers who trained the Croats during the NATO-enforced embargo are now raising the stakes in Bosnia and being well paid for it. Andrew says the Serbs committed aggression. My dictionary defines aggression as an unprovoked attack by one country on another. I do not believe that this applies to what began as a civil war in Yugoslavia and ended as a civil war in Bosnia. I find the actions of all sides abhorrent. I believe that we received colored reports. For example, before the fall of Srebrenica our news was full of reports of Serb attacks on the outskirts of Srebrenica but I had to read foreign papers to learn that government attacks on Serb towns used troops based in the safe area. Several such towns were destroyed from a base that was supposedly protected by neutral U.N. troops. No army in the world would respect a safe area that was used as a military base. No neutral force would try to protect an active military base by calling it a safe area. This does not excuse atrocities, but it shows that neither side is solely to blame. Carl Jacobsen, in his paper in World Security: The New Challenge, published by Science for Peace, describes press inaccuracies.

3. The Dayton document calls for the re-arming of the warring parties--a step that will benefit only arms merchants.

4. It represents a bad model for future conflict resolution.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: It does indeed, but what are the alternatives? Would you say to the future victims: You have to die because the alternative would have been a bad model for future conflict resolution?

PARNAS REPLIES: Like Andrew, I believe that an externally enforced ceasefire was necessary. This could have been done successfully many years earlier. We disagree on the other part of Dayton, the imposition of terms for a purportedly permanent peace. I do not believe that imposed peace terms are likely to be permanent. The alternative was to impose a cessation of violence and allow the parties to reach an agreement--even if it was not the agreement wanted by the NATO alliance. The peace movement should be pointing out that this is a bad model and asking that we search for better solutions to future conflicts.


SELECTING HISTORY. Most commentators begin the history of the conflict in Bosnia one step too late. They start after the breakup of Yugoslavia. By starting after the secession, they are able to portray the Serbs either as aggressors or as rebels. They are rebels if you assume that they lived inside Bosnia and were trying to secede; they are aggressors if you think of them as outsiders who are invading. Since the leader of the Bosnian Serbs was living in Sarajevo when others decided to split Yugoslavia, I have trouble thinking of them as aggressors.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: Karadzic was born in a Montenegrin village, while Mladic was born in a village in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Many of the Bosnian Serb paramilitaries were brought from outside Bosnia. Here David is resurrecting the myth that the war in Bosnia is a civil war. It is not. That war was planned, organized, and supported by the Milosevic regime in Belgrade, with some self-serving, opportunistic support from the Croatian government.

PARNAS REPLIES: My position is that the war in Yugoslavia, not the war in Bosnia, is a civil war. The myth is that Croatia, Bosnia, etc. were countries with their present borders when the fighting started or earlier. Croatia in its present boundaries was an administrative unit created by Tito. Bosnia-Herzegovina with its present boundaries doesn't appear in my historical atlas.

If the history starts a year earlier, the picture is different. The parties that started the breakup of Yugoslavia--the leaders of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia's (slim) majority government-can be viewed as rebels taking steps that all knew would lead to violence. The outside parties that supported the separatists might be seen as aggressors for taking part in an internal dispute. If I go back before Bosnia was recognized (in violation of the usual conventions for recognition) I can see the Serbs as loyalists and the others as rebels. I find such labels useless

PAKULA INTERJECTS: Between Tito's death and the outbreak of war, political elites particularly in Serbia and Croatia promoted ethnic divisions, increasingly resorting to fear and hate mongering. Belgrade used a masterful campaign to mobilize Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia and elsewhere, and to prepare them for war. Milosevic and Tudjman were enemies united by the complementarity of their goals of greater Serbia, greater Croatia, and the partitioning of Bosnia. By late 1991, Yugoslavia had shattered, the Serbs and the Croats were fighting, and an impending all-out war in Bosnia was inevitable, regardless of any action by Bosnia's government or people. The Serbs' withdrawal from Bosnia's political process and the remaining Bosnians' vote to secede from Yugoslavia were predetermined by the dynamic of the situation. Given its ethnic composition, to survive, Bosnia needed Yugoslavia as it had been in the past. It was too late and the war broke out. While Europe deserves some blame for recognizing the post-Yugoslav states without realizing the horrendous likely consequences, the overwhelming responsibility for Bosnia's war belongs to the politicians, military leaders, and war profiteers on the Serb and Croat sides. Ordinary people and Bosnians are its main victims.

PARNAS RESPONDS: It is easy to find people to blame in the breakup of Yugoslavia. It is also easy to say (and true) that the guilty ones were leaders and that the ones that were most hurt were the ordinary people. It is when Andrew wants to designate one ethnic group as guiltless and other ethnic groups as guilty that we part company. I insist on judging individuals, not ethnic groups.

Besides, though I cannot read the minds of the leaders of those countries, I cannot believe that they could be so ignorant. For me, the likely explanation is that the western alliance pursued its own interests, fully aware of the horrendous likely consequences. It is on this issue that the peace movement should being saying never again and proposing rules and mechanisms to prevent it from recurring elsewhere.

PAKULA RESPONDS: I find the notion of collective guilt repugnant. All persons accused of crimes must be judged fairly and equally, with due process, and using a single standard of justice. Only the deed matters, not the doer's group identity. Justice, thus defined, should be applied to those accused of causing the war in Bosnia and of committing war crimes. As this will not happen in any meaningful way, at least we owe the victims the truth. In terms of numbers of those who would be accused and convicted, the majority would be Serbian, a great many would be Croatian, and a few would be Bosniak. Among the victims, particularly those subjected to the most extreme violence--murder, rape and torture--most are Bosniaks. It is wrong to argue that the three sides are in any way equivalent in their responsibility for the atrocities of war. It is also wrong to overstate, as David does, the responsibility of parties outside Yugoslavia.

A few years ago the OSCE issued a plea for a united Bosnia. I asked them why they had not issued the same plea for a united Yugoslavia. They searched their files and found that they had issued a very similar document calling for Yugoslavia to stay united at that time. The parties that are seen as rebels in the Bosnia conflict had tried to keep Yugoslavia united. The OSCE's plea for unity was addressed to them.

MULTI-ETHNIC STATES. Andrew uses a bit of propaganda, the dream of a multi-ethnic, tolerant Bosnia-Herzegovina. If the Bosniak government really wanted a multi-ethnic, tolerant state, they would have sought to improve Yugoslavia, which was the closest to such a state ever seen in the Balkans. But the Muslims wanted a multi-ethnic state in which they were the majority. They should not have been surprised to find that the Serbs and Croats felt exactly the same way.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: Bosnia was a multi-ethnic state as defined by the major groups living there in harmony, with much intermarriage. Sarajevo once was a tolerant, pluralist place. Bosnians include Muslims, Croats, Serbs, Jews and others. Thousands of Serbs chose to stay in Bosnian Sarajevo and risk death because they believed in a multi-ethnic, tolerant Bosnia. The Serbs and to a lesser degree the Croats had the opposite idea and expressed it by the vile practice of ethnic cleansing. During the critical period in 1991, Bosnians supported the preservation of Yugoslavia.

PARNAS REPLIES: Andrew calls Bosnia a multi-ethnic state. It was not a state. Peace in Sarajevo was possible only because they were part of a larger federation. A minority can feel more secure in a federation if it has its own province in which it has a major role. The minority groups in that province can feel secure if the province is in a federation that includes other provinces where they form a majority. In this kind of structure, which we have in Canada now, each group can feel represented by a powerful official body. Once the Bosnians voted for separation, that balance was destroyed. By seceding from Yugoslavia, they created a Muslim-dominated state and army. They even passed a law stating that key offices had to be held by Muslims. I have not heard that this was repealed.

When the destabilizing acts of secession were taken, some hoped that things would work and stayed. Others, both pessimists and racists, did not. (This would happen anywhere under similar conditions. Remember the reaction when Jacques Parizeau said 60% of us voted yes after his narrow loss. Ethnic minorities will remember that statement when Quebec votes again on seceding. What is now a functioning multi-ethnic society would be destabilized by fear--justified or not.

It takes a long period of peace and intermarriage before ethnic hatreds and fears die. Look at Mostar and Tuzla now to see the effect of a shotgun marriage forced on Muslims and Croats by the U.S. The long peace in a united Yugoslavia was a miracle. Had it been allowed to persist for another century, we might have had real peace in the region. Now, I can only condemn those who chose to split it up.

THE ENFORCED DAYTON PROCESS. The Dayton document was forced on the parties. One party was not even represented by its chosen leaders. If those forcing this agreement on the parties had actually wanted peace, they would have allowed all parties to participate. The lack of representation can be used as a legitimation for future violations at any time in the future.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: The agreement was mostly forced on the Serbs, the primary aggressors in Bosnia. In my view it tilts too much toward the nearly-as-bad Croatian government of Franjo Tudjman. However, the main losers in the war, the Bosnian government and the majority of Bosnian people, welcome the end of the war in which they were outgunned. The vast majority of ordinary people will welcome peace. The Bosnian Serbs are not represented by their leaders (Karadzic and Mladic) because they are culpable of war crimes. Mladic was present at the mass murder of thousands in Srebrenica. David seems to have no compunction about negotiating with such people. I do.

PARNAS INSISTS: These men have been indicted-not tried and not convicted. Equally convincing accusations have been made against the leaders who were at Dayton. None of these leaders have clean hands. Mladic appears to be worse than the others, but he was not an elected political leader and would not have gone to Dayton. I believe that if these leaders are proven guilty, they will be rejected by their own people. If we really believe in democracy, we should let it happen. I have strong feelings about such people, but feelings do not give me the right to tell others that they cannot chose their own representatives.

UNFAIR TO ALL. The document forces people from all three ethnic groups to abandon territory that they feel is historically theirs. The resulting resentment will probably cause small fights, which can grow into big ones. With new arms and more defensible borders, this will likely lead to another war.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: I have seen a detailed computer map of the ethnic population distribution in Yugoslavia in 1991. The vast majority of the areas were mixed. The notion that certain areas historically belong to certain groups was promoted by nationalist Serb and Croat propaganda. In fact, there was much intermarriage prior to 1991. If future violence occurs it will be because of the hatred and resentments caused by the horrors of war, not because of the Dayton accord. However, any cessation of violence will likely reduce the chance of future violence.

PARNAS POINTS OUT: By pointing out that Dayton forces each group to give up areas they feel are theirs, I am not arguing that they are right. Andrew is clearly right; the vast majority of the areas were mixed. But by forcing people to give up those areas, we build resentments based on false, but very real, perceptions. The only agreement that is likely to lead to real peace would have allowed sharing. Such an agreement could not be forced on the parties. They would have had to recognize that it was the only choice.

ENFORCEMENT BY ALLIES OF ONE SIDE. The enforcement is dominated by countries that have not been neutral in the conflict. The U.S. and other NATO countries encouraged the Bosniaks to keep fighting and allowed arms to get through to them while enforcing a strict embargo on the other side. These peace enforcers will never be perceived as neutral by either side and that too will lead to future conflicts.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: An alternative view of this is to say that the enforcement parties are on the side of the victims--the majority of the ordinary people on the Bosnian and other sides and against those who promote, carry out and profit from war and violence.

PARNAS OBJECTS: Had the enforcing parties acted sooner, I would believe that. Had they acted even-handedly against all violators of previous agreements, I would believe that. Having watched them prolong the conflict, even fan the flames, I don't believe that NATO was on the side of the victims.

The NATO troops will stay for a year, enforcing borders between the parties, but will not prevent any side from preparing for the next round of fighting. In fact, by providing arms to one side, they will stimulate such preparation.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: The absence of fighting may make future fighting less likely, as all he parties realize the benefits of peace. Here it is critical that economic aid be brought into the region, giving people a stake in peace. Finally, the fact that Serbia, the chief player in the conflict, has had enough is a stabilizing factor. My hopeful prediction is that the peace will last.

PARNAS REPLIES: That is my hope, but not my expectation. The hatreds survived a far longer period of peace in Yugoslavia. The clocks have been reset to zero and the memories of war refreshed.

Andrew notes that both Europe and the U.N. have failed in their interventions and have lost credibility. Why did they fail? The U.N. failed because the U.S. and other NATO powers did not want them to succeed. The U.S. refused to participate in the peacekeeping under U.N. command; they insisted on declaring safe areas without providing the force necessary to keep them safe; they encouraged the weaker party to keep fighting and used their enforcement strength against only one side.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: The idea that the U.N. failed because the U.S. and other NATO powers did not want it to succeed doesn't stand up. I too oppose NATO and most U.S. foreign policy but that doesn't mean that everything they do is wrong. The U.N. failed in Bosnia because it lacked a coherent mandate and sufficient resources. I agree that a functional U.N. intervention would be preferable but that proved to be impossible.

PARNAS REPLIES: Obviously, the reason the U.N. did not have a coherent mandate and sufficient resources was that the U.S. and NATO did not give it the mandate and the resources. They are providing resources now that they could have provided years earlier.

U.S. MOTIVATION. Contrary to Andrew's assertion, this action will not hurt Clinton. Americans who now oppose sending their troops would never have supported Clinton. Those who were wavering because he appeared weak will support him because he now appears strong and determined. This action is supported by those who will profit from it. Even the Republicans are saying that the Bosniaks should have the best arms--which of course are U.S. arms.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: According to the most recent survey I heard on U.S. network news, more than two-thirds of Americans do not support sending troops to Bosnia. The attitude will get even more negative when U.S. casualties start. As for Clinton's recently improved image, I thinks it's mostly the result of the Republicans self-destructing. I saw a survey on U.S. attitudes not long ago and the prevailing attitude is inward looking and isolationistic. Would it be better if the Republicans win the presidency in 1996? As for the idea of selling more arms to parties in the former Yugoslavia, I agree with David.

A MODEL FOR THE FUTURE. In my view the U.N. has a legitimate role as a peace-making, peace-keeping organization, but NATO, a (purportedly defensive) military alliance of wealthy nations, does not. NATO, however, acted as if they wanted an excuse to control the breakup of Yugoslavia and Bosnia and withheld support from the U.N. until they could take over. Everything they are doing now, they could have done under U.N. control. In fact, an even-handed application of force under U.N. control two or three years ago would have saved thousands of lives. A fraction of today's forces would have sufficed if NATO powers had acted under U.N. direction.

PAKULA INTERJECTS I agree that an even-handed application of force under U.N. control two or three years ago would have saved many lives. However, even-handed would have had to mean both the realistic recognition of the difference between aggressor and victim, and not practicing double standards. Three years ago several of us proposed a U.N. protectorate in Bosnia-Herzegovina and parts of Croatia. It fell on deaf ears. As much as I dislike the idea of NATO, the notion that it wanted an excuse to control the breakup of Yugoslavia seems implausible. I think NATO, like nearly everyone else, would have preferred that the crisis in Yugoslavia never happened. Finally, many of the IFOR troops are not from NATO countries. That makes the situation a little better.

PARNAS REBUTS: If that were true, the crisis would not have happened. The present outcome has clear economic advantages for the West. The participation of non-NATO troops under NATO command is a figleaf. If NATO, eager to expand eastward, had tried to station 60,000 troops in the Balkans 5 years ago, they would have met strong resistance. Now, after playing Let's you and him fight for many years, they walk in, establish a vassal state, and are welcomed as heroes.

Andrew proposes a U.N. rapid reaction force, but the Somalia and Bosnian debacles have made that less likely, leaving a vacuum that NATO is happy to fill. The present arrangement is a bad model for the future. It is a model in which a non-neutral alliance allows a civil war to weaken an enemy and then steps in under the guise of peacekeeping.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: I believe the U.N. needs to be reorganized to deal with situations like the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. An armed force would be but an element in a conflict prevention/resolution U.N. agency. The focus would be on prevention of violence, negotiation, meaningful economic sanctions, and force only as the very last resort.

The Alternative

Andrew asks for a reasonable alternative. The world has done what it could and should have done years earlier: enforced a ceasefire. We (Science for Peace) should now be working for:

PAKULA INTERJECTS: At this point, because of its abject failure the U.N. has no credibility with any of the parties and is hated on all sides. Sadly, the U.S. has far more clout with all the players. After some time a return to U.N. control could happen with proper resources and a well-defined mandate. In the meantime, the U.N. needs to be reinvented to handle this and similar conflicts effectively in the future.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: This was accomplished as well as possible during the Dayton negotiations. Reopening those issues would only reopen new wounds and likely cause difficulty. Given the great degree of population mixing, the notion that territories belonged to a given group is propaganda and a premise underlying the horrors of ethnic cleansing.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: Agreed, but an exception should be made in the case of documented war criminals, be they Serbian or Croatian.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: The Dayton intervention includes some non-NATO troops. Given the vicious nature of the war, not many nations would be considered neutral by all the sides.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: Agreed. Also, I think it is critical to ensure that as many refugees as possible return to their homes, thus countering the model of ethnically clean territories, which until this war was never the reality in the region.

PAKULA INTERJECTS: I disagree with the notion that the Dayton agreement is one-sided. It is so only in the sense of taking the side of the victim against the aggressor, albeit imperfectly.

The Dayton document is a bad precedent. It moves us away from a democratic world government towards a new imperial system in which a small number of rich countries dictates solutions to weaker countries.

Games Countries Play

In my view the worst criminals in this mess are outside of the countries involved. The Bosnians and the others were evidently encouraged by quiet assurance that they would be supported if they seceded. That is what gave them the courage to do so, knowing how angry it would make the Bosnian Serbs. That is why they were then so angry when the support they had been led to expect did not come.

It all reminds me of one of those Eric Berne games in his work on transactional analysis: Let's you and him fight. In Berne's games, it was a woman trying to get two men to fight but the technique is much broader. Often your best bet is to get your enemy to self-destruct. I think the Germans and others wanted, without fighting, to get rid of the strong leftist force that Yugoslavia represented. They continued encouraging all the petty politicians until they could just walk in with hardly any opposition. I have been thinking about a writing a work called Games Countries Play.

Andrew Pakula, an antiwar and human rights activist, has a long association with Science for Peace and Peace Magazine.
David Lorge Parnas, a past president of Science for Peace, was converted to the peace movement relatively late in life and questions its effectiveness.

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1996

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1996, page 17. Some rights reserved.

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