One lesson that emerges here is timing, according to Bosnians,
Americans and Europeans. If the world is going to intervene in a
conflict, the earlier, they say, the better. Bosnia today shows that the
longer the fighting drags on, the more tortuous the postwar peace.
On a daily basis, Muslims, Serbs and Croats interact and exchange
polite greetings here, but they live separate lives. Across the country,
killed during the war haunt the living. Admonitions to turn the other
cheek are well and good, but there is little reconciliation.
Exhaustive but slow-moving international war-crimes trials
have created a detailed historical record of the atrocities carried out
here. But Serb, Croat and Muslim nationalists all see themselves as
victims and reject responsibility for war crimes committed by their own
community. Future generations, one hopes, may be more accepting.
The second lesson is that without reliable local allies implementing
reforms is virtually impossible. International efforts to promote more
moderate political parties have failed here. Nationalist Serb, Croat and
Muslim parties have won elections, consolidated power and resisted
change. Foreign powers have found that they cannot control local
political dynamics. Bosnians call the state of politics today "war by
other means," with nationalists continuing their struggles through
words, not bullets.
"It's difficult for outsiders to rearrange the political chairs
inside these countries," said R. Nicholas Burns, a retired senior
American diplomat who worked on the Balkans for the Clinton and Bush
administrations. "It's going to be up to local people to do that."
Today, only 600 European soldiers keep the peace. Milorad Dodik, the
current leader of the Bosnian Serbs, uses veto powers and the convoluted
government structure created as a compromise in Dayton to block efforts
to strengthen the central government. Repeated Western efforts to
update the country's postwar constitution have failed. Foreign diplomats
now hope that the carrot of European Union and NATO membership will
turn voters against hardliners.
A third and final lesson focuses on civilian aid. When it comes to
postwar reconstruction efforts, less is more. The United States and
Europe tried to quickly create virtually every aspect of a new Bosnian
state: a new army, police force, economy, infrastructure and education
The $1.65 billion American civilian aid effort was too broad and too
focused on immediate results, according to Westerners and Bosnians.
(Ninety percent of the U.S. money spent here - roughly $15 billion
- covered the cost of the American troop deployment.) Foreign aid
programs followed a predictable but perverse pattern. Donors demanded
quick results. Aid officials, in turn, designed projects that met
American political needs in Washington, not Bosnian needs on the ground.