- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2001

As the Bush administration reassesses U.S. policy in Bosnia, its desire to withdraw American forces may attract it to seemingly quick and easy proposals to divide the country. The specter of partitioning Bosnia raises its head from time to time, but never withstands serious scrutiny. Instead of pursuing superficial shortcuts, the Bush administration would be wise to recalibrate U.S. Bosnia policy to address the fundamental obstacles to Bosnian stability and an American exit.
Partition enthusiasts premise their case on the myth that Bosnians of different ethnicity have always slaughtered each other and always will. In reality there have been long periods of multiethnic peace in Bosnias history, symbolized by the mosques, Orthodox and Catholic churches, which for centuries and under various governments shared skylines throughout the country. As ruthless demagogues like Slobodan Milosevic climbed to power in the 1980s and 1990s, they manipulated latent ethnic tension among a sizeable portion of Bosnias population, whipping their followers into a nationalist frenzy. These nationalist leaders fed off of each other in a cycle of fear, manufacturing the war that tore apart multiethnic society.
Today, there would be no better way to rekindle war in Bosnia than to attempt its partition. Doing so would give a green light to nationalist forces to proceed with the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of minorities living on the "wrong" side of any new borders. The old cycle of fear would lead to rapid rearming and violence. NATO would then be forced to choose between trying to stop renewed warfare or itself presiding over a new round of "ethnic cleansing." Either way, partition would extend NATOs required presence in the Balkans for many years. Croatia no longer has designs on the predominantly Croat part of Bosnia, and partition would reward and revitalize dreams of a "Greater Serbia" not yet extinct in Belgrade, destabilizing the whole region. The Bush team will quickly realize that proposals for partition are half-baked, wrong, and do not even fulfill its goal of U.S. troop withdrawal.
With so little progress in Bosnia since the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement five-and-a-half years ago, what then can the Bush administration do to successfully wind-down the 20 percent U.S. contribution indispensable to the NATO presence in Bosnia? It must first realize that failure to come close to the goal of Bosnian stability results from the Clinton administrations failure to adequately address Bosnias core problems.
Many of the war criminals most to blame for the conflict, most notoriously Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, roam among our NATO forces with impunity walking symbols of extremist defiance and power. There will be no self-sustaining stability in Bosnia until Karadzic and the rest are arrested by NATO and sent to the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague. The Clinton administration and the Pentagon made excuses. If the Bush administration orders arrests it will already have one foot out the door.
Even in the post-Milosevic era, the Belgrade government still funds, recruits and organizes the Bosnian Serb army and intelligence service, actively undermining the Bosnian state. The Bush team should reject the Clinton administrations timidity and take advantage of its financial leverage over Serbia. Congress has required Belgrade to meet conditions by March 31 to continue receiving American aid and support for international financing. Accordingly, the Bush administration can insist that it will only certify Belgrades compliance when it has fully severed ties to the Bosnian Serb security services. The administration can then seek to rapidly disband Bosnias three armies, replacing them with a larger, unified State Border Service, which would strengthen Bosnias central government.
The Bush administration should likewise spurn the State Departments inclination to coddle Serbias new leaders despite their failure to meet the other March 31 criteria cooperation with the war crimes tribunal and respect for human rights. Lowering the bar for Serbia would repeat the Clinton administrations failed policy towards Russia by putting support for personalities over support for policies. It would also encourage Bosnian Serb obstruction of the tribunal, again working counter to stability and an American exit strategy from Bosnia.
As the HDZ an endangered ultranationalist and Mafia-riddled Bosnian Croat party seeks to build illegal secessionist institutions in a desperate last grasp at power, the administration must look past the hardliners bluster. If the United States leads, NATO can shut down illegal structures in accordance with its mandate and decisions of the international High Representative for Bosnia. Signals of weakness now will add years to NATOs mission.
The political system designed by nationalist and corrupt Bosnian politicians at Dayton has unsurprisingly favored nationalist and corrupt politicians ever since. Imperative for the Bush administration will be recognizing that it makes much more sense to fix a fundamentally broken system than to try to prop it up, hoping it fixes itself. Commissions currently reviewing the constitutions of Republika Srpska and the Muslim- Croat Federation Bosnias semiautonomous halves should be encouraged to transfer authority back to central institutions and overhaul structures which now reward nationalists.
To similarly disarm nationalists in Bosnias central structures, the Bush administration can push for reformulated election laws, beyond the tinkering around the margins already proposed by the High Representative and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
With the election law, as in all of these areas, the Bush administration can lead the international community in setting higher standards by which to define progress in Bosnia, abandoning the self-defeating declarations of success with every incremental step away from a state of war. To do so, the administration will have to pursue bold policies adequate to solving Bosnias fundamental problems. Only then can the United States withdraw from a stable Bosnia at peace.

Eric A. Witte is an analyst at the Coalition for International Justice.


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