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INFO   :::  Region > Bosnia - PAGE 1 > Dayton plus 20, again


Dayton plus 20, again

Daniel Serwer

November 21, 2015



Here are the conclusions I offered at the Dayton Peace Accords at 20 Conference in Dayton, Ohio, which ended yesterday:

Context matters. Dayton was not just about Bosnia but represented a test of the West’s effort to achieve a Europe whole and free at the start of the post-Cold War era. That’s one reason it got the attention it did.

US leadership was critical, but so too were the local, European and Russian contributions. Even when it leads, the US needs partners and has to work with whoever is available.

Getting both the civilian and military elements of US power pointed towards a clear goal is extraordinarily difficult. Dick Holbrooke excelled at it.

Negotiating with your own people and lining things up can be the hardest part of a negotiation. A lot was agreed before Dayton, both within the US government and within the international contact group, that was crucial to the ultimate agreement.

Two subjects are often neglected, including at Dayton: economics and rule of law. They should not be left aside, the first because resources are always an issue and the second because it is vital and takes so long to establish.

Dayton worked because it provided opportunities for powersharing and local autonomy.

It is these vital characteristics of 1995 that are causing problems twenty years later.

Inclusivity matters in ending a war, even if it makes statebuilding more difficult.

Clear, shared goals are important, but so too is the process for getting to them.

Timing is particularly important. It is not clear, for example, that Syria is ripe for a negotiated settlement. Bosnia was, largely due to the Federation offensive and Milosevic’s need for an end to the war.


The war did end but the ethnoterritorial conflict continues even today. Bosnia remains far from the ideals its young people, several of whom spoke at Dayton, cherish: tolerance, respect, equality and cooperation. The ways forward are clear, but precisely how to achieve them is not:

The Reform Agenda the EU, IMF and IBRD are pursuing is part of the solution, in particular if privatization is conducted in transparent ways that prevent state assets falling into the hands of crony capitalists.

Corruption is a major issue, but how to get it under control is not clear.

An independent judiciary is vital to accountability. The referendum proposed in Republika Srpska would undermine the state judiciary and weaken prospects for accountability.

Political reforms that go beyond the Reform Agenda will be necessary. This should include changes to the electoral system that encourage more accountability, like single-member electoral constituencies.

Separate ethnic education is an unfortunate and persistent consequence of the war. Integrated education in magnet schools (offering, for example, science, technology, engineering and mathematics or education in English) is one possible path towards a solution.

Increased respect for human rights–both of individuals and groups–is important for all.


While these needs are clear, the balance between international and Bosnian efforts is not. Some think the international community has to be more forceful than it has been in the last decade. Others think responsibility now lies principally with the Bosnians, who should get international support, principally through the European Union.

While progress in recent years has been slow and serious obstacles remain, I believe that 20 years from now Bosnia and Herzegovina will be an established member in good standing of both NATO and the European Union. That is a worthy objective that should motivate both the Bosnians and the international community.



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