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Bosnia After Dayton

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Anthony Lake
Assistant to the President for
National Security Affairs

Georgetown University
Bosnia After Dayton

June 14, 1996

Six months ago today in Paris, the leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia made a fateful decision: to turn Bosnia from the horror of war to the promise of peace.

Many of you in this room closely followed the Dayton negotiations that produced the peace accord. You know that, literally until the last minute, the outcome was in doubt -- indeed, our negotiators had their bags packed and, in the early morning hours, were ready to head home without an agreement. But the Balkan leaders decided, in the end, to make peace. They did so because, in the cold light of that Dayton dawn, the alternative simply was too terrible to pursue: renewed war, with all the horrors that came with it -- skeletal prisoners... mass graves... endless lines of refugees... economic chaos... international isolation... a wasted future.

Understanding the alternatives makes it easier to take difficult steps -- and since Dayton, that is what has kept the parties moving forward along the path to a lasting peace. Slowly... grudgingly... sometimes two steps forward, one step back. But moving forward. For three and a half years, the people of Bosnia lived the day-in, day-out destruction of war. These past six months, they have begun to enjoy the quiet blessings of peace. The more they understand the choice between war and peace... the starker it seems... the more likely peace will endure.

With that dynamic in mind, I'd like to discuss with you today what we've accomplished since Dayton, what we haven't accomplished, and the hard work that lies ahead. I don't want to play down the disappointments we've encountered so far, or the difficulties we still have to face. Freedom of movement, expression and association are not nearly as free as they should be. Indicted war criminals, most notably Radovan Karadzic and General Mladic, have not been turned over to the War Crimes Tribunal or fully withdrawn from authority. Fewer refugees have returned home than we would like. Economic activity is just resuming.

But I would ask everyone here first to step back for just a moment and look at the central facts. One year ago, war raged in Bosnia -- the worst war in Europe since World War II. Today, there is peace. A very fragile, imperfect peace, to be sure. But peace. That change -- from war to peace -- is the single most important fact of life for the people of Bosnia. It means that killing fields are once again playgrounds. That cafes and marketplaces are full of life, not death. That running an errand doesn't mean running a death race against snipers and shells. That women are no longer prey to systematic campaigns of rape and terror. That the water and lights are on... and there is shelter from the wind and the cold. Peace means all these very basic things. As we work to make sure peace endures, we must not lose sight of its reality.

Thus far, the peace has held because IFOR, the NATO Implementation Force, has done its carefully defined job -- and done it very well. In the days after Dayton, when President Clinton committed 20,000 American troops to lead a 60,000 strong IFOR force, the skeptics predicted gloom and doom. They warned of terrorism... renewed fighting... American casualties... and embarrassing retreat.

The reality has been the opposite. IFOR has maintained the cease-fire and compelled the parties to pull back their forces and weapons from a 3-mile wide separation zone -- without significant incident. Nearly all heavy weapons have been placed under IFOR supervision and many will be destroyed as part of the arms control agreement to be signed in the next few days. Already, more than 100,000 soldiers not based in barracks have been demobilized. And hundreds of square miles of territory were transferred from one entity to another without a shot being fired.

IFOR also has stopped the widespread killing of civilians and restored security to Sarajevo, where people now walk the streets in safety. Virtually all prisoners of war have been released and those few still in custody are being held as war crimes suspects. IFOR has moved aggressively to take down internal checkpoints and, while far from perfect, freedom of movement has improved -- between ten and fifteen thousand people cross the boundary between the Bosnia-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic every day.

As the climate in Bosnia becomes more secure, humanitarian assistance and reconstruction efforts have begun -- slowly -- to improve the lives of its people. On the American side alone, we've already spent $86 million in "Quick Impact" aid the President announced after Dayton -- restoring heat, hot water and electricity and providing medicine and winter clothing for hundreds of thousands of Bosnians. The recent Donors' Conference in Brussels added $1.2 billion to the $600 million raised earlier for Bosnian economic recovery -- including an American pledge of $200 million in reconstruction aid for this fiscal year, in addition to over $350 million in humanitarian aid, support for elections, demining and other initiatives.

As I speak to you, dozens of projects are underway -- to build new housing... to rehabilitate utilities, schools, community centers... to fix roads and factories -- that will have a tangible impact on the way people live. To cite just a few examples, we have a program up and running to repair 2500 homes for 12,500 people in 44 villages that will also provide 2000 new jobs. Next month, we will begin spending $70 million to rebuild Bosnia's economic infrastructure. And we'll start disbursing an equal amount in loans to small businesses and industrial enterprises to jump-start the economy, create jobs and spur growth.

As President Clinton made clear in committing our troops to IFOR, the point of this extraordinary international effort is straightforward: to give the people of Bosnia the breathing room they need to begin to rebuild their lives and their land... and to give peace a chance to take on a life and logic of its own.

President Clinton has made equally clear what the point is not: it is not to take on responsibilities that are not our own -- and to create in Bosnia an unsustainable dependency instead of giving its people a chance to act independently. The United States is not in the business of building other nations -- but we can help nations build themselves, and give them time to make a start of it.

That's why the next step in the Dayton process -- Bosnia-wide elections -- is so important. Only after elections are held will the Constitution fully take effect... only after elections are held can the structures of a unified Bosnian state be created... only after elections are held will Bosnia have a Parliament, a Presidency and a Constitutional Court that represent the interests of all the people of Bosnia, including the hundreds of thousands of refugees and millions of displaced persons...only after elections are held will government agencies be up and running and able to pursue foreign trade and oversee customs and immigration... only after elections are held can the promise of Dayton be shaped into a political reality.

A few hours ago in Florence, Bob Frowick, the head of the OSCE mission in Bosnia, recommended that the OSCE certify that conditions will be suitable for holding free and fair elections in Bosnia on September 14 -- as called for in the Dayton Agreement. The Clinton Administration strongly supports that recommendation, and we hope and expect the OSCE will endorse it soon.

Some people who share our goals in Bosnia disagree. They would postpone elections beyond the Dayton deadline because the parties have, as of this moment, failed to meet all the necessary conditions. Let me tell you why we believe they are wrong.

If you took a snapshot of Bosnia, would it show that conditions for fair elections exist right now? The answer is no. But that's the wrong picture to look at. Our focus should be on whether those conditions will exist by September 14. And if you switch from still frames to moving pictures and pan three months down the road, very different images of Bosnia will begin to unfold. They would show people taking small, steady steps every day to put in place the mechanisms for free and fair elections -- just as they have for the past six months by opening up new media outlets so more voices can be heard... by forming new political parties representing different points of view... by setting up local election committees to oversee voter registration. I believe those are the images we will see more and more of between now and election day. Here's why:

The very fact of setting an election date is a forcing event. It will concentrate the minds of the parties on the progress they must still make -- and that they committed to in Dayton -- to expand freedom of movement and association... open the news media to opposition candidates and viewpoints... give refugees and displaced persons the ability to vote and run for office in their original places of residence...make sure that war criminals have no part in the electoral process. We will hold them to those commitments. And 3200 international supervisors and monitors will make sure the elections themselves run smoothly and openly.

Some assert that elections risk cementing the hold of extremists on Bosnia and, in effect, partitioning the country. Well, it's a little hypocritical for those of us who wave democracy's banner around the world to say that, just because you fear the possible result of an election, you shouldn't hold it. Besides, as the campaign proceeds and more voices and viewpoints are heard, the forces of tolerance will grow stronger. We will work hard to return more refugees and organizing absentee voting. The sooner elections are held, the sooner people of different backgrounds will begin to work together and bridge some of the differences that divide them.

The argument that elections will hasten partition fails to explain how delaying them could possibly make things any better. On the contrary, it would make things worse for the Bosnian people. Without the incentive of an election and a deadline, we'd see less progress -- not more -- on freedom of movement, speech and association and on refugee rights. Delay would freeze into place the status quo... prevent practical interaction between the Federation and the Serb Republic... reinforce extremism and promote separatism on all sides. As the Balkan leaders said in Geneva earlier this month: "Delay in the elections risks widening the divisions which continue to exist."

You don't have to take their word for it -- or mine for that matter. Listen to the people who matter most -- the Bosnian people. Polls show that the average Bosnian -- whether Muslim, Croat or Serb -- wants elections. Ninety-three percent of Bosnia's Muslims, 79% of the Croats and an equal number of Bosnia's Serbs said elections are important. The overwhelming majority of each group intends to vote -- 93% of the Muslims, 86% of the Croats, 80% of the Serbs. So instead of making the perfect the enemy of the good, we should heed the will of the Bosnian people and move forward with elections. If they want to vote, we shouldn't stop them.

Some people point to the continued presence of Karadzic as reason enough to postpone elections. We all want him out of power, out of Bosnia -- and in the Hague to stand trial for war crimes. But let me remind you: under Dayton, he can't run for public office. He can't hold public office. So even if he's still there come September, elections would guarantee his removal from official positions of authority. Postponing elections might, ironically, allow him to cling to power.

There's been some confusion about what we've done and what we will do between now and election day to work for the removal of Karadzic and Mladic. First, we will continue to pressure President Milosevic to make good on his commitment in Dayton and strengthen alternative political forces within the Serb Republic.

And, to be very clear: IFOR has not been given the mission of hunting down indicted war criminals -- indeed, the reason IFOR has been so successful so far is that we have insisted on limiting its mandate to clearly achievable military goals. But let there be no mistake: if IFOR comes into contact with Karadzic and Mladic, it will detain them. Now that IFOR has completed most of its military tasks, it will conduct more visible and wide ranging security patrols throughout Bosnia. This will have the added benefit of restricting Karadzic and Mladic's freedom of movement. It will make their active participation in the election campaign extremely risky and extremely difficult.

Elections are a part of the beginning, not the end, of the hard work required to bring democracy to Bosnia. After so much bloodshed and loss, there is no guarantee that Muslims, Croats and Serbs will come together -- and stay together -- as citizens of a shared state with a common destiny. But the whole point of Dayton is to give them the chance to try. Elections are the necessary next step along the long, difficult road to a unified, peaceful Bosnia. If we let them slip, other crucial provisions of the Dayton plan could slip. And that's a slope we don't want to be on. Thus far, we've held to Dayton with fierce determination. Now, it is our responsibility to bring that same determination to making sure the elections in Bosnia are free and fair.

As we look to the elections and beyond, it is absolutely vital that we avoid the paralysis of pessimism. That's an affliction common to just about every difficult foreign policy initiative. If we had let it overcome us in Haiti, we never would have sent our troops to pave the way for democracy's return. After all, the chorus of Chicken Littles was deafening -- Port au Prince will burn... Aristide will never return... the elections will never be held... Aristide won't step down. And so on. Well, Haiti still has a long way to go. But we can be very proud of what we achieved. The dictators are gone, democracy is back, the flow of refugees to our shores has stopped, and the Haitian people have their best chance ever to build a decent future in freedom.

In Bosnia, it's not hard to find places we've fallen short of our goals. The pace of economic reconstruction is too slow. Not enough refugees have returned to Bosnia and too few people within Bosnia have been able to reclaim their old homes. Political reconciliation has not yet met our expectations -- not just between Muslims and Serbs, but also between Muslims and Croats who have worked together as part of the Federation for two years now.

But instead of throwing up our hands in despair at the problems, we must redouble our efforts -- and solve them. That means seeing the elections through. But it also means making clear that our commitment to Bosnia's future extends well beyond the elections and the withdrawal of IFOR. Not by acting as a guarantor. Not by doing the hard work in place of the Bosnian people. But by doing our part for a lasting peace as long as they do theirs.

In the months ahead, the people of Bosnia can count on us to help them strengthen democratic institutions. To establish a stable military balance of power. To monitor the departure of foreign forces. To train a civilian police force. To help more refugees return. To secure cooperation with the War Crimes Tribunal. To help foster economic reconstruction, growth and prosperity. These are the building blocks of peace. As each one falls into place, the peace will become more and more secure.

That's a lot to accomplish. No one can guarantee we will succeed -- or that the Bosnian people will succeed. But already, in less than a year, we've changed the face of Bosnia. The war is over. The peace is just beginning. If we have faith in its promise while fearing its failure -- and if we work away at its problems -- peace in Bosnia can last, it will last. That's our mission. Not just for those of us in government, but for all those who care so deeply about Bosnia's future, including many people I see in this room today. Some of us have disagreed on tactics in the past. No doubt we'll continue to have our differences in the months to come. So let's keep debating. But above all, let's keep acting, and moving forward, together. We owe at least that to the people of Bosnia.

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