Assistant to the President for
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not been turned over to the War Crimes Tribunal or fully withdrawn from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
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.
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
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
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
President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House
White House for Kids | White House History
White House Tours | Help | Text Only