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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Civil Bosnian Divorce

The Dayton accord on Bosnia is without question a great political achievement for U.S. diplomacy and for the world community. Enormous political efforts, however, are needed to prevent the accord from failing, which could undermine not only stability and peace in the Balkans but the very idea of partnership between Russia and the United States and with the West as a whole.

Without a doubt, the main achievement of the accord was putting a stop to the military conflict -- conflict which, in the words of the Russian ambassador in Brussels, Vitaly Churkin, "undermined not only European stability but the foundation of European civilization, of which Russia is a part." Russia's involvement in carrying out the military and other aspects of the accord will help in overcoming the impression that it has been squeezed out of the decision-making process.

No less important, for the first time since 1945, armed Russian soldiers are carrying out joint military actions with Americans. The creation of the Implementation Force, or IFOR, under the supervision of the UN Security Council, has helped to allay Russian concerns that this organization will be substituted by NATO.

It is entirely possible that the way the international community acts in Bosnia will allow for a future system of European security. The differences in the way the various sides view IFOR's mission and how the areas of competence in Bosnia should be divided, however, pose some obstacles to this. While the job of monitoring the military troops in the conflict and creating the four-kilometer corridors between them is more or less clear, the division of responsibilities of the IFOR soldiers within the sectors is not well defined.

The international military contingents are unlikely to be the objects of attack. Rather, it is a question of how, and by whom, the almost inevitable continuation of violence, albeit on a lesser scale, between the conflicting sides within the divided-up sectors, will be resolved.

The civil war gave rise to several stereotypes in both the United States and Russia. U.S. Senate majority leader Robert Dole, for example, considered "Serb aggression in the Balkans and the genocide they are carrying out" to be a threat to U.S. interests. The then-chairman of the Federation Council, Viktor Shumeiko, trying to convince his colleagues to send Russian troops to the Balkans, said, "It is impossible to show our people why the Croats, who sided with the SS, today are good, and the Serbs, who supported us in the anti-Hitler coalition, today are bad ... People cannot be divided into who is good and bad ... The presence of our troops will precisely make a point of this." It is also widely known in Russia that Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic was imprisoned immediately after World War II for recruiting young Moslems into the ranks of the SS.

But the main obstacle to carrying out the Dayton accord is that many of the goals that were set were based on an inadequate understanding of the situation in the Balkans. The promise to return all refugees who were forced from their homes as a result of the war, for example, is highly improbable. First, the majority of refugees do not want to return to the places where they lost family members and property and where they cannot be assured of their safety. Second, many of them would have nowhere to go. Either their homes have been destroyed or are now occupied by other people. Third, even if all refugees could return to their homes, the very same ethnic composition that was one of the reasons for the start of the conflict would be re-established.

The announcement that Sarajevo would be under a Moslem administration has already led to a mass exodus of Serbs from the city. Thus, a large-scale return of refugees is highly unlikely, and any attempt to ensure one by force could undermine the entire peace settlement.

However, the biggest threat is tied to the fact that the peace settlement is based on U.S. conceptions of universal principles in building a democratic civil society, which have been mechanically transferred to a very specific and complex part of Europe. Traditional U.S. principles are based on the idea that religious affiliation and national or ethnic roots are part of private and social life. On the political level, there is an understanding of citizenship and the rights and freedoms of the individual. These two spheres should not be confused. In Los Angeles, racial tensions could be settled through such principles. In Bosnia they are ill-suited to the task.

It will take not one year but at least three generations before a Bosnian nation and a civil society, which unites various confessions and ethnic groups and is governed by effective political institutions, can be established. The Moslem-Croat federation, which was held together solely by a common enemy, is already coming unraveled, and the events in Mostar only confirm its short-lived viability.

The military operation of IFOR began very successfully. For these successes to continue at least three questions must be addressed. First, is Bosnia capable of returning all the refugees who were dislocated during the war and will such a return strengthen the stability and security in the region? Second, will the international forces be able to help create a Bosnian nation and build a civil society with functioning democratic institutions? Third, does Bosnia have a chance of preserving a united government within the present recognized borders after the international forces leave? And if we cannot be certain of a positive response to any one of these questions, and creating a "happy family" in Bosnia proves to be impossible, then it is worth keeping open the option of a "civilized divorce."

Alexander Konovalov is the director of the Center for Military Policy at the Academy of Sciences' Institute of the United States and Canada. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.