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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Stay Course on Dayton

It has become fashionable to be pessimistic about the peace process in Bosnia. Some critics want to do away with the framework for peace established by the Dayton peace accords and let the staunch nationalists and extremists fulfill their evil dreams of ethnic purity imposed by force. For that is what their proposed approach -- partition -- would achieve.

Despite the fact that we are still some distance away from the goal of a stable, single, democratic and multiethnic state in Bosnia, dismissing the accords overlooks substantial achievements and good prospects for further progress.

First and foremost, the fighting has stopped, and more than 370,000 troops have returned to civilian life. Heavy weapons have been put under the supervision of the Stabilization Force (SFOR, the peacekeeping force led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and, by the end of this month, more than 6,000 of them held by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and former Yugoslavia are expected to be dismantled.

Infrastructure is being reconnected and rebuilt. Last year, more than 320 kilometers of roads were put back in service, 15,000 housing units repaired, heating restored to 32,000 households, 400 schools repaired, 40 cities had their water and sewage systems repaired, and electric power service has been restored in all major cities and many rural areas.

Normalcy is returning to everyday life, unemployment has dropped from 90 percent to 50 percent, real gross domestic product has almost doubled since 1995. Roughly 150,000 refugees have returned to Bosnia from abroad; more than 160,000 internally displaced persons have returned to their homes.

In the federation, joint police forces are being formed. Local police, including in the Republika Srpska, are showing increased willingness to work with the UN International Police Task Force in retraining and restructuring.

The recent transfer to The Hague of 10 Bosnian Croats indicted for war crimes shows that the international community is justified in remaining unrelenting in its demand that justice and law prevail in the former Yugoslavia.

Joint institutions of governance and civic administration are beginning to function. The Bosnian presidency and Council of Ministers meet regularly, the Constitutional Court and the Parliamentary Assembly are up and running. And structures for military cooperation have been established between armies that not long ago were fighting each other.

Perhaps most encouraging have been the recent municipal elections, an essential part of democratic institution-building. Although the results still need to be implemented, these elections have revealed growing cracks in the ranks of the extremist political forces. The people who support peace have, through the ballot box, dared to challenge the "Dayton wreckers."

And not only has there been an advance of political pluralism in such formerly troubled cities such as Banja Luka and Tuzla, a recent independent poll shows that substantial majorities of Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs want to live in a multiethnic state as proposed under Dayton.

The evidence simply does not support recent suggestions that Bosnia be partitioned into ethnic ministates.

Partition may seem a simple fix to the complex and sometimes frustrating task of implementing Dayton.

However, partition would be morally wrong and strategically reckless. It would have us imprudently endanger the peace just when our active approach to implementing Dayton has begun to pay off.

Partition would reward aggression and extremism, with potentially terrible consequences elsewhere, and it would betray the majority of the Bosnian people. It also would waste our massive international effort to create a better future for Bosnia.

Partition would not only be catastrophic for the people of Bosnia, but also highly destabilizing for wider Europe. It thus would run against the strategic interests of all NATO allies. It is foolish to think that carving up Bosnia will avoid future fighting.

Formalizing ethnic division through forced separation would decrease the chances for reconciliation, while breeding mutual mistrust and nationalist extremism.

The peace brought by Dayton was hard won, but can be easily lost if we lose patience and show signs of disunity and vacillation. Merely debating partition encourages Bosnian authorities at all levels to back off from implementing Dayton in order to see whether the West intends to change course.

As for NATO and SFOR, our guidance is clear. Allied leaders, at the recent NATO summit in Madrid, directed that the SFOR mandate be "carried out to its fullest" to help accelerate Dayton implementation.

Now is not the time to hesitate or to send contradictory signals. Let us stay the course of our common approach, set out at Dayton. Perseverance will ultimately be rewarded.

Javier Solana is secretary general of NATO. He contributed this comment to the Los Angeles Times.