Dayton’s End

Any observer of the human condition would do well to keep in mind a simple rule:  "Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence or stupidity." That doesn’t mean there are no sinister conspiracies, or that malice plays no role in many a policy, but it does represent a corollary to Occam’s Razor in matters political.

It has now been fourteen years since the Bosnian War officially ended. The peace treaty was initialed on November 21, at a U.S. airbase near Dayton, Ohio, and officially signed in Paris on December 14, 1995. Given the Manichean perceptions of the war in both the West and the Islamic world, the treaty was surprisingly Solomonic: nominally, Bosnia remained a united state, while in practice it was divided into strongly autonomous "entities." It thus satisfied, or equally frustrated, both the Muslims’ demand for a central government and the Serb and Croat desire for autonomy.

Unfortunately, the way the treaty has been enforced from the very beginning ruined any chances of it becoming a quantum of understanding between Bosnia’s feuding communities. Their conflict today remains just as intractable as it was in 1995 — or 1992.

The Turkish Gambit

In the years since the Dayton Agreement came into force, a series of international viceroys has amended it by decree, undermining both its form and its function. Under the excuse of helping Bosnia join the EU and NATO (both assumed to be desirable and not subject to any sort of debate), the self-proclaimed "international community" has expanded the authority of the central government and diminished that of the entities. They even created a third entity within the country, the Brcko District. In the name of creating a "Brussels Bosnia," they’ve undermined the Dayton one.

The most recent "reform" initiative, launched in mid-October, fizzled out spectacularly. Being nothing but a re-hash of an old proposal, shot down by the Empire’s own Muslim protégé, it not only failed to live up to the hype that preceded it, but probably did much to erode what little authority the "international community" had left. At which point the Turkish Foreign Minister rode in, with quips about Ottoman revival and "reintegration" of the Balkans to where it was during the "golden age" of the 1500s.

All of this has led one former Bosnian politician, currently living in Serbia, to wonder whether the Butmir talks were designed to fail in order to provide the Turks with a pretext for involvement. If the Americans sought to turn the Balkans over to a Turkey that has recently turned away from the West, then both the Balkans peoples, Russia and Europe "ought to doubt either the good intentions, or the judgment of the American administration," Nenad Kecmanovic wrote.

Great Expectations

It is quite possible Kecmanovic is reading too much into the failure of the Butmir talks. Over the past fourteen years, a large, cumbersome and thoroughly incompetent international bureaucracy has sprouted up in Bosnia, and its many branches are often at odds with each other. For all the official commitment in Washington and Brussels to a "functional Bosnian state," no one there or on the ground seems to have any clue what that actually means, or how to bring it about. Granted, that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying, or that their attempts cannot cause harm. Quite possibly the worst consequence of this constant effort to reinvent Dayton beyond recognition is that it created unrealistic expectations among the Bosnian Muslims.

Between the propaganda of their own leaders and that of the Western press during and after the conflict, a great many Muslims have come to see themselves as the war’s sole and purely innocent victims. This has resulted in a complete lack of ability to relate to Bosnia’s Serbs or Croats, as well as an entitlement mentality towards the West. This was a cause of considerable frustration to the Americans in Dayton, but has continued to manifest itself in ridiculous ways ever since. The viceroys’ gutting of Dayton and all the talk about a "functional state" have led the Muslims to believe that the West intends to grant them a centralized Bosnia, and are growing frustrated that it has failed to materialize. The fact that their portion of Bosnia has been broke for a while now is only adding to the sense of urgency.

Delusions can be a dangerous thing. In 1992, Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic actually agreed on a plan to decentralize the country as a condition of Serbs and Croats accepting its independence. Following a visit by the last U.S. ambassador to then-Yugoslavia, Warren Zimmerman, he reneged on that agreement and declared independence anyway. Whether Zimmerman had an April Glaspie moment or not, Izetbegovic believed he had U.S. backing. The result was an entirely avoidable conflagration that cost 100,000 lives.

From Delusions to Division

Why this insistence on a centralized Bosnia? Washington and Brussels claim they desire a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, tolerant democracy. Yet they supported and orchestrated the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, which actually was a multi-ethnic and multicultural country, and replaced it with a collection of ethnically cleansed, intolerant satrapies. Furthermore, they’ve dismembered Serbia (by declaring the "independence" of its occupied province of Kosovo) years after installing a client regime in Belgrade they themselves have termed sufficiently "democratic." There is no principle at work here, none at all, save power for the sake of power.

Malicious, indeed. But there is stupidity as well, seen in the way the Bosnian War was dressed up by the West as well as Islamic militants to mean what they wanted it to mean, or the pernicious conviction of some U.S. politicians that pandering to Muslims in the Balkans might ingratiate them to jihadists worldwide.

As power seeps out of Empire’s hands, however, and dreams of jihadist friendship remain unrequited, other opinions begin to gain traction. People who have previously toed the official line begin to grumble against further building of castles in the sand. One former international official has even advanced the argument that accepting Bosnia’s divisions may be the best course of action.


Commenting on the recent decision to continue escalating the pointless war in Afghanistan, Cmdr. Jeff Huber (USN, Ret.) wrote: "God help America. We have no strategy. We have no achievable objectives. We have no idea what we’re doing."

Such words could certainly describe the U.S. policy towards Bosnia, with great accuracy. For a moment, in the fall of 1995, it looked as if a solution had been found for the Bosnian knot. The weapons have been silent ever since, and that is an unequivocal success. But it is people, not weapons, that fight wars. Over the past fourteen years, the people of Bosnia have failed to make peace with each other. Their own leaders are to blame for some of that, to be sure. But if responsibility is proportional to power, then the lion’s share of the blame belongs to Bosnia’s foreign overlords and the policies they have pursued — stupid, malicious, or both. 

The peace achieved in Dayton has largely unraveled by now. What happens next is anybody’s guess.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.