The Lesser Evil: The Best Way Out of the Balkans

The Lesser Evil: The Best Way Out of the Balkans

Mini Teaser: Unless the United States wants to occupy the Balkans for decades to come, it will have to contemplate withdrawal under imperfect and unappealing circumstances.

by Author(s): Richard K. Betts

Self-government and stability are at odds because it was conflict over the conditions of self-government--the lack of congruence between cultural and political communities--that caused the explosions in the first place. The essential issues are the number, form and boundaries of independent governments--that is, which units constitute the "selves" of self-government--when sovereignty ceases to be limited by occupation. Would the solution be autonomy for ethnically defined territorial areas within a Bosnia and a Yugoslavia that are organized as loose confederations (the current situation in Bosnia, the official aim of the outside powers for Kosovo)? Or self-government for a genuinely unified Bosnia and a Yugoslavia that includes the province of Kosovo, both as multi-ethnic states? Or self-government of smaller, ethnically defined states in formal partitions of the larger units that are currently the juridically legitimate ones?

At present, peace in both Bosnia and Kosovo depends on a blatant contradiction between principle and practice. As long as outside powers continue to run the region, these contradictions can be finessed and may even be useful. If full self-government is ever to develop, however, they have to be resolved. In Bosnia it will be hard to honor legal obligations while meeting the other criteria for success, unless the Dayton agreement is revised. In Kosovo it will be impossible to honor legal obligations to Belgrade without betraying the Albanian population for whom the war was allegedly fought in the first place.

Bosnia remains at peace only because the unified political structure established by the Dayton Accord does not function. Officially the single state is composed of two "entities"--the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska--but each has veto rights over actions of the central government. (There are actually three entities, as the Federation has broken down into Croat and Muslim areas that cooperate only minimally, with the Croat side increasingly asserting its separateness.) What is the real function of the unified state, if any, when the fundamental divisions behind the war remain in place during the peace? As Ivo Daalder observes, "By incorporating rather than resolving the fundamental disagreement among the parties about Bosnia's future, Dayton assured that its implementation would become little more than the continuation of conflict by other means." What makes this situation preferable to formal partition, other than a belief that a hypocritical liberal fiction is better than a legitimized reactionary reality?

Kosovo remains at peace because its internationally recognized status as a component of the Yugoslav state--the price of getting Belgrade to end the 1999 war--is a fiction. The crucial concession that Belgrade got was the elimination of the Rambouillet ultimatum's provision for eventual disposition of sovereignty over Kosovo according to the will of the province's people--a prescription for eventual independence. Annex II of Security Council Resolution 1244, adopted June 10, 1999, affirms the aim of "substantial self-government for Kosovo", but recognizes "the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" and stipulates "the demilitarization of uck." This is an inherent contradiction even greater than that in the Dayton Accord. Only in a wishful scenario of assured self-restraint by Belgrade could Kosovo's juridical status as part of Yugoslavia be made real without betraying the Albanians of Kosovo. Only with a potent army of its own would Kosovo have any reason for confidence that its autonomy would be safe.

Now, in contrast to the scheme embodied in the Rambouillet ultimatum, occupying powers cannot grant Kosovo independence without violating the terms of the agreement that ended the 1999 war. Nor can NATO violate that provision of the agreement without expelling the UN from jurisdiction, since the Security Council has a central legal role in the occupation. And, as Barry Posen has explained, unless Russia and China agree otherwise, the Security Council cannot relinquish responsibility: "Paragraph 19 of the Security Council resolution of June 10, 1999, declares that 'the international civil and security presences are established for an initial period of 12 months, to continue thereafter until the Security Council decides otherwise.' Thus, if either the Chinese or Russians choose not to decide otherwise, insofar as both have veto power, Security Council control over Kosovo will last forever."

The overlapping UN and NATO roles in the Balkans reflect the complex novelty of multilateral humanitarian intervention. Two observers argue that "Trusteeship is a new weapon in the armoury of international intervention, and Bosnia is its first arena." This is only partially correct. After all, one of the original institutions of the United Nations was its Trusteeship Council, toothless for most of its existence, and inactive since 1994, just as the point was reached when such an organ might be useful. Moreover, Bosnia is not trusteeship's "first arena" even in the post-Cold War era; that distinction belongs to the United Nations Transitional Administration for Cambodia (UNTAC) in the early 1990s. In Cambodia, the UN did manage to facilitate a truce among three sets of contenders, preside over a temporary receivership of the country, and organize elections and a new political start. The terms of the un-supervised settlement, however, were imperfectly honored during the UNTAC mission and crumbled rapidly after its termination. Worse, Cambodia did not make the transition to peaceful democratic competition envisioned by the UNTAC plan. Rather, the victory of the strongest of the three main political groups over the others carried the day. Cambodia is not a disastrous precedent for the Balkans, but it is not a good one either.

Models to Emulate--or Avoid

If trusteeship is not a trustworthy solution for problems such as those of the Balkans, what are the remaining options?

Optimism is a bad bet, but not a ridiculous one. Over the past dozen years some bitter, epochal conflicts turned in far more positive directions than most experts would have predicted: the end of the Cold War, the peaceful democratization of South Africa, the ebbing of civil wars in Central America. But where do we look for a basis on which to predict how sectarian and ethnic conflict in the Balkans will be settled? Liberal optimists tend to rely on logic: domestic peace and international aid, both secured by peacekeeping missions, should foster civil cooperation and tolerance because they make better sense than destructive parochialism. Conservative pessimists tend to look more for precedents. What similar cases have yielded the desired result?

If the aim is to make viable multinational states out of riven polities in the region, few encouraging examples spring to mind. Switzerland and the United States may be cited as models, but their achievements are surely too distant in time and circumstances to be convincing analogues. Neither has suffered a war among its constituent groups that still lives in personal memories. Satisfactory political integration in the American South took more than a hundred years after the Civil War, and social integration remains elusive to this day. The settlement in Zimbabwe has crumbled as the Mugabe government expropriates land from white farmers. South Africa so far offers the best example of hope, but even if reconciliation there proves durable, it is arguably less similar to the Balkans than the many examples of failure.

Those who would bank on joining contending ethnic groups into functioning polities bear the burden of providing relevant examples of successful integration. Other ethnically divided states and regions of the twentieth century generally give rise to skepticism about secular integration after bitter civil wars. This is especially true if the states emerging from the resolution are to be democratic and genuinely self-governing. A multisectarian Lebanon is stable now compared to its previous decades of civil strife, but that is largely because Syria keeps the country under its thumb--just as NATO does in the Balkans. Yugoslavia before the 1990s was united and stable in no small part because it was not democratic, and because secular communism suppressed regional particularisms.

Some relevant lessons might be sought among cases of wars ended by partition along ethnic lines, for example, in Palestine, Kashmir and Cyprus. The mention of these unhappy, controversial and unsettled places would undoubtedly prompt many to reject formal partition as a model for Bosnia or Yugoslavia and Kosovo. A closer look, however, leads to a more equivocal conclusion.

The partition of Palestine in 1947 was immediately revised by the 1948 war. It was altered again by the Six-Day War, the Camp David accords, and the Oslo Agreement--and it still remains in question. Does this suggest that Bosnia would do better to avoid partition and insist on an integrated multinational state? Could anything have been much worse than the past half century of tension and periodic war in the Middle East? Well, yes. An internationally enforced creation of an integrated Arab-Jewish state in the 1940s (no harder to imagine at the time than the integration of Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo today) probably would not have been less violent or more viable than what developed.

Kashmir, too, has remained a dangerous cauldron of conflict. In this case either a more careful plan for the partition of India in 1947 that allocated the area to Pakistan (on grounds of ethnic affiliation), or a more decisive war that left it fully within India (as Israel's gains in the 1948 war overcame the nonviable non-contiguity of the partition plan's territorial divisions in Palestine), might have yielded more stability. An independent Kashmir or an accepted division of the area between India and Pakistan are additional hypothetical alternatives, though not real ones. The analogous choices in Kosovo would be union with Albania, re-incorporation into Yugoslavia, or independence. (The first or third of these could include partition of Kosovo itself, with a slice in the north going back to Serbian Yugoslavia.) There is no good analogy in Bosnia, since the Muslims--who have no supporting external state comparable to Croatia or Serbia--create an unbalanced tripolar situation more complicated than Kashmir or Kosovo.

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