New Statesman & Society leader, 1 December 1995

It is by no means clear that the agreement on Bosnia signed last week in Dayton, Ohio, is ‘more just than continuing the war’

The Bosnia peace agreement initialled by the pres¬idents of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia last week in Dayton, Ohio, after three weeks of gruelling secret negotiations, is a shabby compromise.

On that, just about every impartial observer is agreed. It is all too easy to see that the ten articles, 11 annexes and 102 maps agreed in Dayton, which will form the basis of a treaty to be signed later this month, do not constitute a just peace. But is it, as Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic claimed, “more just than continuing the war”? Is it true, as he put it, that “a better peace could not have been obtained”?

Looking on the bright side, it at least means that people are not killing one another – and that, after three-and-a-half years of the bloodiest war on European soil in half-a-century, is a start. The Dayton agreement keeps Bosnia as a single state, with the same internationally recognised borders as when the war began in 1992. Bosnia will have a single capital, Sarajevo, and a central government with a parliament, a supreme court and a national bank. All those found guilty of war crimes by the UN tribunal will be barred from office, including the president of the Bosnian Serb breakaway republic, Radovan Karadzic, and its senior military man, Ratko Mladic. And all those who have been forced to leave their homes during the war will have the right to reclaim them or get compensation. All of which is fine on paper. In reality, of course, no one believes that the right to return or compensation for the victims of “ethnic cleansing” will mean anything at all in practice; nor does anyone seriously think that Karadzic and Mladic will be effectively removed from political influence, let alone brought to justice. The likelihood that the political institutions agreed in Dayton will ever work is slim indeed.

And that is the bright side. Other elements of the Day¬ton deal are lousy even on paper. By dividing Bosnia into two “entities”, with a Bosnian-Croat federation control¬ling 51 per cent of the land area, including Sarajevo, and a Serb republic the rest, Dayton effectively sanctions the Serb land-grab that began the war and the Serbs’ subsequent murderous “ethnic cleansing”. The idea that people of all religions and none can live together in a cosmopolitan, multicultural Bosnian society – for years the rallying cry of the Bosnian government in its struggle against the Serb aggression – has been buried, just as it would have been buried by the previous (unsuccessful) plans for an ethnically divided Bosnia put forward by David Owen and Cyrus Vance in 1993 and the Contact Group in 1994.

To make matters even worse, the way the country will now be divided blatantly favours the Serbs. The only minor concessions they have had to make of territory they held on 12 October, when the ceasefire began, is a small area in and around Sarajevo and the corridor from Sarajevo to Goradze – surely the most modest possible price to pay for their vicious ethnic cleansing in eastern Bosnia.

In northern Bosnia, the maps actually give them back some ofthe territory they had lost to this summer’s offensive by Bosnian government and Croatian forces. The Dayton deal takes absolutely no account ofthe fact that, when the ceasefire began, the Serbs were facing a rout in northern Bosnia, with the surrender of their real capital, Banja Luka, weeks if not days away if the fighting had continued. In Dayton, the Serbs achieved by negotiation what they could not have managed by force of arms, the maintenance of their control of territories west of the Brcko corridor. Despite their now-official pariah status, Mladic and Karadzic have grounds to be pleased.

So too has president Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, who in Dayton secured agreement from the Serbs to return Eastern Slavonia – after this year’s military successes in Western Slavonia, the only part of Croatia under Serb control. The Croats have also acquired, in the Bosnian-Croat federation, a dependent buffer state between themselves and Serbia.

The losers, as ever, are those Bosnians (mostly, but by no means all, Muslim) who have supported the struggle of the Sarajevo government to maintain a multicultural, tolerant society against the ethnic cleansers. They feel, with reason, that the Americans pulled the rug from under them just as they were beginning to win. Contrary to Izetbegovic’s claims, even if the Dayton deal was all that was on the table for negotiation, it is not clear that the peace it has created is more just than a continuation of war. It is no wonder that there was no celebration in Sarajevo at the news ofthe peace agreement – and it will be no wonder if the Dayton agreement breaks down sooner rather than later because of its injustice to the Bosnian cause.

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