Month: June 2011

Here’s another idea for Bosnia

One question plagues every discussion of Bosnia:  do Bosnians want to live in the same country?  Nationalist leaders of two of the main ethnic groups (Croat and Serb) seem to be saying “no,” while most Bosniaks (that’ s Muslim to most Americans, but without the religious connotation) say “yes.”  They are the largest group (44% of the pre-war population).

What would happen if they voted on it?

Of course they did vote on it once, in 1992.  The result was 98% for Bosnian independence, with many Serbs boycotting (turnout was 68%).  The rules then–and now–are that 50% wins (55% if you are in Montenegro, ask the Europeans why).  Boycotts don’t invalidate the results.

Republika Srpska (RS) President Milorad Dodik has lately pumped up the idea of a new referendum, which he wanted to conduct in the RS on an obviously biased and contentious proposition that would seek to delegitimize institutions of the Bosnian state as well as the international community representative in Sarajevo, thus laying the groundwork for an independence bid.  But there is no reason why any referendum on a question concerning the country as a whole should be conducted only in the RS, from which many Bosniaks and Croats were ethnically cleansed and where they still find themselves unwelcome.

This leads me to wonder out loud what the results of a new referendum might be, but one conducted in the whole country on a serious proposition:  “do you want to live in a Bosnia and Herzegovina that can become a member of the European Union?”  That is the real choice Bosnians face:  to split up the state and give up hopes of joining the EU, or stick together and get into the EU some time in the next decade or so.

Of course I wouldn’t wonder out loud if I didn’t think I knew the outcome.  I believe well over 50% of Bosnians would vote “yes” in a free and fair referendum of this sort:  easily 90% of the more or less 50% of the country that is today Bosniak, plus an overwhelming majority of those refusing to identify ethnically and significant percentages (I’d guess close to half on the proposition as I’ve formulated it) of the Croats and Serbs.

You’ll be able to tell right away if I am correct:  nationalist Croats and Serbs will reject this whole-country referendum proposal, knowing well that they would lose. Some Bosniaks will also not like the idea, concerned that it will exacerbate interethnic relations.  I may even get a cross-ethnic coalition to oppose me.  That would be gratifying, in a perverse kind of way.

Lest there be any doubt about my own views:  I know full well no referendum of this sort will be held, and I think breakup of Bosnia would be a disaster for the Balkans and for Europe.  It would result in creation of Croat and Serb statelets that the “mother” countries would not want to absorb and an isolated Islamic republic in central Bosnia whose population would radicalize in an effort to survive (and attract Islamic support) in difficult circumstances.  There is no prospect of an easy agreement on the borders of these statelets, so violence in the process of breakup would be likely.  Nor would it be possible to contain the breakup to Bosnia.  Muslim-majority areas of Sandžak in Serbia would grow restive, not to mention possible echoes in Kosovo, southern Serbia and Macedonia.

As I’ve said before in the Kosovo context, best to keep Pandora’s box closed.  But that should not prevent us from being realistic about the horrors that lie inside.


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Here’s an idea for Bosnia

Balkans fans will know that Brčko, a northeast Bosnian town, became the knot that couldn’t be untied at Dayton and was therefore referred for arbitration thereafter.  The result was an unusual decision in favor of a “condominium”–Brčko became legally part of both the Federation and Republika Srpska and de facto distinct from both, under international (American) supervision. Adam Moore of UCLA has written an interesting paper on the post-war evolution of Brčko, which has become a rare but fraying exemplar of reintegration in Bosnia:  Why Brčko became one of the only success stories in Bosnia.

Those who worry about war in Bosnia worry about Brčko.  It is vital to Republika Srpska (RS), since it sits in a narrow corridor that joins the eastern wing along the Drina with its western wing south of the Sava.  If ever there is a war in Bosnia again, whoever gets Brčko wins:  the RS needs it to survive intact, the Federation needs it to make RS independence impossible.

So protecting Brčko and preventing it from being “taken” by either the RS or the Federation should be a priority for the international community.  The European force (EUFOR) in Bosnia has limited resources (1600 people “in theater,” whatever that means).  Its mission is

…to provide a military presence in order to contribute to the safe and secure environment, deny conditions for a resumption of violence, manage any residual aspect of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in BiH (also known as Dayton/Paris Agreement).

It could pre-emptively begin to concentrate itself in Brčko (in addition to its near-Sarajevo headquarters), thereby providing a serious impediment to RS’s independence ambitions as well as to any pre-emptive move by the Bosniaks to prevent secession. Doing this would help to preserve the still integrated Brčko district and prevent it from fraying further.

A European move to strengthen its heretofore modest liaison and observation team in Brčko would demonstrate to all concerned–including the Americans–that EUFOR is serious and knows where Bosnia’s vulnerabilities lie.


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Two areas agreement

I’m still studying it, but I thought the “framework” agreement reached yesterday in Addis Ababa between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (North) on political partnership and political and security arrangements in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan of enough interest to put out there quickly.

Thabo Mbeki led this African Union High Level Implementation Panel effort, which is intended to end the threat of violence in the leadup to Southern Sudan independence July 9 in two northern Sudanese states where sympathies with the South are strong (and some of the sympathizers armed).

Comments from the well-informed on this agreement and its likelihood of implementation would be most welcome.

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Avoiding a September Israel/Palestine train wreck

Doom and gloom over at Woodrow Wilson this morning:  Shai Feldman and Aaron David Miller in particular foresee no prospect of agreement under current conditions.  Train wreck is more likely, Feldman believes:  what happens in New York will trigger youth demonstrations in Palestine.  This will threaten the Palestinian establishment (Fatah especially) and force it into a more radical posture.  Politics in both Palestine and Israel militate against a conflict-ending settlement.  In the absence of some unexpected event, or act of unusual statesmanship, prospects are not good.

Nevertheless, Hussein Ibish suggests that there is some possibility of incremental progress in the fall at the General Assembly.  Palestine will not become a member of the UN, because the U.S. will veto.  What is important, according to Ibish, is that Palestinian progress in state-building be preserved and sustained.  He believes there are real possibilities for avoiding a counter-productive clash at the UN. The Palestinians will not press a General Assembly resolution if negotiations are restarted, and they can accept something less than UN membership in order to back off.

Palestinian unity is not really on the horizon, Ibish suggests.  The Hamas/Palestine Liberation Organization agreement is nothing more than an agreement to agree, but in fact there is still no agreement on anything important.  They can’t even agree on who should be prime minister, much less on things more important than that, like how to deal with Israel.

Jackson Diehl suggests the U.S. has a good deal to lose from vetoing Palestinian membership in the UN.  The Saudis have already warned that they will react.  Aaron David Miller asks if there is a way to avoid Washington being put in this position?  Is this sufficient reason for Obama to launch a grand initiative to solve the Israel/Palestine conflict? Or, Shai Feldman asks, is there something more modest that could be done, like adopting the Obama parameters (from his speech in May) as the basis for future negotiations? Aaron David Miller suggests this is a real possibility, with the Obama speech (including 1967 borders) as a common frame of reference.

But how close are they to a deal, Diehl asks?  Shai Feldman thinks Netanyahu may be focused on demographic trends, which have been presented recently to the Israeli cabinet.  The issue for him is not Palestine, whose population he envisages in a separate state, but rather the Arab population of Israel.  This is the issue that may pull Netanyahu toward the center, as it has other Israeli leaders, and push him into serious negotiations.

Hussein Ibish thinks the sides are far apart on the issues.  There will be no quick breakthrough.  But once gaps start closing, they could close quickly.  Nothing will happen without restarting the negotiations, so that is the way out of the September train wreck, even if Aaron David Miller suggests though there is nothing worse than another failed negotiation effort.



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An Arabic student and Middle East scholar

The Middle East Institute, where I studied Arabic through several levels to little avail, has kindly taken me on as one its scholars and this week published an interview covering my career and views on several ongoing conflicts.  Here is what they published:

Q: Tell me a bit about your early career. What led you to government service?  How did you become involved with peace-building initiatives and mediation?

A: It was all the girl’s fault. I first worked in international affairs at the United Nations, hired by the father of someone I dated in college.  I had a scientific background through a Master’s degree in physical chemistry. He needed someone to deal with environmental issues — this was 1970 and we were really just beginning to think about such things.  After I finished my doctorate at Princeton, the State Department hired me as a science and technology specialist, dealing mainly with nuclear and missile proliferation issues in Rome and Brasilia. I later worked energy issues and became Economic Minister, Deputy Chief of Mission and Charge’ d’affaires at the US Embassy in Rome.

I did not really get involved in peace-building and mediation until the Bosnian war, when I landed in Sarajevo in November 1994 in a plane hit by small arms fire during the landing. It’s been peace-building all the time since then.

Q: You are currently teaching at George Washington University, Georgetown University, and Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. After careers devoted to both government service and peace-building and conflict resolution initiatives, why did you turn to teaching?

A: It was always my intention to teach, and over the years I have enjoyed lecturing in many different settings. It was about time that I taught my own courses. I just got my student evaluations from last term — both gratifying and humbling. The classroom is an intellectual feast and challenge.

Q: On your blog (, you have written that the US must remember that “Afghanistan matters” and the country’s fate and success lies in what the US leaves behind. What is your vision of the Afghanistan that the United States needs to leave behind and how might the US reach this goal?

A: I said in the Washington Post last July that the [US] President [Barack Obama] should specify an end state and suggested: “an Afghanistan that provides no safe haven to terrorists, ensures equal rights to all its citizens and maintains its sovereignty with international help but without foreign troops on its territory.” He seems inclined, however, to stick with only the “no safe havens” part. I think that is hard to achieve without the other pieces.

Q: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said that Afghans are starting to view NATO as an occupying force, warning that NATO air strikes could lead to a national uprising in Afghanistan. In your opinion, is there potential for a large movement within the country? If so, what might this look like and what implications would this have for US-Pakistani relations?

A: I guess even Karzai is inspired by the Arab Spring, but he should remember that the protests are against local leaders, not against the US.

That said, he is an elected president who clearly is at the limit of what he can tolerate, even if you discount some of what he says as political cover. Of course, there already is a movement against the US presence — we call it the Taliban. Fortunately, most Afghans don’t like it any better than they like our presence. The way to square this circle is with more capable Afghan forces doing most of the heavy lifting.

US-Pakistani relations raise their own complex set of issues, on which I confess I am a neophyte and hesitate to comment. I would just note that whatever we think we’ve been doing does not seem to be improving the situation.

Q: With regard to the situation in Iraq, you wrote on your blog that “the US, UN and Iraqis need to get their heads together sooner rather than later on how to handle Arab-Kurdish disputes, especially as resistance to a continuing US troop presence after the end of this year seems to be strengthening.” What are the core concerns in this debate?

A: Kurds want to extend the territory of Kurdistan to include areas that they claim are historically Kurdish (especially Kirkuk Governorate), guarantee themselves a substantial percentage of Iraq’s national oil revenue, and govern themselves with minimal reference to Baghdad, especially in exploration for and production of new oil discoveries. Arabs want to ensure that Iraq is not divided, either de facto or de jure, and that oil exploration
and production is planned and operated in accordance with a national framework. The Americans don’t want Arabs and Kurds to come to blows, something that seems less likely as they are making a lot more money by cooperating than they would otherwise. I think the UN can help them find a way of untying these knots.

Q: In a March Washington Post article, you discussed the possibility of the United States earning returns on the “enormous investment” in Iraq if it becomes a “reliable, high-volume supplier of oil to world markets” and “can defend itself with only a modicum of U.S. support,” while also holding “relatively free and fair elections that put in power people who reflect the wide diversity of the population and feel real pressure to deliver services efficiently.” What can the US and Iraq do to ensure that Iraq moves toward this ideal state of affairs?

A: I’ve just finished a short brief on this subject. Here are its conclusions:

The following US assistance would reduce a number of risks to Iraqi democracy and help to create the kind of pluralistic society that will generate its own stronger opposition and state institutions:

  • support to the Parliament, constitutional court, elections commission, and related civil society organizations, especially for women;
  • continued military education and training;
  • UN assistance in resolution of Arab/Kurdish issues;
  • encouragement to export oil and gas to the north and west;
  • assistance for protection of religious and other minorities;
  • cooperation in designing a plan to distribute some oil revenue to citizens.

Q: In spite of reports of a tentative agreement between northern and southern Sudan, many people are skeptical about the efficacy of negotiations and the implementation of the established terms, especially with the recent seizure of Abyei.  Do you believe that peaceful solutions are possible in this situation, or do you think we will see continued violence in the area, especially as we approach the proposed July 9 date for southern independence?

A: At this point I think the South is so concerned with maintaining peace and stability in advance of independence that it will do its best to avoid further problems up to and even past July 9. Diplomatic recognition will be much easier if independence does not lead to war.  Of course the North may not cooperate fully, but I do expect restraint from the South. That said, the seizure of Abyei is likely to cause serious problems in the future,
if there is no negotiated solution.

Q: Given your use of blogs, Twitter, and other social media outlets, what are your thoughts on the significance of Internet activism in the “Arab Spring”? Do you believe that social media sites can and/or will play a part in state-building projects and the “end game” in these national movements, or are they simply useful for the initial stages?

A: Social media seem a lot better suited to organizing a demonstration than establishing a supreme court. That said, I don’t think we’ve reached the limit of human ingenuity, and social media may well prove useful in overcoming the obvious democracy gap in many post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction operations. But we should also note that media only enable you to do things you want to do — the movements generating change
use the media, not, I hope, the other way around.

Q: On your blog, you indicated that with regard to the current situations in Syria, Yemen, and Libya, it should be US policy “to listen to the locals, and follow their lead if we can figure out what it is” and support their efforts. How can the US support these protestors in their effort to promote democratic ideals, and not make the mistake of settling for a government for government’s sake and the perhaps false promise of stability?

A: It’s difficult. Embassies are not places that interface easily with 18-year-old protestors. And when they do, they may get in hot water with the host government.  Many years ago in Italy, I wanted to invite a bright young activist to a meeting on alternative energy technologies.  A name check turned up indications that he was a member of what the Italian government regarded as an extreme-left, vaguely anarchist political group. I somehow managed to convince the Embassy that it would be okay. He went on to study and work in the US and is today the distinguished head of an important industry association in Italy. Those are the risks you need to take if you really believe in democratic ideals.

I like the model we’ve developed: NGOs out hunting for talent and providing training, visits to the US, projects run by local people, without too much “Chief of Mission” control. You may not, however, find a lot of State Department officials who agree with me.

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Serbia visits Sarajevo

Yesterday Danas, a Belgrade daily, published this interview with me by Matja Stojanovic and Snezana Congradin:

1. [Serbian] President Tadic will soon make his first official visit to the Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) capital. How do you comment the fact that it took him so long, having in mind that in the course of that prolonged period, Serbia-Banja Luka relations flourished?

A: Belgrade, while insisting loudly that it supports One Bosnia, has in practice been focused on supporting Republika Srpska (RS) and [its President] Milorad Dodik in its quest for maximum autonomy.  But Belgrade will not want Dodik to move in the direction of independence, since that would put Tadic in a difficult position:  recognize the RS and give up hope for early entry into the EU, or not recognize and give up hope for reelection.

2. What has changed comparing to the past, in your opinion, that made such official visit possible?

A: Certainly the arrest of Ratko Mladic and his transfer to The Hague make a visit to Sarajevo much easier, both for Tadic and for Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak member of the Bosnian presidency.  Maybe RS has also realized that building power plants on the Drina and other pet projects aren’t going to happen without Sarajevo’s concurrence.

3. Is that visit a consequence of pressure coming from the international community, in connection with meeting the EU candidacy criteria, or that is a matter of something else?

A: I imagine both Europeans and Americans have urged Tadic to visit Sarajevo and to rebalance Serbian policy in the direction of supporting the Bosnian state, rather than just Republika Srpska.

Tadic won’t be disappointed by the way:  I was in Sarajevo week before last and found it vastly improved from 10 years earlier.  It is truly a beautiful city.

4. Support for the BiH EU integrations process is among the Sarajevo meeting announced topics. Would you agree that means that Tadic will be expected to influence Dodik, and if so, how should we see that in terms of BiH sovereignity, having in mind that doing so, one of the most important BiH questions – EU integrations – will be “controlled” (or at least directly influenced) by a president of another country?

A: It has long proved necessary to go to Belgrade to influence Banja Luka.  It is also necessary to go to Zagreb to influence some Bosnian Croats.  I might wish it weren’t that way, but that doesn’t change the facts of life.

5. Do you expect that the Dayton agreement will be amended, and if so – when?

A: Yes.  It has to be amended to conform to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights on its discriminatory provisions.  I hope it will also be amended to give the Sarajevo government all the authority needed to negotiate membership in the European Union.  There will be other amendments needed as Bosnia proceeds through the EU accession process.

I have no idea when these amendments will be passed.  Experience suggests that it will only be when external forces make it absolutely clear what is needed in order to gain some concrete benefit, as happened in the case of the visa waiver.  But pressures for change are also growing within Bosnia—I hope to see them grow more.  Citizens shouldn’t be happy to see Bosnia fall behind other countries in the EU “regatta.”

6. Do You expect Dodik to oppose or cooperate in the process of the BiH EU integration, and the necesary centralisation of power in the country?

A: Dodik will make every effort to get the EU to deal directly with Republika Srpska in the process of EU integration, as he did successfully with the “structured dialogue” on the justice sector.  Brussels needs to get smarter about this and make it absolutely clear that it is the Sarajevo government that joins the EU, not the Federation or Republika Srpska.  If Brussels were to fail to do this, it could well cause the breakup of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is unlikely to be a peaceful process.  Moreover, the outcome would not be one Zagreb or Belgrade would want.

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