For 11 days in late August and early September in 1995, U.S. and NATO air power defended Bosnian Muslims, who were being attacked by Bosnian Serbs, who were supported by Serbian Serbs. This was merely the overture to something much more ambitious -- a grand concert of nation-building that began when the Dayton agreement reached in December of that year calmed the Balkan furies of revanchism and revenge, for a while.
But agreements, like flowers, last while they last, and today's fraying of Bosnia is not the fault of Richard Holbrooke, whose skill and tenacity produced the Dayton peace. Or perhaps the Dayton pause. Holbrooke, whose diplomatic career began in Vietnam, continues in the Obama administration, where his portfolio is Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the president contemplates an ambitious mission in the former, as a prophylactic measure to stabilize the latter, he should read "The Death of Dayton: How to Stop Bosnia From Falling Apart," in Foreign Affairs.
Political scientists Patrice C. McMahon and Jon Western note that Bosnia was "once the poster child for international reconstruction efforts" and was considered "proof that under the right conditions the international community could successfully rebuild conflict-ridden countries." Now, however, Bosnia "stands on the brink of collapse."
Between 1996 and 2007, Bosnia received $14 billion in international aid from 17 foreign governments, 18 U.N. agencies, 27 intergovernmental organizations and approximately 200 nongovernmental organizations, plus the presence of 60,000 troops from 36 countries. It was, McMahon and Western say, "arguably the most extensive and innovative democratization experiment in history." On a per capita basis, reconstruction of Bosnia -- population, fewer than 4 million -- "made the post-World War II rebuilding of Germany and Japan look modest." The $14 billion was $300 per Bosnian per year. Since 2002, international donors have pledged $65 per Afghan per year.
Today, the centrifugal forces of the rival ethnic nationalisms of Bosnia's Muslims, Croats and Serbs have, McMahon and Western say, stalled reform and the economy -- unemployment is 27 percent, 25 percent of Bosnians live in poverty, and the public sector, with a ludicrous 160 ministers, swallows almost half the GDP. International organizations, suffering Balkan fatigue and eager to declare "mission accomplished,'' are withdrawing, leaving Muslims isolated and vulnerable, and, as Bosnia is, McMahon and Western say, "drifting toward chaos."