Southeastern Europe: Europe's Rough Back YardChances for Sustainable Peace in Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro

Posted in Europe | 01-Oct-05 | Author: Bernd Papenkort

Bernd Papenkort, Director Multilateral Academy and "WSN Editor Southeast Europe": "Kosovo requires a final answer"
Bernd Papenkort, Director Multilateral Academy and "WSN Editor Southeast Europe": "Kosovo requires a final answer"
One must exercise caution when talking about the chances for sustainable peace in Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro - the rough back yard of Europe. The history of this area proves that nearly all diplomatic efforts to find sustainable solutions have failed. The Balkans has been a quagmire and nightmare for policymakers in many European countries.

I will concentrate on Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro because the political future of these two countries will have a deep impact on other states in the region. NATO handed over the first peace support operation in its history to the EU. It is time for stocktaking in Bosnia Herzegovina. In Kosovo and Serbia and Montenegro, it's high time for a critical reassessment of the work that has been done so far.

However, we should not forget that the whole Balkans offers a full range of unresolved and pending issues: From Serbia and Montenegro, Albania –Kosovo, Vojvojdina, Sandzak, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and the Republica Srpska (RS) entity of Bosnia Herzegovina.

To put it simple – if we look back at the history, cultural diversity and different political and economic developments of this region, then we should be aware that we are dealing with a very complex political landscape. Tackling one issue in order to solve one problem will inevitably have an impact on other pending problems as well.

Having said this, I would like to reflect on the political and military aspects of the future of Bosnia Herzegovina as a state, and on Kosovo and its relationship to Serbia and Montenegro.

The Future of Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo – Requirements for the Final Status

Let us start with Bosnia Herzegovina. Even 10 years after Dayton, discussions about the political future of Bosnia Herzegovina still continue. This has far reaching consequences for other hot spots on the waiting list.

The Dayton Peace Agreement has given Bosnia Herzegovina a platform for peace – a great success that should not be forgotten. However, it does not provide a sustainable framework for the future of Bosnia Herzegovina as a sustainable state. It has created divisions along ethnic lines and has created a monster of bureaucracy in Bosnia Herzegovina. If the regulations of the Dayton Peace Agreement were implemented in other countries, no government work would succeed.

Nevertheless, I think that with the help of the international community, Bosnia Herzegovina has come a long way in its transitional journey toward Europe. This effort and process must continue, but with a new direction. I would call it the adjustment of Dayton.

Bosnia Herzegovina needs a constitution that places ethnic orientation on the backstage and provides the country with a modern and more efficient political system of governance. This tremendous task must be facilitated by the international community and experienced outsiders. The citizens of the country themselves will never be able to do it alone. The current situation proves that there are still too many narrow-minded nationalists in senior level government functions.

Food aid
Food aid
However, my message to policymakers is not to look for "external products" like the ones tabled by foreign think tanks in Berlin or other capitals. These solutions never suit the requirements of the reality on the ground. We need to support a process such as the constitutional assembly at the beginning of the Federal Republic of Germany (Herrenchiemsee) - the way in which the allied nations facilitated the draft of our Basic Law by German citizens themselves after WWII.

The challenge of this process is how it should be organized and implemented in Bosnia Herzegovina. What elements of the Dayton Peace Agreement can be carried out? What are the elements of a post Dayton constitution and the design of an adjusted political structure in Bosnia Herzegovina?

I propose a 3-step approach:

1. Draft an adjusted/new constitution with a group of selected citizens of Bosnia Herzegovina under arbitration support by experienced international facilitators. I am convinced that this is possible.

2. Get support of all citizens through a referendum in order to push aside nationalists. I am convinced that the proper orchestration of the referendum process will ensure a positive result. The population, mainly in the urban areas, will not follow nationalists any longer.

3. Use the 2006 elections for a final party competition and afterwards parliamentarian approval of the new constitution by the elected majority. With such an approach, Bosnia Herzegovina could leave the Dayton phase in 2006 and define its own constitutional platform in a parliamentarian process.

Serbia and Montenegro with Kosovo

I'll come back to Dayton, but let's now take a look at Serbia and Montenegro and Kosovo. The Dayton philosophy of "peaceful and cooperative coexistence within given borders" should not be thrown overboard and is worth being implemented in Kosovo as well. This axiom should be the central political guideline for all operations engaged by the international community in the whole area and a clear message to all nationalists, whether they sit in Banja Luka, Pristina or Novi Sad – or in Tirana and Skopje.

The current handling of the situation in Kosovo is neither - nor. It is a masterpiece of the convenient diplomatic approach of hoping to solve problems by shifting them to the future. I am not aware of many successful undertakings of this sort in history.

Citizens of Serbia and Montenegro (including Kosovo), foreign investors and neighboring countries want to know what the future of Kosovo will be. As long as it is a pending issue, the answer will always be: "Let's wait and see." This position has had disastrous consequences for the economic recovery of the whole area. We have wasted many years and a lot of money and other resources in this respect. Things must change.

Kosovo requires a final answer, the sooner the better. There are three options available for a possible solution: Independence of Kosovo, partition of Kosovo and remaining a part of Serbia. The option of a split would create a new mini-state approximately the size of two German counties. It would make it possible for all citizens to have the prospect of getting a government or ambassador post.

Partnership for Peace
Partnership for Peace
Would such a mini-state be a realistic and sustainable political solution and is it necessary in the modern European landscape? Surely not, and such a solution would have an impact on the future of Albania and Macedonia as well.

My answer is very clear: Kosovo should remain in Serbia, but with a high level of autonomy. President Tadic's remark "less than independence, but more than autonomy" could provide direction. Do not stir up a new discussion about borders, because this would make all other problems in the Balkans become urgent as well. This could result in a region of renewed and much broader political instability - a region where state and institution building must be renewed again and again and where no reasonable businessman would invest for the next decade.

In addition, one could most probably write off the political, economic and military investment in Bosnia Herzegovina. Giving the Kosovo Albanians independence means being ready again to start and redesign Bosnia Herzegovina.

Let me be very pragmatic. European history has many examples of how minorities – after a difficult time - were able to settle in another state. South Tyrol, Elsace–Lorraine, Belgium and many other places in Europe prove this. Why is it so difficult to require the same from hundreds of thousands of Kosovars?

Let me mention another aspect regarding Serbia and Montenegro: It would be a misperception to believe that October 5, 2000 (when Milosevic was ousted) was the day of great change. It was not – and Djindjic and his successors have so far only made slow progress.

A big issue is the future of a federal state between Serbia and Montenegro. My guess is that this will be solved in a peaceful way between both partners, whatever the outcome. A possible separation between Serbs and Montenegrins would cause no major breaks, but a split of Kosovo from Serbia would cause eruptions in the whole area.

Determining the final status of Kosovo would help a lot of progressive and open-minded policymakers in Serbia and Montenegro, because it would take away a hot issue from the propaganda platform of all radical nationalists. It would enable the country to concentrate on the big tasks ahead and transform Serbia and Montenegro into a democratic state.

It would be a challenge but also an opportunity for Serbia to prove that it has entered the true path to democracy in its relationship to Kosovo. In such a way, Kosovo could become a very important asset for pressing forward the required democratic reforms in Serbia. An historical example of this is after the issue of the Ruhr Basin after WWI (French occupation efforts); it offered many German nationalists well-founded arguments for the "stab in the back myth" about Versailles It distracted the government from more urgent work, and it blocked all international reconciliation efforts. Kosovo means the same for Serbia and Montenegro.

Let me conclude with the political dimension of the hot spots Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo: They need final status, now. The EU has a huge task that requires all three elements of the EU toolbox: Political, economic and Common and Foreign Security Policy (CFSP). To combine these various policy fields into a coherent policy concept is a challenge, but an opportunity, as well.

The Role of Armed Forces - Lessons Learned

I want to make clear that without NATO and its troops as well as partner nations, not much would have happened in the whole region. The work of the military was overall well done. What are some of the lessons learned from Implementation Force (IFOR)/Stabilization Force in Bosnia Herzegovina (SFOR) and Kosovo Force (KFOR) operations so far?

First of all, to establish and maintain a secure environment or risk the danger of losing credibility.

At least dry and warm
At least dry and warm
In Kosovo, we were able to celebrate the speedy return of close to a million Kosovo-Albanian refugees, but we failed to prevent that nearly 250,000 Serbs and other minorities fled or were driven away. The Serbs will not forget what happened to their citizens under the eyes of United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and KFOR in Kosovo. The Albanian riots in the spring and the manner in which KFOR dealt with this did not enhance any trust in the international community. The performance of some troops was compared by some observers to that of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Srebrenica, but they had more luck because they were confronted only with a horde of bandits and not the Serb army. This hurts deeply, but we need to take it.

I would now like to touch upon the difficult issue that I call the culture of political-military leadership. The performance of troops in difficult situations in a peace support operation is an expression of their self-assurance and confidence – one could say professionalism. However, this is not all! They must have the feeling of being backed by their superiors on the military and political side at home, as well. One lesson learned is that too rigid supervision – so called tough political control or micromanagement - by higher military commands and political executive and legislative bodies runs the risk of creating an atmosphere of inactiveness, fear and indecisiveness, as well as "yes, sir reporting." Let me put it this way: The stricter the rules of engagement and administrative regulations from higher echelons, the larger the number of coffee shops and cafeterias in military camps on the ground. Some countries have earned a reputation for this.

Secondly, the problem of maintaining a positive public image and motivating soldiers in long lasting peace support operation.

A peace support operation has the inherent danger that the role, tasks and public standing of civilian and military elements lose the proper balance with each other.

In lengthy campaigns, the military is very often forced to sit like ducks on the fortress pool and be responsible for tackling the bad things only. We call this deterrence. The civilian side is then fully present in public and gains dominance in many areas. Bosnia Herzegovina is a typical case in point. Rank matters in this issue, too. The Commander of SFOR (COMSFOR) is now a one-star general. I do not know whether any of the multiple EU players came together on the idea of downgrading their Bosnia Herzegovina principals in ambassador rank.

This has consequences for the role and standing of troops on the ground – and their motivation. Never forget the German sentence: "Der Soldat muss sich fühlen können"/A soldier must be able to feel.

Leaving the initiative and activities too much in the hands of the civilian side is a slippery way for the motivation, public appearance and long term reputation of our military in those countries. The danger is that the "helping forces" become an "occupation army" with all the related consequences.

Future Role of NATO and EU Forces in Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo

I will offer now some ideas about the role of the armed forces in Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo in a NATO or European Union Force (EUFOR) context.

Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo require different means and approaches. I think that NATO and the EU have got it overall right with the operational concepts for both countries. They must only be implemented when the challenge comes - like in Kosovo in spring 2004.

In Bosnia Herzegovina, the deterrence aspect can be "over the horizon." One should concentrate with deployed forces on civil military cooperation in a very broad approach. Soldiers could help in municipalities in the full spectrum of municipality tasks, thus building firm partnerships with local communities. This would provide continuity for the work of their own contingents and create a much stronger and positive perception of SFOR/EUFOR in the public eye.

Military cooperation with armed forces of Bosnia Herzegovina is characterized by a lot of bilateral support initiatives in order to help build up the state level defense structure and reorganize Bosnia Herzegovina's armed forces. This work is important, but I have my doubts that it is coordinated and always suits the real needs on the ground in Bosnia Herzegovina.

Refugees on the long way to safe havens
Refugees on the long way to safe havens
My proposal is to make more use of the deployed NATO/EU contingents in Bosnia Herzegovina and to look at the concepts that we had in earlier times for cooperation with allied forces stationed in Germany: Provide partnership affiliations and develop a concrete program for all units of Bosnia Herzegovina forces in their own area of responsibility. Start to train, educate and conduct the full range of activities always in a joint way, including always the army of the Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina and Republica Srpska forces.

A team of experts sent from Berlin will not change the armed forces of Bosnia Herzegovina faster than permanent influence from those troops stationed on the ground.

Reconciliation, institution and state building and helping to modernize the armed forces in Bosnia Herzegovina and make them compatible to Partnership for Peace could not be done in a better way. It would also give those deployed troops new spirit and additional motivation.

Handling of war criminals.

Karadzic and Mladic are still at large and no one can convince people in Southeastern Europe that SFOR and Western nations have not been able to apprehend them. The US found Saddam Hussein in an earth plug after 60 days.

That SFOR did not match this challenge is a disgrace. We need to change this situation quickly. If the West loses any standing in public, people in Bosnia Herzegovina will start laughing at NATO/EU troops

For Serbia and Montenegro/Kosovo, my proposal is a dual track approach. Firstly, there must be a stricter enforcement of Kosovo Force Transfer of Responsibility (KFOR TOR). There is an urgent need to get authority and credibility back after the riots in spring 2004. We should not look at this with Western eyes. The people are different and agreements are very often regarded as paperwork. Only the enforcement capability and the readiness to apply force counts on the ground.

We should be aware that most probably the network of extremists will be activated the decision on the future of Kosovo. After a decision along my proposal, we can expect the Kosovo Albanians to become very active – in the opposite case it will be the Serb extremists. We should be prepared for such a development. Unrest will come, but the potential and options are much more limited on the Kosovar side, even when their activities may be more extreme.

On the other side, the Serb extremists have a much more sophisticated "piano of obstruction and terror." They also have an additional political leverage at hand – the Republica Srpska in Bosnia Herzegovina. This is worth having in mind when considering the final solution for Kosovo.

However, we should not forget the other task of a peace support operation – to win hearts and minds. Therefore, civil-military cooperation is a required asset as well. The ideas I mentioned for Bosnia Herzegovina can be adjusted for Kosovo.


Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro/Kosovo may today no longer be hot spots like Afghanistan or Iraq, but I raise my finger a little bit with slight caution.

We have achieved a lot in both countries. Both countries are now different and they require different medicines. We have made half of the journey, which started in 1995 with the NATO-led International Peacekeeping Force (IFOR) operations in Bosnia Herzegovina.

What is now required is clarity and final status - the blow of a "political trumpet" that calls for the final political settlings for Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro/Kosovo.

After many years of shuttle diplomacy by numerous officials, the whole region needs real statesmanship and a decisive strategy for the pending problems. This will require further and sustainable commitment. On the national side, we should be prepared for the unexpected. For good policymakers this is always the worst case.

The therapy for both patients must be tailored to different needs, but they contain elements that I think are valid for all political and military aspects of state building:

  • Clarity in the political aims and final status

  • Credibility in implementation of activities

  • Use of the full spectrum of civil – military cooperation

  • Willingness for long term sustainability in own efforts

Only by this will we change the current "back yard of Europe" into an acceptable room in the European house, in which we would feel comfortable, too.

This is in the West best interest and the people of both countries deserve it as well.

Thank you for your attention.