Policy Analysis No. 327

Rethinking the Dayton Agreement: Bosnia Three Years Later

By Gary Dempsey
December 14, 1998

Executive Summary

The Dayton Agreement formally ended the most serious armed conflict in Europe since World War II. But three years after the agreement was signed, its goal of creating a unitary, multiethnic Bosnian state is not realistic. Reintegration is grinding to a halt, the vast majority of Bosnians polled still say they will not vote for a candidate from another ethnic group, and nationalist political parties continue to dominate the political scene.

In addition, international reconstruction aid has been plagued by corruption, and Western dollars often end up in the coffers of the very nationalist political parties that are considered the chief obstacles to peace. Economic growth is artificial, privatization has stalled, and the West has begun resorting to increasingly high-handed measures to force Bosnian Croats, Serbs, and Muslims to live under the fiction of one government.

The Dayton Agreement’s failure is not merely a matter of passing interest; the Clinton administration’s continued and uncritical devotion to the agreement is compromising U.S. national security and saddling the United States with an expensive yet futile nation-building operation of unknown duration. The administration needs to jettison its presumption that there are only two options for U.S. policy on Bosnia: adhere to the Dayton Agreement or cut and run. There is another option: a negotiated three-way partition of Bosnia overseen by a European-led transition force. Partition it is the most politically feasible way to extract U.S. troops without leaving chaos behind.

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Gary T. Dempsey is a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute.