To the Editor:

In their analysis, Patrice McMahon and Jon Western ("The Death of Dayton," September/October 2009) omit any significant critique of the failed window of opportunity in Bosnia between 2002 and 2006. For a short time, circumstances were favorable: there was a proactive high representative for Bosnia, and there were pragmatic leaders in the country committed to the EU's agenda. During this period, significant progress was made. Defense reforms put in place a single army command-and-control structure for Bosnia, replacing what had effectively been three armies: Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat, and Bosnian Serb. The creation of the Indirect Tax Authority brought in the first state-level taxation service and unified the customs and excise services. And the establishment of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council paved the way for significant improvements in the rule of law.

Unfortunately, this period came to an end with the fall of the Republika Srpska (RS) government led by the Party of Democratic Progress. This was followed by an overambitious attempt at police reform artificially linked to inflexible EU standards. The subsequent defeat of the constitutional reform process in April 2006 consolidated the position of Prime Minister Milorad Dodik in the RS and brought back Haris Silajdzic as the Bosnian Muslim member of the presidency of Bosnia.

Bosnia has indeed shown, as McMahon and Western write, that "state building is not a problem to be solved but a process to be managed." Policymakers should try to draw lessons from the failure in 2005 to consolidate the progress made in the previous years-namely, the need to temper ambition with realism, the difficulties of imposing reforms with limited local ownership, and the limitations of the EU's drawing power.

Head of the European Commission Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2002-6

To the Editor:

Patrice McMahon and Jon Western describe Bosnia as a state on the brink of collapse and claim that the international community must now return its attention to it lest it disintegrate. In fact, it is past time for Bosnians to run their own country.

War is almost certainly not going to return, even though political factions that benefit from continued international intervention want to encourage the view that it could. None of the three main ethnic groups has the desire or the international support to start one. There is no Bosnian Serb military, and Serbia is highly unlikely to support a revisionist Bosnian Serb war. Its desire to join the EU has forced Serbia into accepting the de facto independence of Kosovo, which is an issue far closer to the hearts of Serbs than Bosnia. Bosnian Serb leaders and observers also indicate that they are largely satisfied with their autonomy under the Dayton agreement, and most Bosnian Serbs see the Republika Srpska (RS) as legitimate.

Nor are the Bosnian Croats or the Bosnian Muslims inclined to instigate a conflict. The Bosnian Croats are far too weak to challenge the status quo, comprising only around ten percent of the population. Their only goal would be their own entity, but they have little support abroad for such revisionist aims. It is likewise inconceivable that the Bosnian Muslims -- even though they are the largest group and some of them retain their conviction that the RS is founded on genocide -- would initiate a war. They continue to stress their victimhood in the civil war, which they correctly believe is critical for continued international support.

Critics suggest that the international community must reinforce its postwar intervention in Bosnian domestic affairs because the national government is too inefficient and its political leadership is too nationalist. But 14 years of international governance have done little to change this. In fact, the international community's involvement gives all the parties incentives to be recalcitrant. For the Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, the continued presence of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia provides a visible threat to the prerogatives of the RS, which he can easily turn to his benefit. For his Bosnian Muslim opponent, Haris Silajdzic, the continued presence of the OHR offers the hope of a renegotiated Dayton. Without international demands and the involvement of international powers, these politicians would have to focus on issues that more directly benefit their constituents' quality of life, such as infrastructure, education, and moving toward EU accession. The international community can help Bosnia only by focusing on incremental reforms related to economic development and to the technical requirements for European integration. Changing the state's institutions may be essential for long-term growth, but it will take time and can only be done by the country's elected leaders.

Doctoral candidate, Department of Political Science, MIT 

To the Editor:

Patrice McMahon and Jon Western offer a formula to revive the moribund Dayton agreement, but their recommendations would only leave the Dayton process dead. They argue that the United States needs to appoint a special envoy to help mitigate the influence of the nationalist parties that have flourished in the face of a divided and complacent international community. In fact, it has been years of ham-handed and arbitrary governance imposed by outsiders that has fed the nationalist parties and reinforced the notion that the ethnic communities must protect themselves if they are to survive. At best, reengagement by the international community would ensure that Bosnia continues to be a poverty-stricken, ethnically divided ward of the West. At worst, it would foment the kind of violence the authors want to avoid.

McMahon and Western seem to think that current EU policy provides some kind of silver bullet for Bosnia. Certainly, EU membership could benefit the region. But the Bosnians know that the accession process is a long and painful ordeal, that membership is no guarantee of economic or political viability, and that the EU will punish states that do not live up to its standards. Moreover, expansion exhaustion within the EU means that the body is unlikely to extend membership to the economically disadvantaged Bosnians, who would flood Europe in droves if they could. That Bosnians are being denied the right to travel to EU countries without visas says more about Europe's attitude than do platitudes about the unspecified benefits of eventual EU membership.

If Bosnia is to exist as a state, it must do so on its own terms -- terms that would necessitate painful compromises by the people and leaders of all three ethnic groups. Pressure from the outside will only undermine any impetus by the local stakeholders to find a solution.

President, TSM Global Consultants

Professor of Political Science and National Security Studies,
Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University