Dayton Accord Signed | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Dayton Accord Signed

In fewer weeks from now, if the pact that the leaders initialled on Nov. 21 proceeds as planned, a U.S.-led international army will launch an effort to turn virtual reality into actuality.

This article was originally published in Maclean's Magazine on December 4, 1995

Bosnia, Map 2
As soon as the Bosnian peace pact was signed in Paris in December 1995, some 60 000 NATO troops moved into the war-ravaged nation (courtesy Maclean's).

Dayton Accord Signed

After 43 months of civil war and blitzkriegs of "ethnic cleansing," the map of Bosnia is patterned with shapes as random as spilled blood. Borders within the former Yugoslavia's heartland mainly trace erratic battle lines that date from the truce that took effect on Oct. 11. But some of those lines shifted and straightened last week. A committee of former enemies traded territory by manipulating virtual-reality images of Bosnia's terrain on a computer screen at an airbase in Dayton, Ohio. Parts of the land exchanged had only recently been killing grounds. The bloodless mapmaking in Dayton is now central to a peace pact forged under U.S. pressure by three Balkan presidents who had abandoned their roles as war makers only six weeks earlier.

In fewer weeks from now, if the pact that the leaders initialled on Nov. 21 proceeds as planned, a U.S.-led international army will launch an effort to turn virtual reality into actuality. The 60,000-member force - mainly NATO troops, one-third American, potentially some Canadians - will be assigned to disarm and secure the jigsaw boundaries between a new Serbian republic and a fledgling federation of Muslims and Croats under an ill-defined central Bosnian government in the capital, Sarajevo. U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, weary from sleepless hours prodding the mutually suspicious presidents of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia towards accord at the Dayton airbase, put an optimistic spin on the fragile peace agreement. "It offers tangible hope," he said, "that there will be no more days of dodging bullets, no more winters of freshly dug graves, no more years of isolation from the outside world."

Along with hope, the map and the agreements drafted in 21 Dayton days and nights by the three leaders - Bosnia's Alija Izetbegovic, Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic and Croatia's Franjo Tudjman - raise doubts and signal dangers. Making the Dayton accord work requires rapid military enforcement of its territorial terms. That task falls to the NATO Implementation Force - IFOR, as it is already code-named. It will replace UNPROFOR, the ill-starred UN protection force, which itself was often a war victim during three years of striving to protect civilians. By contrast, said U.S. state department spokesman Nicholas Burns, "IFOR will be a very aggressive force, it will be a strong and overwhelming force in the region - and no one ought to fool around with that force."

U.S. officials expect Canada, which last month pulled out of UNPROFOR, to join IFOR's massive operation to demilitarize hundreds of snaking kilometres of boundaries in wintry mountain country. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's government is under heavy pressure from Washington and other NATO capitals - and from within the Canadian military - to commit troops to the new peacemaking force. The state department's Burns, stressing IFOR's strengths at a Washington briefing, noted that "the Americans and the British and the French, the Canadians and the Germans on the ground are professional soldiers, competent soldiers who will do the job well." Does that mean the Canadians are on board? Burns, while saying that is up to the Canadian government, replied: "There is an expectation that Canada, which has participated in the past, will participate in the future."

The next day in Ottawa, Chrétien sounded cautious. "We have been asked," he told reporters, "and I'm indicating to you that we are willing to go there, but it depends on the type of role and what we're needed for." Then he added: "They might ask for something that we're not equipped to do, or we won't want to do." Within the defence department in Ottawa, there were unofficial indications that any Canadian commitment to IFOR would be in the order of 800 to 1,000 mechanized troops.

In divided Bosnia, an area the size of Nova Scotia with more than four times the population (about 4.3 million), the IFOR enforcers will face a people embittered by nearly four years of ethnic war that has left 250,000 dead and three million driven from their ancestral homes. The troops may well have to deal with vengefulness fostered by what Burns called "unspeakable atrocities" against Bosnian civilians - Muslims, Serbs and Croats alike.

Among Bosnian Serb leaders in their headquarters city of Pale, there was a sense of betrayal. The Dayton accord awards the Serbs, who constitute less than one-third of Bosnia's population, almost half of Bosnia in two tracts. One borders Croatia in the north, the other runs alongside Milosevic's Serbia in the east. That zone includes the former Muslim communities of Srebrenica and Zepa, both murderously ravaged by the Bosnian Serb army in July.

But the computer mapmaking in Dayton deferred a decision on a link between the two Serbian zones in the northeast, while it widened the Muslim-Croatian land corridor linking Sarajevo to Gorazde. And the Dayton exchanges took away from the Serbs their fiercely held strongholds in suburban Sarajevo. Most of the leaders in nearby Pale have homes in Sarajevo. The wife of Dayton delegate Momcilo Krajisnik is buried there. Of the loss of Sarajevo, he is reported to have confided to a friend: "It is as if my heart has been torn out."

Other factors generate despair and anger among militant Bosnian Serbs. Their leadership is divided, part of it now distant from Pale in both space and attitude - about 150 km across Muslim-Croatian territory in Banja Luka. There, deputy Serbian army chief Milan Gvero pledged his support for the Dayton agreement - adding, however, that "in the circumstances, it is the maximum that could be achieved." The pact effectively bars from public office the two most powerful figures in the Pale faction - Radovan Karadzic, the political leader, and Gen. Ratko Mladic, the military chief - by disqualifying anyone charged with war crimes. Both men have been indicted as war criminals by a UN tribunal. Serbia's President Milosevic, for years their mentor, has abandoned his crusade to create a "Greater Serbia" - at least publicly for now, but possibly, diplomats in Serbia say, not forever.

Milosevic all but ostracized the Bosnian Serb representatives in Dayton, negotiating for them by proxy. Although the pact stipulates that the capital area be open to all ethnic groups, delegate Krajisnik and his colleagues protested against the placement of Sarajevo and its Serb-held suburbs entirely in Muslim-Croatian territory. "No one has the right to give away territories that we defended with blood," said Krajisnik. The Americans turned his complaints aside, however, and the Bosnian Serbs declined to attend the initialing ceremony in Dayton. But two days later in Belgrade, Serbia's capital, Milosevic prevailed at a protracted meeting in persuading the Bosnian Serb leadership - including Karadzic and a deputy of the ailing Gen. Mladic - to sign on to the Dayton accord.

The delayed assent officially committed the Bosnian Serbs to assurances that all parties will co-operate with NATO's IFOR operation. But diplomats in Belgrade remain doubtful that the Dayton pact will more than postpone an oft-predicted carve-up of Bosnia - whereby Serbia would gradually absorb the Bosnian Serb republic and Croatia would effectively control the Muslim-Croatian federation.

For now, however, Milosevic and the Serbs have a compelling reason for toeing the Dayton line - an American-led decision to lift an economic boycott and military sanctions imposed on the region by the United Nations. The carrot is also a stick. The Americans insist that any backsliding will provoke a renewal of the sanctions and the boycott. Dennis Snider, Canada's veteran chargé d'affaires in Belgrade, observes that "Milosevic's feet are being held to the fire."

Some military experts familiar with Bosnia note that there remains a threat of combat triggered by renegade guerrillas and individuals - and the reaction of IFOR forces under their aggressive rules of engagement. Said retired Canadian Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, an UNPROFOR commander in Sarajevo in 1992: "There are thugs and criminals who will target Americans. The U.S. will want to blow them away. The problem is that they won't know who is doing the shooting. Somebody on one side might have bribed somebody on the other to take potshots at Americans. It's that screwed up."

The kind of bitterness that could fuel combat rumbled beneath the compromises initialed in Dayton - only hours after teetering on the abyss of failure. Bosnia's Izetbegovic, 70, had been isolated in an impasse that morning over details of the division of territory (49 per cent to the new Serbian republic, the rest to the Muslim-Croatian federation). The Muslim leader finally accepted a solution that includes having international arbitration determine the control of the Serb-held border town of Brcko, which stands at the pivot point of a narrow corridor between the two main swatches of Serbian land. Later, he rated the pact a mixed blessing for Bosnia's Muslim plurality. "This may not be a just peace," he said, "but it is more just than a continuation of war."

Others surrendered - sometimes after shouting matches - to increasing pressure and fatigue in the isolation of the spartan Hope Hotel on Dayton's Wright-Patterson air force base. The American diplomatic team led by Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. assistant secretary of state who launched the U.S. peace initiative in August, employed a negotiation management technique sometimes described as "getting to yes." It works on emotions as much as reason. It encourages bonding and fear of disapproval to drive the cloistered group to agreement.

As later detailed in American accounts, members of the U.S. team set deadlines that heightened tension. Late in the game, they circulated what they called "a failure document" that was ready for public use in the absence of compromise. They compiled flash cards highlighting the benefits of peace. And they reduced heated arguments over territory to a kind of computer game in a theatre that participants dubbed "the Nintendo Room." There, Milosevic and others manipulated a joystick to zoom along electronic displays of Bosnian terrain originally developed for NATO bombing rehearsals. Another computer calculated allocations of land to each side. Oiling the whole process were convivial late nights in an airbase bar.

At one point, after angry resistance, Croatia's Tudjman, 73, ceded the Serbs some Croatian army conquests in western Bosnia that were gained only weeks earlier. At another, Milosevic's officials balked at yielding Sarajevo, then finally relented, when their leader proposed that the city should be united rather than split between factions and be open to all ethnic groups. Only three years ago, Milosevic, 54, was branded a war criminal by the U.S. state department for fomenting Serbian ethnic-cleansing drives. After Dayton, President Bill Clinton and state department officials lauded him for playing a positive role in achieving the peace agreement.

Amid the mutual congratulations in Dayton, the state department's hard-driving Holbrooke warned that the toughest part of the mission has yet to be hurdled. "On paper we have peace," he said. "To make it work is our next and our greatest challenge." For a start, Clinton must convince a doubting Congress, the American people and U.S. allies that the plan is workable. The President, as the U.S. commander-in-chief, does not require congressional permission to deploy military forces. But he has promised to consult and seek the support of Congress, where many fellow Democrats as well as the Republican majority have resisted intervention by American land forces in the Balkans. In Europe, there has been grumbling over the American dominance of the Bosnia case. The Dayton accord remains to be formally concluded at an imminent Paris session. It faces debate at a summit of the U.S. and European Union leaders on Dec. 3 in Madrid.

During the four-day American Thanksgiving holiday, which began two days after the initialling of the Dayton accord, the President prepared a Monday-night television broadcast before flying to Europe. His address to the nation was designed to support his claim that dispatching 20,000 American soldiers into harm's way serves the nation's vital interests. Clinton's main points are that it asserts America's world leadership, fulfils its NATO obligations to Europe and expresses, as an aide explained, "the moral responsibility to act in defence of international values."

After persuasion lies the test of enforcing the accord on the disputed ground of Bosnia-Herzegovina. And beyond that challenge remains the biggest question: whether the virtual reality of a sundered Bosnia will prove as bloodless in actuality as it seemed on the Dayton computer screen.

Maclean's December 4, 1995