Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bosnia Lessons?

We live in an era where the mechanics of peacekeeping and nation-building are at the heart of geopolitical debate. While Afghanistan and Iraq dominate the headlines, the experience of Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to be illuminating.

A year ago, at the start of my mandate as the European Union's Special Representative and the international community's High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, I believed that nation-building in this Balkan country had reached a watershed and that the "quasi-protectorate" was no longer viable. I argued, therefore, that more than a decade after the end of the war, it was time for the people of this country and their elected leaders to assume full responsibility for their own destiny. . . .

Yet the process of forming coalitions at the various levels of government has proceeded without international hand-holding. Electoral commitments bind the incoming local authorities to pursue pragmatic policies and prioritize economic growth.

I continue to believe in a policy of local ownership, but I also believe that the transition should take longer. There is a risk of importing instability from elsewhere in the region. And there is a risk of internal political paralysis. The local authorities need more time to adapt and the international community will have to show greater patience. It is therefore not yet time to give up the Bonn Powers.

But this extraordinary authority to impose laws and remove public officials does not provide long-term solutions. However, if held in reserve and used sparingly, it can still serve as a useful insurance policy against destabilization. This argument is gaining ground in the capitals that have to decide at the end of this month on the future of these powers and the Office I head. . . .

In charting the right course toward a viable and functional Bosnia and Herzegovina it has been necessary to differentiate between what works and what doesn't work. It has also been necessary to change a mindset, both in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the international community. Promoting local ownership is neither easy nor risk-free, but it avoids short-term fixes in an effort to create real and durable stability. It can yield success in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And it might also prove effective elsewhere.
I have not paid much attention to Bosnia and Herzegovina, so I can't really specifically assess the analysis here. I suspect counseling patience in this region and in Afghanistan and Iraq is sound wisdom from his experience.

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