Getting to Dayton: The Making of America's Bosnia Policy in 1995


For over three years, Washington responded to the war in Bosnia by handing the problem off to the Europeans to resolve and substituting high-minded rhetoric for concerted action. Then, in the summer of 1995, the Clinton administration suddenly shifted course, deciding to take on the leadership role necessary to end the war." "In this book, Ivo H. Daalder - who coordinated U.S. policy on Bosnia for the National Security Council from 1995 through 1996 - examines why and how Washington finally took on the role it ...
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For over three years, Washington responded to the war in Bosnia by handing the problem off to the Europeans to resolve and substituting high-minded rhetoric for concerted action. Then, in the summer of 1995, the Clinton administration suddenly shifted course, deciding to take on the leadership role necessary to end the war." "In this book, Ivo H. Daalder - who coordinated U.S. policy on Bosnia for the National Security Council from 1995 through 1996 - examines why and how Washington finally took on the role it had for so long declined to embrace. Drawing on numerous interviews with key participants in the process, as well as recollections of his own efforts, Daalder shows how the policy to end the war took shape.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Ivo Daalder has illuminated a crucial part of the history of this decade —how after three years of timidity, confusion, and discord over Bosnia, the Clinton administration finally broke away from its perceived domestic political constraints in the summer of 1995 and began the determined diplomatic and military effort that ultimately led to the Dayton Accords. He has recreated the evolution of policy thinking and the bureaucratic to-ings and fro-ings with insight, clarity, and directness. His book is an important contribution to an understanding of recent American foreign policy." —Morton Abramowitz, Former president, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815716914
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2000
  • Pages: 204
  • Product dimensions: 6.08 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Ivo H. Daalder is a senior fellow in Foreign Policy Studies and the Sydney Stein Jr. Chair in International Security at the Brookings Institution. He is the coauthor, with James M. Lindsay, of America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy (Brookings, 2003) and the coauthor of Winning Ugly: NATO's War to Save Kosovo (Brookings, 2001), written with Michael E. O'Hanlon.

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Read an Excerpt


THE VIOLENCE SPAWNED by the breakup of Yugoslavia posed the first major post-cold war test for the United States and its European allies. It is a test they failed miserably, as did the international organizations they used to respond to the violence. Yugoslavia was allowed to disintegrate into five separate entities, all but one of which emerged violently. Conflict was brief and relatively minor in Slovenia in June 1991, partly because its desire for independence from Yugoslavia was supported by an ethnically homogeneous population and because so few Serbs lived there. War did break out in Croatia and then in Bosnia, killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of people and displacing millions. While Macedonia escaped violence, its path to independence was tortured as a result of Greece's refusal to accept the legitimacy of "Macedonia" as the new country's name. Finally, though it was not until 1998 that war erupted in what remained of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), the explosion in Kosovo was long expected and no less bloody.

    From the onset of violence in early 1991, the major Western powers appealed to European institutions and the United Nations to deal with the problem created by the disintegration of this multi-ethnic state in the heart of southern Europe. Lulled by the supposed peace that a post-cold war Europe represented, these regional and global institutions sought to prove their relevance and credibility in the new world order. The Conference (later Organization) on Security and Cooperation in Europe was the first to fail—thwarted by its requirement for unanimous agreementamongall its members to take the action needed to prevent or halt the violence that flared. The European Community eagerly entered the fray, first negotiating an agreement to end the violence in Slovenia but then demonstrating its inability to formulate a coherent response in Croatia. The United Nations secured a fragile peace in Croatia and deployed more than 10,000 peacekeepers under its auspices to supervise the truce. However, the UN refused to act preventively in Bosnia, which soon erupted in a violent convulsion of its own. Many more thousands of UN peacekeepers were sent to Bosnia to try to mitigate the worst humanitarian consequences of the war. They, in turn, were supported by NATO, which had pledged to conduct air strikes in defense of the peacekeepers as well as six isolated "safe areas" inhabited by a debilitated Muslim population. The conflict between the United Nations and NATO over when and to what extent to use force effectively nullified NATO's possible deterrent effect and threatened the credibility of history's most successful and strongest military alliance.

    The collective failure of these regional and international institutions to deal with Yugoslavia's disintegration was due to many factors, including institutional incompetence and overconfidence. But at bottom, it was a failure of the major powers, which used the institutions in an attempt to obfuscate their own unwillingness to employ the right combination of diplomacy and force to end the fighting. In the end, it was a failure of the United States, first in deferring to the Europeans while failing to back them up, and then in trying to intervene with half-measures designed more to limit risks than to have an impact on the ground.

    Numerous explanations for these collective, European, and U.S. failures have been provided by others in detailed analyses of the tepid international responses to the breakup of Yugoslavia. The purpose here is not to retrace this well-trodden ground. Rather, the focus is on the U.S. decision in the summer of 1995 to break the deadlock that had prevented collective action by taking responsibility for halting the worst violence spawned by the breakup of Yugoslavia, namely the war in Bosnia. After four years of standing on the sidelines, watching as many thousands died and millions were displaced, why did Washington reverse course? Why in August 1995 and not earlier? And why decide to engage as Washington ultimately did—combining a push for a negotiated settlement that would concede the Bosnian Serbs more than they would have gotten under earlier peace proposals with a military track aimed at establishing a military balance that would for the first time provide the Bosnian Muslims with a capacity to defend themselves?

    What follows is an attempt to answer these questions, to recount how the policy shift—and its ultimate success—came about. It is a story that until now has not been fully told. It aims to shed light on the process by which the policy was made, the calculations underlying it, and its subsequent implementation. The focus is on Washington: on the corridors of power where memos are written and read; meetings are convened; deals are cut; decisions are made and ignored; bureaucratic games are played; and egos are confirmed and broken. The concern is not with Bosnia, the rights and wrongs of particular sides in the war or its possible resolution, or with the allies or NATO and their contribution to ending the war. The aim is, instead, more limited: to tell the tale of how U.S. policy on Bosnia shifted suddenly and dramatically, and ultimately achieved what none who had valiantly tried had been able to accomplish before. It is, above all, a story of people—public servants—working against great odds to do what they believed to be the right thing.

    The story of the making of America's Bosnia policy is told in four parts. Chapter 1 sets the stage for the shift in U.S. policy by recounting how Western policy toward Bosnia had evolved until 1995, including Europe's lead in the initial Western response and the Clinton administration's early promises to become more engaged in Bosnia than the Bush administration. Chapter 2 reviews how the contradictions in U.S. and western policy toward Bosnia became too evident to be ignored and how the pressure for change became irresistible. This second chapter focuses on the failure of the UN mission after repeated attacks by the Bosnian Serbs on UN-declared safe areas; the absence of a credible NATO response; the prospect of deploying U.S. and other NATO forces to assist the UN in withdrawing its forces to more tenable positions (if not depart from Bosnia completely); and the U.S. and NATO response to the Bosnian Serb takeover of the eastern enclaves—including the unspeakable horrors in and around Srebrenica. Chapter 3 turns to the policy review conducted in the middle of 1995, primarily by the National Security Council (NSC) staff, and the development of the "endgame strategy," the strategy paper that would form the basis of U.S. policy from August 1995 onward. Chapter 4 examines how we got to the peace agreement ending Europe's most bloody war since World War II that was negotiated during twenty-one tiring and trying days at a U.S. air force base in Dayton, Ohio. Instead of repeating the detailed account in Richard Holbrooke's masterful narrative of the negotiations, the focus here is on the key decisions—made in Washington—that would have a profound impact on the implementation of the peace agreement.

    The final chapter attempts to draw lessons for U.S. foreign policy. A detailed examination of how America's Bosnia policy was made yields important lessons for those making and analyzing policy alike—including the critical role of the national security adviser and his staff in molding the decisionmaking process, if not implementation. The ultimate success of the policy shift on Bosnia that resulted from this process also has important implications for U.S. policy toward Bosnia, the use of force, and Europe more broadly. Having secured an end to the war in Bosnia, the United States will remain involved there for many years to come. The question is not whether it will stay, but what to do while there. Bosnia also has consequences for how the Clinton administration and others viewed the relationship between force and diplomacy, confirming for many the belief that the carefully wielded threat of force can support diplomatic efforts. Finally, the resolution of the Bosnia issue has opened the way for the administration's ambitious policy of achieving a Europe that is undivided, peaceful, and democratic. Once the war ended, progress was rapid on many fronts. New members have joined old in a transformed NATO now dedicated to extending stability and security throughout Europe. And allied NATO troops were deployed far beyond their territory in an effort to safeguard and enforce a precarious peace in other parts of the continent. As the twentieth century comes to an end, the dream of a Europe both whole and free that emerged in the wake of the cold war finally seemed to have come within reach.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Ch. 1 "The Problem from Hell" 5
Ch. 2 From Containment to Engagement 37
Ch. 3 The Endgame Strategy 81
Ch. 4 The Road to Dayton 117
Ch. 5 Conclusions and Implications 162
Index 191
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