The conflict known as the Bosnian War is filled with complicated issues and questions that seemingly do not have an obvious correct answer. The decisions made by Richard Holbrooke, a United States diplomat who has been tasked with dealing with the former Yugoslavian region, could also be both supported and criticized. Overall, the peace treaty has been signed primarily due to the impact of Holbrooke and his team. Nevertheless, one could disagree with the diplomat’s actions and point out potential concerns that his choices caused for contemporary Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of these issues is the indirect decision of Holbrooke to lift up Slobodan Milošević as one of the representing parties in this conflict.
In the span between August and December of 1995, the “Dayton Agreement” – the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina – was created and signed.1 Several people participated in the singing, including Slobodan Milošević, the President of the Republic of Serbia, Franjo Tuđman, President of Croatia, and Alija Izetbegović, the President of Bosnia and Herzegovina.2 In particular, Milošević was concerned with the interests of Bosnian Serbs.
More than that, he was the leader of one side of the discussion according to the so-called “Patriarch Paper,” a document signed by several leaders of the Bosnian Serb leadership and the Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch.3 This document gave him virtually total power over the fate of this particular nation. Although one can argue that Holbrooke did not directly empower Milošević to take over the negotiation, his decision to exclude other leaders and the allowing to frame the conflict as an ethnic one potentially sealed the face of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ethnicity-based conflicts.
It is apparent that Holbrooke did not have many choices when choosing with whom to arrange negotiations for establishing peace in the region. One should also point out that Milošević had a strong intention to stop the conflict and settle for a peaceful solution that would end the war.4 Arguably, he was a better choice than two other politicians who signed off their power to him with the Patriarch Paper. Karadžić and Mladić were war criminals, and Holbrooke did not want to see them at the negotiation table and peace treaty signing.5 This could potentially escalate the situation or interfere with the public image of the peace treaty, thus undermining its legitimacy.
However, Milošević also was a radical politician with extreme ethnic-driven views of the conflict. In particular, he framed the conflict between Bosnians and Serbians from his Serbian point of view while representing Bosnian interests.6 As a result, the potential multicultural future of Bosnia was replaced by Milošević’s vision of division. The ethnic groups inside the nation did not cease their conflicts after the agreement was signed, and the nationalist ideology was preserved at the center of the local politics.78
Holbrooke could not have known about later trials of Milošević for war crimes during the Bosnian War, Croatian Independence War, and later Kosovo War.9 Still, the nationalistic intentions of this politician were quite clear. Thus, by allowing him to the table of negotiations and giving him great power over the decisions in the region, Holbrooke inadvertently contributed to the ethnic tensions between Bosnians, Croatians, and Serbs living in the country.
It also reveals a lack of ethical consistency in the diplomat’s decision to exclude war criminals from peace negotiations. Milošević was an intellectual politician, but his views on the conflict were rather transparent, and his crimes during the war could be foreseen by a professional such as Holbrooke. As an outcome, one may assume that the diplomat made a conscious decision to focus on the signing of the peace agreement without considering the potential long-term consequences of the treaty.
Thus, I would argue that Milošević should have been excluded from peace negotiations similar to other politicians proclaimed to be war criminals. This decision is challenging as it potentially removes the ability to appoint another, more suitable figure to take the politician’s place. However, the diplomat could have taken the change to weigh the importance of including a politician with less nationalist views that could reframe the peace agreement of Bosnia and Herzegovina and propose a solution that would not lead to severe ethnic conflicts between the locals. In four years following the signing, Milošević was indicted by the United Nations for crimes against humanity and genocide in Bosnia.10 Thus, it is reasonable to suggest that the politician could not adequately represent the interests of all Bosnian citizens.
The complexity of decisions that Holbrooke made to resolve the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the former Yugoslavian region are difficult to criticize as each choice is also connected to decades of ethnic and political problems. Nonetheless, one could argue that Holbrooke neglected the long-term outcomes of including Milošević, a radical nationalist politician and an indicted war criminal, to represent Bosnian views. In the end, his opinions greatly influenced the formation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its ongoing ethnic disputes, which could have been averted or mitigated otherwise.
Hartwell, Leon. “Conflict Resolution: Lessons from the Dayton Peace Process.” Negotiation Journal 35, no. 4 (2019): 443-469.
Holbrooke, Richard. To End a War. New York: Modern Library, 2011.
Kapidžić, Damir. “The Dominance of Ethnic Parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina Will Continue.” Perspectives Southeastern Europe # 6: Narratives in the Balkans: In the Combat Zone, no. 4 (2018): 54-57.
Karčić, Hamza. “Camp David and Dayton: Comparing Jimmy Carter and Richard Holbrooke as Mediators.” International Negotiation 22, no. 1 (2017): 1-32.
- Hamza Karčić, “Camp David and Dayton: Comparing Jimmy Carter and Richard Holbrooke as Mediators,” International Negotiation 22, no. 1 (2017): 1.
- Richard Holbrooke, To End a War (New York: Modern Library, 2011), chap. 1.
- Holbrooke, chap. 7.
- Holbrooke, chap. 7.
- Holbrooke, chap. 7.
- Leon Hartwell,“Conflict Resolution: Lessons from the Dayton Peace Process,” Negotiation Journal 35, no. 4 (2019): 460.
- Hartwell, 459.
- Damir Kapidžić, “The Dominance of Ethnic Parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina Will Continue,” Perspectives Southeastern Europe # 6: Narratives in the Balkans: In the Combat Zone, no. 4 (2018): 54.
- Hartwell, 460.
- Hartwell, 460.