The international Contact Group proposals for the future of Kosovo, put forward at the Paris/Rambouillet talks, in February 1999—advocating an international Implementations Mission in Kosovo—were based on the provisions of the Dayton Peace Agreement of November 1995, which ended the Bosnian conflict. If nato gets its way, these plans are likely to be re-proposed. Dayton instituted the division of powers between military implementation of the peace agreement, under nato authority, and civilian implementation, under an international High Representative, including election and media control under the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (osce). Where Dayton specified a one-year transitional remit for the civilian powers of the High Representative and the osce, the plans for Kosovo, ostensibly for three years, were open-ended. The shift at Rambouillet from limited powers of transitional administration to an international protectorate reflected the powerful dynamic extending international involvement in the Balkans. While international armies of monitors, peacekeepers and administrators appear to be ever more necessary for Balkan stability, there is less and less of a role for the people of the region in deciding their own futures.

This article draws on the experience of the last three-and-a-half years implementation of the Dayton Agreement in Bosnia. The purpose is, firstly, to highlight the extent of international powers under the new peace agreements in the region and, secondly, to assess whether this restriction of democracy has in fact created better conditions for community reconciliation and long-term stability.

Like Rambouillet, Dayton was an externally imposed agreement portrayed by the international Contact Group members, who designed it, as a step forward in sovereignty and autonomy. us Secretary of State Warren Christopher noted: ‘Now the Bosnian people will have their own democratic say. This is a worthy goal in and of itself, because the only peace that can last in Bosnia is the peace that the people of the country freely chose.’footnote1

According to the Dayton Agreement, there was to be a year of internationally supervised transition, during which there would be elections and the establishment of two types of joint institutions: the political institutions of the new state, which were to be elected and directly accountable to the people; and the economic, judicial and human rights institutions, which were to be supervised through the appointment of representatives from international institutions for five or six years.footnote2 This year of transition to, at least partial, self-governing democracy was due to end with the election of state and entity bodies in September 1996, symbolizing ‘the democratic birth of the country’.footnote3 Although these bodies were elected under internationally supervised and ratified elections, the transitional international administration was prolonged for a further two-year ‘consolidation period’ and then, in December 1997, extended indefinitely. The extension of the time limits for international withdrawal and the creation of new mandates for nato, the United Nations (un), and the osce since Dayton have been justified by growing reference to the ‘spirit’ rather than the letter of the Agreement.

The international community has been free to redefine its mandates in Bosnia because the Dayton Agreement, like its successor at Rambouillet, only bound the Balkan parties to it, not the international organizations who have given themselves the responsibility for implementing it. Ad hoc international forums such as the international Contact Group of the powers most concerned with Balkan issues (the us, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Russia), and the Peace Implementation Council (pic, formerly the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia) meet to decide policy and then call on international institutions such as the un, nato, osce, European Union (eu), imf and World Bank to draw up their own plans. None of these ad hoc forums or international institutions are party to or bound by any clauses of the Bosnia or Kosovo agreements.footnote4