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

The lack of constraints on international institutions extending their mandates and powers is revealed by the fact that every international forum on Bosnian policy-making has further extended the network of ad hoc international regulation. The nato mandate in Bosnia under ifor (implementation force), due to expire in December 1996, was extended for a further eighteen months under sfor (stabilization force) and then further extended a year later, this time indefinitely. On similar time-scales, the un, osce and Office of the High Representative (ohr) mandates in Bosnia were temporarily and then indefinitely extended. The powers of these institutions were also expanded, giving them a unique scope of authority. Acknowledging the lack of military threat to nato forces, the new mandate further emphasized the humanitarian, economic and policing roles. The osce’s mandate to regulate elections extended from the organization of the election process itself to include novel powers to install post-election administrations and to stipulate the allocation of governing responsibilities, in effect, ratifying elections on the basis of the actions of elected representatives once in post. Along with the official international institutions involved in regulating Bosnia there are also around two hundred international non-governmental organizations involved, on both an official and unofficial basis, in civilian policy implementation. As the Times columnist Simon Jenkins notes, the small Bosnian state has become ‘the world capital of interventionism’.footnote5

The institution whose powers have extended the most since the Dayton Agreement was signed has been the ohr—the office of the international community’s High Representative, or Chief of the Implementation Mission, in Rambouillet terminology. Under the Dayton provisions, it was envisaged that the role of the High Representative would end once new institutions of government were elected in September 1996. After the elections, the ohr was given the authority to draw up two twelve-month ‘action plans’ for the government of the new state. These plans were to be approved by the pic, not the Bosnian government. In implementing these plans, the international community initially gave lip-service to the democratic mandate of Bosnian politicians, stating that the High Representative could make recommendations to the government and, in case of dispute, make these recommendations public.footnote6 Six months later, the pic gave the High Representative the power to set deadlines for compliance with his recommended measures, with the power to impose restrictions on travel abroad for obstructive Bosnian representatives and to impose economic sanctions at a local or regional level in the case of non-compliance. At the same time, he was given the authority to curtail or suspend any media network or programmes which were held to contravene ‘either the spirit or the letter’ of Dayton.footnote7