Bosnia and Herzegovina: Background on U.S. Policy Concerns

In 1995, after over three years of conflict, the United States brokered the Dayton Peace Accords, ending the war in Bosnia. The accords retained Bosnia as a single country, divided into two largely-autonomous "entities." A NATO-led peacekeeping force and other international organizations are trying to help implement the accord and bring stability to the country. During the Clinton Administration, the premise of U.S. policy in Bosnia and the region was that the stability of the Balkans is important to stability in Europe as a whole, which the Administration viewed as a vital U.S. interest. During the 2000 Presidential campaign, candidate George W. Bush called for a U.S. withdrawal from Balkans peacekeeping, leaving the task up to European countries. However, Administration officials appear to have modified their views since taking office. In February 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that while the United States wants to reduce over time the number of U.S. troops in the region, the United States would not "cut and run." He stressed that United States and European forces in the Balkans "went in together, [and] we'll come out together." The U.S. deployment to Bosnia has been controversial in Congress. Critics say this mission and others like it are open-ended, have overly ambitious, fuzzy goals that amount to "nation-building," and that suchmissions sap the readiness of U.S. forces. Nevertheless, Congress has regularly provided funding for the Bosnia deployment over the past five years. Repeated efforts by some Members to set deadlines for withdrawal or tie a withdrawal to specific conditions have not become law. Congress has imposed reporting requirements on many issues, including the impact of Balkans peacekeeping missions on the readiness of U.S. forces, burdensharing with U.S. allies, and the establishment of benchmarks to measure progress on the ground. The United States and its allies have set the goal of a self-sustaining peace in Bosnia, defined as a peace that will likely continue to exist after peacekeeping forces have left. Benchmarks set to measure progress toward this goal include military stability, improved public security and law enforcement, democratic governance, economic development, an independent media and judiciary, reducing crime and corruption, refugee returns, bringing war criminals to justice, and reintegrating the strategic Brcko district. Supporters of the current approach of the international community in Bosnia say the slow, steady accumulation of progress in implementing the peace accord is changing the situation in Bosnia for the better. Critics charge that most of this progress has come as a result of the international community's browbeating or direct intervention. They assert that, lacking a real domestic constituency, this "progress" is by definition not self-sustaining. The international community has several possible options in Bosnia. It could continue the present course, or reduce the level of attention and resources devoted to Bosnia. Other options include a formal revision the peace accords to move openly toward partition on Bosnia, or re-interpreting or amending the accords to promote Bosnia's unity. Acting apart from the international community, the United States retains the option of withdrawing unilaterally from Bosnia.