Peacekeeping in the Balkans — How to Do It Right

Will deploying yet another international contingent in the Balkans reveal who is most capable of such endeavors?

August 24, 2001

Will deploying yet another international contingent in the Balkans reveal who is most capable of such endeavors?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is preparing to deploy in Macedonia yet another peacekeeping force in the Balkans. And so, NATO, the United States and the EU have busied themselves with planning for how large a military force can be deployed within how short a time and sustained for how long to deal with such conflicts in the future.

And yet, something is missing from this picture. Simply put, the focus is exclusively on how quickly a military force can engage in military action, achieve its military objectives — and retire successfully (in a military sense) from the battlefield.

What happens next is a little vague except that responsibility would be handed off to some undefined “civilian authority.” The failure of either Europe or the United States individually or collectively to define who gets the handoff is a major defect in the present approach.

Let us set aside the vulnerability of such a military strategy to adversaries in a conflict area whose timetable might be a bit longer-term than that of military planners in Brussels or Washington. Creating the best-trained, high-tech, rapidly deployable military force in Europe (whether provided by NATO or EU) is not enough to meet the challenges of peacekeeping (or “peace-making,” or “nation-building”) operations.

In Macedonia, the combination of a limited mandate (designed to collect weapons only) and the short-term time horizon (30-days) for the NATO military mission, plus the promise of EU economic assistance, is not enough. What’s still missing from the equation is defining a mission for how the international community will support the Macedonians in carrying out the agreements they have just signed.

In the past, the lack of a civilian NATO — a structure to carry out the civilian aspects of such missions — has ensured ad hoc, crazy-quilt civilian engagement made up of competing international structures minimally capable of joint action. In Bosnia, the relevant bodies, such as the Office of the High Representative, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the UN family — coordinated loosely in pursuit of an ambitious agenda, but without a common agreed set of priorities.

Like a series of “stove pipes,” each institution listened only to the political guidance from its governing body — and then, on the ground, interpreted that guidance as it saw fit. This wasted resources, conveyed the impression of an unclear civilian mission compared to that of the NATO/SFOR military forces, and undercut the legitimacy of the international community in the eyes of the people of Bosnia.

On the ground in Bosnia, it was obvious to all of us involved that the lack of an institution with both responsibility and authority to carry out the civilian implementation of the Dayton agreement delayed achieving our objectives in Bosnia. It also prevented more effective utilization of the NATO/SFOR military presence to support civilian implementation of Dayton. Talking about a better-coordinated international effort in Bosnia is a great idea — but about five years too late.

Too late — because creating the civilian structure after the military force has been deployed is a recipe for frustration among military and civilian political leadership in Washington and EU capitals. It also leads to delay and possible failure on the ground.

Unless there is a pre-existing structure for civilian operations that is part of the planning process and deployable at the same time as the military element, the game will not be one of hand-off, but of catch-up. It would be hard now to fix the Bosnia and Kosovo operations.

Still, we can do better in the future. More importantly, we must do better because peacekeeping challenges will continue to grow in Europe — whether in the Balkans or further afield in areas such as the Caucasus.

In my view, here is what is needed:

— A permanent structure capable of acting across the spectrum of challenges — covering economic assistance, democracy building, refugee return, police and judicial reform — to be handled by the international community in such peacekeeping operations. It must be capable of joint planning with any likely NATO- or EU-led military deployment.

— Its mission must be to provide the medium-term framework to support conflict resolution and peace-making beyond the limited period of military intervention. While it would go in together with the military deployment, it would stay longer on the ground to assure success of the peace-making process.

— A single board of directors providing the coordinated political guidance for the international community. In Bosnia, the UN, the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (OHR) — through Peace Implementation Council — and the OSCE all take direction from different bodies of political masters yet made up of many of the same countries.

— Political leadership for this structure must come from both the United States and the EU. Neither can go it alone. EU unilateralism is every bit as dangerous as U.S. unilateralism in this regard. Together, the United States and the EU can shape the form and effectiveness of the civilian counterpart to the military force as well as the political direction for the peacekeeping operation.

— A true multinational body that includes the Russians. It is time to put Russia’s rhetoric about being a responsible modern nation to the test. Make them part of the decision-making and collective action. Left out, as they were in the initial Kosovo planning, they will find an unhelpful way to insert themselves.

— This structure must be deployed with the capability to carry out civilian police and judicial functions. The weakest part of the international community’s presence in Kosovo and Bosnia has been in these areas. The inability of the international community to depend on the local police and judicial authorities to establish the rule of law has held back the peace-making process.

This will be a difficult, but not impossible challenge. The EU will want to have the strongest say in determining the mission of such a structure, if not incorporating it into the emerging EU foreign and defense framework. The United States, on the other hand, will want to protect NATO decision-making from influence by non-NATO countries and institutions (read: the EU).

In Sarajevo, we tried to minimize U.S.-EU differences over who was the most important player by trying to find common ground for using the considerable political weight the United States and the EU could bring to bear to deal with opposition to Dayton implementation.

This worked most successfully on issues such as supporting more moderate political forces in the Republika Srpska (Serbia). Other opportunities were lost, however, due to EU failure to have a common position for joint action with the United States.

Whether you empower an existing institution like the OSCE (or create a new one) is less important than recognizing the weakness of the current ad-hoc approach and fixing it for the future based on a U.S.-EU political understanding.

Failure to do so will undermine the military results of the U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review, the EU “Headline Goals,” or NATO’s Defense Capabilities Initiative in the critical area of peacekeeping. Neither the United States nor the EU can afford that.