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Internal News - 24 November 2006

State-Building in a Post-Conflict Environment: Lessons Learned in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Paddy Ashdown's speech:

The post-Cold War world doesn’t look at all as we expected it to look, as little as ten or so years ago. The bright vistas conjured up in 1989 and 1990 – with democracy and prosperity breaking out everywhere – now seem more like the product of over-exuberant imagination, than of clear-headed political or historical analysis.

Far from being the End of History as described in that comforting idyll by Francis Fukuyama, history is alive and kicking – and kicking rather hard at the moment.

Far from being more tranquil, our global village is looking increasingly more troubled.

Among the issues that have come to haunt us – or come back to haunt us – are some very old geo-strategic cultural antagonisms, like the ancient struggle between Christendom and Islam, and some very new challenges such as globalization and resource competition.

These were either completely invisible or on the very margins of debate a decade ago.

Today they are full blooded, front and centre and demand our attention.

Yet – I think most of us will agree – our post-Cold War world remains, overall, a better world than the one in which most of us grew up, where the two superpowers were locked in a chronic conflict that placed the whole of humanity just one push of a button away from nuclear annihilation.

That, however, does not diminish our need, at the beginning of the 21st century, to come to grips with a different range of challenges.

The problems of post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction stand among the top rank of this list of modern challenges.

From Iraq to East Timor, from Afghanistan to Sierra Leone, in Central and South America, in the Caucuses and the Middle East, in Africa and in South and East Asia, countries are struggling to recover from conflicts, many of which erupted as a result of the collapse of the Cold War system and the power vacuums which followed.

Each of these conflicts has thrown down new challenges to the International Community, and in each case new, and often very distinct, solutions have had to be developed. We have had to learn on the job.

None of us should forget that this learning process – proceeding by trial and error – has exacted a substantial price from the civilians caught in these conflicts, and they number in the tens of millions.

Tonight I would like to share with you some perspectives that may, tentatively, help illuminate this important debate, from the viewpoint, not of the theoretician, but of the practitioner in the field, after four years as High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

These perspectives, at least in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, are predominantly positive.

Here is what we have learned, in a nutshell:

If you have a clear vision, the right resources, a firm destination to head for, a good plan and the will to carry it through, you can, in at least some cases, successfully re-build a secure peace even after the most devastating war.

In this speech I will deal with each of these elements of successful peace stabilization, in turn.

First, resources.

These are time, money, troops on the ground and a united International Community.

It helps to have the troops – and by the way lots of them - at the beginning and the money in the middle and at the end.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, no less than ten divisions of NATO-led troops were deployed along the front lines in the space of just three weeks in the winter of 1995. Their authority was never challenged after that. And not one of them has ever been killed in anger. Successive reductions in the size of the peacekeeping force – from 60,000 in the initial deployment to around 6,000 today – reflect a process of steady consolidation.

Was this a lucky break? No.

One thing we have learned in Bosnia is that troops plus a workable political settlement will succeed – but one without the other won’t.

And the Dayton Agreement, for all its shortcomings in the later phases of the re-building of Bosnia – proved to be a workable settlement in the early phases.

At least, it proved so when the International Community resolutely set about making it work.

In the early stages of peace implementation the domestic signatories to the agreement appeared determined to honour its provisions to the letter, while undermining its very clear intentions whenever the opportunity to do so arose.

They did so while channeling the influx of international aid money away from strategic projects into their own projects, often ones that allowed them to deliver benefits to their constituents, while cutting out potential beneficiaries from other groups. Their aim was to use the Dayton process, not to build peace, but as a framework within which to continue the pursuit of their aims by other means.

If not actually going backward – since any possibility of a return to violence was quashed by the overwhelming presence of international peacekeepers – BiH appeared at best to be standing still.

During this period the International Community concentrated much of its effort on holding free and fair elections. On the face of it, this made sense.

But it didn’t take into account the hard fact that democratic norms are attained and sustained by more than elections – they depend on recovery across a broad front that includes – crucially and early – the rule of law and a viable economy.

Corrupt and politicized judges and police, mass unemployment, endemic poverty and clientelist politics will all confound the democratic process, even if elections are technically free and fair.

Democratic elections without the rule of law, simply allow the criminals to be elected to political office, the better to undermine the rule of law. What this leads to is not democracy but the criminally captured state.

Now, this may appear to be obvious, with the benefit of hindsight. But it was by no means obvious in the first months and years of peace implementation in BiH.

Intervention is at best messy, at worst bloody. It is invariably attended by pressure for quick results. In situations where peacekeepers are engaged in full-scale military operations against opponents of a political settlement – not, happily, the case in BiH after 1995 but all too blatantly the case in certain intervention exercises today – it may be hard to understand and focus on the need, for example, to upgrade the judiciary and depoliticize the police.

In situations where a massive segment of the country’s housing stock has been destroyed or badly damaged, where GDP has collapsed and economic life is controlled by black-marketeers, it may seem fanciful to start talking about improving the business environment, let alone the need to introduce an efficient Value Added Tax.

But what we learned, too slowly, in BiH is that these things really are on a par with emergency relief and a robust security posture. They are indispensable elements in making a political settlement work. You can’t have constructive politics if you don’t have a growing economy; you can’t face down obstructionists if parliamentary and judicial institutions are weak and infected with corruption.

Reconstruction – like politics as a whole – is complex. It can’t be accomplished piecemeal.

This initial and nearly mortal dysfunction in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s recovery arc was, at last, addressed at the end of 1997 with the introduction of the Bonn Powers, enabling the High Representative to cut through the thickets of obstruction by removing recalcitrant officials and where necessary enacting reform legislation. This was combined with a new focus on making the political and economic institutions work as opposed to propping them up with international largesse.

It would have been better to have taken these tough measures from day one, rather than two years after the peace had been signed; another lesson for peacekeeping here, incidentally. It is better to be tough at the start and relax later, than to be weak at the start and pay for it later.

The result of this new tough approach by the International Community was almost immediately felt.

From then on BiH has made remarkable progress. Here is what has been achieved in the intervening years:

• More than a million of those who were displaced from their homes during the war have since returned; • The armed forces, which for years continued to maintain organizational and ideological divisions created by the war, have been unified and brought under the exclusive command and control of the state; • A programme of reform that will in the coming years provide BiH with a democratically supervised and rationally organized police service has been agreed; • The two customs services have been unified • The three intelligence services have been welded into one and brought under democratic control; • The judiciary has been cleaned up, depoliticized and placed within a single countrywide framework; • A single criminal code, written by the Bosnians themselves, has been established; • The ruling Council of Ministers has been expanded and made more efficient; • After years of frustratingly slow progress, the city of Mostar has at last been unified; • A single, countrywide system of VAT has been introduced; • GDP growth has been maintained in recent years at 5 percent or above, the fastest growth rate in the Western Balkans; • The inflation rate stands at 0.5 percent, one of the lowest in Southeast Europe; • Foreign direct investment is now five times higher than it was in the late nineties; • Exports and industrial production are up; • Interest rates have halved since 2000; • The real unemployment is about half the official rate of 40 percent.

I haven’t recited this litany as an exercise in puffing up the achievements of the International Community in BiH. That would be simplistic and rather pointless. I’ve drawn attention to these facts because they show in a very tangible way that postwar reconstruction has to be holistic.

One step forward facilitates another step forward. You can’t have economic progress unless you clean up the legal environment; you can’t have democratic progress unless you tackle corruption. You can’t have social progress unless you deliver tangible improvements in living standards, and so on.

And the second reason is to demonstrate that with a range of activities this broad and this complex, you simply cannot have progress by fiat. A small band of foreigners, empowered by military force and limitless funds cannot make a country recover. The only people who can do this successfully are the people of that country.

This too may appear rather obvious – yet it has not been heeded in the case of several notable and still problematic international postwar reconstruction exercises in various parts of the globe.

The International Community may have everything it needs to fix a failed state – but this is essentially beside the point. The failed state won’t stop failing until the people of that state have a clear idea of where they are going, are prepared to take the necessary steps to reach that destination and have what they need to fix problems along the way.

I cannot overstress the issue of a common destination, shared by the domestic authorities and the International Community. This is something we have had in BiH but which has been, up to now, lacking in Kosovo and, after that, in Afghanistan and Iraq. In BiH the International Community and domestic opinion have worked together to reach the same agreed destination. This has provided a common project around which both the International Community and constructive domestic forces could gather. The absence of such a commonly agreed project can seriously debilitate or even, in the worst case, destroy stabilization efforts – a fact to which the events in Kosovo and Iraq bear testimony.

In BiH we were lucky. Membership of the European Union and NATO provided the obvious destination, and getting there has been an undertaking supported by all, or nearly all, across the whole political and ethnic spectrum. This made our job much easier.

And agreeing objectives – and setting clear benchmarks on the road to reaching these objectives – has been applied to good effect inside the Office of the High Representative. The Mission Implementation Plan (MIP), which we introduced in January 2003, sets out the core tasks remaining for OHR, and provides us with a means of evaluating our progress. The priorities in the MIP reflect the fact that, against a backdrop of declining donor resources and with new and pressing priorities vying for the International Community’s attention, we need to distinguish rigorously between what is essential and what is merely desirable if we are to make peace in BiH self-sustaining.

Administratively, this has meant increasing efficiency against a backdrop of systematic staff reductions. In 2003 OHR had more than 800 staff. By the end of 2005 the number had dropped to just over 300.

But the Mission Implementation Plan was not just an internal management tool.

It was also the compass which kept OHR on course, by keeping us targeted on the issues that mattered and preventing mission creep.

The closing down of OHR departments and the phasing out of OHR tasks was not haphazard or arbitrary; it was executed in lockstep with a rigorous programme aimed at completing short and medium-term tasks, and handing over the long-term ones to the BiH authorities, whose proper role it is to oversee and execute such tasks. In this way real BiH ownership of its own recovery was systematically increased as the international presence was systematically decreased.

The framework within which this took place was our joint overarching plan, achieving membership of Euro-Atlantic institutions

In recent years, BiH has benefited hugely from the fact that its aspiration to integrate in Euro-Atlantic structures, most notably the European Union and NATO – an objective that has the support of the vast majority of citizens – comes with very clear policy benchmarks. Making this dream a reality has involved the implementation of a long and coherent list of economic, social and political reforms – essentially a practical blueprint for taking BiH into the modern democratic world.

Throughout this process we have had to contend with the fact that the state bequeathed by Dayton is a bureaucratic monstrosity. BiH has no fewer then 13 prime ministers, and that is the tip of a vast administrative apparatus set in place in 1995 when the demands of representative government – and by representative we are talking about representation of groups rather than individuals – outweighed the requirements of efficient and effective government.

Substantial progress has now, at last, been made in tackling this issue. But there is much further to go and this will become a key task after Bosnia’s next elections in October this year. No state can prosper which spends 70 percent of its hard-pressed citizens’ taxes on salaries for government employees and only 30 percent on services. BiH politicians have at last come to accept the rather obvious truth of this.

Our experience in BiH has been that, in the first phase, the agreement hammered out at Dayton proved to be an indispensable and durable mechanism for preventing a return to violence. But now we are in the second phase – building a viable state. And here we discover that Dayton is not so much a help as a hindrance. We had to move beyond Dayton – and Europe provides the means to do so. We have to find a new framework within which BiH can complete the second phase of its journey, to create a modern market economy – and the EU provides just the framework we need.

I have sketched some of the salient aspects of postwar reconstruction in BiH. I believe we have only to compare what we know now to what we clearly and painfully didn’t know in 1992 to see how far we have come.

I mentioned earlier that this learning process has not been carried out without cost – to the people in the states that the International Community has sought to help. The people of BiH endured three and a half years of slaughter and hardship because the International Community dithered, and then several more years in which the least constructive political forces were allowed to rule the roost, because the International Community was learning on the job.

Our priority now must surely be to make sure that the lessons that have been learned in the last decade are applied, where appropriate (because each country in recovery has its own distinct requirements) in a disciplined and effective way.

What we do know is that peace implementation and nation building can work. BiH demonstrates that (although, in the beginning, few thought that it would work).

We must learn from the successes; we should not give up in those cases where success has not yet been achieved. If there is one final lesson for peace stabilization it is this. Fighting a modern, high-tech war can take days or weeks – but building the peace that follows such a war must be measured in decades.

That time frame – not months but decades – represents a sound investment.

If we reduce the proposition to one of material expense, we find that a week of war routinely costs more than a year of peace stabilization, so, clearly, avoiding a recurrence of war is better value for public money than letting failed states keep on failing. But this is not just about economics.

As recent events have shown very graphically, the cost of allowing states to fail, in our increasingly interdependent world, is more often than not paid in blood and horror well beyond that states borders – a failure to finish the job in Afghanistan, can result in unimaginable terror and destruction a decade later, in New York. And nor is it just about prevention.

Recovering states make sound allies, promising trading partners, useful allies in peace stabilization elsewhere – Bosnia has recently sent forces to Iraq to help the coalition effort there.

In short – though there are moral reasons for intervention and peace stabilization, there are powerful reasons of self interest in getting it right as well.

Getting it right takes time and it takes resources but it can work - as Bosnia and Herzegovina, arguably the world most successful large scale peace stabilization exercise in recent times, shows.

We owe it to ourselves and perhaps above all to the citizens of failed states – our fellow citizens in the global village – to make sure that where possible that example is followed, intelligently and effectively, in other parts of the world. Thank you.