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  • How Can a Bosnia Happen?
  • Dina Francesca Haynes (bio)
How Can a Bosnia Happen? Keith Doubt , Understanding Evil: Lessons from Bosnia ( New York, NY: Fordham University Press 2006) 184 pages, ISBN 0823227006

There are some downsides to negotiating peace. In order to bring about cessation of hostilities, negotiators bring to the table the very criminals who fomented war in the first place. In the case of Bosnia, after much dithering on the part of the heads of state around the world, Richard Holbrook was appointed by President Clinton to negotiate peace in Bosnia. In so doing, he brought Slobodan Milošević, Franjo Tudjman, and Alija Izetbegović to the table in Dayton. Not only did they sign the accords, but they pounded out an entire set of plans to end the fighting and begin rebuilding Bosnia, all without publicly demanding the divvying up of the country between the newly formed independent Republic of Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The parties to the General Framework Agreement for Peace left the table in Dayton, and the international community descended upon Bosnia in the form of an international protectorate under the leadership of the High Representative of Bosnia. A war crimes tribunal was established in the Hague to bring the war criminals to justice and everyone went to work on building peace and the reconstruction of Bosnia.

Critics, myself among them, have noted that negotiating a peace accord is an entirely different exercise than is setting forward a working document, such as the General Framework Agreement for Peace. The nature of peace building is such that the focus must be on reconstruction rather than on blame. It is less about transitional justice than it is about reestablishing governance and moving on. In the case of Bosnia, reconstruction meant not only repairing a country damaged by war, but also assisting it in completing the political and economic transition from communism and socialism to democracy and capitalism. Everywhere in this mix, there was effort, perhaps unconscious, perhaps not, to focus energy on not blaming the wrongdoers, but on getting on with the peacemaking, even if it meant sidelining transitional justice. Very little attention was paid during the first seven years of reconstruction, to either reestablishing the rule of law or attending to the needs of the people of Bosnia to begin a process of psychological recovery by hearing the confessions of the warmongers, as with a truth commission, or seeing them brought to justice. It was tacitly understood that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), far away in the Hague, somehow would take care of all the psychological and emotional healing and justice. The international community would focus on making the country into the sort of democracy that would make its neighbors and other states feel comfortable.

Once these fomenters of genocide had signed onto the Dayton Peace Accords, they joined the international parties to the peace accords as architects of the reconstruction of Bosnia, the country which at least two of the parties, Milošević and Tudjman, had set out to destroy. The working vocabulary of the [End Page 1119] exercise in international administration and reconstruction is founded on principles of peacemaking, not on identifying the conscious choices made by those same men to willingly murder, rape, and destroy the lives of the subordinates of the others, nor on punishing them for it. The ICTY, far away in the Hague, was responsible for all of that.

But as Keith Doubt powerfully reminds us, some of these moves were mistakes. In fact, it is a mistake, he says, even to characterize what happened in Bosnia as acts of aggression.

[A]ggression is what animals and humans do when they think that the situation allows no alternatives. Animals are incapable of self-reflection; they do not make decisions based on reasoning and normative orientations. When we say that humans act aggressively, we conceal from ourselves and from others the choices that the actors make. We reduce action to behavior, and we only partially understand what people are doing and why they are doing it.1

In working to get to peace and a reconstructed Bosnia, the international community brought genocidal...


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