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11 High Stakes in Ohio Richard Holbrooke carried the burden of success or failure of the Dayton talks. Others contributed, but Holbrooke was the ringmaster, and he liked a disorderly and stressful show. In disorder and pressure, he found opportunity. Success was no sure bet as the parties gathered for the twenty-one days of negotiations in the fenced compound inside Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. Proximity talks between heads of state and international negotiators are very high-risk endeavors, especially when they are as concentrated, isolated, and open-ended as they were at Dayton. The Dayton talks carried no guarantee of success, but failure to achieve a settlement would damage everyone involved and might well return Bosnia to war. Holbrooke saw the gathering as “a high-wire act without a net.”1 The stakes were great in every camp. For the three presidents at Dayton , the talks would define the future of their countries and their personal place in their national history. The White House had put the reputation of the Clinton administration on the line by sponsoring the talks in the United States. NATO and the US military had large equities in the outcome of the talks. In Europe, the governments represented in the Contact Group had invested heavily in the entire international effort in Bosnia, but without success so far. The Europeans wanted no part of another failed effort to bring peace to Bosnia. Russia, too, wanted to be a contributing partner in a successful diplomatic effort with the United States and western Europe. Holbrooke directed multiple layers of negotiations, many taking place at the same time. The three Balkan presidents—Milosevic, Tudjman, and Izetbegovic—brought a flock of advisers, experts, and lawyers to assist them in the negotiations. The European representatives wanted a say in the details of the negotiations. Finally, with the US administration’s reputation at stake, the national security and foreign-policy establishments in Washington demanded input on important decisions. 108 Bosnia: The Dayton Agreement The Dayton talks were the dominant event on the international agenda . Tensions were high among participants, and tempers frequently flared throughout. Holbrooke, as the senior negotiator, had to maintain order to keep the process from unraveling. But he faced auxiliary issues, such as the Serbs’ holding of an American journalist in Bosnia and the ICTY’s demands. Because of these competing pressures, Holbrooke was always in triage mode with respect to his time, energy, and attention. To help him, Holbrooke had the full support of the State Department’s foreign-policy and legal expertise. Several US ambassadors from the region, senior officials, and staff in the legal and specialized bureaus at State were present or on call to assist as needed. The Dayton negotiations had a complicated agenda. The talks considered a range of proposals to create the structure, territory, and procedures for a new country. The negotiations involved a constitution for Bosnia, territorial boundaries, elections, refugee returns, the nature and authority of Richard Holbrooke meets President of Serbia Slobodan Milosevic as Milosevic arrives for the peace talks at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to end the war in Bosnia. (Associated Press) High Stakes in Ohio 109 the international military force, NATO’s status of forces, international police activities, and more. In several cases, the size and scope of the proposed agreements overwhelmed the parties. Their leaders focused on the issues they cared most about: territory, in particular the status of Sarajevo and Eastern Slavonia, and the structure and authority of the future governments of Bosnia. Other proposals were left for subordinates to consider. The negotiating process was hectic. Holbrooke allocated the various areas for negotiation to his primary team members, with support from Washington. My job was the map. The external national boundary of Bosnia was not contested. The territorial problem to be resolved was the internal boundary between the Federation and the Republika Srpska within Bosnia . As an associated task, Holbrooke made me the US handler for the Bosnian Serb delegation. I engaged them often, but Milosevic had cut them out of substantive discussions. Mark Sawoski, a political appointee serving as a staff officer in DOD, joined me at Dayton to help with my tasks. Lieutenant General Clark was involved in the map, but he also focused on the military annex of the proposed agreement. Roberts Owen, Chris Hill, and Don Kerrick handled the constitutional, political, and policy aspects of the agreement. Holbrooke planned for the negotiations at Dayton to consist of...


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