At the 14thth In December 1995, the Dayton Accords concluded the Bosnian War. Richard Holbrooke, the US mediator, has received international acclaim for his efforts (Sito-Sucic, 2010). He succeeded where many others such as José Cutileiro, Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen failed (Goodby, 1996; Touval, 1996; Van Es, 2002; Levi, 2014). Holbrooke, nicknamed “The Raging Bull”, became famous for his coercive tactics that ultimately led to a change in Serbia’s militaristic stance (Touval, 1996; Van Es, 2002; Sito-Sucic, 2010). In retrospect, Holbrooke’s mediation efforts have been excellent. They combined shuttle diplomacy and forced diplomacy to re-approximate the positions of the three parties while ensuring international support throughout the process (Holbrooke, 1998). However, ending the conflict does not necessarily lead to sustainable peace. Holbrooke brokered a peace deal that made physical violence go away but did not provide enough impetus for positive peace. What went wrong in the negotiation process and how can we learn from Holbrooke’s mediation efforts?
To answer this question, I would like to examine a specific characteristic of mediation that I call the “Mediator’s Trap”. Mediators face an inherent dilemma when negotiating an agreement between a) the minimally required actors and issues that should be credible, and b) striving for maximum completeness without significantly jeopardizing the chances of a negotiated solution. Fearing an unsuccessful outcome, mediators tend to focus on the first part of the premise (minimal actors and issues required) without examining potential issues that expand the scope of the agreement without increasing the risk of collapse. The Mediator Trap creates a tunnel vision of a tendency towards sufficient inclusiveness and marginal complexity. In economics, this is also referred to as a “success trap”. when companies strictly follow well-known (and often perceived as successful) strategies and neglect the need to explore new terrain in order to ensure long-term profitability (March 1991; Levinthal & March 1993). In the next few sections I will develop this idea by looking at the long-term failure of the Dayton Accords to reconcile the various ethnic groups in Bosnia, and then examining how these problems can be traced back to the specifics of the Peace Accords and the Peace Accords Mediator trap.
Post-Dayton Bosnia: Negative Peace and Eternal Instability
25 years after Dayton, the socio-political and economic conditions in Bosnia remain grim. Recently, Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Dodik declared that this crisis “will only go away if Bosnia goes away” (Dodik, 2020). Meanwhile, the economy remains weak and, more importantly, Bosnia has so far been unable to meet EU standards, making long-awaited membership unlikely in the near future (O’Tuathail, 2006; Bieber, 2010; Perry, 2012)). The widespread corruption among local elites is devaluing the EU’s incentives (Keil & Kudlenko, 2015). As a result, there was growing social discontent with protests such as the “Baby Revolution” in 2013 and the demonstrations in February 2014 (Gilbert and Mujanović 2015; Kartsonakis, 2016).
Essentially, the political situation in Bosnia is comparable to that of 1992. The problems Bosnia faces today are the result of a persistent ethnic mentality (OSCE, 1997; Chandler, 2000). The ethno-nationalist parties rely on mutual prejudice and distrust to stay in power. As a result, they flow into a certain security discourse and generate the perception that only you can guarantee the protection of the respective rights of the ethnic group. Hence, the security dilemma persists and acts as a destabilizing force throughout the post-Dayton era. Interethnic “outbidding” and other competitive dynamics are increasingly widespread and hinder international efforts to resolve conflicts, let alone find solutions (Sebastián-Aparicio, 2015).
Blueprint state building without nation building
The Bosnians lack a keen sense of democratic norms and values and consequently suffer from a weak civil society (Chandler, 2000). Nationalist parties use the flawed democratic system to legitimize their political authority (Chandler, 2000). The generally ignorant voter facilitates the demagoguery and ethnic propaganda of the political elite. There is a vicious circle between the international community, which must create incentives for democratic development, while the Bosnian people are gradually becoming “less capable of political autonomy” (Chandler, 2000). As Chandler states:
The extent of international regulation of Bosnian life, the denial of self-government at the local and state levels, and thus the inability of Bosnian political representatives to give their voters a level of accountability for policy making, perpetuates a political climate that is badly developing wider voluntary association relationships.
This is in part the result of a post-Daytonian state-building process based on Western ideals without the necessary dose of nation-building. Without a democratic history, the weak political structures that existed before the conflict were suddenly transformed into a complex institutional design with no clear picture of how a Bosnian state should or could function (Chandler, 2000; O’Tuathail, 2006; Sebastián-Aparicio, 2015; Keil & Kudlenko, 2015). Instead of encouraging ethnic reintegration, state-building became a technocratic and outsourced issue with little opportunity for local ownership (Pehar, 2019). As a result, two inevitable forces of tension emerged between centralized and international design in Sarajevo and the two regional units of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) and the Republika Srpska (RS) (Keil & Kudlenko, 2015).
The International Patriarchate
In the Fragile State Index, Bosnia currently ranks 70.2 compared to Finland with 14.6 and Yemen with 112 and is therefore closer to a failed state than a fully fledged stable democracy (Fragile State Index, 2021). This partly explains why the EU’s peacekeeping operations are still ongoing. The inability to leave the region after 25 years for fear of the unstable situation escalating is worrying. More importantly, it says something about Dayton’s failure to promote adequate long-term peace efforts. A false dichotomy is often portrayed between the negative post-Dayton peace and the pre-Dayton conflict. Keil and Kudlenko rightly claim that Dayton “reveals the tension between addressing some structural sources of conflict in Bosnia, including building a more inclusive state, and focusing on implementing the negative peace inherent in the Dayton Agreement” (Keil & Kudlenko, 2015). Dayton prevented direct violence from continuing through war; structural and cultural violence, however, persists (see Galtung, 1990). In other words, the three ethnic groups continued their struggle in a different way (Pehar, 2019).
There is no common vision in Bosnia due to the lack of collective awareness due to the unsuccessful peacebuilding efforts and ongoing partisanship. While Dayton prevented the Bosnian conflict from becoming further unsolvable, it involved the international community in ongoing peacekeeping operations, logistical support and financial aid. “Bosnia has received more aid per capita under the Marshall Plan than any other European country” (Pasic, 2011). As such, it exists a Dual reality gap: one between the international community and the Bosnian people and one between the Bosnian people and the political elite. This increases people’s apathy towards the socio-political state of Bosnia and increases general skepticism towards a common future. The longer the socio-political impasse lasts, the less Bosnians will trust that the post-Dayton institutional framework is the solution to their problems. In fact, many have already accepted defeat (Pehar, 2019).
The triple transition “from war to peace, from authoritarianism to democracy and from an organized command economy to a capitalist market economy” (O’Tuathail et al., 2006) has always been a major challenge. However, as will be explained in the next section, Dayton’s mediators focused too much on the political, legal, and economic issues surrounding this triple transition, while the main cause of the conflict, ethnic identity, remained unsolved and perceived as mutually existential threats.
The Dayton Mediator Trap
In order to achieve a successfully negotiated solution, mediators must find a compromise on the issues that are crucial for the conflicting parties. The more actors there are at the table, the more difficult it is to find a compromise. when more topics are discussed idem ditto (although problems are often compromised by “package deals” where several problems are negotiated at the same time). Logically, a mediator tries to limit the number of actors and issues to those that are essential to a credible peace agreement. Pragmatism is necessary and mediators use time restrictions heavily in this way of working. Nevertheless, mediators fall into a trap when they exclude or discriminate against issues such as cultural identity and interethnic reconciliation due to their abstract character and their indirect effect. These issues may not have a direct causal relationship with the end of the conflict, but rather reflect the internal needs of each party and go top-down beyond the short-term success of institutional and material approaches. This is because these unspoken topics may be exploited by the parties in the future.
As part of the Mediator’s Trap, the Dayton Agreement reflects the problem essential frugality: Mediators had too narrow an idea of what is essential for resolving the conflict. Dayton’s main focus was on ending the war and building a Bosnian state in which the three ethnic identities could coexist under a consociative framework (Holbrooke, 1998; O’Tuathail et al., 2006; Keil & Kudlenko, 2015). Apart from this, attention has been given to economic development and human rights (e.g. prosecution of war crimes and repatriation of refugees) (Dayton Agreement, 1995). As such, the Dayton Accords combined realpolitik and neoliberalism by mainly dealing with territorial, political and economic issues on which each party held strong positions (Van Es, 2002; Sebastián-Aparicio, 2015; Richmond, 2018) . In retrospect, this was not enough to resolve the dispute in the long run, as the mediators did not provide enough impetus to resolve the problem Conflict ethos in the minds of the Bosnian people.
Cultural awareness in mediation for a culture of peace
Paradoxically, while the mediators viewed the conflict as an ethnic conflict, the agreement lacked broad commitments to ethnic reconciliation and insufficient attention was paid to social reconstruction. By emphasizing the material aspects, the mediators have put relationship problems at a disadvantage. The former are tangible and their results immediately apparent. Success is therefore inevitably easier to judge. After the agreement, an immediate ceasefire was reached, the peace missions SFOR, IFOR and EUFOR in combination with an international police mission were gradually initiated and a constitution was arranged. However, after Johan Galtung’s tripartite separation of powers, only direct and to a lesser extent structural violence was combated, missing the opportunity to address issues of cultural violence that continue to justify controversial behavior in Bosnia today.
The Dayton Agreement only mentions cultural heritage in terms of the preservation of property and therefore inherently material (see Appendix 8 Dayton Agreement, 1995). However, the factors that threaten the stability and integration of Bosnia cannot be solved by these problems alone and, in addition to economic development, require socio-cultural approaches in order to promote reconciliation from the bottom up. Culture is seen as a soft area of peace building that offers the opportunity to involve ordinary citizens in national reconciliation / peace building processes (Naidu-Silverman, 2015). In order to gradually generate like-minded people and belonging, local framework conditions that promote an inter-ethnic culture are the key to building a nation. These efforts stimulate informal socialization processes in “everyday life” (Mac Ginty, 2014; Millar, 2020). The “banality” of everyday life causes the repetition of certain behavior patterns on an unconscious level and therefore enables tacit reconciliation.
People take on many identities depending on their social context (Shapiro, 2016). While each ethnic group retains an “authentic” cultural identity, efforts should be directed to highlighting moments of overlap in order to produce a second interethnic culture. This sociocultural process, despite its abstract, indescribable and implicit nature, cannot be overlooked. The tension between choosing a negative peace and risking a no-deal by becoming too inclusive isn’t always so dichotomous. The minimum required agreement (on the edge of the ZOPA) requires mutual concessions on important issues of political control, territorial integrity, socio-economic equality and military disarmament. Clauses on intercultural cooperation, on the other hand, often fall outside the vital interests of the parties and can offer quick win-win scenarios. As such, they do not tend to hinder a negotiated solution and show the parties that agreement on certain issues is possible. Figure 1 attempts to illustrate how the inclusion of cultural issues changes ZOPA in cases like the Dayton Accords where culture was not of critical interest to the overall negotiation.
As shown in the hypothetical diagram, the alternate scenario includes cultural dimensions and did not decrease the ZOPA horizontally. However, vertically, this can potentially expand the final agreement. In particular, the first years after a war offer the opportunity to change the mindset of the population and institutions, thereby facilitating the empowerment of women and young people and the restoration of interethnic or cultural awareness (Demeritt et al., 2014). Even if the details in the agreement are not negotiated, a written commitment to promote and encourage cultural exchange is an important kickstart for this type of bottom-up process. They can be supervised by a culture commission administered by local and international NGOs and partly financed by third parties. Given the inadequate amount of money that the international community has spent on Bosnia (Chandler, 2000), funding cultural issues is relatively inexpensive. Most importantly, many of the cultural dimensions do not inherently limit the mediation process, but can be of great value to the long-term success of the agreement. The mediator’s trap occurs, of course, at times of great pressure. However, it is necessary to proactively address the relational dimensions through intercultural obligations in order to prevent further insolubility in people’s minds.
The mediator’s trap drives the mediator to be sufficiently inclusive and marginally complex. As a result, the mediator focuses primarily on material, tangible, and politically material issues to ensure a minimally negotiated solution. Mediators are under immense international pressure, financial and time constraints, and the conflicting parties are often unable to reach agreements with one another, or they are obviously not interested in the outcome of the negotiations. Although short-term problems are under such pressure to be resolved, mediators need to remain open and take a holistic approach to maximize the completeness of the agreement, where not material problems are worsened but cultural and educational dimensions updated. The Dayton Accords did not take culture into account as it did not appear to be part of the main problem. However, this culture is not the problem, but it does not mean that it cannot be part of the solution. As a post-liberal mediation approach, this criticism reflects today’s world in which solutions comprise a multitude of essential pieces of a complicated puzzle. Reconciliation must necessarily become a more adaptable process depending on the context of the conflict. The inclusion of socio-cultural dimensions is therefore essential for stimulation tacit reconciliation in deeply rooted identity conflicts like in Bosnia.
Bar-Tal, D. (2000). From Persistent Conflict to Conflict Resolution to Reconciliation: Psychological Analysis. Political psychologyVol. 21, No. 2.
Biddle, I.D. & Knights, V. (2007). Music, national identity and location politics: between global and local. Ashgate.
Bieber, F. (2010). Constitutional Reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Preparing for EU Accession. European Center for Politics.
Chandler, D. (2000). Bosnia: Post-Dayton Democracy Counterfeit. 2nd ed. (London and Sterling, VA: Pluto Press).
Dayton Agreement (1995). Security Council of the General Assembly of the United Nations. (November 30, 1995).
J. H. Demeritt, A. D. Nichols & E. G. Kelly (2014). Involvement of women and relapse into civil war. Civil wars16 (3), 346-368.
Dodik, M .: “Break up Bosnia to solve its political crisis, says one of the country’s leaders”. Euronews. (20th February 2020). Retrieved from https://www.euronews.com/2020/02/20/break-up-bosnia-to-solve-its-political-crisis-says-one-of-country-s-leaders
Fragile State Index (2021). Country dashboard. The Fund for Peace. Retrieved from https://fragilestatesindex.org/country-data/
Galtung, J. (1990). Cultural violence. Journal for Peace ResearchVol. 27, No. 3. (August 1990), pp. 291-305.
Gilbert, A. & Mujanović, J. (2015). Dayton at twenty: On the way to a new policy in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Southeast Europe and Black Sea Studies, fifteen(4), 605-610.
Goodby, J. E. (1996). When the war ended: Bosnian peace plans before Dayton. International negotiations1: 501-523
Holbrooke, R. (1998). End a war. The Modern Library, New York.
Kartsonaki, A. (2016). Twenty years after Dayton: Bosnia-Herzegovina (still) stable and explosive. Civil wars18 (4), 488-516.
Keil, S. & Kudlenko, A. (2015). Bosnia and Herzegovina 20 years after Dayton: Complexity born of paradoxes. International peacekeeping, 22nd(5), 471-489.
Levi, M. (2021). Bosnia: Mediation Attempts Rethought. Il Politico, January-April 2014, Vol. 79, No. 1 (235).
Levinthal, D.A. and March, J.G. (1993), “The Myopia of Learning”. Strategic Management Journalvol. 14, 95-112
Mac Ginty, R. (2014). Everyday Peace: Bottom-up and Local Freedom of Choice in Conflict-Affected Societies. Security dialogueVol. 45 (6) 548-564.
March, J.G. (1991). Exploration and Exploitation in Organizational Learning. Organizational science, 2(1,), 71-87.
Millar, G. (2020). Preserving everyday life: Pre-political freedom of choice in the theory of peacebuilding. Cooperation and conflictVol. 55 (3) 310-325.
Naidu-Silverman, E. (2015). The contribution of art and culture to peace and reconciliation processes in Asia. Center for Culture and Development.
OSCE (1997). Declaration by the OSCE Electoral Complaint Sub-Commission, July 17, case number ME-109.
Pasic, L .: “Bosnia’s Extensive Foreign Financial Aid Re-examined: Statistics and Results”. Balkan analysis. (21st June 2011). Retrieved from http://www.balkanalysis.com/bosnia/2011/06/21/bosnia%E2%80%99s-vast-foreign-financial-assistance-re-examined-statistics-and-results/
Pehar, D. (2019). Peace as War: Bosnia and Herzegovina after Dayton. Central European university press.
Perry, V. (2012). Obstacles to EU conditionality in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Woodrow Wilson International Center.
Richmond, O. P. (2018). A Genealogy of Mediation in International Relations: From “Analog” to “Digital” Forms of Global Justice or Managed War? Cooperation and conflict.
Sebastián-Aparicio, S. (2014). Post-war state building and constitutional reform. Palgrave Macmillan UK.
Sito-Sucic, D .: “Bosnians attribute peace to Holbrooke, even if it is flawed”. Reuters. (December 14, 2010). Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6BD3SA20101214?mod=related&channelName=newsOne
Touval, S. (1996). Forced mediation on the way to Dayton. International negotiations1: 547-570.
Tuathail, G. Ó., O’Loughlin, J. & Djipa, D. (2006). Bosnia-Herzegovina Ten Years After Dayton: Constitutional Amendment and Public Opinion. Eurasian geography and economy47 (1), 61-75.
Van Es, R. (2002). Moral compromise: Owen and Holbrooke mediate the Bosnian conflict. International negotiations7 (2), 169-183.
Shapiro, D. (2016). Negotiating the non-negotiable: How to resolve your most emotionally charged conflicts. Penguin Books, London.
 See Bar Valley (2000)
 Zone of possible agreement.
Further reading on e-international relations