Remarks by Bruce Hitchner
Chairman, Dayton Peace Accords Project
Shortly before his tragic death, John Lennon wrote: “Life
is what happens when you are making other plans”.
I chose these words because I believe they have a particular
relevance to the way in which the international community
addresses global problems.
If we look back over the last decade and reflect on the Balkan
conflict and peace implementation process of the last decade,
there are many lessons to be learned But is there a single
larger lesson in all of the lessons? I believe there is and
it is this: the international community must come to grips
more effectively with the crises such as the Balkans and now
Darfur with the same level of commitment and resources as
the ones it prefers to address. Failure to do so will condemn
us to live in perennial global instability. If one reflects
on the nature of international community‚s approach
to global problems, they fall into two categories. The first
is what I would characterize as the problems everyone generally
wants and agrees on. These include nuclear proliferation,
terrorism, the AIDS epidemic, international trade and monetary
policy, drug trafficking, and organized crime. These are,
to be sure, serious structural problems worthy of global attention.
The second category is, in essence, the problems that nobody
wants but which relentlessly intrude upon the international
community‚s preferred agenda. These include things like
the wars in the Balkans, Rwanda, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict˜yes
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict---and Darfur.
A similar dichotomy can be found at the national level. In
the United States, for example, the Bush administration came
into office with three major policy initiatives: Stars War,
the containment of a growing China and a determination to
end the Iraq containment policy of the Clinton administration.
And then 9/11 happened. The administration was forced off
its Star Wars and compelled to change its China policy, but
it succeeded in keeping Iraq on its agenda by tying it to
the war on terrorism. The Clinton administration faced similar
issues when its foreign policy agenda was affected by events
in the Balkans
This division between preferred and unwelcome problems has
always existed to some degree, but it has become more pronounced
since the end of the Cold War partly because there is no longer
a global system neatly divided between the Soviet Union, the
West, and the then so-called Third World. Indeed, the collapse
of the Soviet Union made the concept of the Third World obsolete,
and unleashed a whole set of problems some which the international
community deemed critical, others less so.
What is most significant in all this is how the international
community responded to the problem dichotomy it established.
In the first category, institutions, treaties, coalitions,
and monies were put into place to address the problems. Although
all the major problems still exist, they are being addressed
at the highest levels and remain high priorities
By contrast, second category problems are dealt with on a
more ad hoc basis, with very uneven and often declining international
community commitments across time and space to resolving them.
The Balkans is a classic case in point. It is a sad fact of
life that the international community did not want to deal
with the bitter ethnic conflicts that brought an end to the
former Yugoslavia wars in the 1990s, and it only did so when
the global media daily reporting the horrible ethnic cleansing
carried out chiefly by the Serbs, made it too embarrassing
for the UN, Europe, and the United States to ignore.
But if there was a change in the international community‚s
fundamental vision of the Balkans following the intervention
as a second tier problem, it was certainly not detectable
in the way it has conducted the peace implementation process
that followed. It has, in a word, always been half-hearted.
If it had been otherwise, the Dayton Agreement-flawed as it
is, would have been almost fully implemented today and all
the major indicted war criminals would be in the Hague.
Kosovo is an even more egregious example of how a perceived
second tier problem go unresolved. The international community
led by the US and NATO engaged in a limited and reluctant
war to dislodge Milosevic‚s forces from Kosovo, and
then, rather than face up to the only viable resolution of
the problem, giving independence to Kosovo, set up a UN protectorate
that has done as much as it possibly can do to avoid bringing
Kosovo‚s status to a final resolution anytime soon.
Why? Because Kosovo is not the problem Europe or the UN wants
and the US is too preoccupied to address it.
I won‚t even address Rwanda, because the tragedy of
its second tier importance to the international community
speaks for itself. And Darfur only confirms how deeply entrenched
the dichotomy between desirable and undersirable problems
still runs in the global community. It is not enough, however,
to lament the moral dilemma posed by all this. After all,
there are many who will assert that the way in which the international
community sets priorities in dealing with the problems in
the world is unfair, but that we simply don‚t have the
resources to deal equally with all of them. But I would respond
to this by suggesting that the present process of defining
and rank ordering global problems may be flawed and indeed
a hangover from the policy approaches we took during the Cold
To illustrate my point, let us consider for a moment the way
in which hospitals are organized. On the one hand, there are
the wards and clinics that address medium and long term medical
problems and, on the other, an emergency room that deals 24
hours a day with immediate health problems. They co-exist
and interact with one another. Both are indispensable to the
health care of the community the hospital serves. The emergency
room exists to address the problem of what happens in life
when you are making other plans.
If the international community‚s current approach to
the health of the world were imagined as a hospital, the first
thing one would notice is that it had an emergency room that
was open part of the time, with a non-permanent staff, and
no sustained funding.
Put in real terms with real consequences, if the international
community had acted resolutely and robustly to solve the problems
of the Balkans from the outset, it would today have the military
forces readily and available to address the problem of Darfur
with greater will and commitment. Again, if we had broken
the vast criminal enterprise that allowed the Balkan wars
to occur in the first place in the years immediately after
Dayton, we wouldn‚t have to wait for Paddy Ashdown,
seven years later to declare the establishing the rule of
law his first priority as the fourth High Representative!
And, sadly, if the international community had engaged more
robustly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, terrorism may
not have been the problem it now is. Indeed, it may not have
emerged at all as a major global problem.
In sum, if there is any larger lesson to be learned from the
Balkans, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rwanda, and now
Darfur it is that we need to find a way to balance more effectively
our commitments to approaching the medium and long terms structural
problems that we prefer with those problems that arrive at
our doorstep for immediate attention. The reason is simple:
the failure will only exacerbates or delay the resolution
of the so-called larger problems. Indeed, in an increasingly
globalized world, there is no evading the knock-on effects
of the immediate problems.
It is time for the international community to create more
effective mechanisms and institutions and commit the resources
necessary to address the emergencies that have become the
daily reality of the late 20th and early 21st century world.
To do otherwise is to ensure that we will only have more Balkans
and more Darfurs to deal with in the years ahead.