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Center for Balkan Development
Tel: 978-461-0909
Fax: 978-461-2552
[email protected]

Opening 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 War.

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.