Contrary to widespread public opinion several years ago, war in Bosnia was not inevitable. But once the war began, peace, or at least an end to hostilities was not inevitable either. It took a long, arduous, complex journey from shuttle diplomacy among warring parties to the signed Dayton Peace Accords. Richard Holbrooke, the U.
S. diplomat who was both chief negotiator and the primary architect of the Accords, recounts the experience in his important new book, To End a War.
Considering the formidable obstacles Holbrooke and his colleagues had to overcome, the wonder is that any kind of viable peace was realized at all.
The negotiators dealt directly with the leaders of the countries engaged in war. Commenting on his conversations Slodan Milosevic and Alija Izetbegovic, Holbrooke writes, "They both expressed surprise at the dimensions of what they had unleashed. Yet neither man had made a serious effort to stop the war until forced to do so by the United States."U.
S. involvement came only after Holbrooke and others on his team convinced officials at the State Department and White House, and especially at the Pentagon, that it was the right course of action. There was strong resistance from the military and the American public to send American troops there. From the beginning, too, at least some European leaders felt that the war was a European problem that should be resolved by Europeans. But after ineffective efforts by the European Union and the United Nations, it became clear, however grudgingly, that U.
S. leadership, through NATO, was needed. The largest military action in NATO history was launched, which, with many other efforts, eventually led to productive negotiations.
Holbrooke is remarkably candid. He does not hesitate to point out that some of his team's judgments were mistaken. He also shares the thinking behind major decisions and relates the inner workings of his carefully chosen team. This extraordinary book offers us the rare opportunity to see how complex issues of contemporary foreign policy are debated, decided, and implemented. Holbrooke closes with these words: "There will be other Bosnias in our lives areas where early outside involvement can be decisive, and American leadership will be required. The world's richest nation, one that presumes to great moral authority, cannot simply make worthy appeals to conscience and call on others to carry the burden. The world will look to Washington for more than rhetoric the next time we face a challenge to peace." When that time comes, a careful reading of this book may be helpful in deciding on an appropriate response.
Reviewed by Roger Bishop.