Historical Spotlight: Dayton Peace Accords

Dayton Peace Accords

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December 14 marks the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in Paris, France. For 21 days in November, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Assistant Secretary of State for Canadian and European Affairs Richard Holbrooke led negotiations with the Presidents from Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina at Wright-Patterson Airforce Base in Dayton, Ohio to end the three-year war in Bosnia. Intense fighting had broken out in the Balkans, after the 1992 collapse of Yugoslavia. Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro all claimed independent sovereign constituent states, but ethnic tensions and contested borders erupted into full-scale war shortly thereafter. The brunt of the fighting centered around Sarajevo, at the border of Serbia and Bosnia. Throughout 1994 and 1995, UN Peacekeeping troops had failed to end the war, and the Clinton administration called for a “new era in Balkan diplomacy.”
A seasoned diplomat with 30 years of experience, Richard Holbrooke designed a negotiation strategy to attain agreement on three points: ending the bloodshed in Bosnia, the safe withdrawal of UN Peacekeeping troops, and defining the borders of Bosnian territory. To achieve these goals, Holbrooke utilized a dual method of what he defined as “lock-up” and “step-by-step” diplomacy. The presidents of the three combatant countries were housed close to one another in a compound—facilitating ease of access in informal discussions. They also had no contact with the press, ensuring that external media speculation would not hinder the negotiation process. Holbrooke built coalitions within the parties and had them agree to small concessions before moving forward to another issue, providing a stepping stone of agreement for each point of contention. The final framework was achieved 20 minutes before the talks were scheduled to end, resulting in bringing lasting peace to the region: a unifying governing structure for Bosnia-Herzegovina, a commitment to free democratic elections with international supervision, and a pledge to allow the international community to monitor compliance, and a commitment to “respect human rights and the rights of refugees and displaced persons.”

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