SARAJEVO – Seventeen years and $17 billion later, Bosnia is at peace today, but it is stillborn.
After an international intervention nearly two decades long, Bosnia offers lessons for American officials as they wrestle with continuing violence in Syria, volatile post-Arab Spring transitions and leaving behind a relatively stable Afghanistan. Stopping the killing here proved easier than expected. But halting corruption, sparking economic growth and curbing poisonous local political dynamics has proved vastly more difficult.
Today, the economy is stalled, with half of business activity generated by state-owned companies and unemployment hovering at 25 percent. The country is divided between a Serb entity whose leader talks openly of secession and a Muslim-Croat federation with worrying rifts of its own. And corruption is endemic among senior government officials on all sides.
There are successes. One, surprisingly, is security. In an outcome few expected, fighting has not erupted here since the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord ended a brutal three-year conflict. Predictions that 20,000 American troops who deployed as peacekeepers would be caught in a “quagmire” proved untrue. U.S. forces departed in 2006 without a single American soldier being killed by hostile fire.
One lesson that emerges here is timing, according to Bosnians, Americans and Europeans. If the world is going to intervene in a conflict, the earlier, they say, the better. Bosnia today shows that the longer the fighting drags on, the more tortuous the postwar peace.