Bosnia and Kosovo…Afghanistan and Iraq…Connecting the Dots Constructively
October 29, 2003
Staff-prepared summary of the East European Studies discussion with John Lampe, Professor of History, University of Maryland, College Park and Wilson Center Fellow

Professor John Lampe presented a wide-ranging analysis of the lessons learned from the peacekeeping experiences in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) and Kosovo and their possible relevance in the current US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The first lesson that can be gleaned from the BiH and Kosovo examples is the necessity for the international community to commit to putting troops on the ground for an extended period in order to separate the warring factions and introduce a modicum of security and stability. BiH and Kosovo have taught us that there can be no hasty exit from complex security- and nation-building endeavors. Lampe stressed that both situations demand that thinking about exit strategies will not help the situation, but that focus should instead be placed on finding a viable transition strategy in order to successfully rebuild the failed state. Lampe argued that a US military presence was a necessary and vital element in ensuring a sense of security and stability in both BiH and Kosovo. He noted that the US currently has a mere 4,000 troops in BiH and Kosovo, with 1,700 in BiH (all National Guard units), and 2,300 in Kosovo. These troops must remain not only to reassure the local populations, but also to continue the process of cooperation and shared responsibilities with key US allies.

The chief element for the transition strategy for BiH in particular, but also for Kosovo, is for the US to integrate its strategy into the key institutions of transatlantic cooperation, namely the EU and NATO. BiH and Kosovo have shown that whatever problems and divisions existed between the US and its European allies in the initial phases of the conflict, have since been overcome. The US and its NATO allies are cooperating well in guiding the peacekeeping processes and the disparate international organizations—including the UN and its agencies, the OSCE and in the case of BiH, the Office of the High Representative—that are involved in helping to rebuild these nations. Despite grave and deep-seated differences between the US and its allies and their approach to the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, both sides over the past eight years have learned to work together effectively and cooperatively. They have been able to establish an effective division of labor and pattern of cooperation, which did not originally exist. Both the US and its allies need to preserve unity and the essence of the transatlantic alliance if we are to have any hope of effectively resolving or containing instability in southeast Europe as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US will not be able to accomplish its goals by itself.

A particularly valuable lesson for the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lampe observed, is that early and frequent elections ought to be avoided. As Kosovo and BiH made clear, early elections often work against their intended effect, as was seen in the initial post-war elections in BiH in 1996 and 1997, which merely served to solidify the legitimacy of the nationalist parties. The US and its allies, through its peacekeeping and nation-building activities, need to focus primarily on the establishment of the rule of law, which is a fundamental principle for ensuring stability, and be less concerned with elections and political parties.

The nation-building efforts in the Balkans have taught us that in Iraq we need to finish what we start, no matter what the cost. In BiH, the peace process has continued for eight years and will continue for several more. The US's goals in Iraq will not require less time or money, particularly since it is a far larger country and its problems more complex. Just as in the Balkans, the US military needs to be better prepared to carry out non-traditional nation-building and military tasks in Iraq. To accomplish this, the US military must be prepared to assume greater responsibilities for policing and police training, as well as developing better coordination and establishing firmer liaisons with local power establishments.