Brcko Arbitration Is No Solution

By Jan Oberg

February 7, 1997

TFF PressInfo 20 originally published here

“The future of the Brcko area was the only one not settled in Dayton. Thus, it was either the most difficult of all, or the United States and the parties agreed that it would be better to have their decision concerning that hot spot appear as binding arbitration. The arbitration decision is expected by mid-February.

But any solution will antagonise at least one of the groups in the Brcko area, the entities or neighbouring republics,” says Jan Øberg, director of the TFF who recently returned from the TFF’s 24th mission to ex-Yugoslavia, including a fact-finding visit to Brcko. “The Dayton Agreement created a conflict by not defining the area under arbitration, and it will create more now,” he adds.

“The three options usually mentioned – give it to the Federation, give it to Republika Srpska, or make it an area under international military control – are zero-sum games and care only for the interests of elites. A viable solution must must be based on the needs of people who lived and are living in that area.

Fateful decisions on complex issues in hot spots should come as a result of confidence-building and prior reconciliation, not its prod. Like all other civil, political problems dealt with in Dayton, this one was rushed and its timeframe completely unrealistic. It would have been wiser to have waited 2-3 years so a positive sum game had a chance to emerge in the Brcko area.

Many seek comfort in that the parties will accept the international community’s solutions, because they know they will face SFOR if they start fighting again. But better arguments are needed. There is simply something deficient about solutions that repeatedly must be backed up by long-term, formidable military force. Conflict-resolution takes more than keeping people from fighting; a conflict is solved when they don’t feel they need or want to fight each other.”

What should be done instead? Dr. Øberg advocates another approach: “First, stop talking about the final solution and look for long-term transformation of the conflict. The West is obsessed with quick results, but it is the process that matters. Next, explore the area’s economic potential, exploit creatively it’s evident potential as a meeting point of citizens, nations, and cultures. It could be declared an “Open Region”, meaning undefended and with relevant parties signing a non-militarisation agreement and a sort of Non-Aggression Pact. SFOR would remain for some time, but should successively be replaced by a purely civilian presence, civil society organizations (NGOs) and OSCE/UN.

Then: mobilise international aid resources so Bosniaks, Serbs, Croats and other nationalities and people with mixed identities will feel that there is something in it for them. Help create hundreds of small-scale activities leading to employment and a sense of future. Later, seek to create mixed Bosniak, Serb and Croat police and civil teams to deal with social order and train them – and others, such as journalists – in human rights, conflict-resolution, democracy and reconciliation. Brcko could become a model for peace, but that requires more peace tools than arbitration and more peacemakers than lawyers.”

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