“The international officials who have run Bosnia as a virtual protectorate since the West forced a peace deal in 1995 are eager to scale back their presence here soon,” reported the New York Times eight years ago. Sadly, not much has changed since. Bosnia was Europe’s first major post–Cold war tragedy. Its bloody collapse attracted global attention and shaped our understanding of the security dilemmas posed by the post–Cold War world. Peace has held since the 1995 Dayton Accords, but in spite of over $15 billion in foreign aid as well as the sustained deployment of thousands of NATO and EU troops, the country still struggles to achieve the political consensus necessary to cement its stability and break free of international tutelage. To make matters worse, the situation has deteriorated, especially over the last four years. Circumstances on the ground are polarized and increasingly tense. Meanwhile, Bosnia’s problems are contributing to rifts between the United States and Europe.
The fifteenth anniversary of the Dayton Accords arrives this fall, along with the second round of national elections since tensions have begun again. The time is ripe for a reorientation of transatlantic strategy. Revitalizing the stalled reform progress will be crucial to overcome the debilitating dynamics of ethnic nationalism and to allow self-sustaining peace to take hold. To do so, however, both the United States and Europe should reassess their current policies and recover their common perspective.