TO END A WAR
May 19, 1998
Richard Holbrooke, the former Assistant Secretary of State, led U.S. efforts to bring peace to war-torn Bosnia. He recounts the work in a new book, To End A War. Elizabeth Farnsworth talks with Mr. Holbrooke about his book, the Bosnian peace accords and the current unrest in Kosovo.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: As Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs in 1995, Richard Holbrooke became the chief architect of the December 1995 Dayton Peace Accords that ended the Bosnian war. Now, Holbrooke has written a book, To End a War, which reveals new details about the successes and failures of his negotiations and the peace they produced. Holbrooke is an investment banker in New York and serves as the president's special envoy to both Cyprus and Kosovo. And he joins us now.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
March 3, 1998:
An interview with Ejup Ganic, president of Bosnia.
Decmber 22, 1997:
Margaret Warner and guests discuss the current state of peace in Bosnia.
December 18, 1997:
Samuel Berger discusses the decision to keep troops in Bosnia.
September 23, 1997:
National Security Advisor Samuel Berger discusses NATO's future in Bosnia.
September 15, 1997:
Bosnia holds municipal elections for the first time in seven years.
August 26, 1997:
NATO takes a tougher stance with war criminals.
August 11, 1997:
Elizabeth Farnsworth interviews Richard Holbrooke, chief U.S. negotiator of the Dayton Peace Agreement.
July 10, 1997:
NATO's arrest of Bosnian war criminals.
May 13, 1997:
Newsmaker Interview with Bosnian Co-Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic.
May 12, 1997:
Departing NATO Supreme Commander General George Joulwan discusses the mission in Bosnia.
December 20, 1996:
Two Bosnian experts discuss the military and civilian efforts of SFOR.
September 16, 1996:
Richard Holbrooke discusses the Bosnian elections.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Bosnia.
The Web site for SFOR
The Bosnian Embassy in Washington, DC.
"I think it's clear that the agreement we got at Dayton would have been better, with less casualties, if we had gone for it earlier."
Thank you for being with us, Mr. Holbrooke.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE, U.S. Special Envoy: It's a pleasure.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You stepped right into the middle of the Balkan nightmare in 1995, close to 300,000 people dead, ethnic cleansing occurring, and you point out early in the book that if the Clinton–if the Bush administration and Clinton administration had acted sooner, some of that might have been prevented. Explain that.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, I think it's clear that the agreement we got at Dayton would have been better, with less casualties, if we had gone for it earlier. But that required a commitment of will on the part of the United States and its allies, which was lacking.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And you point out–I was really struck by the number of times you repeat the point that the Bosnian Serbs were basically bullies; they could have been stopped much earlier. Tell us about that. In what sense were they bullies?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I believe–and I write in the book that a lot of the Americans and particularly the military saw the Bosnian Serbs somehow like the Viet Cong backed up by the Yugoslavs, themselves, in Serbia, who were playing the North Vietnamese. The shadow of Vietnam and to a certain extent the shadow of the 18 Americans who were killed in Somalia, hung heavily over the United States as it approached these fateful decisions. As for the Europeans, they were really divided, and a lot of them were pro-Serb to begin with, and they didn't have any stomach for it. The fundamental mistake that was made occurred in 1991/1992, when the European Union said we'll take care of this problem, and the United States said, fine, this is our first post Cold War problem, go ahead and take care of it. Well, Europeans and the United States were both equally wrong. The Europeans could not take care of it without American leadership, and the United States did have a vested interest in and an obligation to bring this war to an end. And when we finally did it in 14 extraordinarily intense weeks, combining diplomacy, political leadership by President Clinton, and NATO bombing, the results were the end of the war, although the peace that we forged at Dayton was far from perfect, but, nonetheless, as you and I have discussed on this program before, it is moving forward.
"Napkin Diplomacy" explained.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You brought a very unique, it seemed to me, negotiating style to this. Tell us about–I mean, you were so improvisational–tell us about the napkin diplomacy incident, the napkin shuttle.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I don't know about unique. You know, you just do what you have to do. And in negotiation you've got to know where you want to go. But you can choose the route as you go along. You can take a left turn and then a right turn, or a right turn and then a left turn. In the case of the napkin diplomacy we were the stalemate, and one of my colleagues and I took Milosevic out on a long walk around the perimeter of the air base at Dayton, Wright-Patterson Air Base, and meanwhile, my assistant, Rosemary Pauly, went and brought the Bosnian prime minister, Harris Sjladic, to the officers club.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let's remind people that Milosevic is the Yugoslav president.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Milosevic is the Yugoslav president, indeed. And so I sat at one end of this large officers dining hall–a room with Milosevic eating his favorite meal of steak–and at the other end sat our ambassador to Bosnia, John Menzes, with the Bosnian prime minister, Sjladic. And then I went over and asked Sjladic if he wanted to come join Milosevic. He said no. So I began walking back and forth across this large room–maybe 70 yards long–to the amazement of the other diners, carrying napkins on which we had sketched possible solutions to how to deal with connecting the Eastern enclave of Gorazde, which was an isolated Muslim enclave, to Sarajevo–and back and forth, back and forth till about 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon, when finally we brought the two men together, and they started arguing face to face, and that formed the framework which later that evening we were able to consolidate into a solution, which exists to this day. And that we called "napkin diplomacy."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And you tore up documents. Were these–once you tore up a document that you'd spent a lot of time working on, just to make a point. Were these techniques that you developed specifically for these negotiations, or is this just you?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Oh, I don't know. I tore up one document because Milosevic said it was unacceptable. We had another copy in our computer, but I just ripped it up and put it in an ashtray and said if that's the way you feel about it, the hell with it. It didn't much matter. This was–this was theater, and diplomacy is theater. You can see that in the Mid East negotiations, Camp David, and there was a lot of theater at Dayton. But the purpose was absolutely serious. And the book–Elizabeth, the book is not for Bosnia wonks. Obviously, they'll read it anyway. It's designed for people who care about how these negotiations really work, so we've included in the book a lot of these incidents, like the two you just mentioned, which aren't normally in a book about diplomacy because diplomacy at that level is a roller coaster ride of incidents and not just dry exchange of views. And you mentioned two of the more interesting ones. I've just tried to explain what it was really like.
"In the wake of Vietnam and Somalia, the military had a tremendous aversion to using its force beyond a very limited mission."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I was also struck by how candid you were in this book about the failures. I mean, certainly, you described the successes, but you're very candid about the failures. You write at one point, "My main regret is that we did not attempt more." Tell us what you wish you had attempted.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, you're very kind in your comments. I think books like this have a tendency to portray their author in a very favorable light. That's natural. We tend to minimize our own failures. But there are a lot of things about Dayton I would do differently. The basic thing is the end of the war. I list near the end of the book things we–our theory was that what you didn't try for at Dayton you never get, so let's set a very high benchmark and go for it. And in retrospect, I would have gone for more. And, above all, I wish we could have continued the bombing another few days because I think that would have improved the situation. But the Pentagon wanted to stop the bombing. And that was an issue over which we had very limited control.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: One of the points you make that you say you wish had gone differently is you wish the U.S. military had been more open to a very active role for U.S. and NATO forces in Bosnia, especially right after the accords. You're very critical actually of the U.S. military in this book.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well, I admire them immensely and particularly Gen. Shalikashvili, who was then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Wes Clark, who was my military aide and is now NATO commander. However, in the wake of Vietnam and Somalia, the military had a tremendous aversion to using its force beyond a very limited mission. And they call this mission creep. And it really inhibited us and the great crisis–the greatest tragedy came in the 90 days after Dayton when the military simply refused to do anything except the narrowest articulation of its own mandate. As a result of this–and you reported this very clearly at the time on your program–as a result of this, on the day Sarajevo was unified under Moslem control, perhaps the greatest achievement of the Dayton Agreements, the Bosnian Serbs forced tens of thousands of Serbs who had lived in Sarajevo, many of them for centuries, to leave and burn their houses, thereby effectively segregating the city and snatching from their own defeat a partition of the city on ethnic grounds. Now, NATO forces stood by. The NATO commander and American admiral refused to take the fire trucks out of the barracks. He refused to do anything to stop the burning until the very last minute, when he did too little too late. That was the single worst day of the last two and a half years. And it wasn't until Madeleine Albright and Amb. Bob Gelbard, the Bosnian implementation czar, took charge of the program about a year ago at this time that things began to reverse themselves. It was a terrible day. And people who were there are ashamed at what they saw that day. And I think there's no excuse for it. I'm sure what I'm saying now is going to provoke some reaction on the part of the commanding officers in Sarajevo, British and American and French, but I have to tell it the way I saw it, and this was not what the President of the United States or his senior civilian advisers had in mind. And they had the authority. These military men had the authority to arrest the arsonists and put out the fires. They simply chose not to do so.
Applying the lessons of Bosnia to the crisis in Kosovo.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Apply the lessons that you learned and that you write about in this book to what you're doing in Kosovo now, the province of Yugoslavia where the ethnic Albanian population, which makes up a majority, are pushing for independence. What have you learned that you're applying and that the U.S. should apply now?
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Well last week I was back in Kosovo at the president and Sec. Albright's request, along with Bob Gelbard, to try to see if we could jumpstart the stalemate, which is heading towards a huge catastrophe in Kosovo. And for the reasons you just outlined Kosovo, while the level of violence is much lower than Bosnia, is potentially more difficult to resolve than Bosnia. And what we did last week was a replay of Dayton in miniature. For four days Gelbard and I shuttled back and forth between Belgrade and Pristijna, trying to get President Milosevic to meet with the leader of the Kosovo Albanians. They had never met before, ever, in this long, drawn out tragedy, and we managed to get them to agree to meet together face to face for the first time ever. This meeting took place last Friday. It had no substantive movement, but it was the beginning of a long process. There will be another meeting this Friday in Pristijna, the Kosovo capital, of technicians working on security agreements. Just before I came on this program I talked to people in Belgrade, working on this–an American, Amb. Chris Hill, who is heavily involved in helping these talks move forward–Americans are very deeply involved in this process–and Amb. Hill is our lead man on the ground–and I talked to a senior member of the Yugoslav government about the process. And I stressed to them, and I would stress to everybody, that the United States thinks the level of violence in Kosovo has to be reduced, and we're going to stay heavily involved in an effort to make sure that happens.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Well, Mr. Holbrooke, thank you very much for being with us.
RICHARD HOLBROOKE: My pleasure. Thank you.