Waging peace with justice - Kati Marton (Flashback) 21 April 2011

Peace and justice are big words we carve into stone. But they sound abstract, removed from the very human qualities that actually determine whether those who make war will agree to peace.

There is perhaps no field where the human factor is of greater consequence than in diplomacy – the forging of peace. It is human qualities that determine whether that peace will bring justice.
One of the things I discovered in my years with Richard Holbrooke, and especially during the Dayton peace talks, is that leaders who wage wars are disconnected from their people. It is not those who are getting shot, raped and driven from their homes who negotiate the peace. These leaders proclaim the importance of honour and the righting of historical injustices, but above all they want to hold on to power.
At Dayton, Richard and his team faced leaders of movements – warlords – for whom governance, providing their people with a better future, was not very important. How do you persuade such leaders to give up land or riches or power, when war is much more familiar than an uncertain peace? That is where the very human art of diplomacy takes the stage.
Richard compared it to jazz. You improvise, you make it up as you go along, always paying very close attention to the man across the table, playing to his weaknesses, quickly rewarding his good behaviour, attuned to him, even as you pound the table to get his attention.
The negotiator must always stay two moves ahead on the diplomatic chessboard. Diplomacy at this level is a high-risk operation; it involves outmaneuvering the wiliest survivors on the planet. There is nothing abstract about it. Those who engage in it must be prepared to lay everything on the line. That is what I observed in Dayton, Ohio where the Bosnian War was ended in 1995. Sixteen years ago genocide raged in Europe. Men and boys were forced onto buses that carried them to firing squads and unmarked graves. The women they left behind were often raped, while snipers picked off civilians en route to work and to outdoor markets. The antagonists were not strangers from across the sea, but former neighbours, former classmates, colleagues who spoke the same language and had just months earlier been citizens of the same country, Yugoslavia.
Sixteen years later, most of us barely look back at the war which Richard called “the greatest collective failure of the West since the 1930s.” As much a humanitarian as a diplomatic crisis, the Bosnian War was the first real test of the post-Cold War order.
As one who was privileged to be present during the negotiations that ended that war, let me assure you there was nothing inevitable about the success of those peace talks. On the contrary, there were many times when failure seemed all but assured.
How did Sarajevo turn from a war zone into today’s tourist destination? What are the lessons we can draw from that peace?
The history of the Balkan Wars and the peace talks, which ended them is a personal story for me. The year 1995, when the war became too murderous for the world to ignore any longer, was the year I married Richard Holbrooke.
While both the United States and Europe initially saw the Balkan Wars as a European problem, belatedly and very reluctantly, Washington intervened and ultimately ended the war.
The war shadowed every single day of our first year of marriage. In retrospect, I would not trade a single day of that turbulent year, and the chance to observe history from such close range and even, occasionally, to play my small part for peace.
I knew my life would never be the same when, on our way to our Budapest wedding in May 1995, Richard was on the phone urging colleagues in Washington to start the bombing. Those were not necessarily the words a bride longs to hear. Neither was Richard a bellicose man: forceful, yes. Determined, absolutely. He was a hardheaded idealist, convinced that perpetrators of genocide respond only to the language of power.
Four years of half-hearted diplomatic efforts and pinprick-bombing strikes had failed to budge the Bosnian Serbs who held Sarajevo in a chokehold. The majority of Americans opposed involvement in another European war. Even Henry Kissinger, the ultimate realpolitician, opposed US involvement, while former secretary of state James Baker proclaimed, “We don’t have a dog in (the Balkan) fight.” Many Europeans and Americans rationalised their inaction with talk of “clash of civisations” and “ancient hatreds” at the root of this blood spilling. It was just the Balkans being Balkan.
Richard felt that American values – and thus American interests – were at stake. He did not feel that all sides to this conflict were equally guilty. There was a clear aggressor in Belgrade and in Pale. But that did not mean that the other two parties, the Croats and the Muslims, were innocent victims. Richard did not believe that war – any war – was inevitable. Slobodan Milosevic had lit the flame of the Balkan fire, but then he had plenty of help spreading it.
The first moral dilemma Richard and his fellow negotiators faced was dealing with such criminals. Here is how Richard resolved the moral dilemma of talking to indicted criminals: he refused to include Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the evil twin leaders of the Bosnian Serbs, already indicted war criminals.
Two things happened during that summer we got married which helped turn collective failure into collective success. The Bosnian Serbs’ utter contempt for the “international community” was never more flagrant than in July, when General Ratko Mladic and his militia took 30 Dutch UN peacekeepers hostage and massacred thousands of Muslims who had already surrendered their town of Srebrenica. But Richard’s call to use air power to stop the Bosnian Serbs was rejected by both the Pentagon and the Western European nations.
Then on August 19 my telephone rang at an hour that never brings good news. It was the State Department operations centre informing me that my husband of six weeks and his small negotiating team had been in an accident on Mount Igman, the treacherous road that leads down to Sarajevo. It was not yet clear, the operator informed me, how serious the injuries were.
The next call was from my husband. He was not hurt, but three of his five colleagues were killed when their armoured personnel carrier tumbled off the poorly maintained road. Richard and his military aide, General Wesley Clark, ran down Mount Igman to retrieve their colleagues, trapped inside a burning Humvee, while in the background Serb gunners pounded away.
Richard asked me to meet him at Andrews Air Force Base, outside Washington, where he was headed with his comrades’ remains. He had spent that night on a military plane with his knees pressed against his friends’ flag-draped coffins. Observing him and President Clinton and his war cabinet go through the sad rituals of farewell and burial, I knew ending the Balkan War had become personal for them.
Kati Marton is the widow of American diplomat Richard Holbrooke

Source : http://www.khaleejtimes.com/displayarticle.asp?xfile=data/opinion/2011/April/opinion_April109.xml&section=opinion&col=

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