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To End a War, by Richard Holbrooke
Knopf, 1999, 305 pages

Reviewed by Emma Cherniavsky Co-Chair, Young Advocates, California Committee South

To End a War recounts the tortuous path that led to the Dayton Agreement on Bosnia. Using anecdote and analysis, it brings to life the large cast of characters from the Bosnian drama, including the colorful but unsavory Serbs, the divided Bosnian Muslims, and the various bureaucrats in Washington and Europe. Holbrooke himself comes across as a talented negotiator whose intellect and policy-making skills are matched by his ego and ambition.

The book covers four phases of the story: the war, the shuttle diplomacy that led to a cease-fire in September 1995, the negotiations in Dayton, and implementation of the Agreement. It opens with the tragic story of the accident that caused the death of three of Holbrooke's U.S. colleagues on the Mount Igman road to Sarajevo. Holbrooke reached Sarajevo that day, but at a tremendous cost to the friends and families of the three men. Similarly, as the drama of war and diplomacy unfolds in the following chapters, we learn the heavy moral costs that were paid to achieve peace in Bosnia. The final chapter offers a critical assessment of the peace agreement and the future relationship between America, Europe, and Bosnia.

Among the serious threats to the future stability of Bosnia, Holbrooke singles out the weak mandates granted to the International Police Task Force and the High Representative. These inadequate mandates, as well as IFOR's failure to arrest prominent war criminals like Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, reflected the inability of NATO, the United States, and the European Union to reach agreement and unite behind a strong policy. "Having put its prestige on the line in 1995 to end the war, the United States and its allies were uncertain in 1996 and early 1997 about how hard to try to make Dayton work. The result was halfhearted implementation that led critics and cynics to call for scaled-back objectives in Bosnia," Holbrooke writes.

One of the most fascinating - and troubling - aspects of To End a War is its portrayal of the U.S. process for making foreign policy. U.S. leadership on Bosnia was repeatedly compromised by vocal Congressional critics and bureaucratic infighting among the State Department, the Defense Department, and the White House. In Holbrooke's own words, which were oddly prophetic of his future battle to obtain Senate confirmation as U.S. Representative to the United Nations:

"The United States has survived divided government between the Executive Branch and the Congress for much of the last two decades. But a bloated bureaucratic system and a protracted struggle between the two branches have eroded much of Washington's capacity for decisive action in foreign affairs and reduced our presence just as our range of interests has increased. The United States continues to reduce the resources committed to international affairs even as vast parts of the globe and new issues that once lay outside of its area of direct involvement now take on new importance...One cannot have a global economic policy without a political and strategic vision to accompany it."