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Interview with David L. Phillips

Dnevni Avaz, Daily Newspaper, Sarajevo

June 23, 2012

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Q: Mr. Phillips, allow me to go a bit into history. This August is going to be the 20 year anniversary of the London Conference on Former Yugoslavia, and there is a well-known episode with you and Radovan Karadzic over there. Would you please share it with our readers, since Mr. Karadzic is somehow in focus again with his trial on ICTY? What are your thoughts and what do you predict will be his destiny?

A: I'll be pleased to share that personal history with you. I attended the London Conference as a pro-bono political adviser for the Bosnian delegation. During the coffee-break in the afternoon of the second day, I went into a hallway and found myself shoulder to shoulder with Radovan Karadzic.

I saw him there, introduced myself, shook his hand, and asked if he was Dr. Karadzic. He confirmed, "Yes I am." I told him that it was my understanding he was responsible for the worst genocide to occur in Europe since the Second World War. He should go before an International Tribunal to stand trial and, if found guilty, spend the rest of his life in jail. He was shocked that I would confront him. He wanted to know who I was. And he said to me, "Nobody speaks to me that way." He promised that I would pay a price. His exact words were, "Sometime in the middle of the night you will awake to cold steel on your throat, and I will slit your throat and the throats of your family." Needless to say, I was scared. But I knew that his tactics were based on fear. So I looked him straight in the eye and said, "Dr. Karadzic, there is nothing you could do that would hurt me." When he saw that I did not succumb to fear, he walked away. One of his henchmen came up and tried to muscle me against the wall. Scotland Yard was present in the conference hall and officers intervened on my behalf.

Q: Would you be disappointed if Karadzic does not spend the rest of his life, as you predicted to him, behind bars?

A: Justice should be served. He and those who supported him deserve punishment.

Q: But when you look today at the trial of Karadzic and Mladic at ICTY, are you satisfied with the way the trials are being delegated? What are your thoughts from the bottom of your heart on the impact of a verdict?

A: It is good that these "gentlemen" are being tried in The Hague for genocide. As leaders, they were responsible for terrible atrocities. But they are not only culpable. Let us not forget that their actions were blessed by a much wider circle of people, who either committed atrocities themselves or, through complicity, are also guilty. The only way Serbia can become a normal country is to face the fact that many of its people turned the other way or supported criminal acts. Of course, not every Serb can be held responsible for what the leadership did. But, until Serbia as a whole confronts its past, recognizes and accepts its culpability and responsibility, it will not become a normal country that is fully integrated into Europe.

Q: But how can Serbia become a normal country if its new president Mr. Tomislav Nikolic, only few days after taking office in Belgrade, denies there was a genocide in Srebrenica?

A: Even today in Serbia, the Milosevic project is still alive. The Milosevic project is based on division and ethnic separation. It is based on ethnic hatred. Even though Milosevic is dead, the virus of ethnic violence that he unleashed is alive and well. There is no place for virulent ethnic nationalism in Europe, the civilized world, or in Serbia herself.

Q: Are you saying that Nikolic won the election because half of Serbia is "infected" with the "Milosevic virus"?

A: Nikolic is a self-declared "Cetnik." That speaks volumes about his character. Tadic and Nikolic should be judged by what they do, not only by what they say. In words and deeds, there is very little difference between them. Tadic may be more presentable. He may dress in fancy European suits and have a European style haircut, but his actions suggest that he and Nikolic are from the same cloth. That is the cloth that binds Serbia to the past and prevents it from moving forward, as a part of Europe.

Q: It looks like Serbia is actually very successful in keeping Bosnia as the last hostage of its policy in the Balkans: I am talking about scare tactics to prevent Bosnia from recognizing Kosovo.

A: The Milosevic project was about establishing a Greater Serbia on all territories where the Serbs reside. The project is still being implemented, as evidenced by the approach of the Republika Srpska in Bosnia, and by the occupation by Serbs north of the Ibar River in Mitrovica in Kosovo. Until Serbia recognizes its neighbors and commits herself to good-neighborly relations, Serbia cannot move forward.

Q: You are talking about Kosovo?

A: I am talking about Serbia's general approach to Western Balkans and specifically about Kosovo, where Serbia continues to play a confrontational and divisive role, looking to partition Kosovo and absorb a portion of its territory.

Q: Belgrade, besides its "European rhetoric", while saying it would never recognize Kosovo, is still eying part of Bosnia as a means of compensation? For how long will this be a part of its "hidden political agenda"? Would it ever disappear from the regional radar?

A: It's not a hidden agenda. Belgrade openly foments violence. There was a terrible war in order to preserve Bosnia as a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural state. Until Republika Srpska is fully integrated into Bosnia, the project that led to that war endures. Many people died to preserve Bosnia's territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Q: In addition to that, Mr. Dodik is now saying Republika Srpska will follow Belgrade rather than Sarajevo when it comes to (not) joining NATO? How can America can stop that? By acting in Belgrade, via Banja Luka? Both are instruments of Russia and its anti-NATO attitude and politics.

A: NATO's Membership Action Plan provides clear guidelines. Dodik's policies clearly violate Atlanticist principles and will hinder further Euro-Atlantic integration for Serbia.

Q: We also have some protocol mistakes: how do you explain when a U.S. or Turkish ambassador goes to see Mr. Dodik and talks to him in his office with a U.S. or Turkish flag together with only a Republica Srpska flag, without a Bosnian one? Is that playing into hands of Dodik's separatism?

A: I don't know the details of those visits or what was discussed. I do believe, however, that dialogue is important and necessary. The optics of that meeting under the flag of the renegade entity is not conducive to the broader goal of promoting the Republica Srpska's integration into Bosnia and Herzegovina where it belongs.

Q: Americans were warned at the time (even at the London Conference) that Milosevic's project ("virus" as you say) could survive even after Dayton, after ICTY verdicts; should anyone regret this on this side of the Atlantic? Looks like Serbia continues with its agenda?

A: That virus not only survived in the Western Balkans, but also in Western Europe. The attitude of chauvinism exists in many countries, including some EU member states. By not stamping out the virus in Bosnia, the West allowed it to become contagious. Now countries in Western Europe stand at-risk. The Euro-zone crisis exacerbates this problem. Look what has happened in Greece with the emergence of a Nazi party, "Golden Dawn."

Q: Since we were talking about history, and since you knew late president Izetbegovic, do you think that he was always under pressure to accept the peace plans, and never able (not in the situation) to think twice, especially about Dayton Peace Accord? How do you see it from a distance?

A: There are the couple of great heroes in Bosnia's recent history. It is thanks to the efforts of Alija Izetbegovic and Haris Silajdzic that Bosnia survived as a country. It is easy for the younger generation to forget those years and the enormous contributions that they made to save the country from aggression.

Q: Should President Izetbegovic have made more demands before accepting Dayton? Is use of the term "Republika Srpska" irreversible?

A: At the time, the Dayton Peace Agreement was the best deal possible. It ended a terrible war and it was a diplomatic success. The U.S. should have followed up the Dayton negotiation with a proactive effort to address Kosovo's political status and a follow-up conference on Bosnia to upgrade Dayton, aimed at bringing the agreement in line with evolving conditions.

Q: Are you talking about the "Dayton Two", and what were or still are the major evolving conditions?

A: Yes, you may use that term "Dayton Two," if you wish. Letting Bosnia fester as a divided country with nationalist politics playing a toxic role made implementing the Dayton principles harder over time.

Q: And now that we have the situation that some, especially Mr. Dodik, are using Dayton "a la carte", Dayton Two will almost certainly not occur. What else could be done in Bosnia?

A: Bosnia should be fully integrated based on the belief that all citizens have a shared interest, a common future, a commitment to democratic principles, and a desire for peace and prosperity.

Q: Was any other peace plan like Vans-Owen or Cutilliero's plan better than the Dayton Peace Accord?

A: The gold standard for power-sharing and minority rights is the Ahtisarri plan for Kosovo. It builds on the Dayton Peace Accord. Both agreements represent diplomatic innovation and important steps forward in statecraft. The problem has to do with implementation and monitoring by the international community so that signatories do what they said they would do. Without the political will to keep the pressure on, agreements that look good on paper do not realize their promise in practice.

Q: How do you comment on the election of Mr. Vuk Jeremic of Serbia as the president of the UN General Assembly?

A: It is astonishing that a Serbian diplomat is the president of the GA, when Serbia continues to have a shameful record of antagonism toward its neighbors, as well as a disregard for international law.

Q: How do you look at the role of Russia in the part of Bosnia and Serbia, and in the election of Mr. Jeremi to the UN General Assembly, bearing in mind the politics of Moscow toward the current situation in Syria?

A: Russia's approach has been consistent over many years, providing political and material support to criminal regimes. It continues to do so by supporting Assad in Syria, who is guilty of war-crimes and has committed a terrible injustice against the Syrian people.

Q: Tell me something about your new book? Why did you choose the topic of Kosovo?

A: The book is called "Liberating Kosovo: Coercive Diplomacy and U.S. Intervention." It is edited by Harvard's Kennedy School and published by MIT Press. NBC published an enhanced e-book with an hour and a half of interactive footage embedded in the electronic text. I wrote a book because I believe that the United States is a force of good in the world. Kosovo is not the last time that the U.S. will confront a genocidal regime and come to the defense of defenseless victims. There are important lessons to be learned from the Kosovo experience about when, why and with whom the U.S. should intervene to prevent genocide. The book not only offers the diplomatic history of the events in Kosovo leading up to NATO's action and then the coordinated declaration of independence. It also suggests intervention criteria and maintains that there is a responsibility that comes from intervention. I hope its pages are instructive, as the U.S. confronts other humanitarian emergencies that demand a principled and moral response.

Q: Whenever someone talks about the imperative of the humanitarian intervention, as you do in your book, it comes to me why the international community was so late in Bosnia. I mean, Bosnians were lied to that they were going to be helped that way, and during the London Conference, the Prime-Minister of UK, John Major, promised Mr. Izetbegovic that the Royal Air Force will bomb Serbs who were shelling Sarajevo and others. You were there. What happened?

A: Yes, I was in the room when that promise was made. I wrote about it in my most recent book. Larry Eagleburger and John Major were present. President Izetbegovic and Haris Silajdzic were there. The U.S. and UK representatives talked about their unprecedented cooperation to stop the attacks of Sarajevo. Izetbegovic asked what guaranties could be provided. John Major said, "You have my word of honor. If the shelling of Sarajevo does not stop in 30 days, the Royal Air Force will be overhead."

Q: But, then the siege of Sarajevo continued to go longer than the siege of Stalingrad. It was the longest siege of one city in the modern history. How do we explain that?

A: In retrospect, the London Conference was an attempt to push the issue of Bosnia under the rug and get it off the front pages. Mr. Major simply lied to get what he wanted. The London Conference addressed the symptoms of conflict without addressing its root cause.

Q: Let me ask you bluntly: in 2009, Vice-President Biden hinted in Sarajevo that Bosnia and the region are somehow on the top of U.S. political agenda. But they are not. Although in, perfect Dayton was put aside and was not enhanced, but rather applied like "Holly Scripture"? What is going on with Bosnia disappearing from the top of the Washington agenda?

A: You often hear U.S. officials talking about "Strategic patience." This is about incremental steps to create conditions for progress. Absent strong U.S. leadership, problems do not ripen for solution. The U.S. should not make a rule of leading from behind. It must not sacrifice principles for stability. Unless the Balkans are addressed in a proactive fashion, there is risk that conflict could be renewed.

Q: After all these years, what would then be the step in the right direction in order not to be consumed by mistakes made in the past, when it comes to Bosnia in the first place?

A: The EU in its entirety should recognize Kosovo as an independent state, and send a clear message to Belgrade that its politics of division and partition will not be accepted. And Bosnia, of course should recognize Kosovo. Kosovo has a historic, cultural and political right to independence.

Q: But how would that help Bosnia?

A: Bosnia suffered to uphold principles of justice and fairness. It should remain true to those principles.



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