Summer School Simulation: Hands-on or Hands-off? External Actors in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding

by: Lamin O. Ceesay and Lejla Kusturica

On September 14th 2013, as part of its 1st summer school programme on Managing Fragility: Good Governance in Transition Contexts, Willy Brandt School of Public Policy conducted a day-long simulation exercise on international peace negotiation for its course participants on the topic “Hands-on or Hands-off? External Actors in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding.”  Prof. Dr. Solveig Richter, a junior professor in International Conflict Management at Brandt School guided participants through the process.

The selected case for the simulation exercise was the Bosnia and Herzegovina conflict with a focus on the complications created by the Dayton Accord. The Dayton Accord, despite its success in brokering the peace agreement between parties and actors in the conflict which eventually led to peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is widely acknowledged that it created a muddy political system resulting in fragile central institutions and strong federal units. The exercise educated participants on negotiating techniques as well as assisting them develop innovative diplomatic solutions to international conflict resolution processes using Bosnia and Herzegovina as an example. The simulation exercise surfaced critical issues in a real conflict resolution situation and negotiation process which ultimately exposed participants to approaches of international conflict resolution techniques and practices. The emphasis was on nurturing innovative diplomatic skills of course participants on conflict resolutions by highlighting key lessons that participants could take away and apply whenever they are faced with real life situations. At the end of the simulation, participants found the exercise useful in surfacing key issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina case and at the same time provided potential solutions to points of impasse arising during reconciliation efforts.

Professor Richter set the scene for the exercise through the creation of a comfortable environment for the representatives of various parties and actors which included: the High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Presidency of the European Union, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, USA, Russia, Germany, Organization of the Islamic Conference, represented by Turkey, the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serb Parties, Bosnian Parties and Croat Parties. The rules of the game were outlined which entailed the “Wh words” of conflict resolution simulation exercise like how, why and what to do and not to do and so on. Although emphasis was made on guiding rules and regulations regarding the process of resolving conflict, it was made clear that there are no hard and fast rules, but rather just some salient internationally accepted norms that she found helpful in creating a safe environment conducive for the conduct of a successful conflict resolution exercise. She reminded participants about factors necessary to consider before, during and after the session.

The High Representative (HR) of Bosnia and Herzegovina presented the situation and the reasons that prompted the immediate summoning of the negotiation meeting. In order to have all conflicting parties and actors on the same page and to facilitate discussion, the HR painted vivid realities on the ground and a rundown of events that culminated into the recent escalation of the conflict. Continual power struggles in the country and the fruitless efforts of the HR to foster reconciliation, and how to arrive at an amicable solution were top on the agenda.  Spokesperson of the HR highlighted how the holding of a referendum and the recent secession threat by President Milorad Dodik, of Republika Srpska violated Dayton Accord and the need to act now. These unfortunate events the spokesperson cautioned makes the current conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina very complex and multi-faceted and therefore called on the actors and parties to act fast or else the unity and the relative peace of the state will be at risk. This opened the floor for a group preparation of statements and positions. After defining their goals, arguments and strategies the different parties were called on to present their concerns and positions before the steering board. Following this was an open debate before an enlarged steering board session, closed steering board meeting and Bosnia and Herzegovina parties’ consultation session where they made decisions in preparation of the final resolution that was eventually presented before the enlarged board.

Apart from parties such as the EU, USA – who acted in line with their real life roles, meaning that they condemned any actions of secessions and supported Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole – some parties took surprising positions, such as the HR of Bosnia and Herzegovina who dismissed Milorad Dodik, president of Repubika Srpska, from political life and Russia, which did not give full support to Mr. Dodik’s politics. They acted slightly different from what could have been expected from them in reality  making the game vivid and interesting.

The Serb party (although this contradicts what could happen in a real life situation) approached Bosniaks and Croat parties and suggested to them to strike a tripartite agreement regarding greater autonomy and eventual separation, which would eventually push the international community out of their country. However, the effort was thwarted as Croat party could not agree with them on principle. Croats rejected, as they would in reality, demanding the formation of a so-called “third entity”. At the end however after a lot of negotiation between external actors, USA and EU on one side, and Russia on other, a set of proposals was suggested that was again negotiated among domestic parties and accepted with certain amendments.

Generally speaking all participants grasped the complexity of the constitutional setup of Bosnia and Herzegovina which turns out to be the biggest achievement of the whole game. However, many parties were not fully convinced about the scope of the possibility of their actions. Also, there was a clear discrepancy between the knowledge of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina as understood by some participants coming from the region and others who had limited access to materials regarding their roles. Everyone was very much involved and motivated to stay true to their roles. In a nutshell, the exercise exposed the deadlock Bosnia and Herzegovina has been facing for years which inspired some parties to act a bit out of real possible scenarios. What was missing were guarantees of Dayton Peace Agreement, Croatia and Serbia. It would have been a lot better if we at least had Serbian representations giving the fact that Croatia is now part of EU.

It was evident that some participant got anxious for not being able to solve the problem while staying more or less true to their roles. The entire exercise was very successful as it revealed the non-functionality of the present constitutional setup of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the urgent need for constitutional change. The simulation exercise was concluded by a press conference where a negotiated set of proposals was presented in front of public. In the end vast majority of participants concluded that the game would have been a lot more successful had it focused on a fictional rather than an existing fragile state.