The Dayton agreement


The Dayton Accords, or General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (henceforth The Agreement), are commonly known as the treaty which brought an end to four years of civil war between Bosnia’s major ethnic groups, i.e. Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks (or Bosnian Muslims).

The Agreement reached between the Presidents of Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, and brokered by the American chief negotiator Richard Holbrooke, was thought to prevent the ultimate division of Bosnia and settle the conflict. Yet while it did indeed end open hostilities and partly helped building a framework for a peaceful future, it also presented several serious flaws which still complicate Bosnian nation-building.


1 Circumstances

After four years of conflict which cost almost 300,000 lives and can be viewed as the worst conflict in Europe since World War II, the Agreement put a term on hostilities. Held at Wright-Patterson Air Base in Dayton, Ohio, a breakthrough was reached after a three-week negotiation marathon (November 1-21, 1995). The final text was signed in Paris on December 14, 1995.


The Bosnian civil war, 1992-1995. A while after Slovenia and Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence on April 5, 1992 as the result of an independence referendum boycotted by most Bosnian Serbs. As a reaction, the latter proclaimed the so-called Republika Srpska on April 6. Occasional hostilities between Serbs on the one side, and ethnic Croats and Bosniaks on the other side, had happened before, but the both proclamations of independence rapidly led to a large-scaled war, with the Serbs conquering the major part of the territory from the then Bosniak-Croat coalition. The latter eventually broke up, resulting in three parties combating each other. United Nations peacekeeping troops were virtually unable to prevent major war crimes, such as the famous Srebrenica massacre in early 1995.

All EU and UN attempts to produce a stable ceasefire miscarried. NATO, and thereby the U.S., eventually got involved in 1994 when it shot down four Serb aircraft violating the UN-declared “no-fly zone”. Another important event was the Croat-Bosniak peace agreement in early 1994, creating the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, thereby reducing the number of warring parties to two.

In 1995 the Croatian re-conquest of Serb-occupied Krajina region within Croatia helped reverse (in the so-called Western offensive) Serb dominance in Bosnia and significantly changed the facts on the ground. In parallel international pressure forced the warring factions to the negotiations table. Richard Holbrooke, then assistant Secretary of State, initiated his shuttle diplomacy between Zagreb, Belgrade, and Sarajevo and had the parties agree on a major peace conference to be held at Dayton.


2 Initial constellation at Dayton

2.1 The parties. Present at Dayton were three parties: the Croatian delegation headed by President Franjo Tuđman, the Bosnians headed by President Alija Izetbegović, and the Serbian delegation under President Slobodan Milošević. Chief negotiator was Richard Holbrooke.


2.2 Initial observations on the parties. Although one of the main warring factions in Bosnia, the Bosnian Serbs were not directly admitted to the talks. As had been agreed upon, they would be part of the Serbian delegation, thus accepting Milošević’s authority and leadership. Similarly, Bosnian Croats were represented by Croatian president Tuđman. Only the Bosniaks would represent themselves autonomously.

On the peace brokers’ side, one can observe a clear U.S. domination. Only former Swedish PM Carl Bildt and some senior European diplomats participated in the talks, the others playing a rather static role during all of the negotiation. As has been pointed out, the “United States took direct control over the peace process at Dayton, relegating other Western actors to subordinate roles.[1]


2.3 Different objectives of the warring parties and of the U.S. Generally speaking, for four years all three warring parties had strengthened distinction on ethnic criteria, thus destroying the prewar structure of a heterogeneous, multiethnic Bosnian society. Consequently, every party had sought to obtain an ethnically homogeneous territory, which had produced such phenomena as ethnic cleansing. As the respective territories were also expected to be viable, everyone was keen not be disadvantaged at the distribution process, and sought to gather as much land as possible.

During the war, the U.S., the EU and other states had had nothing to oppose to the implementation of this principle. While they certainly had not encouraged ethnic cleansing directly, they might partly be hold responsible for it, since the precipitated European recognition of Slovenian and Croatian independence clearly favored such development. Yet the immediate recognition of Bosnian independence also included a commitment to current borders, which was against a partition of Bosnia. This eventually become the conditio sine qua non of international negotiators: a split-up of Bosnia would not be tolerated. Yet it was also clear that the immediate reconstruction of Bosnia’s multiethnic structures would probably fail. Therefore, it was sought to create a – however weak – central government and within, two – highly autonomous – entities.

A careful U.S. shuttle diplomacy had led to an initial draft which already carried some major commitments of the three parties[2], the most important of which being the Serbian recognition of Bosnian territorial integrity (“one-state solution”), and the commitment to democratic elections and human rights. Therefore, the major question at Dayton would be the future democratic framework of Bosnia and the territorial repartition between the entities.

The choice to host a conference at that time can be attributed to the fact that for the first time, the Serbs were suffering setbacks on the ground, which made them reconsider negotiations; moreover, it created more equality between the major blocs (Republika Srpska against the Federation).

Zone de Texte:
Map of Bosnia and Herzegovina

3 Outcome

The Agreement, which consists of 11 articles and 11 annexes, features several issues, in particular:

*        Partition versus integration. As expected, the ethnic principle was enshrined, yet no partition of the country was tolerated (moreover, refugees could theoretically return to their homes). This meant the three ethnic groups would keep most of the land they were holding at the times of negotiation, with some modifications.[3] The final territorial ratio between the Federation and Republika Srpska was 51:49. Sarajevo did not become a specially-administrated federal territory – the Serbs preferred yielding the five suburbs they were holding to the Federation.

*        Constitution and elections. Bosnia was to remain one state, although the competences of the two entities were considerable. Yet, the new federal Constitution as included in annex 4 of the Agreement, was to guarantee freedom of movement of persons and goods between the entities. No military was to be stationed along the inter-entity boundary. Executive power was to be ensured by a three-member interethnic collegial presidency. All-Bosnian elections were to be hold 6-9 months after the Agreement became effective. Election of legislative bodies featured a combined majority and ethnic balloting system.

*        Security: implementation and policing. In parallel to the talks under way, the U.S. had reached an agreement with both the Europeans and Russia on a multinational implementation force (IFOR). In contrast, the EU refused to constitute a gendarmerie-like force for law enforcement purposes, leaving that task to the two local entities. A UN international police task force (IPTF) was only allowed for monitoring purposes.

At last, not included in the Framework Agreement, the accord reached between Franjo Tuđman and Slobodan Milošević on the return of Eastern Slavonia, then occupied by Serb militias, to Croatia.


4 Implementation

Two days after the Agreement was signed in Paris, some 60,000 troops were deployed under NATO command. They were to guarantee implementation of the accord’s military aspects: mutual handovers of portions of territory, disarmament, etc. In parallel, the Office of the High Representative – under former Swedish PM Carl Bildt – was to oversee implementation of the civilian aspects.

OSCE-monitored elections took place in September 1996, with Alija Izetbegović being designated as chairman of the three-person collective presidency. In December 1996, IFOR was replaced by the lighter Stabilization Force (SFOR).


5 Assessment

The Dayton Accord definitely ended major hostilities between the warring parties, and this merit cannot be valued enough. Some of its provisions can be questioned though: while the result might simply represent the only reachable deal between the parties at that time, some flaws can be observed.

A case for ultimate partition? While stressing the one-state character of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Dayton Accord institutes two single territorial units, which have large competences, leaving to the central government only a small number of important tasks. Therefore, these bodies are the most powerful level of government. Moreover, they are both dominated by a single ethnic group or a combined majority, leaving minorities little space. While an administrative division based on small-scale cantons might have encouraged the civic model, the current solution hails the ethnic one.[4] But indeed, with the noteworthy exception of Bosnian FM Haris Silajdžić, all parties had sought this solution.

Other problems and omissions. Several issues have not been resolved by the Agreement:

*        Problematic deadlines. Caplan asserts that the deadlines fixed by the accord were in no way realistic: elections should take place within 6-9 months, whereas IFOR troops were supposed to withdraw after one year.[5]  Indeed, such prospects highly jeopardized the re-creation of a civil society in Bosnia.

*        Policing/War crimes. Policing was mostly left to the parties themselves, instead of having it assumed by outsiders. Consequently, most law enforcement agents kept their jobs: this continuity was to compromise many confidence-building measures between former enemies.


In spite of all criticism, Dayton was an important step for Bosnia’s future. Sure, the Agreement’s errors and omissions have certainly had a certain impact on a stable political environment. Furthermore, several goals of the international negotiators have not turned true yet, such as the return of all refugees. To date, many questions still remain unresolved and reconciliation has yet a long way to go. Still, the situation has more or less remained stable, unlike voices that predicted Bosnia’s failure within a few years. Yet only future generations will be able to tell whether Dayton has finally proven successful.




*        Allin, Dana H. NATO’s Balkan Interventions. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002

*        Bougarel, Xavier. “Quel bilan critique des accords de Dayton?” in Relations internationales et stratégiques, n° 28 Winter 1997, pp. 29-35

*        Burg, Steven L./Shoup, Paul S. The War in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Ethnic Conflict and International Intervention. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1999

*        Čalić, Marie-Janine. “Nach Dayton: Wege der Stabilisierung des Friedens,” in Südosteuropa-Mitteilungen, vol. 36, n°2 1996, pp. 119-129

*        Caplan, Richard. “Assessing the Dayton Accord: the Structural Weaknesses of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” in Diplomacy and Statecraft, vol.11, n°2 September 2000, pp. 213-232

*        Ducasse-Rogier, Marianne. A la recherche de la Bosnie-Herzégovine. Paris: PUF, 2003

*        Holbrooke, Richard. To End a War. New York, NY: Random House, 1998

*        Keane, Rory. Reconstituting Sovereignty – Post-Dayton Bosnia Uncovered. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002

*        Schönfeld, Roland. “Auf dem Weg nach Dayton,” in Südosteuropa-Mitteilungen, vol. 36, n°2 1996, pp. 95-118

*        Simić, Pedrag. “La Bosnie, deux ans après Dayton,” in Relations internationales et stratégiques, n° 28 Winter 1997, pp. 29-35

*        Tardy, Thierry. “Les forces de l’OTAN en Bosnie-Herzégovine: paix retrouvée et avenir incertain,” in Relations internationales et stratégiques, n° 28 Winter 1997, pp. 29-35


Viewed Websites

*        Hypertext version of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina,

*        CIA World Factbook,

*        Office of the High Representative and EU Special Representative,

*        OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina,






[1] Burg, Steven L./Shoup, Paul S. The War in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Ethnic Conflict and International Intervention. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1999, p. 361

[2] On September 14, 1995 the Serbs agreed on a pullback of their forces from around Sarajevo in return for halting NATO air strikes; on September 26, 1995, the foreign ministers of the three countries present at Dayton agreed on some basic principles: freedom of movement, right of displaced persons to repossess their property or receive just compensation, freedom of speech and of the press, protection of human rights (Burg/Shoup, op.cit., pp. 357-358).

[3] In particular, the Serbs would yield a corridor connecting the Bosniak enclave of Goražde to the rest of Federation territory.

[4] Caplan, Richard. “Assessing the Dayton Accord: the Structural Weaknesses of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” in Diplomacy and Statecraft, vol.11, n°2 September 2000, p. 222

[5] Caplan, op.cit., pp. 227-229

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