A Contact Group Plan for Syria

DENVER – Conflict and crisis may seem to be unique to their participants and contemporaries. But such episodes often play out according to distinct patterns – though usually after the events that comprise them have faded from our collective memory. Such is the case with Syria’s civil war.

This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Accords, which ended the Bosnian War. It was a brutal war for territory, in which civilians were targeted more often than combatants, making a mockery of international humanitarian law (indeed, it has taken decades to round up known war criminals, some of whose trials remain ongoing). And it was a war that divided the international community, especially the Western allies, as it grappled with its first post-Cold War crisis.

Today, the Bosnian War is barely remembered. When it is, observers typically cite the use of NATO airpower, as if that were the only factor that helped end it.

But Bosnia was an important war in history. With Europe and the United States drifting apart, it ultimately brought them closer together and put to rest questions about US preparedness to lead and work with others. In fact, much of what happened in Bosnia – including the effort, in its aftermath, to realize concepts of universal justice – has applications for the contemporary world.