Dayton Negotiations Produce Bosnian Peace Accord Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

More than three years after Bosnia and Herzegovina proclaimed its independence from Yugoslavia, NATO military intervention ended the bloody fighting there and set the stage for the war’s negotiated settlement. Shortly thereafter, the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and the former Yugoslavia met near Dayton, Ohio, to work out the details of that settlement.

Summary of Event

Although the fighting in Bosnia was neither the first nor the last round of the civil wars that tore Yugoslavia apart, from the time Bosnia and Herzegovina proclaimed its independence in February, 1992, over the strenuous objection of its approximately one-third Serbian minority, the fighting there was the worst—a multicornered fight involving regular and irregular military units that sometimes pitted Croats and Bosnian Muslims against one another and sometimes allied them against the Serbs. Before the fighting ended, members of all three communities had committed war crimes so horrific that the United Nations was moved to create a permanent criminal court to try crimes arising from conflicts such as the ethnic warfare that destroyed Yugoslavia. Dayton Accords (1995) Peace negotiations;Dayton Accords Racial and ethnic conflict;Bosnia and Herzegovina [kw]Dayton Negotiations Produce Bosnian Peace Accord (Nov. 21, 1995) [kw]Negotiations Produce Bosnian Peace Accord, Dayton (Nov. 21, 1995) [kw]Bosnian Peace Accord, Dayton Negotiations Produce (Nov. 21, 1995) [kw]Peace Accord, Dayton Negotiations Produce Bosnian (Nov. 21, 1995) [kw]Accord, Dayton Negotiations Produce Bosnian Peace (Nov. 21, 1995) Dayton Accords (1995) Peace negotiations;Dayton Accords Racial and ethnic conflict;Bosnia and Herzegovina [g]North America;Nov. 21, 1995: Dayton Negotiations Produce Bosnian Peace Accord[09360] [g]United States;Nov. 21, 1995: Dayton Negotiations Produce Bosnian Peace Accord[09360] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Nov. 21, 1995: Dayton Negotiations Produce Bosnian Peace Accord[09360] Milošević, Slobodan Tudjman, Franjo Izetbegović, Alija Holbrooke, Richard

Particularly outrageous was the Serbian massacre of at least eight thousand unarmed civilians in the U.N.-designated “safe haven” of Srebrenica in July, 1995. Combined with the Serbian attack on Sarajevo, another supposedly safe haven, the ferociousness and arrogance of the attack on Srebrenica convinced the North Atlantic Treaty Organization North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of the need for aggressive military intervention. Soon thereafter, NATO action against Serbian artillery installations and other hard targets essentially ended the fighting, and three months later the presidents of Croatia, Bosnia, and what remained of Yugoslavia gathered in Dayton, Ohio, to negotiate a durable peace. By then, the Yugoslav civil wars had claimed approximately 200,000 lives and left a million either refugees abroad or internally displaced in the former Yugoslavia.

Given the wartime dislocation of the various communities and the multinational (Croat, Serbian, and Bosnian Muslim) composition of the republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose independence had been recognized by Western governments and the United Nations in 1992, the peace negotiations at Dayton were both sensitive and necessarily multifaceted. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton was specifically chosen as the site for the conference so that the participants could be sequestered in a location where their opportunities for public posturing in the mass media would be minimal. Nonetheless, achieving agreement to the compromises necessary to settle the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina and establish a functioning democracy there remained extremely difficult, especially with respect to the issues of refugee resettlement and the future of the Republika Srpska, or Serb Republic.

The repatriation of those dislocated in wartime embodied the basic issue of who would eventually control local governments in the new state. The wartime flight of hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims had left large portions of Bosnia and parts of Croatia ethnically homogeneous, or very nearly so. Guaranteeing the displaced the right to return securely to their homes meant that Serbs would be allowed to return to essentially Serb-free tracts in Croatia and that Bosnian Muslims would be permitted back into their homes in Serbian Bosnia. Consequently, both the president of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, and Yugoslavia’s president, Slobodan Milošević, strongly opposed the repatriation of displaced persons. In the end, however, international pressure prevailed, and the final text of the Dayton Accords recognized both the right of the wartime dislocated to return to their homelands and the rights of minorities throughout Bosnia.

The disposition of the question of the Serb Republic was something of a trade-off to the Serbs for consenting to these repatriation and human rights provisions. When the Serb-dominated Federal Republic of Yugoslavia began to disintegrate with the secession of Slovenia and Croatia in June, 1991, Bosnia’s Serbs read the writing on the wall. Bosnia and Herzegovina was likely to follow, and they would be under Croatian and Bosnian Muslim rule. Accordingly, on October 24, 1991, their leaders created a separate assembly for the Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Moreover, by the end of the year—as war was raging in Croatia—Bosnia’s Serbs had overwhelmingly voted in favor of separating from Bosnia to become a part of Serbia and Montenegro. The following January, the rump Serb Assembly established the Republic of the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Radovan Karadžić Karadžić, Radovan as its president and Banja Luka as its capital.

One of the first acts of the internationally recognized government of Bosnia and Herzegovina following the republic’s secession was to declare the Serbian referendum and resultant Serb Republic null and void. Any remaining doubts concerning the Serb Republic’s legal status disappeared after the war when Milošević, representing the Bosnian Serbs in place of Karadžić (who was being sought as a war criminal), accepted Bosnia and Herzegovina’s independence. Still, the reintegration of the Serb Republic into the rest of the country under a unitary structure was unthinkable. In addition, the country’s predominantly Croat areas did not look forward to governance by Sarajevo, where the state’s Muslim community, more than 40 percent of the population, would be in the plurality. Croats, too, had fought Bosnian Muslims during the war. Hence, instead of a unitary design, the Dayton Accords provided for the establishment of a complex federal state in Bosnia and Herzegovina composed of two federal “entities.” One was to be the Serb Republic, and the other was to be a federation of the predominantly Croat or Bosnian Muslim regions.


As completed on November 21, 1995, and formally signed in Paris on December 14, the Dayton Accords committed the guarantors to a long-term process of institution building and political tutelage and to maintaining the peace necessary to establish a stable democracy in a country whose multinational communities had recently and often brutally been killing one another. The agreement’s implementation thus required an unprecedented coordination of international machinery, including U.N. officials to oversee the country’s transition to full self-government, personnel from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to ensure fair elections, and the initial deployment of approximately eighty thousand NATO peacekeeping troops.

The difficulty of their tasks became clear almost immediately. Protests in the Serb Republic frequently challenged the ability of the NATO forces to maintain order, and not infrequently they and the unarmed members of the International Police Task Force became the targets of rock-throwing, car-burning demonstrators. Refugees, fearing for their safety, refused to return to their homes. When elections were held, they most often placed in office the hard-line nationalist leaders of the country’s three communities, not politicians committed to sharing power. Indeed, three years after the Dayton Accords were signed, teenage Muslim girls serving as translators for the OSCE’s poll supervisors were still being taunted over the radios assigned to them by Serbs threatening to return to rape them, their mothers, and their grandmothers before torching their homes.

Nevertheless, peace slowly began to take root. It gradually became possible for NATO to scale down its presence and, approximately a decade after Dayton, to turn its peacekeeping operations over to a small, lightly armed European Union contingent. Elections continued to institutionalize the nationalist leaders of the Muslim, Croat, and Serbian communities within the country’s federal assemblies; however, the battles increasingly became political fights over such matters as water rights rather than firefights employing mines, mortars, and automatic weapons.

Perhaps most significant, in the early years of the twenty-first century, refugees began to return to Bosnia and Herzegovina—a process that eventually required NATO to use force to evict from their confiscated houses the Muslim fighters from abroad who had been drawn to the country to support its Muslims during the war and had taken up residence there afterward. Still, more than a decade after Dayton, the multinational communities of Bosnia and Herzegovina remained as unintegrated into a multicultural society as the citizens of the country’s capital city, Sarajevo, whose Serbian inhabitants gradually returned to live well apart from the Muslim majority. Dayton Accords (1995) Peace negotiations;Dayton Accords Racial and ethnic conflict;Bosnia and Herzegovina

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Biermann, Wolfgang, and Martin Vadset, eds. U.N. Peacekeeping in Trouble: Lessons Learned from the Former Yugoslavia. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1998. Presents a critical analysis of the U.N. peacekeeping operations in Croatia and Bosnia during and after the Yugoslav civil wars.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bose, Sumantra. Bosnia After Dayton: Nationalist Partition and International Intervention. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Provides a solid, scholarly discussion of the early years of state building in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chollet, Derek H. The Road to the Dayton Accords: A Study of American Statecraft. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Offers a well-documented account of American initiatives to end the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, from the earliest attempts to the peace accord attained in Dayton.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Innes, Michael A., ed. Bosnian Security After Dayton: New Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2006. Valuable collection of essays on the efforts to build multinational governing institutions in a country recently emerged from bloody communal warfare.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ramet, Sabrina P. Balkan Babel: The Disintegration of Yugoslavia from the Death of Tito to the Fall of Milošević. 4th ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2002. Outstanding resource for understanding the violent unraveling of Yugoslavia during the 1990’s.

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Serbs Face Charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia

Hague Court Convicts Bosnian Croats of 1993 Massacre

Categories: History