David Steele – #WhatsYourPeace?

September 22, 2015
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I was personally involved in a facilitated problem solving process that contributed to ending the Kosovo war (documented in Steele, David. 1999. “The Lessons of Kosovo for U.S. Foreign Policy.”  ­Northwestern Journal of International Affairs.  II (1999), 4-12). Together with Ser­bian colleagues, another American, Landrum Bolling, and I were privileged to be part of a back channel of com­munication between Yugoslav and American governments plus the unofficial, “shadow” Albanian government in Kosovo. This process began long before that war as a result of a project I directed, beginning in 1994 to provide conflict resolution training to religious communities in the former Yugoslavia (under auspices of the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington). Through contacts within the Serbian Orthodox Church, introductions were made to top levels of the Yugoslav Government of Slobodan Milosevic.

The channel of communication between governments started before the war in what ended up as a failed effort to prevent it. However, it remained open during the war. As a team, we then conducted a brainstorm­ing process that fed new ideas into the very top levels of both Yugoslav and American gov­ernments.  These ideas were checked with the Yugoslav desk at the State department and with the former U.S. Ambassador to NATO. With a clear indication from both these sources that all our sug­gestions were negotiable, the proposals were then sent directly to Milosevic and to an American Under Secretary of State.

About six weeks before the end of the war, Landrum Bolling and I went to Belgrade. We were part of a delegation, headed by Jesse Jackson, to negotiate the release of three US soldiers who had been captured by the Yugoslav military when they inadvertently crossed the border from Macedonia where they had been stationed. In addition to assisting in the successful release of the American soldiers, Mr. Bolling I met numerous times with one of Milosevic’s top advisors in an effort to find an acceptable pathway to end the war. Throughout our three days in Belgrade, while US bombs were falling on the city, we explored a number of detailed options which could contribute toward a final peace agreement. The Yugoslav Government official shuttled back and forth between meeting with us and meeting with Milosevic. Just before we left Belgrade, in the company of the released American soldiers, the Yugoslav official told us Milosevic had agreed to end the war. It was the first indication Milosevic had made that a breakthrough was possible. My colleague then left to consult with the US State department and I left to brief the Kosovo Albanian President on the developments. It then took six weeks for the official negotiating team to actually finalize the peace agreement. However, both Yugoslav and US Governments informed us that the role we had played was critical to the success.

Submitted by David Steele, currently adjunct faculty, Graduate Program on Coexistence and Conflict, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA

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