The international community dominated the processes of ending the war and making the constitution in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The territories that now constitute Bosnia-Herzegovina were the scene of bitter and cruel killings. Two of the ethnic communities—Serbs and Croats— were assisted by their coethnicists in Serbia and Croatia, who supplied them with arms and had considerable interest in continued disorder in the Balkans. The community most anxious for a peaceful settlement, the Bosnians, were least able to mobilize arms for a sustained campaign, and had limited outside support. The personal ambitions of Serbian and Croatian leaders, combined with the strategic interests of Serbia and Croatia, meant that peace and constitution- making by internal processes were highly improbable. On the other hand, the European Union and the United States had major political and military reasons to end the war and establish a stable polity out of these territories.
Distrustful of the willingness or ability of local leaders to negotiate for peace and a new constitution for what was essentially a new state, the United States took the initiative in 1995 to start a process for settlement. Its strategy was based on the assumption that the role of the international community was critical, as was the participation of the leaders of Serbia and Croatia. So a strong United States team, composed of senior political, military, and administrative staff, embarked on shuttle diplomacy, visiting key capitals in Europe, including the Balkans, to promote negotiations on a set of ideas to end the war, address its consequences (such as the displacement of people and the return of refugees), and structure the government of the new state by means of a new constitution. Ending the war and constitution-making were seen as integral parts of the process. To a considerable extent this meant that those involved in the war, local people and neighbors, would play a key role. This in turn meant that the ethnic dimension would play a significant part in the negotiations and the outcome.
After building some consensus, including a cease-fire, the United States moved to proximity talks to clear the ground for a peace conference at an air force base in Dayton, Ohio. The peace conference was held between November 1 and November 21, 1995. The United Nations and the European Union were major participants. (Other international agencies, including the World Bank, also were present.) But there was no doubt that the conference was led by the United States, with its large delegation and the meeting at a military site. Having the conference in Dayton allowed the United States to control public participation and the agenda, and it appointed the leader of Serbia as the negotiator for the Bosnian Serbs and Tudjman, leader of the Croatian government, for the Bosnian Croats. The consequence of having only political groups in Dayton, with their investment in ethnicity, meant that the state was structured on the basis of ethnicity.
Strict secrecy was required and observed in the negotiations (this was before the ubiquity of cell phones); these were “successful,” resulting in the General Framework for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (also known as the Dayton Accords). It consisted of eleven appendices addressing a number of issues, some interconnected (including human rights, peacekeeping, return of refugees, and elections). Appendix 4 contained the constitution. The constitution came into effect upon the signing of the agreement by the Republic of Croatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (basically Serbia), and the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (then dominated by Muslims). No further approval was necessary, although it was taken to the assemblies of the two federal entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republic Srpska, for endorsement.
The process was rushed and there was no input from the people of Bosnia; their leaders were completely sidelined. James O’Brien notes that this procedure was more appropriate to ending war than to constitution-making: it was neither participatory nor representative, and left no time for reasoned deliberation. However, he maintains that the results are probably more democratic and durable than Bosnians could have produced themselves by the end of the war. Implementation would have required continued external engagement, and problems would thus have occurred at each step (this case study owes a considerable debt to O’Brien 2010).