Secret agent man

At his arraignment yesterday, Radovan Karadžić repeated a claim that has been made by many people (among them Florence Hartmann, Biljana Plavšić, Muhamed Šaćirbej ....) that he felt he had been protected by an agreement he had made in 1996 with Richard Holbrooke, who was then the US envoy overseeing the negotiation and implementation of the Dayton agreement in Bosnia-Hercegovina. As the story goes, the offer was made to Karadžić that if he were to withdraw from public life, in return for this the United States would either (in some versions) see to it that he would not be pursued and arrested or (in more dramatic versions) see to it that the charges against him would be withdrawn. Today's Blic offers an overview of stories involving the "Holbrooke agreement."

The US State Department denies that there was an agreement, as does Richard Holbrooke. But of course denials do not tell us anything about factual states, merely what somebody would prefer for us to believe. All the same, there is as yet no convincing evidence (say, a copy of the signed agreement) that would definitively tell us there was an agreement. What we have to do is the same thing we do with the Karađorđevo agreement -- some people claim that Milošević and Tuđman agreed in advance on the territorial division of Bosnia-Hercegovina, nobody has produced the smoking cocktail napkin or whatever it is that thugs in power write their mash notes on, so what is left to make inferences from the facts that are available.

Here is what we know: 1) The US long regarded the Tribunal as an obstacle to its efforts to negotiate with the criminals who would be charged, and refused to assist in the arrest of suspects or provide Tribunal researchers with evidence from sources such as satellite intercepts which the US intelligence agencies collected. 2) There was a longish period during which it was possible to arrest Karadžić and other indictees but this was not done. 3) After 2000, when a new president was appointed by the Supreme Court, US foreign policy became increasingly hostile to international legal institutions, international agreements and international organisations in general.

At the same time, here are some more things that we know: 1) Richard Holbrooke never had the authority to create obligations for the US by means of a personal initiative. 2) If he did ever have it, he did not have the means to enforce it, particularly after the administration he served left office, 3) An obligation undertaken by the US State Department would not create obligations for UN institutions or any other countries.

So my conclusion is that maybe Richard Holbrooke did make some promises to Radovan Karadžić. If he did, it was a mildly clever way of influencing a gullible megalomaniac. It never could have any legal force, neither in preventing Serbia from arresting Karadžić nor in preventing the UN from trying him.


Anonymous said...

The U.S. military in Bosnia after Dayton did in fact sit on its hands as far as the arrest of war crimes suspects was concerned. But at the same time they also (selectively) provided ICTY investigators with intelligence info, such as satellite photographs. The ICTY's exhumations of mass graves around Srebrenica in the immediate post-Dayton period would not have been possible without such information.

However, the U.S. (like the British and others involved in intelligence gathering in the Balkans during the 1991-1995 wars) gave the ICTY investigators very selective access to such info -- they gave them only what they wanted to give them, not necessarily what they were asked for -- and most of that with the proviso that it was to be used only on background, as an aid to the ICTY's own investigations. With only a very few exceptions, information obtained from intelligence agencies (such as satellite photos) was not to be used as evidence in court -- where such material would have to be shared with the defense and where questions could be raised about matters the spooks prefer to keep to themselves (sources and methods).

There's also the fact that the U.S. government is not a single well-oiled machine that speaks with one voice and works to a single purpose. American diplomats, the military, the various intelligence agencies and other elements within the U.S. government have often had different priorities, worked at cross-purposes, and at times sabotaged each other's efforts by deliberately withholding information, refusing to cooperate or engaging in bureaucratic foot-dragging. The White House itself was not always sufficiently focused on the Balkans or on the issues at hand to enforce a single, coherent policy.


Eric Gordy said...

These are all useful clarifications. Heck, I wish I'd made them myself.

DarkoV said...

Richard Holbrooke is a conniving SOB whose rapid rise through the Clinton White House was based on his power-seeking desire to be at the top of the heap. Did he possibly (I would say definitely) use subterfuge and chicanery to connive Milosevic, Raidc, and Karadzic to come to Dayton? Oh, you betcha.
Did he "promise" a hands-off approach to Karadizic once he John Hancocked the peace accords? Most certainly!

Would I love to have Mr. Holbrooke MORE involved in our government (which he hopefully will be if Obama makes it in)? Most definitely! Mr. Holbrooke is a force that I would like the other side to be reckoning with for a long, long time.

Karadic sounds like your basic whiner who's been caught at his own game. Let the thumbscrews tightening begin.

Anonymous said...

Holbrooke was Hillary Clinton's pick for potential future secretary of state. Now that Hillary is no longer a presidential contender, Holbrooke's star may have dimmed somewhat.

This latest kerfuffle about his alleged immunity deal with gullible Mr. Karadzic is not the sort of thing that'll make Obama's people want to publicly embrace Tricky Dick H.

I wouldn't exclude a future Obama administration using Holbrooke for some tough diplomatic assignment. But the last thing a presidential campaign needs or wants three months before the election is to be associated with someone at the center of a media controversy.


Eric Gordy said...

I dont know here. I like Darko's sentiment, but on the other hand a deal like this seems a bit like obstruction of justice.

But to have hard-boiled folks doing the negotiation? In principle I suppose I liked that nice Mr Powell, but look at what they did to him.

Eric Gordy said...

Just to add -- if I were Mr Karadzic, I would raise the name of Holbrooke and everybody else with whom I held talks as often as possible. A viable defence strategy: here I was trying to make peace, and I had no control over that crazy drunk Mladic.

Owen said...

No-one's produced the napkin but Paddy Ashdown did give evidence on oath to the ICTY about it.

Elia said...

It seems that Kurir has published what they claim to be a copy of the "Karadžić-Holbrooke deal"...

Eric Gordy said...

Is this the same one that Nezavisne novine published a year or two ago?

I am not persuaded of the veracity of this document -- but nonetheless I do think that there was enough of an agreement that Karadzic believed he had one and the international forces in BH behaved as though there was one for several years.

Semi-informed tip: listen to what this Steubner fellow will be saying. It might turn out to be revealing.

Anonymous said...

You can read a transcript of what Bill Steubner had to say on the matter, in an interview with Radio Slobodna Evropa, at


Anonymous said...

Actually, the fellow's name is BillStuebner. Should've checked the spelling before posting.


Eric Gordy said...

There is something to be said for the Serbian practice of spelling names phonetically. Even if sometimes it produces printed objects that cause people to fall down laughing.