Paradigms of State-Building: Comparing Bosnia and Kosovo

Journal of Eurasian Law Vol. 3, No. 3, 2010

33 Pages Posted: 22 Sep 2010 Last revised: 5 Dec 2010

See all articles by Matthew Parish

Matthew Parish

British Institute of International and Comparative Law

Date Written: September 21, 2010


The conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo are sometimes lumped together as ground-breaking instances of intervention in intractable ethnic disputes arising out of wars in the former Yugoslavia. Yet this straightforward account conceals important differences and commonalities of approach. The wars that gave rise to the contemporary nations of Bosnia and Kosovo were quite different; yet the strategy adopted in each case by the international community was substantially the same. This model involved installing international officials with executive authorities over the territories, whose decisions purported to have the force of law. While these officials used similar methods, the political realities they faced in each territory were very different. Bosnia’s High Representatives faced the daunting task of trying to hold together a nation whose principal political dynamic was centrifugal. Although for some time this task was perceived as successful, it ultimately proved unsustainable. As international interest in the country waned, the High Representatives’ achievements fell apart. By contrast in Kosovo the territory’s natural political dynamic was legal separation from Serbia; in this goal UNMIK was complicit. Yet the Kosovar war had not resulted in the comprehensive ethnic partition resulting from the Bosnian war, and the various international missions in Kosovo subsequently proved incapable of protecting the Serb minorities from ethnic cleansing and violence by the Albanian majority. Both missions displayed pathological traits, including a failure to focus on economic development and inter-institutional rivalries. Now both interventions have faded, and the international community’s efforts in each territory are unraveling. Bosnia looks likely to dissolve, whereas in Kosovo partition and further ethnic cleansing have a grim future inevitability. The common model of international intervention pursued in these territories does not have an attractive track record.

Keywords: State building, Kosovo, Bosnia, international administration

JEL Classification: N40, K33, O52, P31

Suggested Citation

Parish, Matthew, Paradigms of State-Building: Comparing Bosnia and Kosovo (September 21, 2010). Journal of Eurasian Law Vol. 3, No. 3, 2010. Available at SSRN:

Matthew Parish (Contact Author)

British Institute of International and Comparative Law ( email )

Charles Clore House
17 Russell Square
London WC1B 5JP
United Kingdom

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