Contemplating Failure and Creating Alternatives in the Balkans: Bosnia's Peoples, Democracy and the Shape of Self-Determination

54 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2006

See all articles by Timothy William Waters

Timothy William Waters

Indiana University - Maurer School of Law; Max Planck Institute (International Law)


A decade after Dayton, Bosnia is a fictive, failed state held together by outsiders' weapons and outsiders' will. All parties recognize that Bosnia's current constitutional dispensation is dysfunctional and are calling for change, but how should the international community respond? In deciding, we should recognize that we may owe Bosnians much, but we owe Bosnia nothing.

This Article argues that traditional self-determination doctrine is unable to justify either further claims for secession from Bosnia or Bosnia's own original secession. It examines the processes used by the international community to frame the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the recognition process for Bosnia, and the likely legal outcomes if these same arguments were applied to the post-Dayton situation, suggesting that most of the legal and moral objections conventionally arrayed against any further fragmentation of the country cannot be differentiated from the circumstances prevailing at the original secession.

The Article concludes that the war and the peace have made ethnic groups' claims more possible and more compelling today. Our and Bosnians' desire for stability and justice might be better served by Bosnia's division, and our commitment to democracy makes it essential that, whatever our moral sense, we let Bosnians decide. The claim is narrow and case-dependent, but it will inevitably have implications for re-conceptualizing claims about state formation elsewhere.

Keywords: Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Balkans, secession, self-determination, decolonization, ethnic cleansing, ethnicity, democracy, democratization, international law, Dayton, war, uti possidetis

JEL Classification: Z00, N40, N30, K00, K10, K33, K42, R50, P30, O52

Suggested Citation

Waters, Timothy William, Contemplating Failure and Creating Alternatives in the Balkans: Bosnia's Peoples, Democracy and the Shape of Self-Determination. Yale Journal of International Law, Vol. 29, p. 423, 2004. Available at SSRN:

Timothy William Waters (Contact Author)

Indiana University - Maurer School of Law ( email )

211 S. Indiana Ave.
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

Max Planck Institute (International Law) ( email )

Im Neuenheimer Feld 535
69120 Heidelberg, 69120

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