The international intervention in Bosnia has been dominated by two types of strategies: operative and conditional-structural ones. Operative strategies are direct forms of interference or project implementation by international actors. The two main advantages of direct interventions are that they facilitate crucial reforms and institution-building processes which otherwise might not come into being due to a lack of capacity or willingness on the side of local actors, and that they ensure the protection of vulnerable groups. “The HR’s decision to establish car licence plates that would not reveal a person’s origin, for example, is often cited as a central success of Operative strategies, as it provided for free movement of all persons all over Bosnia. The most important disadvantages of direct interventions are that they tend to prioritise pragmatic solutions which take a ‘least common denominator’ approach to ending acute conflicts but which might impede further reforms, that they tend to polarise conflict lines between antagonistic actors and to hinder compromise, and that they further local dependency at the cost of ownership”17.
Conditional-structural strategies, are based on the principle of the existence of rational actors which can be influenced by conditionality’s–that is, tying specific reform demands to aid, loans or aspired memberships, incentives and monitoring, as long as they are also provided with capacity through transfers of knowledge and technologies. In Bosnia, however, conditionality has worked differently The most important disadvantage of these strategies is that the political elites might get between the ‘frontlines’ of international and local demands: if they take the international side, reforms will most likely lack local legitimacy, while the decision to defend the local point of view might considerably limit the possibilities of external assistance. Both strategy types, operative and conditional-structural, face the challenge of how to transfer internationally-supported state institutions into local hands without jeopardising the attainments of state-building.A significant dispute among international actors in Bosnia today concerns the question of whether the HR should definitely refrain from use of the Bonn powers.
The US has stuck to an intervention approach characterised by powerful operative instruments, wishing to maintain its influence on reform outcomes. The EU, by comparison, hastended to support actors who put more emphasis on the ownership of the political process itself, arguing that only conditional-structural strategies can ensure the strengthening of local state capacity and legitimacy. As the subsequent analysis of the successes and failures of state-building in Bosnia will show, both international strategies are flawed when it comes to the question of transferring control of the state into local hands. Institutions built by operative strategiest end to lack legitimacy because they have not emerged ‘organically’ through a genuine political process, resulting in a ‘Potemkinstate’. Conditional-structural strategies, by contrast, leave more room for local initiative and acceptance, but the outcome of reforms usually differs from the one envisaged because reform simplemented by local actors tend to be twisted to suit their own purposes, and new forms of rule usually meld with older forms in to hybrid structures. The outcome might not be a state that is hollow, yet it will probably differ fairly significantly from the western models under lying state-building