With the July 10 apprehension of one indicted war criminal by NATO troops, and the killing of another who resisted arrest, the Bosnia peace process entered a particularly sensitive period.
Should the successful operation by British special forces be followed by even more daring arrests - perhaps of key indictees like former Bosnian-Serb president Radovan Karadzic? Or should more subtle tactics be tried in pursuing others whose indictments have not been made public? The two men hunted down near the town of Prijedor in Serb-held northern Bosnia were under sealed indictment and did not know they might be seized.
And what effect might an energetic effort to round up war criminals have on long-term prospects for peace?
The long term, after all, is what the apprehension and trial of these individuals is all about. By demonstrating that justice is being done, The Hague tribunal defuses some of the resentments and hatreds that could reignite open conflict in Bosnia. Beyond that, its administration of justice is intended to send a message worldwide that massive acts of persecution, torture, and murder will not be tolerated.
Follow-through on that ideal, as Bosnia has amply proven, is exceedingly hard. The major fugitives from justice - notably Dr. Karadzic - have turned the tribunal's processes to their own political ends. Radical nationalists have rallied around Karadzic, booting his main rival, current Bosnian-Serb President Biljana Plavsic, out of their party. She was accused of cooperating with the international peacekeepers.
Even Karadzic's removal, of course, wouldn't erase the extremist nationalism he represents. That destructive thinking remains deeply rooted in all sectors of Bosnia. The move against war criminals may inflame it in the short term. Longer term it could help quench it. But only if such actions go hand in hand with persistent efforts to make clear to all Bosnians the need for these actions - and with ongoing economic recovery and institution-building. The longer-term benefits of peace have to be made clear to the people who would suffer most from renewed war.