Finding “Lessons” in the Bosnian conflict and elsewhere: the Swanee Hunt event

The book discussion of Worlds Apart: Bosnian Lessons for Global Security at the Wilson Center was very well attended. Ambassador Hunt was very dynamic in presentation and we had an excellent discussion of the book. She presented six lessons from her experience with diplomacy and on-the-ground grassroots activism, especially with women’s groups and displaced persons, that are relevant to conflict worldwide:

  1. Test Truisms
  2. Question Stereotypes
  3. Find Out-Of-Power Allies (overlooked women leaders)
  4. Find Fault
  5. Embrace Responsibility

It is interesting to consider these lessons in juxtaposition to those enumerated by another prominent Harvard professor, those in the epilogue of Samantha Power’s Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vierira De Mello and the Fight to Save the World (my American Foreign Policy class recently read and discussed it).

  1. Legitimacy matters, and it comes from legal authority (or consent) and competence performance.
  2. Spoilers, rogue states, and nonstate militias must be engaged
  3. Fearful people must be made more secure
  4. Dignity is the cornerstone of order
  5. Outsiders must bring humility and patience in our dealings with ‘foreign lands.’

There is much that could be said about both sets of ‘lessons’ and their dilemmas. The most important point is how both proceed from a desire to engage the world and lift it up in positive ways, a desire that is long rooted in the American experience but is also noble and worthy. Given the unfolding economic condition in the US and elsewhere, it is unclear if this engaged emancipatory impulse will be sustained. I think it is in grave danger of being eclipsed by a much more parochial self-interested mindset.

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About Gerard Toal

I am an Irish born DC based Political Geographer researching territorial conflicts and the dynamics of geopolitical competition in post-Communist Europe.
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