Ambassador Robert Frowick

Formerly of the U.S. State Department and an OSCE representative; currently a USIP grantee, writing a book on Bosnia

Interviewed by Susan Allen Nan and Andrea Strimling — 2003

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This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: Two different roles or perhaps maybe not so different that some interviewees have talked about. But you see the roles as Track I official and Track II as unofficial?

A: I actually had an experience like that in more than one situation. The principle combination was in Macedonia. I retired from the senior foreign service in 1989 but I have been called repeatedly back to usually do trouble shooting kinds of things in the Balkans and in 1992 I was asked to go to Macedonia as the first head of mission for the what was called CSCE Spill Over Monitor Mission in the former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia, it was the longest title on a card I have ever had. I was only there from September till December. We had a very small operation in those days of very limited budget. Larry Eagleburger who was acting Secretary of State asked me to do this. As far as an American candidate is concerned said go out there and try to take a high profile. Well I had only eleven officers in my operation with four vehicles. One thing I tried to do was deploy four two man teams every morning to different parts of the country and each day bury those parts so that it seems as if we had quite a large group of people and we were making our presence known all over the place. The other thing was I was driving up to Belgrade and over to Sophia to Athens and getting over to Tirana to meet with leaders to try to project a profile of the interest of the CSCE and keeping that country from being drawn into the war. Once that was up and running I came back, there are a number of aspects to this that are kind of interesting but I won't go into that at the moment. Now as a result of that which was all external oriented but not entirely because there was also trying well there to have the optimal relationship with both the Macedonian and the Albanian sides, as well as the other minorities the Turks and Blancs and others within Macedonia. And to some extent was trying to promote the best possible ethnic relationships within the country while I was at it. Now as a result of that I was asked by John Marks the president of Search for Common Ground in 1993 the year after I left there if I would be interested in going to Macedonia to set up a non-governmental organizational program under Search for Common Ground in which Mark is the president and I agree to do that. I went to a seminar in the fall of 93 in October at Lake ??? and I met a number of I would say key players in the NGO community, Paula??? was there, Eileen Babot, I met him for the first time and Hal Saunders. I learned quite a bit about the workshops and that sort of thing from Paula and Eileen. From Hal Saunders I got the idea of the importance of inter-ethnic dialogue which he had used along with others in the Middle East to promote reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. What he told me made a really big impression on me of bringing together intellectuals from both sides and representatives of other strata, but mainly intellectuals down there, to put their cards on the table and tell one another what's on their minds and try to search for common ground you might say what they had common. Did they all want pure water, did they want safety for their children, things of that sort. And develop a process to bring them more closely together. That really appealed to me, that dynamic. So when I went into Macedonia to establish the Search for Common Ground operation which by the way we did on half of the original projected budget for it, but it seemed to me there was enough to get moving, so I went in there and hired one person, rented a very inexpensive little apartment which one could do in those days or in office, and then it was a studio apartment and then found an inexpensive apartment to live in nearby and away we went. We had programs to educate teachers, to bring together journalists, to try to take the steam out of heated propaganda going both ways between Macedonians and Albanians in that case and a variety of other media programs and other projects that are kind of in the nature things and NGO activity. At the same time I added to it the Hal Saunders approach which is where I had my heart mainly involved in it and promoted what proved to be quite a good dialogue to begin with between key intellectuals on both the Macedonian and Albanian side to overcome some internal misunderstandings and try to clear the way for closer relationships between those two. I didn't stay there much longer then eight months but the whole program was up and running. I think we received a little more funding in the mean time and I was offered significant opportunity in private sector after that which I basically I turned down for a number of reasons. I left there at that time and felt that in both of these cases I had been in Macedonia oddly to begin an operation, a diplomatic one the CSCE involving all the countries of Europe, the United States and Canada and trying to use the cumulative influence of that group to persuade those that might draw Macedonia into the war that was raging across the former Yugoslavia to keep Macedonia out of the conflict. And then on the other side it was just to get something moving internally, so in a way it was aimed at an extremist preventing a civil war and to try to improve the internal inter-ethnic relations as best we could. It seemed to me that these things were complimentary and that in essence was what I was trying to do.

Q: To speak specifically to the complimentary aspect, was there anything in the nature of being in the CSCE position versus the search position that let you do different sorts of work that you did in those two different positions?

A: You know I am a special case because I am a retired diplomat and I probably arrogated to myself maybe too much scope but I always took the position that I was just going to do these things the way I thought it was right and if this were not acceptable to those that were sending there I would be prepared to come home because I have quite an ideal situation here in California and I was not taking orders from Washington or from basically anybody, I was given pretty much cart blanch to do as I wished. So I was just trying to basically in Macedonia prevent conflict you might say I was engaged in conflict prevention as a common thread of all the activity both ways preventing it externally with CSCE and internally with Search for Common Ground and you know there is a connection between the two; the basic idea is to keep Macedonia from exploding and it was as you know to some extent still is a very volatile area.

Q: Well but my understanding and I am not a Macedonia expert, but my understanding is that some of the conflict prevention didn't do quite a good deal there?

A:You know I think to myself that we were successful in keeping Macedonia out of that Yugoslav conflict per say for years and years and years; from 1992 until the beginning of 2001when Kosovar Albanian extremists came over the border and stimulated the uprising that took place in the first part of 2001 in Macedonia which failed incidentally to rally massive Albanian internal support but did get everybody's attention and created a new situation. I think that to some extent some of these things are like Freudian impulses. However much condemned and regretted the Albanian turn to violence it represented kind of a Freudian destructive impulse in the order that was prevailing in Macedonia. One in which the Albanians were frustrated over the slow pace of reform and the Macedonians were nervous and didn't quite know what to do because they felt at last that they had their own country and they didn't want to lose it because of the growing demography and influence on the Albanian side. They didn't know quite what to do so they were slow as the more dominant part of the government; they were slow to give up reforms. Anyhow this conflict did shatter that situation and lead to a speed up and to an international community activism to create the framework agreement on which now the country has embarked.

Q: Well that is very informative and interesting and I appreciate your comments. The other area where we would be very interested to hear your insights is in the interaction between officials and unofficials in doing conflict prevention work. So I wonder for example in your work as a senior foreign officer or your work in the CSCE how your official roles of interaction with unofficial conflict prevention and then in your work with search and other unofficial roles how have you interacted official if at all?

A: I have probably had more time in CSCE and OSCE then any other ???. Over that long period of time we have in OSCE always practically from the beginning certainly from the time of the Belgrade first follow up meeting after the Helsinki summit, we had a very significant connection between Track I and Track II people. I don't remember so much of it going through the Geneva negotiations from 73 to 75 and then I was at the Helsinki Summit with ??? We had a certain amount of NGO with certainly a lot of interest but not so much it seems to me developed activity ongoing between all of it. When we got to Belgrade, boy, Arthur ???, stepped to that when he brought in people from all walks of life in America, you know American Indian, lawyers from Alaska, black social workers from Chicago, things like this, to show the world the melting pot of the United States and how we have a supreme example of an effective inter-ethnic society. So I have had, that is a long time ago now. One of the things that comes to mind in more recent years is that having met Paula???, at the Lake Okrid??? Seminar in October of 1993, I asked her if she wanted to be a public member of OSCE delegation, CSCE delegation at the time because I was heading to a seminar in Warsaw, which was on early warnings of Ecoli, and she accepted. She came there and in the course of her being in Warsaw she herself gave an excellent presentation and effectively strengthened the connection between NGOs and Track I people in CSCE to a quite a considerable extent and from that point on I think there has been this greater interrelationship between Track I and Track II people in CSCE activity.

Q: Fascinating. And that spread throughout now OSCE?

A: Yes, now it is everywhere. When I went to Bosnia head of missions right after the war in 1996, I got there first of all in late 1995 and I stayed until December 1997, this was my most significant experience in my professional life because OSCE had major responsibilities in the peace process. I was the head of the election commission and those were very controversial and highly complex. We also had a long-term democratization program, a human rights role, and a regional stabilization role to play by way of overseeing the dismantling of weapons. And that regard to one of the first things I remember doing was creating a coordinating committee the OSCE program there with NGOs to meet at least once a week and compare notes and see how we could all pull together as a team. I was so busy on so many projects I left that operation to some other junior people who I don't think quite pulled it together the way I had intended and before long that particular approach went over to the office of the high representative, Peggy Hicks, who is very effective and prominent human rights activist took over the thing. She created a human rights committee and did a wonderful job there in that regard and OSCE became what was represented on her program. But it was an important part of the overall Track I and Track II connection there.

Q: This seems like a fertile area where perhaps you might be able to pull out some lessons learned about what made it not work as well as you had first hoped and then what made it work later under ???

A: I think the main thing was I am not sure but the main thing is that most people who represent NGOs are quite sensitive about their independence and certainly vis a vis government authority. And I think that they may have felt that the OSCE approach which I always try to be sensitive to this and to make it mainly a useful thing for the NGOs to come and hear what we were doing because I knew they were all very interested but they may have perceived that it was becoming too much of a we don't want to go to something and have state authorities tell us what to do or organize us, we want to do whatever we please, but we do want to create a kind of teamwork approach. I should say that after all this happened this does not mean that the OSCE officials dealing with human rights and democratization responsibilities in the Bosnia??? Did not develop very substantial ongoing working relationships with all kinds of key NGOs, they did that but it was just not the same organizational approach.

Q: That is very interesting. So the key lesson there is the independence that the NGOs are very sensitive the need to be recognized and developing that communication and team work and then not seeing that there are intentions of ???strain the independence?

A: The officer of the high representative was a creation for Bosnia ??? included EU, Russia and American high level representation to what it was kind of a special case. Well OSCE has some history of being an official international organization of some kind, in fact that they have been recognized as a regional arrangement under the United Nations, so it looked more governmental I guess to these people. But this is guesswork, this is what I thought.

Q: If you could turn then to future orientation what do you think would be ways that officials and unofficials can promote effectively collaborate and can have that team work in other contexts in the future?

A: Well turning back to Macedonia I wanted to say that having gone through the original establishment of CSCE spill over monitor mission, two years later when I was doing the Search for Common Ground program I made a point of going back over and talking with the leadership of the CSCE program regularly. And when significant issues were arising I would certainly want to compare notes with that to see how we could work together. I hadn't thought when you first called me about so much about the interrelationship between the two as I did about having one done??? Track I and Track II done, Track II but in the course of this telephone conversation I am trying to recall the back and forth that we created. Also I have had three iterations in Macedonia together because two years ago I was called back under a rather extreme circumstance when war was beginning to rage between the ethnic Albanians and the Macedonians, as the personal representative of the chairmen in office of OSCE that is a position that rotates annually and it was the position held at that time by the Romanian foreign minister, ???. I had very high-level support out of Washington to start to promoting an end to fighting and a beginning a peace process. For example, a letter from President Bush to President ??? of Macedonia and then when I was that actively involved in pressing hard against the legitimate political leaders on the Albanian side whether in Macedonia or Albania or Kosovo, to stop the fighting and persuade those that were engaged in it under the political leadership of ??? in that process Collin Powell was sending letters supporting my efforts, so that got people's attention, particularly on the Albanian side. I had also served incidentally temporarily as chief of mission of the American Embassy and Albanian during the war in Kosovo so the Albanians at that time they traditionally been xenophobic, but they tend to connect with major power at a time over their history and it was the time for the United States and they are very much committed to this strategic relationship with the United States. I was acting ambassador between regular ambassadors there, I was sent because I had a lot of experience with NATO and war and peace issues and they wanted me there for about three to four months until the war was over and the refugees had returned to Kosovo. In that situation I developed extremely strong chemistry with the Albanian political leaders and the idea was to go back and talk with them; use that kind of influence to affect the peace process in Macedonia. So it had so many different connections that come to mind once we get into this discussion.

Q: I think this discussion could go much longer then either you or I had set aside for it. It is very interesting and I hope we can continue talking along these issues at the symposium in November. These comments you have made today, I have taken some notes and we got the reporting as well. And so those of us who are working on symposium agenda will look at this and will figure out where to fit this in the agenda and give you some feed back about what framework your comments will be a part of.

A: In the meantime I will think back increasingly to the interconnection between the two Tracks and that specific dynamic.

Q: Thank you so much. I think it is wonderful to bring your vast experience from so many perspectives. I really appreciate your help.

A: It is a pleasure. It is nice meeting you over the phone.

Q: I look forward to meeting you in person in November.