WASHINGTON — On his trade mission to Bosnia, Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown was seeking a bounty far more elusive than rich contracts for U.S. companies, the usual aim of such overseas ventures.
This time, a primary goal was to promote peace--through a massive rebuilding effort in the war-torn region.
The U.S. entourage whose jetliner crashed Wednesday represented a wealth of American know-how in building bridges, fixing roads, making water safe to drink, recovering farmland and a host of other skills needed to restore normal life to Bosnia and Croatia.
"We know the task is ominous," Brown said Tuesday of the vast, $5.1-billion reconstruction job spearheaded by the World Bank. He added: "Peace and stability will only be ensured through economic development."
Brown's trip, which included the most significant U.S. corporate delegation to visit the region since the formal end of hostilities in December, was intended as a preliminary step in the larger, international effort to rebuild Bosnia and Croatia. The Clinton administration has called for $600 million in U.S. aid over the next few years, and the World Bank approved more than $260 million in transportation, water and energy projects last week alone.
As Brown was certainly aware, the trade mission represented an unusual overlap of business opportunity and diplomatic need.
U.S. executives were in position to capture lucrative work for their companies, paid for with hard currency from wealthy nations. At the same time, they would be providing desperately needed improvements that could add stability to a traumatized society in Central Europe. It is a formula being attempted in the Middle East, Northern Ireland and South Africa, where peace advocates also seek economic development as a way to transform the psychology of hostile peoples.
The reasoning goes something like this: Those who believe in a more prosperous future are less likely to make war than those who do not.
"These projects and missions are meant in part to provide evidence to the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina that the peace process is taking hold, that reconstruction is underway and [that] they will see a visible peace dividend," explained David M. Theis, a World Bank spokesman.
Reconstruction specialists are seeking such a dividend for Bosnia by promoting a long list of "urgent" projects in the region, ranging from fixing power plants and telephone lines to purchasing livestock and improving veterinary services.
A key goal of Brown's trip was to give U.S. executives a chance to become familiar with the plethora of needs in the region so that they might consider bidding on jobs for their companies. Thus, firms with experience fighting fires in Kuwait or monitoring U.N. police efforts in Haiti were invited to participate.
The companies included such giant engineering and construction firms as Bechtel Corp. and Parsons Corp., AT&T Submarine Systems and Riggs International Banking Corp. of Washington.
"I think Ron Brown's intent was to let business people see what was there--and maybe they would come up with ideas once they saw what was needed," said Janine Carey, spokeswoman for DynCorp Inc., a provider of communications and other services in Reston, Va. "As they [Bosnians] start to rebuild their road system, their communications systems, their infrastructure, there might be opportunities."
In a twist of fate, DynCorp's chief executive, Daniel R. Bannister, bowed out of the trip at the last minute.
Brown led the first high-level American business delegation to travel to Bosnia since the Dayton accords, signed in December, ended nearly four years of war last fall. In addition to meetings with an array of business and political leaders, the U.S. group had scheduled a "town hall" get-together with college students to discuss the rebuilding effort.
"The mission generated a lot of excitement here for that reason," said Fletcher Burton, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo, noting the previous absence of visitors from corporate America.
In one sense, the Bosnia trip was a routine mission for Brown, who logged tens of thousands of miles--typically with a coterie of chief executives in tow--promoting U.S. business and exports throughout the Western Hemisphere, Asia and Africa. Although such efforts drew critical personal scrutiny, including investigations of his financial affairs and charges of cronyism, they were applauded by many who viewed Brown as an unusually effective advocate for their interests.
At the end of the 1994 mission to Beijing, for instance, he announced that U.S. firms had snagged about $6 billion in 10 days. U.S. firms won juicy contracts in Saudi Arabia and many other countries with Brown's helpful advocacy.
"He's done more than any previous administration in promoting American exports," Calmen Coeh, the head of the largest group of U.S. exporters, declared at the time of the 1994 visit to China.