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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bosnia: Current Issues and U.S. Policy

Steven Woehrel
Specialist in European Affairs

In recent years, many analysts have expressed concern that the international community’s efforts over the past 15 years to stabilize Bosnia are failing. Milorad Dodik, president of the Republika Srpska (RS), one of the two semi-autonomous “entities” within Bosnia, has obstructed efforts to make Bosnia’s central government more effective. He has repeatedly asserted the RS’s right to secede from Bosnia, although he has so far refrained from trying to make this threat a reality. An RS referendum, scheduled for June 2011, aimed at attacking the legitimacy of a central government-level court, was averted when Dodik backed down. Ethnic Croat leaders in Bosnia have called for the creation of a third, Croat “entity,” threatening a further fragmentation of the country. After two major Croat parties were excluded from the government of the Federation (the other autonomous “entity” in Bosnia), they refused to recognize its legitimacy and formed their own assembly. Bosnia has failed to form a central government, more than eight months after October 2010 elections.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR), chosen by leading countries and international institutions, oversees implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. It has the power to fire Bosnian officials and impose laws, if need be, to enforce the Dayton Accords. However, the international community has proved unwilling in recent years to back the High Representative in using these powers boldly, fearing a backlash among Bosnian Serb leaders. As a result, OHR has become increasingly ineffective, according to many observers.

The international community has vowed to close OHR after Bosnia meets a series of five objectives and two conditions, ending direct international oversight. However, the failure of Bosnia to achieve these objectives and conditions has led the European Union to try to boost the role of its delegation in Bosnia while leaving OHR to more limited tasks. The EU’s main inducement to enlist the cooperation of Bosnian leaders—the prospect of eventual EU membership—has so far proved insufficient. The prospect of NATO membership has also had little effect. In April 2010, NATO foreign ministers agreed to permit Bosnia to join the Membership Action Plan (MAP) program, a key stepping-stone to membership for NATO. However, the ministers stressed that NATO will not accept Bosnia’s Annual National Plan under the program until the entities agree to the registration of defense installations as the property of the central government. Dodik has rejected doing so for installations on RS territory.

Some observers are concerned that the combination of internal tensions within Bosnia and a declining international role could perhaps lead to violence and the destabilization of the region as a whole. This could be more likely if the RS tried to secede from Bosnia. However, there are factors acting against conflict, including the lack of support for war among Bosnians, the reduction in the level of weaponry in the country since the war, and the fact that neighboring Serbia and Croatia would not see a conflict as being in their interest, given their desire for EU membership.

According to the USAID “Greenbook,” the United States provided just over $2 billion in aid to Bosnia between FY1993 and FY2009. However, the U.S. role in the country has declined in recent years as the EU role has increased. The Obama Administration has stressed the importance of maintaining a close partnership with the EU in dealing with Bosnia. Like the EU, the United States has urged Bosnian politicians to agree to constitutional and other reforms to make Bosnia’s central government institutions more effective, so that the country can become a better candidate for eventual NATO and EU membership.

Date of Report: June 20, 2011
Number of Pages: 17
Order Number: R40479
Price: $29.95

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