Dayton Anniversary Finds Bosnia in Dire Straits
Dayton Anniversary Finds Bosnia in Dire Straits
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia

Dayton Anniversary Finds Bosnia in Dire Straits

Best scenario involves a continued international presence, guaranteeing Bosnian territorial integrity but not meddling in politics. Only then will local politicians take responsibility for country's future.

More than a decade after the end of the 1992-5 war, one might have hoped the international community would have been long gone from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the country would be well on its path to EU membership.

Yet, the fourteenth anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accord finds Bosnia blocked by local political deadlock and the international community unable to understand and deal with this situation.

Only a couple of days short of this anniversary, the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the EU-led peacekeeping mission, EUFOR, in Bosnia for another year, while representatives of the top international powers have postponed their decision on the closure of the Office of the High Representative, OHR, Bosnia's international governor, until next February.

"The OHR is working on fulfilling the conditions for its closure; the real question is what some of the local leaders are willing to do in order for that to be achieved," Bosnia's High Representative, Valentin Inzko, said after last week's meeting of the Peace Implementation Council, PIC, resulted in the three-month delay. The PIC comprises 55 countries and organisations that oversee peace implementation and the work of the OHR in Bosnia.

Closure of the OHR and a decision on the future structure and mandate of the international presence in Bosnia were delayed to allow EU and US negotiators and local leaders more time to reach a compromise on the so-called "Butmir package", a package of proposed constitutional and other reforms.

The prospects for success in these negotiations appear slim. Most Bosnian leaders have already rejected some or all items in the package, though Western negotiators are giving it one more try. The package would - somewhat - improve the functionality of Bosnia's cumbersome administrative and decision-making systems.

Proposed constitutional reforms, as well as resolution of state property, have been bundled together in a package whose eventual adoption would also allow closure of the OHR and transition of some of its elements into a new office of the Special EU Representative, EUSR. If compromise is not reached by the end of 2009, the West is likely to abandon the effort for some time because 2010 is an election year in Bosnia, and a further push for constitutional changes then could be fruitless, if not counterproductive.

By next February, the international community should reach a decision about its future presence in Bosnia. In the light of expected pre-election tensions and worsening economic and social problems, any further delays of this decision could be dangerous. Closing the OHR without replacing it with some other mechanisms looks risky. Yet, any decision on a future international presence is complicated by local leaders' different, often completely conflicting, positions.

The Bosnian Serb leadership wants a completely decentralised state without an executive international presence. Most Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) officials want a highly centralised country and hope that a strong international presence with broad executive powers would eventually lead to that. Bosnian Croats feel increasingly marginalised as the smallest of the three ethnic groups and their political leaders believe Croat rights can be secured only by a different territorial organisation of the country. Back in 2000, the international community prevented their last attempt to establish a separate Bosnian Croat entity within Bosnia.

Having lost much of its international support, the OHR has been openly defied by Bosnian Serb leaders over the past few months. Whenever the OHR has undertaken measures in response to the challenge, the Bosnian Serb entity, the Republika Srpska, has responded with further escalation. Its prime minister, Milorad Dodik, threatens that any new use of OHR's broad governing powers will lead to Bosnian Serbs withdrawing from state institutions.

Most local and international officials admit that having lost much of its international support, in its current position the OHR is too weak to keep increasingly fragile situation in Bosnia under control.

As the fate of the Butmir package remains uncertain, local and international experts are pondering the options in case of failure. Most agree that the West must keep some kind of presence in Bosnia that guarantees the country's territorial and constitutional integrity. Beyond that basic agreement, opinions diverge in several main directions.

One line of thinking would like to see a fully engaged OHR with renewed powers. Some local and international officials fear that without the OHR's continued use of its governing authority in key political and administrative issues, Bosnia's state institutions would soon wither due to the ongoing political deadlocks. Others believe the OHR is unlikely to regain its previous diplomatic, financial and even military backing unless the situation deteriorates drastically. They also point out that one of the main reasons for the current political crisis is lack of local "ownership" of the reform agenda.

Another school suggests that the roles of the High Representative and Special EU Representative - both currently held by Inzko - should be split and given to two different persons and two separate offices. In this scenario, the OHR would maintain its current mandate, while the EUSR would be responsible for issues related to Bosnia's EU accession process. Some believe that an American should for the first time take over the helm of the OHR. Critics of this scenario argue that continued political interventions by the OHR would almost inevitably escalate tensions between the West and the Republika Srpska. Even if this clash is temporarily quashed - most probably by the forceful removal of the Bosnian Serb leaders - it would not resolve Bosnia's structural problems in the long run and could aggravate them.

A third and preferable option is to reinforce security mechanisms based on the continued presence of EUFOR under a UN peacekeeping mandate, the EU police mission, EUPM, a reinforced mission of the Special EU Representative and a fast-track to NATO and EU membership - while the OHR would be closed down over several months.

In this scenario, the international presence would guarantee Bosnia's constitutional and territorial integrity but would not meddle with daily political life. Only in a secure environment but without international political interference can local leaders start taking responsibility for their country into their own hands.

Just as Germany remained under nominal Allied control until 15 March 1991, when the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany was ratified, and yet became a member of NATO in 1955 and a founding member of the European Community in 1958, so too could Bosnia progress while still under a UN mandate.

Local and international officials will debate these options if the Butmir process fails to reach a compromise by the end of 2009.  As the political status quo seems untenable much longer and as new tensions threaten to spiral out of control, the international community will have to decide by the next PIC meeting about its future engagement in Bosnia.

The most dangerous decision, however, would be to take no decisions at all.
 

Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Crisis Group expert Marko Prelec about the precarious situation in the Western Balkans, as Serb separatism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the frozen Kosovo-Serbia dispute continue to stoke regional instability.

The Western Balkans, a region defined in part by not being in the European Union, also contains several countries that were devastated by war in the 1990s. Now it faces new troubles, driven in part by the legacies of the old. Bosnia and Herzegovina is confronted with calls for secession in the autonomous Serb-dominated region, Republika Srpska, as well as the ongoing electoral grievances of its Croat minority. Meanwhile, efforts to resolve Kosovo’s dispute with Serbia over its independence have come to a standstill, leaving minority communities on both sides of the border vulnerable.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Marko Prelec, Crisis Group’s Consulting Senior Analyst for the Balkans, about why ethnic tensions persist in the region and whether there is any risk of a return to conflict. They discuss the prospects for European integration, asking whether the promise of EU membership remains an effective incentive for resolving these longstanding disputes. They also consider what impact Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had for stability in the Western Balkans, a region where painful memories of war are still very salient today.



Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more of Crisis Group’s analysis, make sure to check out our Balkans regional page and keep an eye out for our upcoming report on the risk of instability in the Western Balkans.

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