By Dana Terry
Roughly two decades ago, Bosnia was engulfed in a bloody ethnic war based on corrupt nationalist agendas and mired by ethnic cleansing. Though Bosnia is no longer the bloody war zone it once was, it still faces many issues that have hindered its post-conflict recovery and yields cause for concern. There are still Bosnian-Serb radicals who seek to undermine the terms of the 1995 Dayton Peace agreement by advocating secession from the already fractured state. If this issue is ignored, Bosnia could easily become a failed state vulnerable to falling back into the same cycle of bloody ethnic conflict.
The 1995 Dayton Peace Accord was only meant to be a temporary solution to end the bloodshed by dividing the country now known as BiH (Bosnia and Herzegovina) into two separate entities: The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska. Unfortunately, no steps have been taken towards unifying these two entities and this has led to an ethno-political system vulnerable to deadlock, weak centralized institutions, and a country that could easily become destabilized.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ethno-political system stands in the way of acceptance into the EU and NATO, which has been outlined as an important goal for regional conflict transformation by both the Obama and Bush administrations. The current political paradigm of BiH has been charged with violating the European Convention on Human Rights and mandated constitutional reform. The problem with the Bosnian constitution is that it only recognizes three ethnicities – Bosniak Muslims, Catholic Croats, and Orthodox Serbs – and offers a miscellaneous category known as the “Other” for all remaining peoples. Since the Bosnian Proportional Representation system is constructed on the basis of ethnicity, only these three constitutionally recognized peoples are allowed to participate in the second chamber of state parliament as well as the tripartite presidency. This minimizes the political voice of minorities such as Jews, Roma, and people from ethnically mixed marriages. Such discrimination was found in a 2009 court case before the ECHR to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights’ Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (right to free elections), Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), and Article 1 of Protocol No. 12 (general prohibition of discrimination). Without the adequate constitutional reform, BiH will not have the legitimacy needed to be accepted into the Euro-Atlantic institutions and will miss the benefits that come with such membership.
From a purely national security stance, a failed BiH (Bosnia and Herzegovina) may not seem like a threat to global security, but a failed BiH could become a safe haven for terrorists. Terrorism and Islamic extremism are already a threat in the region. The most recent example was the October 2011attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo. In this attack, an Islamic extremist used an AK-47 assault rifle to fire on the embassy for roughly half an hour before he was shot and arrested by the local police. The FBI has since assisted local police in investigating this particular incident as well as other possible extremist activity and roughly $1.25 million in USA has been allocated to the Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining, and Related (NADR) account.
The Obama Administration’s goal to strengthen relations with the Muslim world has also made BiH a strategic focus. BiH, along with other Southeast countries such as Albania and Turkey, are the only Muslim states in Europe and thus are seen as a strategic link between the Muslim world and the West. Should the US ever decide to withdraw all aid from BiH, there would be a great grievance amongst the region’s Muslim population which could seriously damage relations with the rest of the Muslim world. Also, cutting back on aid and projects in BiH would allow Russia and Saudi Arabia to have an even greater influence in the region.
There is a laundry list of problems facing BiH which proves that it is still a state in need of aid, guidance, and support. Though it’s not the blood soaked country it once was, BiH should still be considered a hot spot for possible future conflict. Furthermore, BiH should continue to be treated like the strategic state it is, and continue to enjoy close ties with the US as well as other western states. The media may have forgotten BiH, but it is important that western policymakers do not forget its relevance.
Dana Terry is a first year Master’s candidate at the Whitehead School of Diplomacy. She specializes in post-conflict negotiations and international organizations.