PILPG Update: Financial Times Op-Ed: Broken Bosnia – co-authored by PILPG Managing Director and Advisory Board Member

January 4, 2010

The following op-ed on Bosnia by UK Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague and former High Representative for Bosnia and Herzeovina Paddy Ashdown was published by the Financial Times on December 29, 2009. The article was co-authored by PILPG Advisory Board member Morton Abramowitz and PILPG Managing Director James Hooper.

Broken Bosnia Needs Western Attention

By William Hague, Paddy Ashdown, Morton Abramowitz, and James Hooper
January 4, 2010

The 14th anniversary of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords passed unnoticed in November.  The collapse of a US-EU diplomatic initiative in Bosnia-Herzegovina last month went virtually unreported too, as has the fact that Bosnia’s cold peace is under serious threat.

Bosnia may seem less significant than it used to be to the US and her allies. Pressing challenges in Afghanistan and beyond need great attention. But the risk of a failed state taking root in Europe cannot be ignored by Europe or in Washington.

Brussels struggles with serious Balkan diplomacy – so many capitals to confer with and tactics to co-ordinate, and so little political will to take difficult decisions. The EU hopes that its all-carrots, no-sticks approach linked entirely to the promise of an eventual EU accession process will change the domestic politics of Bosnia and neighbouring Serbia, and produce political co-operation. The US backs this approach, despite the fact that Bosnia is further from EU membership than any other aspirant country.

Bosnia’s economy has grown with foreign aid, but the state has not grown, and today it does not work. The Bosnian Serbs have exploited the autonomy they were granted at Dayton, relying on stalling tactics to keep the country divided, its government dysfunctional, and their hopes of secession alive, while some Bosniak leaders can be equally rigid. Some resistance has been overcome when the international high representative overseeing Dayton has insisted on it. But even this level of effort has overtaxed the patience and capacity of the EU and US. The high representative’s office has been allowed to be demeaned so that none of the parties, particularly the Bosnian Serbs, heed its efforts. It is now proposed to weaken the role further by recasting the high representative as an EU special representative and stripping out real authority – the “Bonn powers”.

With the election season in Bosnia imminent, nationalist rhetoric will certainly increase in all parts. Even the Bosnian Croats increasingly talk of their own entity and a break with their federation with the Bosniaks.

What happens in Europe’s backyard matters: the consequences of Bosnia’s disintegration would be catastrophic. The breakdown of the country into independent ethnic statelets would not only reward ethnic cleansing – surely a moral anathema – but would also risk the creation of a failed state in the heart of Europe; a fertile breeding ground for terrorism and crime, and a monstrous betrayal of all those who survived the concentration camps, mass graves and displacement of the 1990s. Bosnia will not solve itself, nor will the prospect of EU integration be enough to pull the country back from the brink.

Instead we must recognise that all the countries in the region are linked and cannot be dealt with in isolation.

We urge the US and EU to each appoint a special envoy to the region, who would work in lockstep to deliver a united message and drive forward progress. We must impress on Bosnia’s leaders that the sovereignty of the country is unquestionable and its break-up unthinkable. But we must also say to European candidate countries Serbia and Montenegro that they are expected to uphold EU policy towards Bosnia.

A robust international approach should focus on a single goal: a central government in Bosnia effective enough to meet the responsibilities of EU and Nato membership. Each Bosnian leader should have to stand for, or against, that simple idea – and face consequences for his or her answer.

The international community should be prepared to use sticks as well as carrots. There is a strong argument for the threat of targeted sanctions against politicians who undermine the Bosnian state.

Talk of timelines for the closure of the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina is premature. The Office should only be closed once constitutional reform has been achieved. Meanwhile, the high representative must have the solid backing of the EU and US so that all parties know they cannot sit out the international presence in the country.

Finally, the EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia must be retained, and reinforced if necessary, to send a strong signal that neither secession nor violence will be tolerated.

Today Radovan Karadzic is finally on trial in The Hague on charges of alleged genocide and war crimes in Bosnia. As he and others are called to account over their part in the horrendous events of the 1990s, it would be a supreme irony if their plans for carving up Bosnia-Herzegovina were to be realized simply because the international community was too busy to care.

Mr Hague is UK shadow foreign secretary, Lord Ashdown is a former high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina. This article was co-written by James O’Brien, a former US presidential envoy for the Balkans, Morton Abramowitz, former US ambassador to Turkey and a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, and Jim Hooper, a managing director of the Public International Law and Policy Group.


PILPG Update: Morton Abramowitz and James Hooper’s “Re-Repairing Bosnia” Published by Project Syndicate

March 11, 2010

PILPG Advisory Board Member Morton Abramowitz and PILPG Managing Director James Hooper’s commentary on Bosnia was published in newspapers today by Project Syndicate.  The piece provides an insightful look into Bosnia’s future and political reform in Bosnia.

The full article is included below and is also available here.

Re-Repairing Bosnia

By Morton Abramowitz and James Hooper
March 11, 2010

Bosnia’s future is becoming increasingly uncertain. An ethnic veto has long made the central government ineffective, and, most recently, Milorad Dodik, the leader of the Serb-controlled entity, Republika Srpska, has responded to efforts at reform with a threat to hold a referendum on independence.

Many consider secession unlikely, but Dodik’s threat does heighten fear that today’s fragile status quo could break down. While nobody expects the mass violence of the 1990’s to recur, that does not justify diplomatic indifference and inaction.

The Dayton Accords of 1995 ended Serb-instigated ethnic cleansing and established peace in Bosnia. But that agreement did not create a functional Bosnian central government with the capacity to undertake the reforms needed to meet the terms of accession to the European Union.

To appease Bosnian Serbs led by Slobodan Milosevic (who died while on trial for war crimes), Radovan Karadzic (who remains on trial for war crimes) and Ratko Mladic (who was indicted for war crimes and is still on the run in Serbia), the West accepted the territorial division of Bosnia at the war’s end. This acceptance was manifested in a constitutional structure that gave the Bosnian Serb region quasi-independence and the power to obstruct the emergence of an effective central government in Sarajevo.

The EU, having helped rescue Bosnia from its past by mortgaging its future, seems in no hurry to change the country’s purgatory-like status. European leaders have allowed their most useful tool for preserving the peace and leveraging change – the once-respected office of the High Representative – to be diminished to the point that many Bosnian officials treat the incumbent with disdain. But it should be recognized that, in post-Cold War Europe, it has proven highly dangerous to allow disrespect for European purpose and resolve to take root.

If the Bosnians lack the capability to modify the iron corset bequeathed to them at Dayton, the EU remains indifferent, and the United States is preoccupied with the Middle East, South Asia, and China, what lies ahead? Leaving Bosnians to explore the options that befall a failed state (with a Muslim plurality) – located within Europe but on the margins of its prosperity, unity, and relative social cohesion – is to acknowledge policy bankruptcy and let others roll the dice on ways to end the current stalemate.

Some in Europe assert that over time the parties may eventually see the benefits of greater cooperation, that dissolution will not occur, or that, if it does, it will likely be relatively tranquil. Such assumptions do not inspire confidence. Violence has been the traditional agent of change in the Balkans, and the level of frustration in Bosnia is growing.

Faute de mieux, the Americans have allowed the burden of dealing with these issues and sorting out the unfinished business of Dayton to fall to the EU. Indeed, it is past time for the EU to take the diplomatic lead in fixing what Dayton left undone. While the new EU’s governance structure seems, at least on paper, to lend itself to more robust efforts in the Balkans, diplomatic habits die hard, and the Union will need to overcome its continuing legacy of relying on carrots without sticks to deal with knotty Balkan problems.

Regardless of the EU’s unhappy diplomatic past in the Balkans, the most practical way forward is to seek political reform in Bosnia rather than hoping for the US to resume its leadership role. Any EU effort should be based on the following reinforcing elements:

  • A conference of the three Bosnian parties this spring to fix the Dayton agreement by strengthening the central government sufficiently to enable Bosnians to fulfill the requirements of the EU accession process while maintaining the existing entities. This gathering should include both the US and Serbian governments as active observers. European and US leaders would have to convey to the Bosnians and others that failure is not an option and convince them of the EU’s bottom-line unwillingness to accept opposition from those in Bosnia who impede the EU accession process.
  • Since Serbia is essential to the continued existence of Republika Srpska, pressure must be brought to bear on its government, which seeks EU membership, to make clear to obstructionist Bosnian Serb leaders that they cannot hold a referendum on independence, and that they must accept enhanced central-government powers.
  • Support for civil-society groups and democratic parties prior to elections throughout Bosnia this October. The EU and the US should underscore the need for political change and for candidates who support EU accession as indispensable to Bosnia’s economic and political progress.

The alternative – tinkering with reform while hoping that time, EU money, and a watchful eye will move the three Bosnian communities toward political harmony – is not prudent policy.