THIRTY YEARS DEFENDING BOSNIA AND TODAY’S CHALLENGES
| The consequences of the policy of appeasement by international actors toward territorial expansion at Bosnia’s expense remain with us even today. The embargo on weaponry that was implemented against the legal forces defending Bosnia during the war is today manifested through a political embargo against a civic political order. The Dayton Peace Accords characterized Croatia and the erstwhile Yugoslavia, succeeded today by Serbia, as participants in the war. Now those same states are using the concept of “constituent peoples” in order to compromise the sovereignty of Bosnia and to assume control over key political and security processes in the country. |
The destruction of the sovereignty of the pre-war Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the current Dayton-created state of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been ongoing for quite some time. Bosnia became a member of the United Nations already in 1992. Since then, we have been witnessing the gradual delegitimizing of state institutions on the basis of “parties to the conflict,” a concept imposed during the war, as well as blockading the possibility of a civic constitutional arrangement, and imposing and institutionalizing the ethno-centric interests of the very states that were involved in the war in Bosnia as active participants. Today, they represent an active threat to peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. For example, current President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic “wholeheartedly restrains” Republika Srpska leader Milorad Dodik in the latter’s efforts to form separatist armed forces in Bosnia. Meanwhile, President of Croatia Zoran Milanovic has declared himself the President of all Croatians, identical to Vucic’s self-declarations when it comes to Serbs throughout the region. This clearly follows the Russian model of ethno-nationalism at the expense of other sovereign states, in this case especially Bosnia.
The objective is to achieve wartime goals during the ensuing peacetime using all political and diplomatic means within and outside Bosnia. This has only intensified with the Russian invasions of Crimea, Abkhazia and Donetsk. The war in Ukraine stimulates old expansionist interests in the region and expectations that the current international order will fall and that political conflicts will develop into open territorial aspirations and claims. Unfortunately, some in Europe and the international community employ vocabulary that labels Bosnia a “special situation.” By doing so, they only perpetuate the current status of a “frozen conflict” and a “failed state.” The proclaimed intention of the Western democracies about a transition of state and society toward the values of liberal democracy and a free market has been betrayed. Unfortunately, the West today has not yet succeeded with its intention to assist the transition of Bosnia and Herzegovina to full democracy. Rather, it continues to rely on ethnic politicians and ethnic actors as its partners. Another recent example is the recent European Parliamentary Resolution concerning so-called “constituent peoples.” This is another illustration of the danger to stability and peace that exists in this part of the world. All of these are products of the openly displayed influence and interests of representatives of certain states in the absence of the influence of representatives of Bosnian state institutions.
For the international community, the central factors are the indirect participants in the formation and implementation of two “joint criminal enterprises” [as defined by the International Criminal Tribunal on Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague] against Bosnia, as well as the genocide perpetrated at Srebrenica. Regardless of the fact that Bosnia as a sovereign state was granted membership in the United Nations, the UN became a passive observer of the strife in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This stands in contrast to current activities in Ukraine, where the international community has organized and provided substantive assistance to the army and the defenders of Ukraine.
Demilitarization, the dissolution of military assets and the internal destruction and blockading of the development of the armed forces have all placed the defense forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina in a delicate situation. Add to this the imbalance between military capabilities of Bosnia in comparison with those of Serbia and Croatia. This is counter to the obligations that the state signatories of the Dayton Peace Accords undertook concerning the balance of armaments and numbers of armed forces, all of which is laid out in the military section of the Dayton agreement.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is rightfully appealing to international factors to observe their obligations under Dayton concerning maintaining peace in Bosnia. The symbolic presence of EUFOR forces in Bosnia is an important aspect of security, repelling and overcoming potential dangers. However, their mandate is limited and scheduled to expire at the end of this year. There are no realistic expectations that Russia will agree to an extension of their mandate. Nevertheless, UN Security Council Resolutions in 2004 and 2005 call for a mandate for EUFOR/Althea and clearly describe NATO and EUFOR as the singular legal successors of the former SFOR (later re-named IFOR). This should mean that a discontinuing of EUFOR’s mandate would reanimate the obligation in the Dayton agreement for the role of NATO and its task of preserving peace in Bosnia.
However, reliance only on those forces is not an adequate response in the currently existing security context within and around Bosnia unless there is an active domestic participation that should be clearly defined.
Thirty years ago, the spontaneous resistance of unarmed citizens grew into a consolidated military organization. This stands as a historic fact and as confirmation of the essence and real potential of society when it comes to its own defense. In current circumstances, it is necessary to define clearly the actions needed for identifying the dangers to peace. This should be combined with organizing activities in cooperation with those forces that are responsible for implementing peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as NATO and EUFOR. The first step should be strengthening the capacities of the armed forces, as well as the system of civil and other aspects of active defense of the citizenry. This would also preempt tendencies toward self-organizing by some citizens who still carry the trauma of the “joint criminal enterprises” and genocides carried out in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
** The presenter at this session was Dr. Vahid Karavelic, Major General (retired). (Summary of Session of April 2022)
Adil Kulenović, President