Bosnia and Herzegovina Urgently Needs a New Government

Written by: The Atlantic Initiative team

At its summit in Lisbon in November 2010, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) adopted a new strategic concept for the next decade. On this occasion, the NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reiterated that this military and political treaty would continue basing its policy on the concept of collective defense in which all countries engage in defending an attacked member of the treaty and that «this would be the policy forever».

From the point of view of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the Summit in Lisbon was important because of NATO’s continuation of an «open-door policy». The new strategic concept – or «instructions for use» as Rasmussen labeled it – states that NATO will accept all countries that meet requirements and want to become members.

The BiH High Delegation, headed by BiH Presidency Member Nebojša Radmanović, visited the Portuguese capital. The delegation included Foreign Affairs Minister Sven Alkalaj, his Deputy Ana Trišić-Babić (who is also heading the NATO Coordination Team at the BiH Council of Ministers) and Defense Minister Selmo Cikotić. Speaking at the NATO Summit dedicated to the situation in Afghanistan, Radmanović reminded those listening that four years ago, BiH expressed willingness to assume the rights and obligations required by membership in the Euro-Atlantic family of free and democratic countries through joining NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.

“Authorities in BiH, and society in general, have begun thorough and comprehensive reforms in various fields, with the aim of integrating BiH into Euro-Atlantic structures. BiH is dedicated to contributing to global peace and security,” Radmanović said.

The Presidency Member also said that BiH had thus far proven to be a responsible NATO partner, ready to share the burden of modern security challenges.

However, the remarkable pace of BiH’s progress toward membership in NATO has significantly slowed over the past year. Six months before the Summit in Lisbon, at an informal meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of NATO member countries in Tallinn, BiH was asked to join the MAP.  This offer was made on the condition that BiH register 69 locations with perspective immovable military property in both entities as state property. This is where BiH was sidetracked on the road to NATO. Ruling political parties in the Federation believe this registration should be done in line with NATO’s requirements, while authorities in the Republika Srpska are willing to assign these locations to the Armed Forces of BiH – under the condition they get them back one day.

This issue should have been resolved by September 2010 in order for BiH to start its first annual cycle within MAP. However, nothing happened. An excuse for this was found in the elections; the time was not right for making such decisions. Defense Minister Selmo Cikotić has repeatedly expressed hope that the MAP condition will be met soon after the government is established. It has been eight months since elections and BiH is still without a Council of Ministers.  The formation of this institution is, in addition to a necessary political arrangement, the key to BiH’s continued integration within NATO. 

Brigadier General David Enyeart, who commanded NATO HQ in Sarajevo until June 15th (when he was replaced by General Gary Huffman), told Atlantic Initiative that the establishment of the BiH Council of Ministers was being negotiated.  Although he noted that this is a slow process, he believes it is near completion.   

“We are talking to politicians. They are placing emphasis on meeting this remaining condition, so that BiH can submit the Annual National Plan (ANP) and activate its membership in the MAP. NATO HQ in Sarajevo is working with the BiH Ministry of Defense, politicians and ombudsmen on technical and legal issues related to these 69 locations, so this is solved.  When time comes they are registered.  So, there are no remaining unsolved technical or legal issues,” said General Enyeart.

When asked whether that would be done by September, when the new annual MAP cycles began, Enyeart said he always kept a positive attitude. If this could be achieved, BiH would not lose another yet another year. 

“Is that possible? Yes, it is. But, as time passes, it becomes less and less possible. It’s up to your authorities, your Council of Ministers, if it gets established, to solve this issue. In fact, the establishment of the Council of Minister is the trigger for further development. When it gets established, it means you have pulled the trigger and a great deal will happen. Until that happens, cooperation with NATO will continue through the Partnership for Peace. NATO is still here. Regarding September, that might not be the exact date, but it will be around September,” Enyeart said.

The former NATO HQ Commander in Sarajevo says living and working in BiH has been a great experience for him.  He has learned a great deal here, and not simply in a professional sense.

“I have met a lot of people, made many friends, and I will certainly return to BiH, preferably for vacation. I have traveled all over the country and talked to a lot of people. All they want is peace, work, a better standard of living, a safer and more stable future, employment and prosperity.  NATO will bring all of that,” Enyeart said.  He added that what he would not miss politics in BiH.  

It is expected that a conference called «The Western Balkans: Progress, Stagnation or Regression», held in Sarajevo from June 12th-15th, will produce positive results. The conference was organized by the Center for Transatlantic Relations of the John Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. (SAIS), headed by Daniel Hamilton, and the American-Bosnian Foundation, headed by Saša Toperić. The fact that officials from the Republika Srpska ignored invitations to participate in the panels, thereby effectively eliminating themselves from the discussion, does not mean that the conference’s messages failed to reach them.

Michael Haltzel, former Foreign Policy Advisor to US Vice President Joseph Biden and Senior Associate at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, noted that prior to this conference, he was convinced that BiH has a democratic future within the European Union and NATO. He also said that this Conference was an attempt to return the Western Balkans to the US and Western European radar.

Philip Gordon, Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, recently visited Sarajevo and Belgrade.  Gordon’s visit is proof that BiH and the Western Balkans are once again capturing the US’ focus. Gordon delivered a speech at the conference and subsequently held individual talks with political leaders including Asim Sarajlić (SDA Vice Chairman), Milorad Dodik (SNSD), Dragan Čović (HDZ BiH) and Zlatko Lagumdžija (SDP).  His conversations focused on the crisis of establishing a government in BiH. The US Assistant Secretary said he was very happy to hear that BiH’s political leaders consider establishing a state government to be of crucial interest for BiH.  However, he added that the US was frustrated by the fact that even eight months after general elections, BiH still does not have a government at the state level.

“We have put a great deal of effort into this country recently, and we’ll remain dedicated to its aspirations to succeed in Euro-Atlantic integrations,” Gordon said.  He added that the US would remain dedicated to BiH and its path to full membership in the European Union and NATO.  However, he reiterated that a lot remains to be done, for which BiH’s leaders bear exclusive responsibility.

In his speech at the conference, Gordon warned that, although BiH has achieved tremendous progress since the horrific 1990s, it has not been moving in the right direction for the past four or five years. During this period, nationalistic rhetoric has increased, and state institutions and the Dayton Peace Agreement have been boldly denied.

“There have been attempts to halt reforms necessary for BiH to join the EU and NATO. Generally speaking, BiH politicians are more than willing to foster ethnic fears and to put their own political interests above the needs of the citizens they are representing. Unless this is stopped – I repeat I am obliged to be completely honest to my friends – BiH risks lagging behind in a region that is marking success. We already see this happening. With the help of the international community, many countries in the region are progressing: Slovenia became an EU member in 2004; Albania and Croatia joined NATO in 2009; Croatia is making constant progress toward EU membership, particularly after the favorable report from the European Commission last week. Macedonia will become a NATO member as soon as the name issue is resolved. Kosovo has recently marked its third anniversary of independence and continues to progress toward a multi-ethnic democracy. Montenegro, only five years after independence, has become a candidate for EU membership and is a full member of NATO’s Action Plan. Serbia has applied for candidate status and is marking progress.   The recent arrest and extradition of Ratko Mladić serve as important indications of this. Of course, all of these countries have much more to do in order to reach their goals: especially Serbia and Kosovo, which have to enhance dialogue and work creatively on overcoming differences in their opinions.  This has to happen before they can make further significant steps toward EU membership. Throughout the Balkans, people live without violence, but often without jobs as well. There is less and less hatred, but dangerous nationalism and prejudice remain. BiH is not the only country in the region facing problems. But, while other countries are progressing, despite significant obstacles, on their path to the EU, BiH is not,” said Gordon.

Robert M. Beecroft, Head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation’s Mission in BiH from 2001 to 2004, and today the State Department’s supervisor of American embassies all over the world, expressed an interesting attitude in an interview with Dani (number 731, June 17, 2011).  Beecroft also participated in the conference. He noted that not moving is essentially going backward for BiH because the rest of the region, particularly Croatia and Serbia, are progressing. The basic joint goal is for BiH to become a member of the EU and NATO as a sovereign country.

“Does BiH need NATO more than NATO needs BiH? Of course. NATO is not a drill that involves sailing a sea. This is about security and the skills related to it. What will make BiH the best neighbor and the best partner in the region and on the European map? Your Army is already participating in operations and is doing a great job. That is a modest, but important, contribution to NATO. I believe that the general attitude of Brussels and Washington is that you have skillful military personnel. Longterm, it is not logical that BiH remains outside of NATO’s structures,” Beecroft said.

In the meantime, BiH continues meeting the prerequisites set by the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) from January 2010 to April 2011. The final discussion held on June 10th in Sarajevo marked an end to a series of meetings between representatives of BiH and NATO.  The BiH Ministry of Foreign Affairs from June 7th-10th in the Armed Forces of BiH’s headquarters organized these meetings.

The final meeting, chaired by Ambassador Fuad Šabeta and Jaroslaw Skonieczka, Director of the Euro-Atlantic Integration and Partnership Directorate in Brussels, resulted in the conclusion that obvious progress has been made regarding the level of IPAP implementation.  According to the BiH Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Šabeta thanked representatives of NATO HQ in Brussels for cooperation in organizing these meetings and emphasized that BiH would continue enhancing cooperation with NATO as part of Euro-Atlantic integration processes. Director Skonieczka noted the work of the NATO Coordination Team of the BiH Council of Ministers, which prepared a high quality document of Self-evaluation of Implementation of IPAP.  This demonstrated that despite the obstacles to establishing the legislative and executive branches in BiH after the October elections, BiH has achieved significant progress in meeting its obligations as per NATO integration processes.  He also pointed out progress related to various aspects of cooperation between BiH and NATO within IPAP, such as meeting the conditions in the field of rule of law and police, defense and human rights reforms. He also said that NATO’s «open-door policy» was still in force for BiH, and that NATO remains open to any form of cooperation and is willing to help BiH’s institutions in the process of accession to NATO.  This is particularly true of the NATO HQ in Sarajevo.

Cooperation between BiH and NATO within the IPAP is one of the most important mechanisms related to partnership relations, especially in extending cooperation and implementing reform processes necessary for creating conditions for accession in NATO.

In an interview with Atlantic Initiative, Ambassador Šabeta said that was encouraged by what he had heard at round tables in the Republika Srpska and throughout BiH.  The BiH Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Norwegian Embassy and NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo have organized these roundtables over the past five months.

“It turns out that on the whole, BiH is interested in becoming a full NATO member. New surveys will probably show that the percentage is far higher today. Another positive thing is, although I cannot say it with 100% certainty, that if we manage to meet the condition from Tallinn, we could start the MAP cycle in October or November, i.e. we could use the Annual Plan as a new NATO tool used only in MAP. It is also significant that NATO representatives expressed their satisfaction at the last IPAP hearing. We have worked for three days in Sarajevo on a thorough analysis and they were satisfied with the way institutions were working, regardless of the fact that some decisions have not been taken by the Council of Ministers, and a larger number in the Parliament,” Šabeta said.

NATO will not give up on the condition from Tallinn. All 69 locations with military property have to be registered as state property, and NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo has analyzed each of those facilities. It remains for BiH to appoint the Council of Ministers and for that institution to begin its work.