Trends seen in recent weeks will continue, and that could shake the positions of numerous corrupt politicians and bring Bosnia and Herzegovina several steps closer to the NATO alliance.
Written by: Prof. Dr. Adis MAKSIĆ
Almost three decades have passed since the appearance of new constructivism shook the traditional view of international relations as that of rivalries and fierce battles over distrustful nation-states.
The seminal paper written by Alexander Vendt, “Anarchy is What States Make of it”, has resulted in numberless volumes that regard power not only as material resources, but also as ideas, values, identities, norms and customs.
The constructivists have demonstrated that national interest is not something that an objective observer can calculate by weighing material risk and gain, but has rather been constructed by the creator of that interest, based on the prism of ideas through which they observe the world.
This approach has also provided an answer to the question of why international relations often seem focused primarily on conflict and realpolitik, i.e. why the realistic paradigm of an opponent is so attractive.
The more the creators are led by a realpolitik vision of the world, the more world politics will – as in a self-fulfilling prophecy – resemble the descriptions offered by realists.
Applying this constructivist approach in the case of American foreign policy, we can conclude that the former US President, Donald Trump, was just such a creator.
Trump’s “America First” motto symbolizes the idea that the United States of America needs to become a “normal” state, led by a narrow definition of interest and via policies that lead to intervention only when it maximizes its power vis-à-vis other states.
There are no true friends in international relations; norms will be respected only to the extent they strengthen the position of the state; alliances are merely a temporary overlapping of interests.
“America First” gains its political meaning by comparison with the doctrines of previous Presidents against which it stands. It views Obama’s liberal interventionism, Bush’s neo-conservatives, and the “unavoidable nation” from Bill Clinton’s era as ideological excesses that undermined American power.
That US foreign policy cannot be understood by looking only at power relations and the geopolitical map – and without understanding its content in terms of ideas – becomes quite clear in the contrast between the policy outlook of Donald Trump and that of his successor, Joe Biden.
For Biden, the USA’s presence in international relations is manifested not only through its military and economic strength, but also by demonstrating the values that make up its national character.
Thus it is the natural mission of America, as the country of individual freedoms, to spread liberal democracy as the form of governance that guarantees those freedoms.
If it were just a “normal” state without a values agenda, America would betray itself.
According to this vision, it took only a few months for the new President Joe Biden to take numerous decisions that negated the foreign policy of his predecessor.
Those include the strengthening of the NATO alliance. For Biden this is not merely a case of political pragmatism – the security framework weaves together the shared values of “Western civilization”.
AMERICAN POLICY CHANGE AND US
What does this policy change in Washington mean for Bosnia and Herzegovina?
If we add to the above conceptual framework the special importance President Biden attaches to American achievements in the Balkans in the 1990s, we will see his Administration’s course of action.
Although the establishment of peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina serves as an example of the strength of the NATO alliance, and of the success of American foreign policy, that peace did not bring about a state based on the matrix of ideas of its creators.
Our country still suffers from a discriminatory Constitution, a lack of democratic emancipation, self-serving elites and corruption – which is slowing down the establishment of a mature market economy.
In addition to the legacy of the war and the lack of a democratic tradition, the reason for this situation can be found in the political engineering carried out by ethnic elites – as well as in Russian influence, based on its support to autocratic local actors.
This description of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina indicates that actions by Biden’s Administration will focus on pressure to democratize the country’s Constitution, strengthen the rule of law, and punish corrupt elites.
These actions are already underway – most visibly in this month’s executive order which will make it easier to impose sanctions against individuals Washington has identified as obstructing the functioning of institutions, or those who are responsible for violations of human rights.
Other signs of the change in political ambiance have appeared in recent weeks, all aimed at a stronger functioning of state institutions.
For example, we finally witnessed the implementation of the decision to remove the unlawfully built church from the courtyard of Fata Orlović, the intensification of investigations in the “Memić Case”, and the arrests of several public figures accused of corrupt activities.
The return of the USA to its ideological mission also implies conflict wherein there is no room for Trumpian realpolitik calculations with its ideological opponent, Vladimir Putin.
The new course means the strengthening of alliance with other liberal democracies, a direct response to Russian influence, and more energetic activity to bring Bosnia and Herzegovina closer to NATO.
In this respect, we are also seeing visible “actions on the ground”.
In May, 500 soldiers – members of the Armed Forces of BiH – held a military exercise in Manjača together with 700 of their American colleagues, aimed at demonstrating the interoperability of Bosnia and Herzegovina with the most powerful member of the NATO alliance.
Although a relatively small number of soldiers participated in this exercise, at a symbolic and political level it is still very important.
The scenes of the convoy of American soldiers passing through Banja Luka sends a message to Moscow that the US considers Bosnia and Herzegovina its own backyard, in which there is no room for two.
To the Russian protégé Milorad Dodik, the exercise demonstrated that this backyard includes the entity in which he has been ruling unchallenged for the past fifteen years.
The fact that this exercise was carried out despite Dodik’s threat that “it shall not be allowed” has shown who wields the weapon of world power – and who has only an empty nationalistic rhetoric to offer as his main instrument of political survival.
On the other hand, this political course tells us little about the reach of this activity, i.e. about the borderlines that limit this ideological mission.
These lines are being established by the imperatives of a realpolitik that operates in parallel and is intertwined with a belief in the moral superiority of liberal democracy.
It is the tension between these two dimensions that causes the widespread and popular perception that the American “tale of democracy” is only a hypocritical cover for the establishment of global hegemony.
The synergy of these dimensions generates the wellknown contradictions that the champion of democracy supports some autocratic regimes – such as the one in Saudi Arabia; ignores massive violations of human rights when they are committed by its allies – as in the case of the suffering of Palestinians; and refuses to strengthen the idea of human rights by participating in the work of the International Court of Justice.
Furthermore, the intensity and scope of ideological intervention varies from one case to another depending on power relations vis-à-vis other stakeholders, and it increases where it corresponds to traditional geopolitical calculations.
Therefore, to understand the intertwining of all these dimensions, i.e. the scope of current US actions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we need to touch upon the power relations and a broader geopolitical context.
WHAT BIDEN WILL(NOT) DO?
The American unipolar moment, which in the 1990s enabled the USA to impose solutions on how to organize the state, is long gone.
Meanwhile, the US has made foreign affairs investments in other parts of the world that removed our region from the priority list of its foreign policy.
Today, furthermore, we have alternative power centers – and the one in Moscow is much more present and much more supported by local political actors who see in Russia a civilizational ally. In these constellations every attempt to unpack the existing institutional solutions would require a lot of energy and political will that cannot be found in any of the power centers.
Changes to the organization of entities, or even a return to the level of interventionism from the era of Paddy Ashdown, will not happen.
But trends seen in recent weeks will continue, and that could shake the positions of numerous corrupt politicians and bring Bosnia and Herzegovina several steps closer to the NATO alliance.
Likewise, in the forthcoming period we can expect activities on the reform of discriminatory provisions built into the Constitution of our country. With the arrival of the new High Representative, there will be stronger pressure on elected politicians to align the Election Law of BiH with the Sejdić-Finci decision.
The sum of these activities will improve the rule of law and the state of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which would ultimately improve the living standards of the average citizen. However, Joe Biden will not assume the responsibility that citizens themselves have for the improvement of their own society. To clean up institutions from corrupt rulers it does not suffice to have as a weapon a great power that wants to make this state more democratic; it also requires that voters be willing to punish crime and corruption at the polling stations. This weapon is what Bosnia and Herzegovina is lacking more than anything else.