{gallery}newsletters/17/1/1{/gallery}One of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most important post-Dayton responsibilities on the international diplomatic stage is to preside over the UN Security Council for one month.  Unfortunately, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Security Council Presidency has become a topic of intense criticism for the local media. 

Written by: Safet ŠARIĆ, Aleksandra TOLJ and Mladen LAKIĆ

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) began 2011 with the huge diplomatic responsibility of serving as President of the UN Security Council (UNSC).  UNSC members rotate in alphabetical order once a month, allowing all members (permanent and non-permanent) to serve as President.  January 2011 is BiH’s turn.  

The current political climate in BiH cast some doubt regarding BiH’s ability to effectively preside over the UNSC.  The majority of negative reactions are a result of frequent mentioning of a “diplomatic scandal” rather than an anticipated “diplomatic success.”  BiH’s aspirations to become a non-permanent UNSC member are more than a decade old.  However, the real opportunity to achieve this goal occurred in 2008 when Poland hinted that it would abandon its bid for non-permanent UNSC membership.  Poland formally removed its bid in 2009.  Its withdrawal left BiH as the only non-permanent UNSC candidate from the Eastern European group. 

Alkalaj vs. BiH Presidency

The BiH Presidency and BiH Ministry of Foreign Affairs previously agreed that BiH would focus on post-conflict reconstruction of institutions as an integral aspect of peace-building processes during its one month presidency.  A program for an open debate to be held in late January at the UNSC was drafted.

In a document from December 20, 2010 (No. 04-05-1-4783/10), the BiH Presidency informed the BiH Ministry of Foreign Affairs that BiH’s Ambassador (i.e. Permanent Representative to the UN) would serve as President of the UNSC and lead the thematic debate for the month of January 2011.  However, Sven Alkalaj, BiH Minister of Foreign Affairs, called this decision inappropriate and suggested it would set a negative precedent.  Alkalaj sent an urgent memo to all members of the BiH Presidency in which he warned them of the possible negative consequences of this decision.

“We have not been precise regarding a name or function.  We only pointed out the need for presiding to take place at the highest possible level,” said Alkalaj.  As a result of Alkalaj’s claims and the BiH Presidency’s decisions, Catherine Asthon, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, canceled her participation at the thematic session.  The Foreign Affairs Ministers of India and Portugal also opted not to attend.  International law expert Zarije Seizović does not agree that the BiH Presidency’s decisions are what caused Ashton’s lack of attendance.  Ashton has already been criticized by the Daily Telegraph for her lack of willingness to work during the weekend or travel outside the UK.  

“Why is it strange if Ashton, or anyone else for that matter, refuses to take part in the debate?  Reasons other than dissatisfaction could certainly be relevant.  I think that the media and some politicians unjustifiably give BiH more significance than it actually holds,” explained Seizović.   

 Mirza Kušljugić, former Ambassador of BiH to the UN, explained that it is normal for the permanent representative of the presiding country to chair the UNSC.   According to general diplomatic procedure, the BiH Presidency has not erred in its decision to allow the Permanent Representative, rather than the Foreign Affairs Minister, to chair the thematic debate.  This should not be viewed as a foreign policy scandal.   

Furthermore, the debate’s success does not depend solely on the particular positions of the participants.  The goal of such a debate is to challenge commonly-held UN views through intense discussion of certain issues.  The main task which the UNSC presiding country is charged with is simply to propose a topic that it considers important.  According to Kuršljugić, ministers from permanent UNSC member countries only participate when important decisions must be made.  The function of an ambassador is to present the official view of the country which he or she is representing. 

Kušljugić believes the key to a success is for “the Presidency to work at full speed while the Ministry prepares whatever is necessary for the UNSC session.”  Although this supposed scandal has been the frequent topic of recent discussions, Kušljugić emphasized that BiH is not the first country which has done something like this.  Over the past four years, the UK Minister of Foreign Affairs has never attended a UNSC session.  Similarly, the US Secretary of State has only taken part on several occasions.     

Although BiH must chair the UNSC at a time when newly elected government officials have yet to be appointed, Seizović believes that BiH may still achieve some successes during its UNSC mandate.  Any accomplishments will be proportional to the size of the country.  “Success depends on more than stating your opinion regarding burning global issues.  It is also related to appropriate personnel logistics which are particularly relevant to BiH’s new role in its mission to the UN,” Seizović concluded.     

Pros and Cons

The advantages and potential opportunities BiH has gained as a result of its UNSC mandate have unfortunately not been sufficiently addressed in the local media.  Within BiH, journalists and politicians appear bent on questioning BiH’s capacity to carry out its assigned duties. 

Dušanka Majkić, Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) Parliament Member, gave a statement to Glas Srpske, saying that “it seems BiH is always an exception. The very fact that BiH is presiding over the UNSC while the country is still some sort of protectorate of the international community is absurd. The fact that the OHR is still in BiH is contrary to all norms and international models.  This is why this country should not be a UN member.” 

Another SNSD member and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of BiH, Nikola Špirić, believes that the present political situation in BiH could lead to a problem. “I don’t think we are able to decide on the most important issues in our country. If we are unable to do that, we are even less credible in terms of solving foreign policy issues.”  Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and current President of the Party of Democratic Progress, Mladen Ivanić, does not see a reason to be overly concerned regarding the success of BiH’s UNSC Presidency.  “January is a quiet month. I don’t think there will be any major problems,” said Ivanić.    

During its UNSC Presidency, BiH must address issues related to Sierra Leon, Nepal and Somalia.  January is rarely an eventful month for international politics and global media attention is currently focused on the Southern Sudanese independence referendum.  These factors should offer BiH a chance to improve its public reputation worldwide.  However, this opinion is not shared by the Croatian Democratic Party (HDZ) in BiH.  Party Spokesperson, Mišo Relota, stated that BiH would not respond well to such a significant responsibility.  “Despite this, we can expect that joint decision-making by the members of the BiH Presidency will reduce this damage to a minimum,” said Relota. 

Srećko Latal, the International Crisis Group’s BiH-based analyst, pointed out that the BiH public is often overly critical. Latal believes that the country needs support, rather than constant criticism.  At the end of the day, BiH’s UNSC Presidency is both a great opportunity and an immense challenge.