The Serbian government’s May 26 arrest of Ratko Mladic, the military leader of the Serb forces during the Bosnian war, renewed international focus on the Balkans. Around 2005, after nearly a decade of postconflict state building, the world had assumed that it had successfully pacified Bosnia and could wind down its efforts in the country. NATO and the European Union reduced the size of their security presence, even signaling that after Paddy Ashdown’s term as high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina ended in 2006, they would close the Office of High Representative, which the international community created to coordinate and implement the civilian aspects of the peace accord that ended the Bosnian war.
Yet Bosnia’s institutions were not yet ready to stand on their own. When we wrote about the region in “The Death of Dayton” (September/October 2009), the political and economic situation there was in decline. The Dayton Accords had put in place a dual-entity structure, which created two semi-independent states, one for Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, and one for Serbs. The decentralized political system was born out of a necessity to compromise to end the war. But, when coupled with resurgent ethnic nationalism, it blocked Bosnia’s weak central government from addressing any of the country’s major needs, including improving education and health care, regulating businesses, and reforming the pension and social security systems.
Since 2009, the situation in Bosnia and the Balkans has only worsened. In Bosnia, political and economic reforms have languished, as the global financial crisis has further undercut weak and vulnerable economies; international interest has waned even more; and nationalist sentiment has resurged, especially in Republika Srpska (RS, the Serbian entity of Bosnia). Meanwhile, Kosovo’s still-unresolved political status, ethnic divisions, and high unemployment have contributed to domestic frustration and anxiety there.
Yet Mladic’s arrest is one bright spot, demonstrating that international law can help the international community fulfill its promises to the region -- and to the Bosnian war’s victims. Over