Bosnia’s Last Best Hope

How an Unlikely Peacekeeping Duo Can Hold the Balkans Together

A woman prays near the grave of her family members near Srebenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, March 2019 Dado Ruvic / Reuters

It’s been almost a quarter century since the Dayton peace accords ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in which approximately 100,000 people were killed. The agreement mandated that a “safe and secure environment” be maintained in the country. NATO first shouldered that responsibility; later, at the end of 2004, the European Union took it on. Over the next decade and a half, implementation of the peace accords stalled. Yet the EU’s force, initially 7,000 strong, withered to an institutional fig leaf of 600 troops, a shockingly small presence that advertises the EU’s lack of resolve. This force can’t defend itself against mounting security threats, much less fulfill the mandate of the Dayton accords.

Weakness invites challenge, particularly in the Balkans. Illiberal actors such as China, the Gulf states, Turkey, and Russia have all rushed in to fill the vacuum left by Western listlessness. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serb-majority entity, Republika Srpska (RS), has fallen under Moscow’s influence to an even greater extent than neighboring Serbia, reinvigorating the Bosnian Serb secessionist movement. Without a liberal, countervailing force to restrain them, Bosnia’s unaccountable leaders grow ever bolder in their ethnic brinkmanship, making renewed conflict more likely and the potential consequences more dire. Bosnia is experiencing a failure of deterrence that only liberal democratic powers have the ability to redress.


Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, now chairing Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency, has long advocated for the country’s dissolution so the RS can either become an independent state or unify with Serbia. Bosnian Croat leaders openly support him, and NATO-member Croatia does so tacitly, since its ruling party expects to benefit politically from renewed ethnonational strife. Russia’s deepening engagement in the region has only strengthened Dodik’s hand. After he applauded Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 as an expression of “self-determination,” the Russian ambassador rewarded him with a visit. Later, he told Serbia’s then prime minister and now President Aleksandar Vucic that he had Russian

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