Sarajevo, 17 April 2018 - High-Level Bosnian officials communicated a clear message to a delegation from the Defence and Security Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly during a visit to the country from 16-17 April: Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) needs the impetus of a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) to jolt the country from a protracted period of political and economic stasis.
The Sub-Committee on Future Security and Defence Capabilities (DSCFC) brought a message of support and encouragement from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly to Sarajevo. NATO member state parliamentarians consistently urged their interlocutors to take real action to move on from political stagnation. As DSCFC Chairman Joao Rebelo (Portugal) told his Bosnian peers: “We see further integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina into the Euro-Atlantic community as the only means by which this region will be able to overcome the current political and economic challenges.” Real political and economic stability is an essential prerequisite for the country to flourish and become a contributor to regional stability.
NATO PA President Paolo Alli (Italy) told Bosnian Parliamentarians: “The NATO PA has always been consistent in its support of MAP for Bosnia and Herzegovina.” President Alli continued by noting his desire to see renewed focus by Bosnian lawmakers on critical defence sector reforms to receive a MAP, particularly on the issues of the defence property registration and institutional corruption in areas such as procurement.
Bosnia and Herzegovina remains a fragile country in the wake of the devastating wars that ravaged the Western Balkans throughout the 1990s. From 1992-1995 the region witnessed Bosnia’s three major ethnic groups fight a devastating war that killed over 100,000 and displaced 2.2 million in the region and beyond. Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks (Muslims) came to a fragile peace attempting to balance the ethnic groups’ interests by a series of complex power-sharing formulas hammered out in the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995. There are two major political entities, the Republica Srpska (dominated by Serbs) and the Federation (dominated by Bosniaks and Croats). The Federation is the most complex as it consists of 10 cantons, each with its own prime minister. The BiH presidency rotates every eight months between a Serb, Croat, and a Bosniak.
Today the country reports the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, corruption reputedly undermines government effectiveness at all levels, and criminal networks use the area as a zone for all forms of trafficking. As a result, the region is experiencing one of the highest emigration levels in Europe as Bosnian youth see no real future at home. Further complicating matters is the growing political disharmony between the Federation and the Republika Srpska.
In the run-up to this October’s general elections across Bosnia and Herzegovina nationalist rhetoric is stirring ethnic passions on all sides; Republika Srpska leader Milorad Dodik is even renewing calls for independence for his region. The October elections are further complicated by recent calls for a review of the country’s Election Law. Under the current law, the Bosnian Croat population believes it is not represented fairly, a status quo which they believe violates the terms of the constitution. If there is no resolution to the questions surrounding the Election Law, there is the risk that Bosnian Croat parties will block the formation of a new government thereby further paralysing the country.
The DSCFC delegation consisted of 11 parliamentarians from 7 different NATO member states. Over the course of the two-day visit, the delegation met with members of the BiH Parliament, the ministries of defence and foreign affairs, the internal security services, as well as members of civil society. The delegation also paid a visit to the NATO/EUFOR Headquarters at Camp Butmir to meet with commanding officers. A full committee report of the visit will be available on the NATO PA website.