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The Need to Watch Bosnia

The New York Times reports some troubling news:

Thirteen years after the United States brokered the Dayton peace agreement to end the ferocious ethnic war in the former Yugoslavia, fears are mounting that Bosnia, poor and divided, is again teetering toward crisis.
On the surface, this haunted capital, its ancient mosques and Orthodox churches still pocked by mortar fire, appears to be enjoying a renaissance. Young professionals throng to stylish cafes and gleaming new shopping malls while the muezzin heralds the morning prayer. The ghosts of Srebrenica linger — recalling the worst massacre in Europe since World War II — but Sarajevans prefer to talk about President-elect Barack Obama or the global financial crisis.

Yet for the first time in years, talk of the prospect of another war is creeping into conversations across the ethnic divide in Bosnia, a former Yugoslav republic that the Dayton agreement divided into two entities, a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serbian Republic.

The Times explains:

The power-sharing agreement between former foes has always been tense. Now, however, the uneasy peace has been complicated by Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in February, which many here worry could prompt the Serbian Republic to follow suit, tipping the region into a conflict that could fast turn deadly.

“It’s time to pay attention to Bosnia again, if we don’t want things to get nasty very quickly,” Richard C. Holbrooke, the Clinton administration official who brokered the Dayton accord, and Paddy Ashdown, formerly the West’s top diplomat in Bosnia, warned recently in an open letter published in several newspapers. “By now, the entire world knows the price of that.”

The Times continues to note:

Sketching a worst-case example, Srecko Latal, a Bosnia specialist at the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Sarajevo, warned that if the Serbian Republic declared independence, Croatia would respond by sending in troops, while the Bosnian Muslims would take up arms. If Banja Luka, the capital of the Serbian Republic, were to fall, he continued, Serbia would be provoked into entering the fray, leading to the prospect of a regional war.

“For the first time in years, people are talking about war,” Mr. Latal said. “They are tired of it, and they don’t want it. But it is not beyond the realm of possibility.”

Very disturbing. And again, one has to take note of the potential consequences of Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence. As noted in previous posts, I believe that the United States acted imprudently in recognizing Kosovo.

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Welcome! Who am I?



Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.