Bosnia-Herzegovina has taken over the presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), sparking concerns that the country’s complicated and indeed paralyzed political situation will have negative consequences on the world body, and at home.
Expectedly, Bosnia’s politicians have provided assurances that their own ethno-political conflicts will not keep them from being effective in the UNSC presidency, a position that will require Bosnia to deal with a number of global issues.
Bosnia held general elections in October 2010, and is not expected to have a new government in place before February – and even then, the new government looks set to be riddled with more entrenched ethnic animosities and political stalemates than ever before.
Furthermore, Bosnia has a very clearly demonstrated tendency to fail to present a unified voice on international institutions.
This will be a missed opportunity for Bosnia, which could have used the UNSC presidency to demonstrate to the international community its political will to move forward. The only saving grace for Bosnia will be that January will be a relatively slow month for the UNSC, aside from a major referendum deciding the fate of South Sudan.
In terms of foreign policy, it can be said, for the most part, that Bosnia has none – at least not specifically, as accepted ethnic-based disunity sends the country into diplomatic relations that are designed to further the interests of separate ethnic groups rather than the state as a whole.
Bosnian foreign policy and international relations rely primarily on ethnic concepts as a reflection of an ethnic-run state; as a result, in terms of foreign policy, Bosnia and Herzegovina lacks a coherent strategy, coordinated diplomacy and qualified personnel.
All Bosnian foreign policy achievements since the end of the war have been accomplished by the international community, in general, and the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and the US Embassy in particular – both of whom have been the frequent initiators and supervisors of the country’s post-war reforms.
In accordance with the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, foreign policy falls under the jurisdiction of the state, as opposed to the country’s two ethnic-based entities (the Bosnian Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and the Bosniak- and Bosnian Croat-dominated Federation). Foreign policy decisions as well as diplomacy measures, such as the appointment of ambassadors, are made by the rotating, tripartite presidency, always composed of one representative from each ethnic group.
In order to see any decision through to its final phase, all three members of the presidency must agree – and it’s a process that so far appears to be virtually impossible. In almost all cases, at least one member of the presidency will perceive his ethnic interests to be in threat of violation.
As such, the Bosnian presidency has to date only managed to come to a consensus on two key issues: giving full support to the country’s NATO membership and working toward integration into the EU.
The disunity among Bosnian officials and the lack of a coherent foreign policy was highlighted in early 2009 by how the country reacted to the Israeli offensive against Gaza. Bosnian State Foreign Ministry, led by a Bosnian Jew, Sven Alkalaj, urged Israel to urgently stop the attacks on Gaza, saying the matter could only be resolved through negotiations and peaceful means.
Hundreds of people in towns and cities in the parts of Bosnia where Bosniaks are the majority held peaceful demonstrations in support of Palestinian civilians.
At the same time, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Dodik sent a letter of support to Israeli President Shimon Peres, expressing his understanding of Israel’s position and offering full support to the Israel effort to “ensure security and peace” for the Israeli people. Dodik also stated in his letter that Republika Srpska did not support the anti- Israeli demonstrations and gatherings organized in the “other” Bosnian entity.