By Morton Abramowitz and Daniel Serwer
Bosnia is stuck. Its Bosniak Muslim leader, Haris Silajzic, stridently calls for abolition of the Serb entity (Republika Srpska), whose prime minister, Milorad Dodik, wants increased autonomy and threatens a referendum on independence.
By taking extreme positions, Dodik and Silajdzic polarize voters, frightening most Serbs and many Muslims into lending their support. The Dayton Constitution's ethnic veto provisions allow each to block the rival's policies. Neither has the votes needed to amend the Constitution, which ensures Republika Srpska a large measure of autonomy but also requires that the Serbs participate in the central government. Deadlock obstructs much-needed constitutional change.
Politics is "war by other means" for both leaders, with a risk that the situation could degenerate into instability and even renewed violence.
The Europeans, to whom Washington has passed responsibility for the Balkans, have been unsuccessful in using their leverage to end the bickering between Silajdzic and Dodik. It doesn't help that the EU's growing membership renders consensus-building difficult. This has contributed to the erosion of the powers and influence of the international community's "High Representative," also the EU Special Representative. A new one due to be named soon will fail unless something is done to strengthen his position.
The closest Bosnia has come to constitutional reform was an effort in 2005-6 led by the U.S. Institute of Peace. The proposed constitutional amendments came within two votes of a two-thirds majority in the Bosnian parliament, in which Silajdzic's party--despite participating in preparation of the package--voted against.
Ideally, the Bosnians themselves would undertake to amend their own constitution, which fails to measure up to European standards, according to the Council of Europe. But they are more interested in political posturing and cosmetic changes than in trying to Europeanize their government structures.
The international effort to promote constitutional reform needs to be revived, this time with European leverage and American resolve. As a start, the EU and the US should declare that the present constitutional situation in Bosnia is unacceptable and must be changed. If that produces no results, the Dayton conference should be reconvened, with all its original participants: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and its two entities (Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation) as well as the EU, UK, France, Germany and Russia. After consultations with all participants, the U.S. and the EU would prepare a draft new constitution that meets European standards.
The EU would make potential Bosnian membership contingent on agreed constitutional change. Conditional EU membership is the single greatest point of leverage for stimulating productive change in Bosnia.
Croatia, which has substantially advanced towards EU membership, can help pull Bosnia in the right direction. Serbia, which has sometimes encouraged Dodik's posturing, would be put on notice that a successful conference is a condition for its own progress towards the EU.
Such a conference could only be called if the parameters were clear: no partition of Bosnia would be permitted. Only its internal governing arrangements, specifically the ethnic veto provisions, would be at issue, with the goal of meeting the Council of Europe requirements. Other Balkan issues--in particular Kosovo--would be left aside, as at the original Dayton conference.
This Dayton II would remain in session until solutions are reached. Once the conference had concluded, the required constitutional amendments and any implementing legislation would be submitted to the Bosnian Parliament for approval. The parliaments of Republika Srpska and the Federation would also have to approve any required amendments to their constitutions.
Granted, an effort of this sort faces serious risks of failure, both at the conference itself and in the legislative moves required thereafter. But continuing to allow Bosnia to drift entails greater risks. The last war in Bosnia displaced half of its four million people and cost the Americans and Europeans tens of billions of dollars to repair.
Success of another Dayton would mean an end to the long-running international intervention in Bosnia and to the powers exercised by the High Representative. EU forces would be gradually removed. Bosnia would be on the path to EU membership, hopefully following close on the heels of Croatia, which is already a candidate. Serbia would have an opportunity to accelerate its progress towards the EU, which has been lagging. In the end, only the promise of EU accession will end the deep-seated nationalist frictions among Balkan countries.
Dayton ended a war but did not create a durable state. Fourteen years of trying to implement the Dayton agreements has not produced a Bosnia worthy of EU membership. If President Obama and EU leaders believe that "aggressive diplomacy" can be used to prevent conflict and build a state, Bosnia would be a good place to start. Its membership in the EU would a fine place to finish.