The Threat Of A Bosnian Breakup Should Be A Wakeup Call For The West

Warning lights have started flashing in the Balkans in recent weeks as the threat of a Bosnia-Herzegovina breakup becomes more pronounced. When the Dayton Accords were signed in 1995, it brought an end to the 1992-95 Bosnian War, one of the Yugoslav Wars. Bosnia was divided largely along ethnic lines with a government that was defined by its weak centralized role. The Serb-run Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-majority Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina are the two main political power blocs. Bosnian Croats have been pushing for their own political entity, but creating that would splinter the country even more and perhaps fatally weaken the already unsteady government.

The Dayton Accords created the Office of High Representative, a post intended to oversee implementation of the accords in Bosnia. Christian Schmidt of Germany will be taking over the position this summer. His primary mission is to continue Bosnia-Herzegovina’s journey towards becoming a fully functioning nation-state. This will not be an easy task to accomplish. Schmidt will come to the Balkans at a time when the ethnic and territorial problems of the past are simmering once again, fueled by factors such as Russian interference in Bosnia and the publication of an authorless Balkan non-paper. The controversial document appears to champion a permanent breakup of Bosnia and realignment of the region around three new entities should efforts to integrate Bosnia into the European Union fail. The new entities would include the following: a Greater Albania, Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia.

The problem with Bosnia-Herzegovina right now stems directly from the Dayton Accords in 1995. The peace agreement did not provide permanent solutions to the root problems that sent Bosnia into a tailspin in the early ‘90s. Instead, it froze these problems and cast them aside with the intent that Bosnia would become a nation-state in its own right at some point in the foreseeable future. Then the root problems could be dealt with once and for all. Unfortunately, the hopes and timelines that came to life at Wright-Patterson AFB in December of 1995 have not been met.

Now the problems that have been frozen for just over twenty-five years are beginning to thaw, and this fact is beginning to cause real concern in European capitals.



Emmanuel Macron’s veto on negotiations regarding North Macedonia’s path to EU membership has undermined the position of the European Union in the Balkans. The EU has in effect turned its back on the Balkan states, regarding it as little more than an insignificant backwater. Unfortunately for Brussels, the nation-states in this region are not going to wallow in self-pity, awaiting a day in the future when a new opportunity for EU membership presents itself. The EU has failed to grasp the consequences of Macron’s ill-advised veto. It has created a vacuum that could be filled by one of the EU’s main rivals, Russia and China.

Chinese influence and financial investment is on the rise in the Balkans. Beijing offers capital for infrastructure improvements, and large-scale national projects. Russia’s influence comes from its dominant position in Eastern Europe’s energy sector and markets, as well as its cultural ties to the area. The EU withdrawal will only embolden Chinese and Russian efforts. The offers being presented by them also come with fewer strings attached then does EU membership. Unless this changes, it will only be a matter of time before the nations of the region gravitate away from the pro-Western, democratic foundations created in the post-Yugoslavia political order since 1999.

There’s little prospect of the EU changing course. Enlargement is no longer a priority for the supra-national body. The fortunes, and aspirations of the nations seeking membership no longer matter as much as they once did. In its own view, the EU already has enough on its plate to contend with and the Balkans can wait. Hence the reason why there wasn’t more resistance to Macron’s veto.

This short-sighted view could come back to haunt Brussels in the future. Whether the EU chooses to recognize it or not, the balance of power in Europe is shifting eastward. The sixteen year old warnings by Donald Rumsfeld about the Old and New Europes are coming to fruition. As it stands now, the EU appears to be unapologetically ensconced in the old ways of the old Europe.

Thursday 13 September, 2018 Update: Mattis to Visit Macedonia Amid Concerns About Russian ‘Mischief.’


US Secretary of Defense James Mattis will travel to Macedonia this weekend as Macedonians prepare to vote on a referendum at the end of the month. If passed, it would change the name of the country from Macedonia to the Republic of Northern Macedonia, and open the door to EU and NATO membership for the Balkan nation. Macedonia, and Greece have been locked in a dispute over the former’s name for decades. In June, the two nations reached an agreement to settle the matter. The referendum set for 30 September will determine if Macedonian voters will support the measure or not. Mattis is the latest US official to visit Macedonia. A number of politicians and government officials from the US, and European nations have been visited in recent weeks, encouraging Macedonians to approve the referendum. Nationalists in Macedonia and Greece have bitterly opposed the name change. Last weekend riots broke out in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki as nationalist groups gathered there and demonstrated.

Mattis is concerned about ‘the kind of mischief that Russia has practiced from Estonia to the United States, from Ukraine and now to Macedonia.’ Russia is less than pleased about Macedonia’s pivot to the West, viewing the referendum as an attempt by NATO and the US to interfere in an area that has traditionally been in the Russian sphere of influence. Over the summer, Greece expelled two Russian diplomats after accusing them of bribing an unnamed official to undermine the deal that was agreed to between Skopje and Athens. Russia’s ambassador in Macedonia has recently warned that the country could become a legitimate target if relations between the NATO and Russia do not improve. In July, Macedonia was formally invited to begin the process towards NATO membership. Moscow has opposed the move and this opposition has helped bring about concerns of Soviet mischief aimed at influencing voters in the days leading up to the referendum.