Foreign policy pillars of Bosnia and Herzegovina*

Mirsad Karić

Taking into consideration that the contemporary world has become quite vibrant and the geopolitical position of Bosnia and Herzegovina more or less in constant changes it is of crucial importance for Bosnia and Herzegovina to shape its foreign policy on the premises of the following pillars:

  1. Security and stability;
  2. Economic prosperity;
  3. Protection of Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens’ interest abroad and international cooperation;
  4. Promotion of Bosnia and Herzegovina abroad.

The above mentioned strategic pillars will be operationalised mainly through the process of shaping Bosnia and Herzegovina’s accession policies to the EU and NATO, Bosnia and Herzegovina determination to fight against terrorism and all types of violent extremism, its position in the region, global issues, its relations with the major powers such as USA, Russia, China as well as its participation in various international organizations.

Ensuring security and creating political stability are two main pillars for the normal functioning of any political entity in international politics. They serve as preconditions to create a conducive environment for solid political, economic and cultural development, foreign trade and bilateral and multilateral relations in various areas with other states. Bosnia and Herzegovina makes no exception to this.

One of the central questions in political science and political sociology is the relationship between the behavior of political elites and political stability, which might be defined in terms of the absence of violence, governmental longevity, the absence of structural changes and legitimacy and effectiveness of a government. In a multiethnic society such as Bosnia and Herzegovina political stability is a manifestation of political elites representing different segments of the society being able to come together and make necessary compromise and consensus for the betterment of the country. Hence, the level of political stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina corresponds and might be measured in terms of the number and type of jointly taken decisions by the local elites.

Accession to the EU has been considered as one of the main strategic goals of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In spite the fact that the process has been painfully slow due to the complex decision-making process, however, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been able to fulfill almost all conditions that have been required in order to obtain a candidate status. However, Bosnia and Herzegovina is still lagging behind in the areas of rule of law, fundamental rights, good governance, tackling corruption, economic reforms, bilateral disputes and reconciliation. Dealing with all these issues will require a policy making approach based on the strict adherence to the Common foreign and security policy principles of the EU.

According to the strategy, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s full membership to NATO is another strategic goal that is first on the list of its priorities in the coming five years. However, implementation of this goal will be quite difficult having in mind the fact that Milorad Dodik, the president of the strongest political party in RS and the current Chairman of the Presidency of BiH, has declared several times that the RS entity will not get involved in any activities to implement Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership to NATO. The RS entity parliamentary assembly has adopted a resolution proclaiming the entity’s military neutrality. This stand on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership to NATO coming from the RS entity is in accordance with the Russia’s call against militarization of European countries, including the accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to NATO. In spite the fact the being the member of NATO will bring more security, stability, rule of law, fight against terrorism and violent extremism, foreign direct investment and other benefits, nevertheless, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s road to NATO will be full of high and unpredicted hurdles to overcome.          

Decision-makers and law-makers in Bosnia and Herzegovina need to be aware of the fact that the entire political system is found on the principles of consociational power-sharing approach. This model of power-sharing has been quite famous and successful in heterogeneous societies in creating political stability and economic development. Though, one of the basic conditions for this power-sharing approach to serve its purpose is cooperative behavior among the elected political elites. Implementation of this strategy implies making various types of reforms which requires a full commitment of all government officials including the state, entity, cantonal, municipal and Brčko district level and according to their constitutional authority. Hence, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political elites must be aware of the fact that promising and successful foreign policy always begins at home.

Effective and efficient regional cooperation is another strategic goal that Bosnia and Herzegovina would like achieve in the coming five years. This will be possible only if there is a good will and sincere commitment from all sides in the Western Balkans. The commitment of Croatia and Serbia to this goal is very important for Bosnia and Herzegovina because of the long-term political, economic and cultural relations and because of the recent past whereby still at least three different understandings and interpretations of the events from the last decade of the previous century still dominate in the Western Balkans discourse. The extensive analysis of what has been achieved so far and providing a clear and coherent position of Bosnia and Herzegovina vis-à-vis some open issues with the neighbors will be among the first steps to improve regional cooperation.

Bosnia and Herzegovina will have to reconsider its bilateral and multilateral relations with other actor in international relations. Stability of the Balkan region in general and Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular since the late 19th century until today has been subject to the impact and interests of the great powers. Hence, Bosnia and Herzegovina will have to redefine its politics and improve its bilateral relations with the major actors in international politics such as USA, EU, Russia, China, Japan, OIC countries. Furthermore, rhythmic diplomacy which aspires more active role in international relations should be applied in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s multilateral relations. This implies country’s active involvement in as many international organizations as possible, its participation in all regional and important international events, its presence and presentation in international media, its usage of new technology to promote the values of Bosnia and Herzegovina and further strengthening of cultural relations with other states and regions among others.   

Economic prosperity of the country will be conditioned by the domestic political stability and the regional cooperation. Only after securing these conditions, country’s citizens might expect more of foreign direct investments (FDI), further improvement and development of the existing economic and industrial sectors and consequently higher export of the local products. Economic diplomacy which is conditioned by the extensive local reforms should play one of the crucial roles in this process. This requires at least two things, first, proper education of human resources who will be directly or indirectly involved in this process; second, creation of necessary documents for the promotion of export, FDI and the available industrial sectors. Only after this, competent decision-makers will have at their disposal all information necessary for the proper decisions to be made and executed.

According to some statistics, approximately 2 million people originating from Bosnia and Herzegovina leave abroad. This indicates that the number of immigrants originating from Bosnia and Herzegovina is approximately 53% of today’s population of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although Bosnia and Herzegovina does not have a developed and institutional policy for all-inclusive diaspora engagement, yet most migrants keep strong financial, cultural, emotional and familial connection with Bosnia and Herzegovina.1 Instead of the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs collecting and processing all data about the diaspora as it is done now, creation of the Ministry of diaspora at the state level would simplify the entire process and make it much more efficient.

As mentioned before, a huge number of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s citizens reside abroad. According to the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina abroad shall enjoy the protection of Bosnia and Herzegovina.2 This constitutional provision legalizes and legitimizes the state to create the document that will institutionalize relations with its citizens abroad and thus contribute to better cooperation with them and their protection. Diplomatic and consular missions abroad will protect the interests of citizens and provide any kind of help needed for them. The role of these missions would be to ease the life of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s citizens in general. These missions will work on improving economic relations, promote cultural heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina and initiate communication and cooperation with the diaspora and its clubs and associations. Finally and as we mentioned before, extensive analysis of the post-Dayton performance of diplomatic and consular missions abroad should be done for the sake of learning the lessons to optimize the size and number of overseas missions from the economic point of view and the number of Bosnian citizens residing in a particular foreign country and consequently improve their performance in the future.      

In conclusion, if all mentioned goals for the previous three pillars of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s foreign policy have been met it will lead to the fourth one, i.e. promotion of Bosnia and Herzegovina abroad. In return, this will bring more economic development, foreign investment and the number of those leaving the country will be significantly reduced.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Balkan Studies Centre (BSC).

*Originally written in Bosnian language within the project "Bosna i Hercegovina i Berlinski proces: Analiza stanja ključnih procesa u BiH pred Londonsku konferenciju 2018" [Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Berlin Process: Analysis of Key Processes in BiH prior to the London Conference in 2018], Balkan Studies Center (BSC). 

 


1 For an excellent study on diaspora and its role in the development of Bosnia and Herzegovina see, Diaspora and Development of Bosnia and Herzegovina (2016-2020), available at: https://bih.iom.int/sites/default/files/downloads/publications/Diaspora%20and%20Development%20of%20Bosnia%20and%20Herzegovina.pdf, accessed on June 1, 2018. See also, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Maximizing the Development Impact of Migration-Related Financial Flows and Investments to Bosnia and Herzegovina, available at: https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/iasci_bosnia_herzegovina_eng_final.pdf, accessed on June 3, 2018.
2 See Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Article 1 (7) (e).