Diplomatic relations between the United States of America and Bosnia and Herzegovina were established in 1992 after Bosnia gained its independence. Following that the US played a crucial role in the peace building processes such as putting the effort in the negotiation and settling the Dayton Peace Accords. The role of the US in Bosnia did not finish with the adoption of the Dayton Peace agreement as it eventually continued to grow even stronger, and their support was quite important in the implementation of the Dayton Agreement. In the post-Dayton Bosnia and Herzegovina, the US maintains the command of the NATO headquarters on the territory of Bosnia and aims to fully anchor the country in the Euro-Atlantic institutions. Significant economic support through the foreign direct investment is coming for the US companies. It is true that since the failed Butmir talks on the package of the constructional changes from 2009, the US political influence in Bosnia has been decreasing but that does not directly imply that there is a shift in the sphere of influence. Vice President Joe Biden set a tone for the Obama Administration policy towards Bosnia. During his visit to Bosnia, he urged for abolishment of the “nationalist rhetoric” that was and still is widely present in the Bosnia´s everyday political life. Only by excluding that kind of rhetoric Bosnia will be able to move forward. The US will always support Bosnia under its Dayton framework and the US government will support Bosnia even more when it finally sees some initiatives from its political leaders were the main messages of the visit.
The new President Elect, Donald Trump, is supposed to set the policy of the US towards the Balkans and Bosnia in particular in the near future, but some assumptions can be made about it from his selection of the staff. Still there are a lot of questions that need to be raised. Will the shift of influence from the US to Russia happen? Will President Trump manage to keep the US influence in Bosnia? What will be President Trumps first move?
2. USA relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina
The relations between the two countries started in April 1992, after Bosnia gained its independence and recognition by the United States government under the administration of the George H.W. Bush. The formal establishment of diplomatic relations took place in August 1992, after an announcement from the White House. All of this lead to the establishment of the US Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Victor Jackovich was appointed as an Ambassador in 1992 who took office in the Embassy in Vienna in 1993 since the physical Embassy did not exist in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1994, Jackovich opened the US Embassy in Sarajevo.
2.1. 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Dayton Peace Accords
Even though the Bosnian war was part of most of the high level debates in the White House during this period, the President George H.W. Bush and his advisors saw the war as an European issue and considered that European Union is the one that needs to take care of it.
The Bosnian war was part of the presidential debates in the 1992 presidential race. Candidate Bill Clinton was the one that proposed the “lift and strike” policy, according to which an arms embargo that worked on the disadvantage of Bosnian Muslims and Croats was supposed be lifted and allowed airstrikes on Bosnian Serbs. This good rhetoric and plans of action ensured Clinton´s election for president. Accordingly, during the last days of the Bush Administration, the US started to cooperate with UN Ambassadors on an effective action plan for peace in Bosnia. This cooperation continued under the Clinton administration. Eventually, assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke was the one that played an important role in the peace negotiations between the three stakeholders in the war – Bosnians, Croats and Serbs.
Most parts of the Dayton peace agreement were negotiated prior the conference in the Dayton – Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBIH) was established, the entity Republika Srpska and tripartite presidency were agreed but not the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state. Therefore, the negotiations about missing parts and final decisions started on November 1, 1995. A hard-fought agreement was reached on the Dayton Air Force Base, Ohio, US on November 21, 1995. The General Framework for the Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina was officially signed in Paris on December 14, 1995.
2.2. Aftermath of the Dayton Peace Accords
The signing of the Dayton Peace Accords was not the end of the needed support and initiatives lead by the US in Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the ratification of the Dayton Peace Accords, the creators and all other stakeholders noticed some serious flaws in it, especially concerning the prosecution of war criminals such as Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić. Also, the Clinton Administration was not sure what to do with the President of Serbia Slobodan Milošević and how to shape its policy toward him.
The US peacekeeping troops withdraw from Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2004 and where eventually replaced by the EU-led forces. The US continued to support all political decisions in Bosnia and Herzegovina that are in accordance with the Dayton framework. Since 2006 and the first attempts of changing the Dayton constitution such as the Butmir talks from 2009, the political influence of the US in Bosnia declined.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Bosnia together with Baroness Catherine Ashton. Both of them underlined the US focus on coordination with the EU in regards to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s path towards the European Union.
2.3. The Future
This November, the United States elected the new president, Republican Donald Trump who is supposed to take office on January 20th, 2017. So far, Trump has not been seriously taken by anyone, but he is already appointing the members of his office and by that, he is giving the material for creating assumptions about his new policy and the first moves of his administration.
Recently, president Trump named Reince Priebus as a Chief of Staff. Due to the Greek origin and background of Priebus, an assumption is made that the center of Trump’s administration policy towards the Balkans would be Greece.
It is clear that the US will never let the NATO countries to come under the influence of Russia, which leaves Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia and FYR Macedonia on the bargain plate. This Balkan bubble in the Central Balkan is quite turbulent place with a lot of unsolved issues, especially considering the relations of Serbia and Bosnia. The relations between Serbia and Russia have always been strong and intense, which influences also Bosnia though entity of Republika Srpska. This leads to the examination of the possible relations and agreements between Trump and Putin. There are two possible scenarios:
- Gentlemen´s agreement
- The Balkans, and Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular, are staying under the American sphere of influence
Trump spoke a lot about Putin, Russia and the possibility for cooperation since their foreign policy strategies have been overlapping. Ergo, we might be able to see the gentlemen´s agreement between the two presidents about the sphere of influence in the Balkans. This agreement could only include the non NATO countries, particularly Bosnia, Serbia and FYR Macedonia. If this will be the future, than Bosnia will face many problems, especially with Republika Srpska which is keen on achieving independence. The independence of Republika Srpska and its annexation to Serbia will be a possibility, if this part of Balkans comes under the influence of Russia. All of this would just cause further instability in the region and will lead back to the politics of 90s.
In my opinion, the second option is more likely to occur. The US will not be interested in losing any of its influence and making a wrong move in the long lasting tactical influence chess match with Russia. The Balkan bubble is some kind of a demarcation line between the West and the East. Trump might have not thought this through in advance and we will probably realize his plans fully after his first move. There is higher possibility for the creation of even stronger US foreign policy towards the Balkans and its support to the full integration in the Euro-Atlantic institutions that would enable spreading of the US influence closer to the border with Russia.
It is evident that the US and Bosnia and Herzegovina have a strong and long lasting relationship. Since its independence, Bosnia is under the US sphere of influence that has allowed it to move forward after the war. Moreover, the US initiated and supported the main initiatives that were and are leading Bosnia towards the stability, prosperity and Euro-Atlantic integration. Economic investment of the US was a significant especially in the time after the war when Bosnia needed it the most. Now the US economic investments as well as the political influence are in decline. The failure of the Butmir talks led to the decline of political influence, since the US government is now expecting to see an initiative from the Bosnian politicians first and then to continue its support. Either way, the US has still showed its care for Bosnia during the Obama Administration, when Vice President Joe Biden paid a visit in 2009 and the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012.
The President Elect, Trump, will have the first say in the formulation of policy towards the Balkans and Bosnia in particular in the first half of the next year. Until then, we can only assume according to his selection of the staff how his policy might look like. There are two possible options, which include the sharing of the Balkan with Russia or strengthen the US influence and building the US sphere of influence that will have a significant impact on the possibility for putting an end on the multi polarity in the European continent.
The Balkans was a US sphere influence for a long period of time, and this part of Europe is eventually the US only change for spreading its sphere of influence directly to the Russian border. Only by keeping the Balkans the US will be able to plan a final strike on the multi polarity in the continent. Seemingly, it would be immeasurable foolish to leave the Balkans to Russians.
Enna is currently studying Social and Political Science with a minor in Psychology at the International University of Sarajevo (IUS). She enrolled at IUS in 2013 after being awarded a scholarship due to her outstanding academic performance. Next to her studies she works as a Student Demonstrator at the Department of Social and Political Science and has founded the Association of Political Science Students. She has also participated in several MUNs and has been one out of seven members of the British Embassy to Sarajevo Youth Inspirational Group.
1.U.S. Department of State, Diplomacy in action, U.S. Relations With Bosnia and Herzegovina – http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2868.htm
- U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian -https://history.state.gov/countries/bosnia-herzegovina
- U.S. Department of State, Diplomacy in action, Foreign Operations Assistance: Bosnia and Herzegovina – http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/fs/2016/261501.htm
- Steven Woehrel, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Current Issues and U.S. Policy, Congressional Research Service , 2013
- David Binder, Dr. Steven Meyer and Obrad Kesic,U.S. Policy and Bosnia-Herzegovina: An Assessment, US Institute of Peace, 2009
- U.S. policy towards Bosnia : hearing before the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, One Hundred Fourth Congress, first session, October 18, 1995 – https://archive.org/details/uspolicytowardsb101895unit
- Elaine Sciolino,THE CLINTON RECORD: Foreign Policy; Bosnia Policy Shaped by U.S. Military Role, New York Times, 1996
- U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian – https://history.state.gov/milestones/1993-2000/bosnia
- Andrew Korybko, Trump and the Balkans, Katehon, 2016