In his recent article, "As U.S. shrugs, Bosnia lurches toward disaster again," Roy Gutman tells a one-sided story.
He portrays legitimate political debate about the right structure for Bosnia-Herzegovina as a threat to stability. Gutman mis-characterizes the goals and intentions of the Republika Srpska to bolster claims that Bosnia- Herzegovina is on the brink of conflict. It does not appear that Gutman met with any Republika Srpska officials as he prepared his article.
That's unfortunate because conversations with them could have resulted in a more balanced appraisal of the current situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Contrary to many of the assertions made in the article, the government of the RS has been consistently committed to the success of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bosnia-Herzegovina's central institutions have stabilized since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords. For example, there is now one military command at the level of Bosnia-Herzegovina, one Ministry of Finance, one Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one Ministry of Defense, a single Customs Administration, and one Central Bank, to name but a few of the institutions created over the past several years.
Most recently, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik showed his commitment to Bosnia-Herzegovina's Euro-Atlantic integration by helping resolve some of the issues that are critical to NATO accession. In the week prior to the NATO Ministerial meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, Dodik voiced approval of the deployment of Bosnia-Herzegovina troops to Afghanistan, and he participated in negotiations that led to a final resolution of the disposal of excess movable military property. He remains actively engaged in talks to resolve the third and final requirement for Bosnia-Herzegovina to join the Membership Action Plan — the disposal of military property.
Leaders of the Republika Srpska are striving to preserve the balance struck in the Dayton Agreement between the autonomy of the entities and the role of Bosnia-Herzegovina's institutions. It's not self evident to them that the highly centralized model advocated by some in the international community would be functional. On the contrary, differences in political structure between the entities, e.g., the greater complexity of the Federation, its extensive bureaucracy, and the resulting differences in their economic performance, ability to attract foreign investment, suggest that a more decentralized structure would be more functional and encourage faster economic growth for Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole.
The leadership of the Republika Srpska is committed to protecting the autonomy guaranteed under the Dayton Accords, a task whose urgency is highlighted by calls from some Federation political leaders for the abolition of the Republika Srpska. It's past time for the international community to abandon the pretense of governing Bosnia-Herzegovina and turn that responsibility fully over to its democratically elected leaders. The imposition of laws or structures by foreigners is no longer a credible alternative: now is the time for the leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina to be treated as partners, representing the interests of their constituents — not as servants whose only task is to carry out the will of international organizations.
Ralph R. Johnson
U.S. Ambassador (ret.)
ABOUT THE WRITER
Former ambassador Ralph Johnson is the President of QGA International and is registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act for his representation of the Republika Srpska. In 1992, he was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Department of State's European Bureau, responsible for East and Southeast Europe. He flew with the first flight of U.S. humanitarian aid to Sarajevo, and eventually carried the message that the U.S. "recognized" the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as Croatia and Slovenia. Johnson subsequently served as Ambassador to Slovakia, and then as Principal Deputy High Representative in the Office of the High Representative in Sarajevo (1999-2001).