A group of American senators have addressed US State Secretary Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, expressing concern for the peace and stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and demanding a more serious engagement of the US in cooperation with European partners to ensure continued peacekeeping presence in the country that is exposed to Russian influence.
“We are writing to express our concern for peace and stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The fragility of the peace established under the Dayton Peace Accords is evident and alarming. Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has emboldened actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina who have long been supported by the Kremlin and other external actors, and the risk of violence cannot be ignored. The United States must focus on maintaining peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” reads the letter signed by senators Jeanne Shaheen, Thom Tillis, Chris Murphy and Roger F. Wicker.
They recalled that the UN Security Council established the Operation Althea, the European Union Force in BiH in November 2004 as the legal successor of the NATO-led Security Force that kept the peace in the country since the end of the war.
“At the time of the handover, NATO troops numbered 7,000 and thus EUFOR began with a similar number of forces. Over the years, the number has steadily decreased, as it should if progress were made toward a lasting peace. Recent destabilizing political events in the country, however, point to a clear reversal of the situation that demands a more concerted strategic response from EU member states, the United Kingdom, and the United States on how to sufficiently source the EUFOR Althea mission,” the senators stressed.
They deem that the US should call on its European partners to step up during the EU’s force generation conference on November 10 and pledge the troops and equipment necessary to maintain the current EUFOR posture of 1,100 at a minimum.
“At this time the United States should also reexamine its support to EUFOR to determine whether more can be done, that goes beyond logistical support and training. In the last year, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has increased his rhetoric for the secession of Republika Srpska (Bosnia’s Serb-majority region) from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Tensions are high, and the risk of a small provocation triggering further destabilization and even violence is real, and the need for effective deterrence immediate,” the letter warned.
They emphasised a strong relationship between the EUFOR and NATO HQ in Sarajevo, noting that the NATO presence sends a strong signal across the country and the region.
Also, the senators stressed, the US and its NATO allies must work together to strengthen NATO HQ in Sarajevo, starting with ensuring Madrid Summit deliverables, namely the tailored support measures and Defence Capacity Building programme, are responsive to needs and well-resourced.
“Russia continues to claim the Western Balkans as within its sphere of influence, and Russian officials have issues numerous statements of support for regional actors opposed to both European integration and NATO. The United States must not turn a blind eye to these threats; we must demonstrate our commitment to European security by maintaining an effective presence in the Balkans as we continue to respond to Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine,” they underlined.
The senators urged the Biden administration to develop a strategy in coordination with the EU for how to maintain peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the event of a Russian veto of the EUFOR mandate.
“A Russian veto, possibly with support of China, is expected when the vote for renewal of the mandate comes before the Untied Nations this November. It is our view that there is a legal basis to maintain a peacekeeping presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina that does not require UN approval. While we should certainly work to ensure a seamless renewal of EUFOR’s mandate, we must prepare for a continued peacekeeping presence. Serious NATO contingency planning is critical, generating important leverage at the UN to deter a potential Russian veto and in Bosnia and Herzegovina and convey an important message to leaders in the country. Therefore, we respectfully request a briefing from the Department of Defense and State to better understand the interagency strategy to prepare for a continued US commitment to the Dayton Peace Agreement and peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the senators said.
They concluded by saying that the US has spent decades investing in peace and stability in BiH and must not let the attention to fail now.