Is the US Preparing for the “NATOization” of Bosnia?

By Conor Gallagher

As the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to deteriorate, it’s looking increasingly likely that NATO forces will return to the country as Washington’s answer to a problem it has created.

Questions over the integrity of the October 2 election are ratcheting up tensions in the ethnically-divided country. On top of that, US-backed changes to future elections were announced the day after polls closed, drawing widespread criticism from within the country.

The turmoil comes at a time when a bill is making its way through the US Congress that would lock in support for Bosnian “Euro-Atlantic integration,” and a real possibility exists that NATO troops could return to Bosnia in the coming months due to disagreements between Washington and Moscow over the mandate for European Union forces to remain in the country.

Election Changes

Just after polls closed on October 2 and as votes were still being counted, the High Representative for Bosnia, Christian Schmidt, imposed changes to the country’s election law and constitution. Here’s Euronews on the changes:

Schmidt introduced a series of changes, with the most significant revolving around the number of delegates. They have been upped from 58 to 80.

According to his decision, the new entity-level House of Peoples will now comprise 23 Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats each, along with 11 Others.

The increase in seats now allows Others to select a representative from each canton, which was not the case earlier.

However, the way the delegates are elected from cantonal assemblies has consolidated the three ethnic groups and their representatives and strengthened their power.

The 1995 Dayton Agreement that ended the fighting in what was formerly Yugoslavia divided the country into two highly independent governing entities: the Serbian-dominated Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is shared by Bosniaks and Croats.

The system has been wildly dysfunctional, but most observers inside and outside of Bosnia believe Schmidt’s plan, which was backed by the US and UK but not the EU, will only make matters much worse.

Here is Just Security on the changes:

The essence of the move – and its apparent motivation – remain the same: to appease a single ethnonationalist party – the BiH branch of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), the hardline wartime political party that again has controlled neighboring Croatia in recent years and has agitated for this change for years as a singular foreign policy goal.

Schmidt’s action not only represents a retreat from American policy to promote greater integration in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). It also demonstrates a continuity in U.S. policy toward the Balkans from the avowedly amoral and transactional approach of the Trump administration. Bosnia’s vibrant and progressive civil society leaders, who have pressed for a BiH constitutional system fully inclusive of people who don’t identify with one of the three ethnonationalist groups, view Schmidt’s order, correctly, as a betrayal of U.S. support for ensuring individual rights (including as ordered in numerous European Court of Human Rights rulings). Instead, it cements the oligarchic status quo enshrined in the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the war of the 1990s but has gripped BiH in dysfunction for most of the time since then.

Schmidt’s order and the way it was developed and rolled out also shows that, far from the theme of transatlantic unity of purpose that U.S. President Joe Biden had touted with his “America is back” message to allies, the real message to Europe in Bosnia is “America calls the shots.”

To make matters worse, Schmidt’s plan was not shared in advance with the other members of the international Peace Implementation Council, which oversees the Office of the High Representative.

More from Just Security:

The U.S. support of the Schmidt order is apparently led by mid-level rungs in the State Department pushing him to impose a package against the will of all EU PIC Steering Board members (with only Croatian support) and against his own German government’s position.


Who Is Christian Schmidt?

Schmidt, a German, has been High Representative since August of 2021. Prior to assuming the post, he was most well-known for when as Agriculture Minister in 2017 he went against the wishes of the German government and voted in Brussels to extend the EU’s use of the likely cancer-causing herbicide glyphosate for another five years.

The Dayton Accords created the Office of the High Representative, a body financed by the international community with a mandate to enforce the civilian aspects of the peace agreement.

Schmidt also served as Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Defense from 2005 to 2013 where he handled international outreach to the US, UK, Israel, and Croatia among others.

Schmidt took over as High Representative last year despite not being approved by Russia and the fact that according to the 1995 Dayton Agreement, the UN Security Council must approve each new High Representative for Bosnia. The US and EU simply ignored Russia and installed Schmidt anyways.

His election changes and the petulant manner he responds to anyone who questions his decisions has not endeared him to Bosnians.



By Schmidt’s standards he’s doing a great job, as he told a Croatian news outlet that Emperor Franz Joseph I once said: “I was a good ruler if all my people were equally dissatisfied.”

Are Schmidt and Washington’s actions just a lethal mixture of hubris and incompetence that will make a bad situation worse? Or are they preparing the ground for NATO forces to return to Bosnia?


NATO Forces on the Horizon

Roughly 50,000 NATO forces were first deployed to Bosnia in 1996, to enforce the truce that ended the 1992-95 civil war between the country’s Serbs, Muslims, and Croats.

The EU took over in 2004 and its EUFOR mission has been there ever since, but its presence is looking increasingly fragile.

The announcement that 50 German troops will return the mission for the first time in ten years has drawn criticism. The stated reason for the small number of troops is fear of Russian “meddling,” but the return of German troops is highly symbolic for Serbs in Bosnia.

Bosnian-Serb separtist leader Milorad Dodik alludes to to World War II, during which Germany killed thousands of civilians in Serbia, and says German troops are not welcome.

Additionally, Croatia is lobbying to join the EUFOR mission. Here’s Bosnia’s foreign minister on the prospect of that occurring:

The return of German troops and potential addition of Croatia to EUFOR is discrediting the mission just as its mandate is scheduled to end in November. Any extension would need to be approved by the UN Security Council, where Russia has a veto.

Due to the fact that the US is not agreement-capable and already ignored the Dayton Agreement to install Schmidt, it likely matters little whether Moscow approves of an extension of the EUFOR mission.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly mentioned Bosnia as a country that needs “shoring-up” of its security. And arguments for NATO to “stabilize”  Bosnia are popping up as Dodik renews his threats to secede. Most follow the line of thinking presented in this War on the Rocks article:

Recognizing that the structural factors that gave rise to Dodik’s secessionist moves are still present, the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom should take immediate action to transform this frozen conflict. Russia’s war in Ukraine has made sending NATO troops to Bosnia and Herzegovina vital for maintaining a safe and secure environment in the Balkans.


Dodik is friendly with Russia and has drawn the ire of the west, including US sanctions. The current election recount in Bosnia is focused on Republika Srpska where Dodik was again supported overwhelmingly.

Some are arguing NATO already has the authorization to deploy its forces to Bosnia under the Dayton Accords and reports in Bosnia are that the decision has already been made.

Additionally a bill is making its way through the US Congress (HR 8453) that is all about getting the Russians out of Bosnia and the Americans in. The bill states that it is US policy to:

  • support progress towards Euro-Atlantic integration; use sanctions against those who undermine the Dayton Peace Agreement and Bosnian democracy;
  • Expose Russia’s role in fueling instability in Bosnia and imperiling the Office of the High Representative and EU peacekeeping presence in Bosnia
  • Mandates sanctions on foreign persons who undermine the Dayton Peace Agreement or otherwise threaten the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Requires regular reporting to establish strong Congressional oversight over the Administration’s use of sanctions to hold accountable internal and external actors undermining stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina

And despite all these issues in Bosnia, its EU candidacy got a minor lifeline on October 12 when the EU Commission advised member states to grant it candidate status.

“It is in the EU’s strategic interest and essential to their own stability and prosperity that all six Western Balkan states get into the EU as fast as possible,” enlargement commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said.


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  1. The Rev Kev

    ‘Just after polls closed on October 2 and as votes were still being counted, the High Representative for Bosnia, Christian Schmidt, imposed changes to the country’s election law and constitution.’

    I don’t think that election laws are suppose to be run by Calvinball rules. What country allows that to happen anyway? Certainly the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina know what Schmidt is all about and that their country is being run by the EU/NATO for their own benefit. Of course too this is all a result of NATO doing a smash-and-grab operation on Yugoslavia decades ago so if these problems have not sorted themselves out after a whole generation has gone by, then no amount of NATO troops will be able to sort the place out. And you wonder how long NATO could keep up a mission there as all the countries in NATO face severe stresses courtesy of their war with Russia.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Would you believe that way back in 1888, that Otto von Bismarck is on record as saying ‘One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.’
        He was correct once but I hope not twice.

            1. ambrit

              There’s nothing ‘odd’ at all about some Balkan Crisis starting more general conflagrations. I’ll bet even Erdogan has designs on Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia Herzegovina, plus perhaps parts of North Macedonia. That could get ugly fast.
              Nevil Shute has WW-3 break out in Albania in the book “On The Beach.”
              There was quite a bit of Apocalyptic ideation evident in the literary output of the 1950’s.

        1. fairleft

          Because the Ottoman Empire was receding, the Balkans were where European empires competed for influence and expansion. So it wasn’t anything peculiar about the region, just that it was a big area in Europe where a vacuum had developed.

          More concerning for the present day is that both WW1 imperial alliances about to start the war severely over-estimated their own military strength and under-estimated the other side.

          I’m pretty sure military experts in the West don’t underestimate current Russian military power, but can’t say the same about influential political leaders. A lot of them probably believe the ‘Russia failing’ political propaganda put out for the masses and not intended for them.

    1. paul

      Get real Kev,

      They’re just voters

      It’s amazing what you can do with them

      There is hope

      and they seem to totally* do

      *like they’re on top of it already without you bringing them down, to something or other

    2. Luc Verbeurgt

      All European countries should unite, form their own European army with their own military industry and get rid of NATO. NATO is a US tool to dominate and devide Europe.

  2. spud

    it will take at least the rest of this century, millions of lives, and trillions of dollars to reverse and fix the policies of blowback billy clinton.

      1. JBird4049

        >>>Not going to happen…

        Well, what was World Wars One and Two, plus the Cold War, but failures to deal with the past mistakes of not dealing with the slow collapse of the Concert of Europe with a its growing European instability? The Great Powers insisted on trying to freeze everything in place unless a change helped their individual position of power and influence increase. That created the conditions for the collapse into world war. Many people were more concerned about either political payback, expanding or destroying empires, and their careers. That was exacerbated by politicians stirring up strife and nationalism in the collapsing empires with occasional massacres and genocides. Then World War Two… The Cold War… and Neoliberalism triumphing. And now, the possible collapse of neoliberalism and the American Empire along with Europe.

        The costs to fix the system might ever not be paid, but the costs of having a broken system is always paid.

    1. jsn

      I suggest Diana Johnstone’s “Fools Crusade”.

      Yugoslavia was where the Blob, or Straussians if you prefer, beta tested the new, post “Color Revolution” “Regime Change” mechanism it’s/they’re now trying out on Moscow and Beijing in Prime Time.

      The current bit in the Balkans looks like some chickens coming home to roost.

    2. Scylla

      Everyone should watch The Weight Of Chains documentary on Youtube. Easily the best primer there is on the destruction of Yugoslavia, scapegoating the Serbs, and manipulation of the other ethnic populations. You will be enraged before the film is over.

  3. Dave in Austin

    “Today the Dean of Students announced that next year’s Inter-fraternity Council election will require that at least ten seats be allocated to students with non-traditional sexuality”.

    After three months of speculative articles about the upcoming October 2nd Bosnian election, the NYT and WP gave us essentially no report on what actually happened. Luckily Wikipedia exists. By pure coincidence I looked at it on the subject this morning. The article includes the vote totals by party and what the parties stand for. Plus you can track the totals over the past 15 years’ elections and see the trends. Look at:

    My very short and imprecise take is that over the past 15 years the trend has been for the original “radical nationalist” Croat and Serb parties to be slowly overtaken by more moderate parties- who have have in response to the reality on-the-ground become as nationalist and separatist as the original crazies they are replacing. The new electoral winners don’t like bloodshed and have better haircuts and better suits. They look like US Congress members, not like angry Congressional witnesses.

    The result is the same. There is no Dayton Accord peace. There never was. The three sides rule their own areas. The Muslims tend to have a less contiguous nation. The three parties don’t like each other but the smugglers happily cooperate.

    There are a number of creative things which could be done to incrementally improve the situation. But they will not happen because that would require the US, the EU, NATO and the other outside parties to admit the obvious; Dayton is dead and was buried 15 years ago. The good news is that the local politicos on the ground seems to be as sensible as only elected realists can be. This is northern Ireland- which gives me some hope for the future. But it reinforces my belief that the so-called “legitimate press” in the US is totally bankrupt and useless. Not one bit of actual reporting on the results from any of them.

    1. dandyandy

      Dayton was a still born anyway. It was only enforced to stop the then war and keep the warring sides in Bosnia inside the same strait jacket.

      Destruction of Yugoslavia went along happily to start with; Slovenia was/is ethnically pure so no issues there. Croatia had a lot of native Serbs but their issue was happily resolved with some NATO assisted ethnical cleansing. But in Bosnia, the correct ethnic cleansing would have been too big an opearation so a simple lid was put over it.

      The inter-ethnic (C M S) hatred was simmering and growing for the last 27 years and for the sake of all poor CMS Bosnians stuck in the middle one can just hope they miss out on the massive destruction and killing that defines the modern NATO peace keeping operations.

  4. David

    Well, Betteridge’s Law strikes again, I’m afraid, and the answer is “no.” The article doesn’t give me any reason to think otherwise .

    A bit of history. The 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement was a tactical device to turn a war that nobody could win into a peace from which the factional leaders and organised crime could profit from. The structure was wrong from the start, because it tried to create a unitary “multi-ethnic” state out of a territory where the majority of the inhabitants wanted to be citizens of other countries. The essential conflict was between the Muslims, the traditional post-colonial elite, better educated, often urbanites and more sophisticated, against the Bosnian Croats and the Bosnian Serbs, who felt a kinship with their respective countries. It’s for this reason that most of the fighting in the war was between Croats and Muslims on the one hand, and Serbs and Muslims on the other. Serbs and Croats hardly ever fought each other, because their objectives were not mutually opposed. Whatever may have been the case before the war, the fighting, the atrocities by all sides and the fact that every community was a minority, hardened attitudes to the point where, after the war, politics was completely dominated by the nationalists. Various attempts to create “multi-ethnic” political parties from sophisticated English-speaking intellectuals, excited western Embassies, but got nowhere.

    The design of the new state was wrong from the start. Western pressure forced the Croats and Muslims into a Federation in 1994, even though they had been fighting each other. The purpose was to provide an artificial counter-weight to, and majority over, the Republic Srpska, although a more logical grouping would have been the Serbs and Croats together. This design error has made Bosnia ungovernable since. The problem is not a military one, but rather the failure of nearly thirty years to persuade a divided, demoralised and corrupt nation to adopt European-style neoliberal post-nationalist politics. There have only ever been two solutions to the Bosnian mess. One is to give up, walk away, and let the parties fight it out among themselves. (“Build a wall around it and sell tickets” as a European UNPROFOR officer said to me thirty years ago) This is not acceptable. The other is to use the political tradition of authoritarianism in the region to simply impose a multi-ethnic state by force, but this is not acceptable either. So the problem has no solution, but it’s worth pointing out that the kind of thing that Schmidt is talking about doing is really just a continuation of decades of fiddling with the Lego bricks of the Constitution in an attempt to find a bureaucratic solution to an intractable political problem.

    Because the US refused to commit troops, NATO played almost no role in Bosnia before 1995. After 1995, NATO was the only military command structure in Europe, and took over responsibility for the IFOR and SFOR deployments, at a time when renewed fighting was actually a possibility. But the US was an extremely reluctant participant, and Clinton only secured Congressional approval for the deployment by effectively lying, saying the deployment would be for a year only. After that year, the name of the operation was changed, to solve Clinton’s political problem. But the US military hated being in Bosnia, and went behind the backs of the political leadership to undermine the US government’s position. Peace operations didn’t fit with their “warrior” ethos. I’d be surprised if things have substantially changed now.

    1. fairleft

      The solution, which NATO has cruelly delayed but won’t prevent, has always been obvious. The Croatian region goes to Croatia, the Serbian region goes to Serbia. The Muslims, being minorities everywhere except in a few isolated towns, miss out except in Sarajevo (and one or two other cities?), where shared governance should be worked out.

      Time to rip the band-aid off.

  5. dandyandy

    Gensher and Cohl are not here to help us clarify their then strategy but unfortunately this is the outcome of wars of ethnic hatred as Yugoslavia’s dismemberment was.

    The most logical exit route would be for Croats and Serbs to go and do what they wanted for these last 27 years and join their parent countries but someone with a pay grade much higher than mine would have to figure out what to do about the Bosnian Muslims, now that they had been enriched with 27 years of jihadis from all over the place.

  6. MrBlack

    Current Bosnia elections are rigged big time. The results are being checked and the votes being re-numbered. The state elections’ agency can’t be trusted however, as they have proofs of forging but they haven’t officially raised criminal charges which is their obligation by the law.

    Hence, they are under heavy political influence.

    High representative Schmidt and Serb politician Dodik are working in collaboration which signals that Dodik is only separatist on paper; in fact he is a tool of West – a useful (but high-net worth), controllable fool if you will: they tolerate since at least 15 years massive money laundering through him, his puppets and political commies controlled by him. True, Dodik tries to flirt with Russia too (having met Putin personally a couple of times), but he has much bigger underlying connections to West (remember Madeleine Not-So-Bright once called him a fresh scent of air on Balkans) which hold him in power politically, and in life financially (through IMF/WB constant loan support). On the contrary, Russians do not have active credit lines in Bosnia; trade with Russia is next to none; they only hold insignificant investment in one local refinery which is actually a money laundry project, so their influence in Bosnia (I would argue Serbia too) is negligible.

    It is unclear why Schmidt supports Dodik, because the day after the obviously rigged elections he said that the elections had some minor issues – which in fact gives Dodik wings as he wins under minor issues: new counting brings him down. Forcing changes upon electoral law on the very election day (or day afterwards) is unprecedented anywhere in the world (regardless of the content of changes being forced upon).

    It is also unclear why Putin occasionally accepts Dodik in Kremlin (who goes there more often than, say, president of Serbia). There are some background games there being played for sure – but it is unreasonable to think that Dodik is proxy between West and Russia, it is ridiculous (it could be either Orban, or Vucic, but not Dodik).

    Dodik per se isn’t so important, but the western side which supports him secretly all these years. It seems that the ultimate goal is to cause constant immigration flux of people who are leaving the country for good, as if they are mid- to long-term preparing this area for some other peoples.

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