Bosnia and Herzegovina teeters on the brink of renewed conflict. Its post-war structures were never ideal, but the faith was that, over time, societies would heal, youth would look to the future and rationality would prevail. Bosnia, and the region, would find a new way to live together at peace.
It was in Bosnia and the Yugoslav conflicts that an entire architecture of liberalising international intervention was developed. There were targeted military strikes, international trusteeships (in all but name) and war crimes tribunals. The world, it was believed, could be made better. Critically, there was nation-building. At its worst, an error-strewn, self-perpetuating system of extending influence and funding western contractors, with scant positive impact on the ground. But at its best, transforming societies, empowering women and minorities and establishing democratic institutions – including IWPR’s role of vibrant independent media and active civil society. Empowering new voices to build hope and drive change.
Now, intractable Middle East conflicts, especially in Syria and Iraq, have demonstrated the limits of western power, influence and interest. The excruciating collapse of Afghanistan now spirals into the world’s worst humanitarian disaster – an existential failure that reduces even the most salted of international correspondents to tears.
As the Republika Srpska leadership threatens to withdraw from Bosnia's post-war constitutional structures, was the thesis of positive change wrong? With the international diplomatic landscape so fractured, isolationism strong and sharp tensions even among long-standing allies, who dares any longer to refer to the “international community”, quotation marks or no?
Bosnia needs substantial and sustained diplomatic effort, and potential penalties, to ensure that the current crisis does not escalate into violence. More broadly, it is indeed an existential moment for western engagement in international crises. After Syria, Afghanistan and now Bosnia - lessons need to be learned, but the risks of walking away are just too high.
IWPR FOUNDER & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Bosnia: The Lesson We Learned from Afghanistan
Amid mounting crisis, another armed conflict is more plausible than at any other time since the end of the 1992-95 war.
"Just like in Afghanistan, a renewed conflict would bring Bosnia back to the broken, wounded and hopeless state it was in before the international community intervened 26 years ago."
IWPR WESTERN BALKANS REGIONAL DIRECTOR
Myanmar: IWPR Asked to Help UN War Crimes Investigation
Request follows on from two-year project monitoring, reporting and analysing online hate speech.