Bosnia’s NATO Hopes ‘Depend on Serbia’

Bosnia and Herzegovina can only join NATO once neighbouring Serbia has made up its own mind about the alliance, a conference organized by the Atlantic Initiative heard in Sarajevo.

By Elvira M. Jukic

Bosnia’s path to NATO membership is complicated by neighbouring Serbia’s unclear attitude towards the alliance, a conference held on March 25 in Sarajevo by the Atlantic Initiative heard.

The head of the Atlantic Initiative, Nerzuk Curak, said that considering the security issues raised by the Ukrainian crisis, the issue of NATO membership has emerged as a key foreign political question.

But Bosnia’s membership depends “first of all on whether NATO wants to receive a country in which the process of making decisions is highly questionable and, on the other side, we are limited by Serbia’s behaviour”, Curak said.

Curak noted that while Serbia wished to join the European Union as soon as possible, it was far from clear whether it wished to join NATO.

“If Serbia does not decide to join the NATO then the odds for Bosnia and Herzegovina in that sense are lowered,” he said.

“That is because the decision-making process in BiH is that [the two] entities are the key, and the Republika Srpska entity, I believe, will follow whatever the leadership of Serbia decides,” he added.

Jelena Milic, from the Belgrade Center of Euro-Atlantic Studies, noted that Serbia lacked a clear policy on joining NATO.

“Serbia is officially military neutral, and currently in the phase of obtaining an individual membership plan – and that is the maximum that Serbia will do with NATO in the coming period,” she predicted.

“The issue of NATO membership is an issue where we have to bring a political decision, which the citizens make… not just having cooperation through a ‘small door’ via cooperation with [NATO and] the [Serbian] defence ministry,” Milic added.

She said many people in Serbia remained opposed to the alliance and did not understand why NATO attacked Serbia over the crisis in Kosovo in 1999.

“The 15th anniversary [of the start of NATO’s air campaign] was marked yesterday,” she recalled.

“Unfortunately, one could hear all possible reasons for why NATO acted except for the main one – which was the impossibility of preventing in any other way the misdeeds committed by the Milosevic regime from 1998 to 1999 in Kosovo.”

While experts say Bosnia and Herzegovina will have to wait for Serbia to make up its mind, other former Yugoslav republics and countries in the region have not hesitated when it comes to joining NATO.

Slovenia joined the alliance back in 2004. Croatia has been a member of NATO since 2009, as has Albania.

Both Montenegro and Macedonia are actively pursuing membership, although Macedonia’s ambitions are blocked by its its ongoing dispute with NATO-member Greece over its name.(BIRN)