On January 18, 2012, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) hosted a hearing titled: "The Western Balkans and the 2012 NATO Summit." ACBH commends Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Bosnia, for holding the hearing along with Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-GA) and Congressional Caucus on Bosnia members Congressman Michael Turner (R-OH), Chairman of the NATO Parliamentary Committee, and Congressman Elliot Engel (D-NY), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The participants discussed the future of NATO and the importance of the upcoming NATO Summit as well as where the countries in the region stand in regards to NATO accession. Congressman Smith has worked on Bosnian issues during his many years in Congress and noted that Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has been a prime concern of the Helsinki Commission for years. With regards to BiH membership in NATO, Congressman Smith asked the witnesses to answer: "What is the way forward for Bosnia?" In addition, Congressman Smith noted that the question of immovable military property is hindering BiH's ascension into NATO's Membership Action Plan (MAP) and asked if Republika Srpska was on the same page in regards to joining NATO, publicly and privately.
In response, Mr. Ivan Vejvoda, Vice President for Programs at the German Marshall Fund of the United States stated that he was reassured of the overall intention of Republika Srpska in his communication with Ms. Ana Trisic-Babic, Deputy Foreign Minister of BiH who also chairs the NATO Coordination Team within the BiH Council of Ministers. Mr. Vejvoda added that NATO accession is a decision agreed upon by both members of the Federation of BiH and Republika Srpska.
On the contrary, Dr. Daniel Serwer, Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins University was not as optimistic. "Milorad Dodik has made it very clear, his intention not to allow the government in Sarajevo to have the kind of powers and authority that are required of a NATO and EU member. He has talked about the possibility with independence; he has made it absolutely clear that the courts of Republika Srpska should not be in any way beholden to courts in the country as a whole. He has put forward a program of maximum autonomy and that program is not consistent with NATO and EU membership" said Dr. Serwer. In his opinion, until there is a change in the basic political framework and constitution, BiH will lag behind the other countries in the region. In order for change and progress to occur within BiH, a joint EU-U.S. effort is necessary, with EU using serious leverage. As of now, neither the U.S. nor the EU is using the kind of leverage needed to get results.
Nida Gilazis, Senior Associate, European Studies, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars raised concerns about BiH's constitution stating that it does not follow human rights and that it is undemocratic, noting the Sejdic-Finci case. She urged BiH leaders to engage more with civil society and adopt institutions that are truly democratic.
ACBH had the opportunity to thank Congressman Smith for all that he has done on behalf of BiH and Bosnian-Americans and hopes that the U.S. Congress will continue to support NATO's Open Door Policy and that BiH will take note and resolve the defense property issue before May's Summit.