After more than four months of blocking the functioning of Bosnia's state-level institutions, Bosnian Serb politicians have now upped the ante. On December 10th, the Republika Srpska assembly held a special session that effectively set in motion of the process of secession. The assembly adopted measures aimed at stripping the power of the Bosnian state and paving the way for establishing parallel institutions in justice, defense, security, and taxation. This, by definition, represents an assault on the country's sovereignty.
In procedural terms, the assembly tasked the Republika Srpska government with drafting legislation towards achieving these objectives within the next six months.
Dodik aims to return to the ‘original Dayton’
The roadmap to secession has at four interesting twists. First, Dodik is making the pronouncements on establishing parallel institutions but framing his policy as a return to an 'original Dayton.' This phrase means that he is trying to dismantle the institution-building in post-war Bosnia and bring the country back to 1995.
Second, he is talking about peace while effectively undermining it. In pursuing this PR move, he laid a trap for Bosniak politicians. While he is taking steps towards further undermining the state, Bosniak politicians who are talking about preserving the country's territorial integrity with all available means are being painted as warmongers.
Third, while Dodik is leading the process of undermining state sovereignty, he is transferring official decision-making to the Republika Srpska assembly and the entity-level government. This collective-decision making is supposed to provide the pretense of 'legitimacy' and is also placing the entity-level institutions on the record as officially inaugurating the process of secession.
International reactions are critical
Fourth, there is a six-month time period set for the adoption of new legislation. Observers are pondering what this means. There are two possible explanations. It could be that this is bargaining leverage for the Bosnian Serb leader to attempt to extract concessions from the E.U. In other words, the E.U. officials may resort to pressuring Sarajevo to offer concessions in exchange for the Bosnian Serb leader to abstain from further steps.
Another explanation is that Dodik is testing the waters and weighing Sarajevo's, American and the E.U. reactions. If the reactions from Washington and Brussels are lukewarm in the weeks ahead, it is likely that he will proceed with steps towards effective secession.
A frozen conflict or a secession
If, for some reason, he decides to put secession on hold for now, the Bosnian Serb leader would still be turning Bosnia into a frozen conflict. By undermining the state-level institutions and building up Republika Srpska, Dodik is seeking to show that the Bosnian state is dysfunctional. By blocking its functioning, he is turning the country's politics into a perpetual stalemate. In other words, as things currently stand, the choice moving forward is between the bad and the worse: A frozen conflict or a secession.
Turning Bosnia into a frozen conflict allows Dodik to dictate the political dynamics in the country. Now that the viability of Bosnia's E.U. membership has receded and is unlikely to materialize for at least a decade, the stalemate further hampers the country's objective of joining NATO.
Whereas Bosnia Serb politicians supported the country's NATO integration a decade ago, this has markedly changed. Now, public opposition to NATO defines the attitude of Bosnian Serb leaders.
Dodik is also seeking to turn Bosnia into an unviable candidate for NATO membership. Bosnian Serbs can rely on Serbia which is currently militarily neutral but is building up its capabilities. Bosnian Croats can rely on Croatia which is a NATO member state.
This effectively means that turning Bosnia into a frozen conflict blocks Bosnia's accession to NATO and leaves the Bosniak population -the key champions of membership in the Alliance- out in the cold.