U.S. Stands Ready to Intervene, Punish Bosnia If Nation Can't Tame Political Crisis: Envoy

The United States is ready to intervene and punish Bosnia if it can't control the political crisis evolving with its divisive nationalist leaders, the Associated Press reported.

"Our appeal to leaders [in Bosnia]...is to rise above their own self-interest and to try to keep in mind the broader interest of their country," U.S. State Department Counselor Derek Chollet said in an interview with the Associated Press.

"If leaders continue on the path toward divisiveness, disintegration, withdrawal from the central institutions, there are tools we have to punish that kind of behavior."

Chollet serves as adviser to the U.S. secretary of state and arrived in Bosnia on Monday for three days of meetings with the country's top political leaders during the nation's worst political crisis since a U.S.-brokered peace deal ended over 3 1/2 years of bloodshed in 1995.

The peace deal separated Bosnia into two regions, the Serb-run Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation. The regions are given much autonomy but remain connected by a few joint institutions, like the multi-ethnic presidency, the parliament, the army, the top judiciary and the tax administration.

Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of Bosnia's multi-ethnic presidency and leader of Republika Srpska, declared that by the end of November, the Serb region would create its own army and judiciary. Serbs have been advocating for the separation of their region for years, with the move upping the drive for it. He has support from Russia and Serbia.

Dodik also threatened to take over the Bosnian army barracks in the Serb region once the Bosnian Serb military formed. He said that if the Bosniak-Croat Federation tries to intervene, he would call his Bosnian Serb "friends."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Bosnia, U.S., Political Crisis
The United States stands ready to intervene and punish Bosnia if they're aren't able to control the political crisis. In this photo provided by the Bosnian Presidential Press Service, U.S. State Department Counselor Derek Chollet (third from right), poses with U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Eric Nelson (left), Croat member of the tripartite Presidency of Bosnia Zeljko Komsic (second from left), Muslim member of the tripartite Presidency of Bosnia Sefik Dzaferovic (third from left), Bosnian Serb member of the tripartite Presidency of Bosnia Milorad Dodik (second from right) and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar (right) in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on November 16, 2021. Bosnian Presidential Press Service vis AP

The Bosnian War started in 1992 when Belgrade-backed Bosnian Serbs tried to create ethnically pure region with the aim of joining neighboring Serbia by driving out the country's Croats and Bosniaks, who are mostly Muslim. More than 100,000 people were killed and upward of 2 million, or over half of the country's population, were driven from their homes before a peace agreement was reached in Dayton, Ohio, in November of 1995.

"We are very worried," said Chollet. "There is a lot of attention in Washington about the situation here, a lot of concerns about the trajectory that Bosnia is on and fears, first time in 26 years, (the) Dayton (peace agreement) is at its most perilous moment."

However, Chollet said the United States still believes that Bosnia "has not passed the point of no return."

"We still believe that there is chance to stop all this...and it is not just the United States, it is our partners in Europe," he added.

He said it will take work to bolster Bosnia's democratic institutions and direct the country toward a goal of eventually joining the European Union.

"There is going to be a lot of hard decisions that have to be made, but the United States is committed to do whatever we can to try to prevent the worst from happening and, more than that, try to achieve an even better outcome" by putting Bosnia "back on its path towards its Euro-Atlantic destination," he said.

Bosnia, Political Crisis, U.S.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet (second from right) with members of Bosnia and Herzegovina's tripartite presidency, Zeljko Komsic (left), Sefik Dzaferovic (second from left) and Milorad Dodik (right), before their meeting in Sarajevo on November 16, 2021. Elvic Barukcic/AFP via Getty Images