This worries me, just as it worries my colleagues, who see some disturbing parallels with the early 1990’s.
However, there are a few very significant differences between then and now, and in those differences, I take comfort.
1 – European (EU) engagement in the region is vastly more significant politically, militarily (peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo) and economically. Furthermore, the EU is much closer. Any destabilization in Bosnia today would literally take place on the EU’s doorstep.
2 – The RS doesn’t have access to one of Europe’s largest military arsenals anymore. That’s kind of significant.
3 – The leadership in Belgrade may voice support for Dodik and even travel to Banja Luka to show solidarity with Bosnian Serb leaders in their campaign of obstructionism, but Tadic and his people are smart enough to know when to step back. Moreover, the RS joining Serbia following secession from BiH is highly unlikely. Serbia as it is will have a difficult enough time meeting the preconditions for EU membership, it could kiss membership within the next decade goodbye if it absorbed the RS.
4 – Croatia is eying EU membership in the very near future, possibly before 2012, and won’t do anything to jeopardize that.
5 – The Obama Administration has made clear that it will be engaged in the Balkans. Biden’s speech in Bosnia was appropriately blunt, signaling to Bosnia’s rotted political class that they have to make Bosnia and Herzegovina work as a state, or there will be consequences. The international community will not permit a return to 1992. (Some outside commentators called Biden’s speech condescending and disrespectful — many Bosnians loved it, and say far worse things about their own leaders.)
All of that said, I’m still worried.