Crafting an independent foreign policy for Bosnia

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The geopolitics of Bosnia Hercegovina, together with its reliance on factors outside its borders, makes Bosnia’s internal policies hostage to external forces. Most states can avoid the necessity of constantly evaluating their every minuscule internal policy against its foreign relations. However, this is not the case with Bosnia because two of its main religious groups, the Catholics (Croats) and Orthodox Christians (Serbs), see their destiny tied to Croatia and Serbia respectively. To transform this internal political culture, Bosniaks (Muslims) must develop a socio-political program that would make its Orthodox and Catholic populations interested in sustaining Bosnia as a multi-confessional state (see Crescent International, November 2010: Islamic revival in Bosnia: a closer look). However, until such a program is designed, a calculated foreign policy remains a strategic dilemma for Bosnian Muslims, who make up about 65% of the population and are the main party interested in maintaining Bosnia as a unified state.

The primary dilemma of a unified Bosnia that must be taken into account is the fact that most of its neighbors do not wish to see Muslims exercising any significant power in the country and, therefore, in Europe. This reality must compose the primary principles of a calculated Bosnian foreign policy. The EU, the US, the separatists within Bosnia, and their backers outside of Bosnia, want to impose a political framework that would contain and degrade Muslim power in Bosnia on all levels. Once this phenomenon is understood, policies can be developed on a case-by-case basis depending on the internal and external situations affecting Bosnia. However, certain general objectives and policies must be upheld and pursued under all circumstances.

The current prevailing reality prevents Muslims from becoming the guiding force behind any key foreign policy issues relating to Bosnia. Their attempt to become dominant at this stage would not yield the desired results. Therefore, Bosnian Muslims must construct a foreign policy that would turn them into kingmakers (or spoilers, if necessary) in any strategic decision relating to Bosnia at both the international as well as domestic levels. The best way to achieve this status is to develop multifaceted leverages that would force all actors involved in Bosnian politics to realize that all of their so-called achievements in Bosnia can be severely damaged if the interests of Bosnian Muslims are not taken into account.

The way to master such skills and policies is to outperform the separatist groups of Catholics and Orthodox Christians in the socio-political and economic fields and to satisfy the needs of the Catholic and Orthodox populations of Bosnia in the best possible way, but without compromising Bosnia’s sovereignty. This of course requires wise, just, and muttaqi leadership that must emerge during the ongoing struggle in Bosnia, or as some might call it, the trial-and-error phase. The revival of Turkey under the leadership of the AKP is a major asset that Bosnian Muslims can utilize in developing comprehensive leverages against those who are opposed to a stable and unified Bosnia.

The delicate geopolitical situation in Bosnia makes it unrealistic to gear Bosnian foreign policy toward the East or West. Instead of going eastward, Bosniaks must bring the East to the West. Enhancing Turkey’s role and granting it a reasonable platform in Bosnia would serve as a strong leverage against Western hegemony and internal separatism. The West has always viewed Turkish presence in the Balkans as something to be resisted. Turkey’s return to its Islamic roots and its revival under the AKP, along with its potentially increased presence in the Balkans, would make the West more receptive to Bosnian demands.

Another key issue that the Bosniaks can utilize in their quest to formulate a sound foreign policy would be their ability to influence Turkish-Russian energy cooperation. Russia is desperate to secure an energy monopoly over the European Union. Russia would apply pressure on Serbian nationalists to rein in their separatist demands, if the prize is a Turkish-Russian energy corridor to the EU, which would eliminate potential competition to Russia in the EU’s energy markets.

While there are several specific alternatives for the formulation of a vibrant foreign policy that would increase the power of the Bosniaks, the key factor is to get Turkey interested in Bosnia at a strategic level. Cultural, historical, and religious ties between Turkey and the majority of the Bosnian population create a sound atmosphere for Turkey to reassert its role in the Balkans. However, Bosnian-Turkish relations must not be chauvinistic. The Orthodox and Catholics of Bosnia must taste the political and economic fruits of Turkish-Bosnian relations in order for Ankara to be able to play a constructive role in Bosnia. At times, Turkey would have to economically favor the Serbs and Croats over the Muslims. The distribution of trophies by the Prophet (pbuh) after the Battle of Hunayn favored the Makkans over the Ansar and the Muhajirun. Perhaps Bosnian and Turkish leadership can derive an important lesson from this episode of Prophet’s (pbuh) Sirah.

There is no single clear cut answer to how Bosnia can develop a sustainable foreign policy strategy. Issues have to be assessed and addressed based on their relevance but they must be geared toward restraining foreign interference and making sure that all segments of society benefit from Bosnia’s foreign relations. In Lebanon, Hizbullah’s relations with Iran benefit Lebanese of all religious persuasions. However, one can never please each and every person all the time.

Hizbullah’s social services provide assistance to the Palestinians, Muslims, Christians and Druze. Hizbullah does not object to an increased economic role for regional governments even with a clear anti-Hizbullah agenda if their economic participation improves the lives of Lebanese citizens. Similarly Bosnians should not object to Croatian and Serbian economic involvement, if their participation improves the lives of Bosnian citizens.

Islamic jurisprudence and history provide wide-ranging policy tools for constructing progressive and sustainable relations with various entities. The Bosniaks must stop looking to Harvard or Brussels for guidance and instead focus on utilising Islamic principles of foreign relations. However, to do this Bosnian Muslims must develop strong Islamically-committed organizational foundations within their own constituency. Without a solid internal base one cannot construct firm external relations.

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