Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, fellow speakers, and representatives of the diplomatic corps. Thank you to the organizers of this event for this opportunity to speak to you about the relationship between the United States and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Let me start by making a few observations specific to Bosnia and Herzegovina before zooming out and looking at the wider world. I will then return to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
First, I am honored to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and multiethnic character as well as to its future in the Euro-Atlantic community of nations. Second, the United States has supported Bosnia and Herzegovina for 28 years, and that support has been bipartisan, coming from Republican administrations and Democratic administrations. Finally, that support has not changed under President Biden, and it is not going to change.
As the Biden-Harris Administration’s National Security Strategy makes clear, our world is at an inflection point. Democracies and autocracies compete to show which system of government can best deliver for their citizens and the world. Major powers are competing to shape the basic laws and principles governing relations among nations.
The most pressing strategic challenge facing the world comes from authoritarian governments with a revisionist foreign policy that wage or prepare wars of aggression, undermine the democratic processes of other countries, leverage technology and supply chains for coercion and repression, and export an illiberal model of international order.
Russia poses an immediate threat to the free and open international system, recklessly flouting the basic laws of the international order, as its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine has shown. Unlike Russia, the People’s Republic of China has not only the intent to reshape the international order but, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to advance that objective.
Some parts of the world are uneasy with the competition between the United States and the world’s largest autocracies. We understand these concerns. We also want to avoid a world in which competition escalates into a world of rigid blocs. The United States does not seek conflict or a new Cold War. Rather, we are trying to support every country in exercising the freedom to make choices that serve their interests. This is a critical difference between the United States, which aims to preserve the autonomy and rights of less powerful states, and Russia and the PRC, which do not. The United States wants a free, open, prosperous, and secure international order that allows people to enjoy their basic, universal rights and freedoms, empowers all nations to continually raise the standard of living for their citizens, and that is free from aggression.
Our approach to Bosnia and Herzegovina is fully aligned with those goals. We have been proud to stand with the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina as they have chosen a future in the Euro-Atlantic community of nations and built the state institutions needed to take them there. The establishment of these judicial, financial, security, and other state institutions constituted historic achievements for this country and a major step toward delivering on the promise of a strong, democratic, and prosperous Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The United States played a leadership role in each instance, and we have worked hard and continued to invest our diplomatic and development resources into sustaining and building on these successes. As part of this enduring commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina and to its citizens, the United States has invested more than $2 billion since 1995 to support the country’s institutions as well as democratic, social, and economic progress at all levels of government. We are continuing these investments today. For example, over the last several months I have announced two major new U.S. government programs aimed at improving municipal governance in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and at attracting investment from Bosnia and Herzegovina’s diaspora to local communities around the country.
Our partnership with Bosnia and Herzegovina has produced many successes, but perhaps the greatest of these was the formation of the multi-ethnic Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Today, Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs, and Others serve with distinction – at home and abroad – in a single armed forces and provide security for Bosnia and Herzegovina and all its citizens. From supporting training for officers, to procuring vital equipment and supplies and conducting joint exercises, the United States has been the AFBiH’s closest partner over the past two decades. Earlier this year, I announced a major new investment by the United States in the Armed Forces of BiH, which underscored our enduring commitment to it. We look forward to further deepening that strategic partnership in the years to come, and we will continue to advocate for the AFBiH to receive the resources it needs to fulfill its mission.
There have been challenges and setbacks, of course. Leaders who seek to distort history, undo the achievements of the past 28 years, or control institutions to satisfy their own corrupt interests are undermining Bosnia and Herzegovina. We have been clear about our unhappiness with this behavior, and we have spoken out forcefully against it. We have also acted by investing in programs aimed at countering their malign influence, including independent journalism, civil society, and anti-corruption initiatives, such as Anti-Corruption Offices. All of these programs are designed to strengthen Bosnia and Herzegovina’s democratic forces and to check the worst excesses of anti-democratic and corrupt political actors. In other words, we are making this investment to safeguard the interests of this country’s citizens and their future in a democratic and prosperous future.
We have also acted by investing in reconciliation and seeking to heal the wounds from the past and combat efforts by some political leaders to further divide the country or exploit the events of the 1992-1995 war for their own narrow political benefit. I am personally most proud of our partnership with the Potocari Memorial Center, which reflects a personal commitment on my part to honor the victims of genocide and war crimes that began when I served here in 2006-2009 and helped establish the Bratunac Memorial site.
Finally, we have also acted by sanctioning individuals engaged in anti-Dayton, anti-democratic, or corrupt behavior. You will have noticed, I trust, that my government has reenergized the use of sanctions over the last 18 months as part of its commitment to holding bad actors accountable. Critics will claim sanctions are meaningless – even as they call on the EU to deploy them. Let me assure you, they are not. Whatever sanctioned individuals are saying in public, in private they are looking for ways to have them lifted.
Lately, we have heard claims from some quarters that the United States is not a friend and partner to Bosnia and Herzegovina, or that the United States seeks to ally with one ethnic group or political party over another. Some people have even claimed that the United States is seeking to partition this country. Nothing could be further from the truth. The record of the United States engagement in and with Bosnia and Herzegovina, a record I just outlined, makes clear that the critics are either ill-informed or ill-intentioned.
I have been humbled to see that the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina recognize the strength of our commitment and see through the cheap attempts at fear mongering designed to manipulate them. I can assure you that the United States likewise does not confuse political rhetoric with what the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina think about our relationship. And I am grateful to the leaders of the Islamic Community for reaffirming the importance of the relationship between the United States and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and for the community’s strong support for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Euro-Atlantic orientation.
There are foreign malign actors who are actively working to knock your country off its Euro-Atlantic path. They do not want stability, security, and prosperity for Bosnia and Herzegovina and its people. They want to rob the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina of their rightful future in the Euro-Atlantic community of nations. Some of these foreign malign actors work with politicians here, who want to create instability and deprive citizens of their fundamental rights. At the same time, there are politicians here who are looking to forge partnerships with foreign malign actors so they can stay in power. They justify these overtures by claiming that the United States has abandoned the people, specifically the Bosniaks, of this country. Again, nothing could be further from the truth.
Together with our likeminded allies, the United States will continue to counter foreign malign actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina and to support leaders who seek to advance your country’s Euro-Atlantic future. Just as we have for the last 28 years. We will continue to support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and its multiethnic character, and we will not just support your country’s integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions, we will work with you to help you reach that destination. We share the vision of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina that their country is part of the Euro-Atlantic community of nations, and we are proud to work alongside them to achieve that goal. I am grateful to the organizers of today’s conference for the opportunity to address you today. Thank you.