The meaning of Mladic’s arrest

The meaning of Mladic’s arrest

Serb authorities arrested today Ratko Mladic, former commander of the Bosnian Serb army and author of the Srebrenica massacre.  Serbia is reportedly arranging Mladic’s transfer to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague. Serbian president Boris Tadic has denied that the arrest was arranged to occur on the eve of a report from the ICTY and a visit by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. There’s long been speculation that the Serbian authorities knew where Mladic was but hesitated to seize him because of support for him in the armed forces.

Whatever the truth, the arrest is a long-delayed victory for Bosnian victims, for the international tribunal–and for the European Union, which has maintained pressure on the issue for years. That pressure waxed and waned, and it was never as intense as the tribunal would have preferred, but it was clear to Belgrade that Mladic was a key obstacle to Serbia’s EU accession. European policymakers are already signaling that this will boost the country’s prospects. "The European prospects of Serbia are now brighter than ever," said Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt.

Indeed, paired with developments in Bosnia, the Mladic arrest is the second notable victory this month for EU diplomacy in the Balkans. Last week, Catherine Ashton prevailed upon the Bosnian Serb leader to cancel a planned referendum on Bosnian Serb autonomy from the multiethnic institutions of the Bosnian state.

EU diplomacy gets plenty of grief (including in this space). But the Mladic arrest is a good reminder of what the EU does best: hold out the possibility of accession and use that carrot to induce meaningful change in candidate countries. The EU’s role in solidifying decent, stable governments in central and eastern Europe is one of its greatest accomplishments.