The Republika Srpska is currently an administrative district within Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are currently two such districts, the other being the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is formalized in the Dayton Peace Agreement, as well as their constitution, which makes Republika Srpska politically independent on many matters.

Can a political entity, which is legally part of another country, become an independent country? In particular, can Republika Srpska become independent under international law?

  • At least, it would seem to require amendment of the constitution of BiH. It would also probably be seen as undoing Dayton, in which case the High Representative would probably block it to the extent possible under the Bonn powers. This could in theory presumably result in new negotiations and a split between FBiH and RS, but that seems exceedingly unlikely in practice.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 20:05

3 Answers 3



It could either:

  1. Achieve amicable separation, like the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic (Velvet Divorce)
  2. Launch a successful war of independence (though I hope not, since it would destabilize a volatile region).

In either case, there is plenty of precedent in customary international law that the resulting state might be eventually recognized.

  • 6
    But if it's recognized, the first priority should be to send them a foreign aid shipment of vowels :-)
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 18:35
  • 1
    While amicable separation is of course a theoretical possibility, it's not a realistic one. For evidence, have a look at the map.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 20:06
  • The question (both the original, and the edited version) specifically mention international law. This doesn't seem to be reflected in your answer. Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 16:02
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    @indigochild but international law is not a legal system as some people imagine it to be. It's more of a collection of treaties. Recognition of new countries is a matter of diplomatic convention. The only formal law that matters to this question is the law of Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the Dayton agreement (which i suppose one might consider to be "international law"). If a separation were effected in that framework, it would be accepted internationally; otherwise, probably not. Aside from (arguably) Dayton, international law isn't relevant.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 16, 2017 at 19:37
  • 3
    @indigochild hm. But the answer does say "there is plenty of precedent in customary international law that the resulting state might be eventually recognized" which seems to be about all anyone can say about that.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 18, 2017 at 0:08

Since I am not willing to find more relevant sources than Wikipedia, this is more of a comment than an answer, but I need the space:

  • Note that recognition is not the same than recognition as an independent entity. The USA recognizes the state of Texas within its borders, but that same state has no international recognition as an indepedent entity. The only state that seems to have had direct relationship with Republic Srprska at any level was Serbia in 2006.

  • In the same way, the Dayton Agreement would say that:

    The State of Bosnia Herzegovina was set as of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and of the Republika Srpska. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a complete state, as opposed to a confederation; no entity or entities could ever be separated from Bosnia and Herzegovina unless through due legal process.

So no, it seems it does not have any right to (unilaterally) become independent, the only way would be by the Bosnian-Herzegovinan government allowing for it.

  • Thanks, but what would make a "legal process" of separation in case of Bosnia-Herzegovina and it's entities? Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 12:08
  • And yes! Since the Dayton Agreement is created by the USA, and signed and ratified by Croatia and then Yugoslavia (now Serbia) and the two agreed to protect Dayton and it's core values - what if one or both sides step back from the protection deal? Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 12:11
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    The "legal process" is whatever the law of Bosnia-Herzegovina decides if to be (if there is one that allows for that). And what the grantors "grant" is that the republic of Sprska continues to be an entity with the stablished borders, if they step back then the legal, internationally recognized Bosnian government only would have to negotiate with the representatives of Rep. Srpska any changes of that agreement. It would not grant any right to selfdetermination to Rep. Srpska at all.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Feb 14, 2016 at 16:33
  • @omerowitz the agreeing parties were the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Croatia, and the (former) Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The US did not "create" the agreement, but it was one of several parties involved in the negotiations and witnessing the document. The others were the Russian Federation, the EU and three EU member states, namely France, Germany, and the UK.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 19:51
  • @SJuan76 I don't know the details, and don't have time to look them up now (as I am about to fly to Sarajevo!), but I suspect very strongly that BiH would not be able to do this without agreement from the Office of the High Representative (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…) and/or the Peace Implementation Council (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_Implementation_Council).
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 19:54

In the Bosnian constitutional framework set by the Dayton Agreement (1995), Republika Srpska cannot achieve independence without the consent of the Bosnian federal authorities in Sarajevo, which are of course hostile to the loss of 49% of the territory of the federation. An amicable separation is hence unlikely.

In International Law, it's more ambiguous.. and paradoxal, because the "de facto" primes on the "de jure". The principle of self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter competes with the principle of States cooptation for any entry of a new Member in the United Nations : because the International Law is upheld by its subjects themselves and not by an "International State", its "de jure" nature conflicts with its "de facto" organization & modus operandi.

So if we speak about self-determination, and that we add the 3 characters of a State already "owned" by Republika Srpska (a territory, a population, an administration with a very high degree of autonomy controlling that territory and that population), then substract the fact that Republika Srpska bent to pressure and surrendered its armed forces to the Bosnian Federation in 2005-2006, and more importantly, the fact that the NATO patrons of the Bosnian federation are hostile to the independence of Republika Srpska, we have a case in which RS's independence is possible, but is at the same time improbable.

On the other hand, the case of Kosovo directly mirrors the case of Republika Srpska : an ethnic majority controlling a territory unilaterally seceding from a wider State is de facto possible - after all, that's how Bosnia & Herzegovina itself was created as a State in 1992-1995 -, but.. at the condition than a bigger party helps it, as NATO did in Bosnia on the behalf of the Bosnian Muslims during the Bosnian War. And if major NATO countries support the secession of Kosovo & Metohija from Serbia by the Kosovo Albanians, the same countries oppose a similar endeavor for the Serbs from Bosnia & Herzegovina seceding Republika Srpska from.. Bosnia & Herzegovina.

The "de facto" hence primes on the "de jure" in several steps of the independence process of a polity, and on the de facto matters, Republika Srpska currently lacks of momentum to obtain what it desired for since its inception in 1991-1992 : being recognized as master of its own destiny, in order to rejoin an union with Serbia that it never wished to leave in the first instance when Yugoslavia still existed.

  • How can the creation of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina be seen as "an ethnic majority controlling a territory unilaterally seceding from a wider state" when there is no ethnic majority in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 22, 2022 at 22:41

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