NATO’s relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina

  • Last updated: 17 Jun. 2014 10:44

Democratic, institutional and defence reforms are a key focus of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s cooperation with NATO. The country joined the Partnership for Peace in 2006 and has been engaged in an Intensified Dialogue with NATO on its membership aspirations and related reforms since 2008. In April 2010, the Allies formally invited the country to join the Membership Action Plan (MAP) with one important condition: the first Annual National Programme under the MAP will only be accepted by NATO once a key remaining issue concerning immovable defence property has been resolved.

Joint press point with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the Chair of the Bosnia & Herzegovina Presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the Chair of the Bosnia & Herzegovina Presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic (May 2014)

Effectively, all immovable defence properties in the country need to be registered as state property, for use by the country’s defence ministry. Although Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Presidency members were unanimous about the decision to apply to join the MAP, the fulfillment of this condition has not yet been met. 

The Allies are committed to keeping NATO’s door open to Western Balkan partners that wish to join the Alliance. The Membership Action Plan (MAP) is a NATO programme of advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join the Alliance. Participation in the MAP does not prejudge any decision by the Alliance on future membership.

The Alliance has been committed to building long-term peace and stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the wider Western Balkans since it started supporting the international community’s efforts to end the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995). NATO played a key role in implementing the Dayton Peace Agreement (formally, the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or GFAP) and in securing this peace through peacekeeping deployments over a nine-year period from December 1995 to December 2004. In December 2004, primary responsibility for military aspects of GFAP was handed over to the European Union.

NATO retains a military headquarters in Sarajevo with the primary mission of assisting the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina with reforms and commitments related to the Partnership for Peace (PfP) and closer integration with NATO, and the secondary mission of providing logistic and other support to the European Union Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as supporting the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on a case-by-case basis.

Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to continue pursuing democratic and defence reforms to fulfill its NATO and European Union aspirations and to become a fully functioning independent democratic state. Beyond supporting reform, another key objective of NATO’s cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina is to develop the ability of the country’s forces to work together with forces from NATO countries and other partners, especially in peacekeeping and crisis-management operations.

  • Key areas of cooperation

    Key priorities for cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina include strengthening cooperation with European and Euro-Atlantic structures, the rule of law, democratic control of the armed forces and intelligence security system, defence reform, defence planning and budgeting, military interoperability, human resource management, crisis management and civil emergency planning, security system and protection of data, and public diplomacy. NATO also supports the wider democratic, institutional, and judicial reform process underway in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    Security cooperation

    Since 2009, Bosnia and Herzegovina has contributed officers to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan as part of the Danish and German contingents. More recently, it has committed itself to contributing to NATO’s post-2014 mission in Afghanistan. Although not part of a NATO operation, the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina deployed an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) platoon to Iraq from 2005 to 2008 and an infantry platoon during 2008, under the multinational coalition’s operation.

    The authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina have signed and ratified the PfP Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Allies, in accordance with its national legislation. The PfP SOFA is a multilateral agreement between NATO member and partner countries, which deals with the status of foreign forces while present on the territory of another state. This agreement facilitates Bosnia and Herzegovina’s military-to-military cooperation and other practical cooperation with NATO member states and other partner countries.

    NATO and Bosnia and Herzegovina have started to improve the exchange of information on combating terrorism. The Allies are assisting the country in establishing a relevant counter-terrorist capability and providing advice on improving the existing national apparatus.

    Bosnia and Herzegovina has declared a number of forces and assets as potentially available for PfP activities, including for NATO-led crisis-response operations. Engineering (explosive ordnance disposal) capabilities and related equipment as well as other units could be available.

    The country has also made a number of training facilities available, including a Combat Training Centre at Manjača and a Peace Support Operations Training Centre at Butmir, which is the only certified PfP Training Centre in the region. A Professional Development Centre in Travnik has also been established that would be available within the PfP framework.

    Defence and security sector reform

    Defence and security sector reforms are core elements of cooperation. The Alliance as a whole and individual Allies have considerable expertise which Bosnia and Herzegovina can draw upon in this area. A key priority is working together to establish affordable and sustainable defence structures, which would reflect the security needs of the country and be able to provide usable military capabilities that are interoperable with those of the Alliance.

    A key aspect of the work of the NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina up to 2004 concerned reform of the country's defence structures, which were divided into three separate structures for each of the country’s main ethnic groups. Within the framework of a Defence Reform Commission (2003-2005), SFOR and NATO helped the country build a unified command and control structure, and develop joint doctrine and standards for training and equipment that are compatible with NATO standards. In March 2004, a newly established state-level defence ministry brought the country’s separate armies under a single command structure.

    Subsequent to SFOR, NATO's military headquarters in Sarajevo took a leading role in the Defence Reform Commission during 2005, leading the effort that resulted in the complete merger of the entity armies into a single military force on 1 January 2006, and continues to work with Bosnia and Herzegovina on defence reform to this day. NATO’s Secretary General has also appointed the Assistant Secretary General for Defence Policy and Planning as his Senior Representative for defence reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    The country is working to develop fully professional armed forces that are interoperable with NATO forces and are manned by volunteers who meet high professional standards. The process of restructuring and reorganisation of the armed forces in order to reach these goals is ongoing. A key instrument for supporting such military and defence reforms is the PfP Planning and Review Process (PARP).

    The implementation of a NATO/Partnership Trust Fund project for assistance to redundant defence personnel has helped the country downsize its armed forces. This Trust Fund supported the reintegration of approximately 3,000 released personnel, whose contracts with the Bosnian Armed Forces ended between 2010 and 2012. A similar Trust Fund was conducted a few years earlier.

    Civil emergency planning

    NATO and Bosnia and Herzegovina carry out cooperation in the field of civil emergency planning. The country is developing its national civil emergency and disaster-management capabilities. In consultation with the Allies, the country has developed the legal framework for coping with civil emergencies, and is working to establish a civil crisis-information system to coordinate activities in the event of an emergency.

    In May 2014, Bosnia and Herzegovina requested assistance from NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre following devastating floods that hit the country. NATO coordinated emergency assistance from Allied and partner countries, sending for instance helicopters, boats, drinking water, food, shelter and funds.

    Public information

    Bosnia and Herzegovina and NATO aim to improve public access to information on the benefits of cooperation and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s possible membership in the Alliance. To this end, a national NATO communications strategy is in place. Particular emphasis is placed on activities that entail sustainability and that link key stakeholders: government, civil society, and media. Regional exchange of best practices is an important element.

    NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division closely cooperates with a number of partners including NATO’s military headquarters in Sarajevo, non-governmental organisations, Allied embassies and others in the planning and implementation of public diplomacy activities to increase public awareness about cooperation with NATO and MAP. 

    In every partner country an embassy of one of the NATO member states serves as a contact point and operates as a channel for disseminating information about the role and policies of the Alliance. The current NATO Contact Point Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the Embassy of the United Kingdom.

    Science and environment

    Under the Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme, Bosnia and Herzegovina has received grant awards for a number of cooperative projects, including seismic risk hazard reduction studies and legal aspects of countering terrorism. The aim is to increase scientific cooperation, such as in areas relevant to regional security issues and environmental initiatives.

  • Framework for cooperation

    The country’s cooperation with NATO is set out in an Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP). The first IPAP was agreed with the Alliance in September 2008 and an updated version was agreed in February 2011. These plans are designed to bring together all the various cooperation mechanisms through which the country interacts with the Alliance, sharpening the focus of activities to better support domestic reform efforts.

    Once the invitation to join the MAP is fully implemented, cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina and support for reform will be set out in an Annual National Programme under the MAP, replacing and building upon the IPAP.  This programme will outline preparations for possible future membership, including political, economic, defence, resource, security and legal aspects.

    The IPAP is underpinned by practical cooperation in a range of other areas under the Individual Partnership Programme (IPP), which the country has developed with NATO since it first joined the Partnership for Peace (PfP) and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC).

    Bosnia and Herzegovina has also been participating in the PfP Planning and Review Process (PARP) since May 2007. The role of the PARP is to provide a structured basis for identifying forces and capabilities that could be available to the Alliance for multinational training, exercises and operations. It also serves as the principal mechanism used to guide and measure defence and military reform progress. A biennial process, the PARP is open to all partners on a voluntary basis.

    To facilitate cooperation, Bosnia and Herzegovina has a diplomatic mission at NATO Headquarters as well as a liaison office at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE, Belgium) and an officer at Allied Joint Force Command Naples.

  • Milestones in relations


    In April, NATO begins Operation Deny Flight to prevent aerial intrusion over Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).


    The Dayton Peace Agreement is signed on 14 December.


    The 60,000-strong NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) deploys to implement the military aspects of the peace agreement. IFOR is NATO’s first peacekeeping operation.


    In September, the first elections are held in Bosnia and Herzegovina; the Allies agree to maintain a security presence in the country to facilitate the country’s reconstruction.


    The Stabilisation Force (SFOR) replaces IFOR in December.


    Establishment of a state-level command structure over the two entity armies in December


    In December, the European Union peacekeeping force (EUFOR) takes over responsibility for maintaining security in Bosnia and Herzegovina. NATO supports the operation through the Berlin Plus arrangements, and establishes a military headquarters to administer this support while carrying out its primary mission of supporting the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina with defence reforms and anticipated PfP commitments.


    Agreement to merge the two entity armies into a single military force, the Armed Forces of BiH, on 1 January 2006


    Bosnia and Herzegovina joins the PfP and agrees its first Individual Partnership Programme (IPP).


    Bosnia and Herzegovina joins the PfP Planning and Review Process (PARP).


    In April, the country is invited by NATO to begin an Intensified Dialogue on the full range of political, military, financial, and security issues relating to its aspirations to membership. In September, Bosnia and Herzegovina agrees its first Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO.


    Bosnia and Herzegovina deploys officers to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan


    In April, Bosnia and Herzegovina is invited to join the Membership Action Plan, pending the resolution of a key issue concerning immovable defence property.


    In February, Bosnia and Herzegovina agrees its second IPAP with NATO


    In May, at NATO’s Chicago Summit, Allied leaders welcome the political agreement reached in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 9 March 2012 on the registration of immovable defence property as state property. They urge political leaders to implement the agreement without delay to allow the country to start participation in the Membership Action Plan.


    In July, NATO’s Deputy Secretary General visits Bosnia and Herzegovina and other countries in the region aspiring to NATO membership.


    The NATO Secretary General visits Sarajevo in February.


    The IPAP Assessment of Bosnia and Herzegovina for 2013 is agreed in February.

      On 18 March, Mr Željko Komšić, member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, visits NATO Headquarters for talks with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and to attend a meeting of the North Atlantic Council.
      21 May, the NATO Secretary General meets government officials in Sarajevo and reiterates NATO’s support to the membership aspirations of Bosnia and Herzegovina.