David Lightburn surveys Bosnia’s military landscape and analyses international programmes aimed at building long-term security.
David Lightburn is an analyst at the Pearson Peacekeeping Center in Nova Scotia, Canada. He is a former member of NATOs international secretariat and between spring 1992 and autumn 2000 helped to develop the Alliances involvement in peacekeeping, including its Security Cooperation Programme with Bosnia.
Singing from the same song book: Bosniac, Croat and Serb soldiers have to work together to build long-term security in Bosnia. (Reuters photo - 177Kb)
When the guns fell silent and NATO-led peace-keepers deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia) in December 1995, the war had ended, but the peace remained fragile. Bosnia was divided into hostile military camps; relations between rival, ethnic armed forces were antagonistic; and a foreign military presence was required to prevent the resumption of fighting. The Dayton Agreement contained an elaborate calendar of military obligations, which each of the former war-ring parties had to comply with, but the task of making the accord more than just a cease-fire required more than simply separating and controlling Bosnias various militaries. To build long-term security and prevent a return to hostilities, NATO and other international organisations have developed a series of programmes designed to build confidence between soldiers from different ethnic backgrounds and help create the conditions in which an appropriate, cost-effective and durable security framework can evolve.
The Dayton Agreement acknowledged the existence of two separate armies in Bosnia that of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the predominantly Croat and Bosnian Muslim (Bosniac) entity, and Republika Srpska, the predominantly Serb entity. De facto, however, there were, and remain, three armies, since Croat and Bosniac forces have not been integrated either in structure or in practice, and cooperation between the two is minimal and superficial. This peculiar arrangement is the legacy of nearly four years of war, in which three ethnically based forces, including a mixed group of regular soldiers, para-militaries, conscripts, foreign volunteers, guerrillas, and paramilitary police, battled for both territory and survival. It also reflects the involvement of both neighbouring states and other countries in the conflict and the assistance that they provided. Moreover, in the wake of the fighting, a great quantity of weapons and munitions were either in the hands of private individuals or stored in sizeable armouries in police barracks.
To outside observers, Bosnias internal security architecture inevitably appears dysfunctional. Failing economies in both entities are groaning under the strain of maintaining separate, oversized armies, which are poorly equipped and trained. Moreover, the absence of genuine dialogue between the military and defence communities of Bosnias constituent peoples means little political will is being generated to develop a common defence policy and joint military structures. This, in turn, renders the country unsuitable to join European or Euro-Atlantic structures and even to collaborate with individual nations in defence, leaving it incapable of ensuring its own security without the presence of NATO-led peacekeepers.
While the Dayton Agreement ceded responsibility for defence to the entities, long-term security and stability cannot be achieved unless Bosnians in both entities are able to talk, cooperate and work together to build the structures and capabilities needed for the common defence of their country. But no meaningful cooperation at the state level has emerged in the climate of suspicion that prevails between the three ethnic groups.
Since 1997, the international community has sought to foster greater military cooperation between the entities and to strengthen the effectiveness of the Standing Committee on Military Matters, the joint military body set up under the peace agreement, developing its role as a central defence mechanism. Through the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), the inter-governmental authority that oversees the Bosnian peace process, the international community is working to convince all parties of the essential dynamic nature of the Dayton Agreement, which set a floor and not a ceiling, and is intended as a process towards long-term, self-sustaining peace and security, rather than a set of minimum requirements for short-term stability.
The Dayton Agreement provided for an immediate end to hostilities, the separation of the armed forces of the parties to the conflict, and the creation of a secure environment within which the international community and the citizens of Bosnia could begin the process of reconciliation, refugee returns and rebuilding. In December 1995, the three combat-weary and disorganised armies in Bosnia offered minimal resistance to the NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) and complied with the international communitys many initial demands. These included the hand-over of territory; the establishment of a zone of separation; the cantonisation of heavy equipment and military personnel; compliance with rules and procedures set out by IFOR regarding training; coordinated demining; the establishment of joint military commissions; and freedom of movement for IFOR and the international community.
In retrospect, the degree of compliance by the armed forces and defence authorities of both entities was remarkable. There has been no return to hostilities. A secure environment has been guaranteed for civil agencies operating in Bosnia. And the contested, strategically located district of Brcko has been demilitarised. Weapons have been destroyed as agreed, demining has begun and both entities have begun to restructure their armies and reduce them in size. As a result, IFOR, and its successor the Stabilisation Force (SFOR), was able to move beyond overseeing implementation of the purely military aspects of the Dayton Agreement and begin to support the work of civilian agencies. In this way, SFOR has become increasingly involved in international efforts to reform Bosnian society and end corrupt practices, such as political control over the economy, the media and the police.
While the Standing Committee for Military Matters, Bosnias joint defence institution mandated in the Dayton Agreement, was set up, it remained toothless in the absence of true dialogue between the parties in security and defence matters. In 1997, NATO launched a Security Cooperation Programme between the Alliance and Bosnia to further the process of reconciliation in the country by assisting military and defence authorities to stimulate such dialogue and kick-start the process of internal cooperation in the defence sphere.
Initial activities, mainly courses at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany, aimed to promote reconciliation and opportunities for dialogue among individual participants, as well as providing basic information on the objectives of the international communitys various programmes in Bosnia. Groups of up to 45 military officers and civilian defence officials were brought together, with equal representation from each of Bosnias three constituent peoples. By November 2000, more than 450 individuals had participated in such courses, including defence ministers and their deputies, chiefs of defence, and other top political, military and defence personnel, as well as more junior commanders and staff and representatives from other government ministries.
Many participants were able to renew former associations with colleagues from a different ethnic group, relationships that went back to their time together in the old Yugoslav Peoples Army and even, in some cases, to school days. Participants appreciated the opportunity to discuss and debate policies and perspectives with international officials. The thirst for information was apparent and many gained a better understanding of the role of the different international agencies in their country, which often contrasted sharply with the picture provided by their own authorities and media. Groups came together with remarkable ease and friendships developed. Views were openly exchanged, as were wartime stories between former adversaries.
In 1999, the Security Cooperation Programme entered a second phase. This involved providing more detailed information on the international communitys approach to security and more in-depth discussion on peace-building, national development and on the challenges facing Bosnia. In addition to mainstream courses, NATO organised a number of specialised seminars for defence and other officials, and hosted visits by various groups of officials and media from Bosnia. As an experiment, an alumni reunion was held in 1999, by which time 250 Bosnians had participated in the courses at Oberammergau. Almost 200 individuals came from throughout Bosnia to the event at SFOR headquarters in Sarajevo. The events success has since been repeated at a locally organised reunion in Banja Luka, Republika Srpska. Similar meetings are planned in the future to foster the contacts born or rekindled in Oberammergau.
Today, the programme has entered a more progressive phase. This focuses on engaging Bosnian officials and the upcoming generation of defence leaders in developing solutions to the key security challenges facing their country. Bosnia cannot continue indefinitely to rely upon an external, armed presence for its internal stability and security. Nor can the international community continue to provide current levels of resources to this end.
In the past two years, the Peace Implementation Council has identified what is needed for stability in Bosnia to become long-term and self-sustaining. Foreign ministers meeting in Madrid in December 1998 called on the parties to develop a common security policy for Bosnia, as well as a state dimension to defence. This included an enhanced Standing Committee on Military Matters and greater military cooperation between the armed forces of the two entities, as well as a common military doctrine and work on a training and development programme. In Brussels in May 2000, the Peace Implementation Council set further objectives. These included seeking the transformation of the Standing Committee on Military Matters into an effective state-level defence institution; the development of sustainable and affordable force structures consistent with the long-term security needs of Bosnia; full transparency of external military assistance; and unified command and control of armed forces capable of joint deployment under international and regional security organisations.
Several international organisations are helping take this process forward. In addition to its Security Cooperation Programme, NATO is involved via SFOR in efforts to restructure Bosnias armed forces, to reduce their size and to bring in the concept of an inspector-general, an office currently headed by a US colonel, but intended eventually to be a domestic institution which monitors the behaviour of senior military figures and ensures that they do not abuse their authority, are not engaged in dubious business ventures and stay out of politics. The Office of the High Representative is assisting the development of the Standing Committee on Military Matters. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) continues to work in the field of confidence-building and arms control. And the United Nations Mission in Bosnia is exploring ways in which Bosnia can contribute to international peacekeeping missions elsewhere in the world.
A framework for future deliberations was presented for consideration to Bosnian military and civilian officials participating in NATO security cooperation courses during 2000 and to senior defence and foreign ministry officials at a seminar in Oslo, Norway, in summer 2000. Two fundamental needs have been identified as essential for the development of a viable concept of the countrys long-term, self-sustaining stability. First, a set of core functions must be developed for which Bosnia must take the lead and assume clear responsibility. These core functions have been identified by the Peace Implementation Council as the development of a common security and defence policy; the establishment of a central defence institution; the creation of smaller, professional, affordable and cooperative armed forces; and the self-initiation of additional confidence and security-building measures between the armed forces in Bosnia.
Second, a set of cooperative security measures must be worked out with the international community in keeping with the collective and cooperative approach to security, which has emerged in Europe since the end of the Cold War. In common with most European countries, Bosnia cannot simply rely on maintaining large forces on its territorial borders to defend itself. The country will therefore need to agree a number of cooperative security measures with the international community in place of absolute guarantees for Bosnian security from any other nation or group of nations. Such measures might include an on-going international military presence, of a nature and size to be deter mined, but focused in the main on assisting the development of the Bosnia state-level defence system; eventual Bosnian participation in NATOs Partnership for Peace programme or other international associations; progress in the regional arms control talks mandated in the Dayton Agreement, a prospect made a little brighter by positive political developments in both Zagreb and Belgrade; and the development of close and open military ties and exchanges with Serbia, Croatia and other neighbouring states, as a contribution to regional stability and confidence-building.
Bosnian defence officials are now cooperating with the international community to address the agenda set for them by the Peace Implementation Council. An immediate challenge is to create a framework for lasting and substantive cooperation between the two armed forces in the country. Such a restructuring would not aim to forge one integrated army out of the countrys three armed forces, as some who wish to derail the process have claimed. Any force restructuring would need to reflect and respect the culture and traditions of the countrys constituent peoples, as is the case in some western countries including Belgium, Canada and the United Kingdom.
There is no intention, for instance, to integrate entity forces at lower levels. Instead, one idea is to develop a state-level, unified command and control structure with some joint training and education, forces working under a common defence policy and a common military doctrine, answerable, through the Standing Committee on Military Matters, to the presidency. The purpose of such forces would be to maintain the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country in accordance with international law; to contribute to international security through the United Nations and other peacekeeping missions abroad; and to provide assistance to civil authorities in the event of civil emergency, disaster or social need.
In some areas identified by the Peace Implementation Council, progress is being made. Armed forces and defence budgets were reduced in both entities in 1999 by about 15 per cent, and a similar cut is planned for 2000. However, further progress is not up to the international community and will depend on generating significant political and public support within Bosnia.
The main obstacle remains the lack of political will in the area of defence, at both state and entity levels. A radical change in the attitude of members of the joint presidency and of other state and entity leaders is required. Ethnically based power structures and lingering suspicions in many influential quarters about the underlying motives of other ethnic groups do not foster a climate of cooperation. Moreover, some officials continue to hide behind the argument that defence was considered a responsibility of the entities in the Dayton Agreement. This particularly hinders the development of the Standing Committee on Military Matters. Its secretariat still lacks a permanent home, depends on the international community for information technology, is chronically understaffed (dependent on the entities for personnel) and has therefore not been able to take any substantive work forward, performing largely administrative functions.
Other serious obstacles arise out of a genuine lack of understanding of more modern defence concepts. Armies remain too large and expensive to maintain; the numbers of men in uniform far exceed both legitimate security requirements and European norms. In both entities, most weapons and other major equipment are outdated and in poor operational condition. The armies have difficulty maintaining a reasonable standard of training. Defence budgets also exceed international norms and are a severe burden on the failing economies of the two entities. But with, as yet, virtually no public dialogue on security and defence in Bosnia, there is no public pressure for the armed forces in Bosnia to move beyond a cease-fire status.
For public support to be won, an aggressive and concerted information campaign will need to be launched to inform ordinary Bosnians of the issues and to stimulate genuine dialogue on security matters. A more rationally organised and outward-looking military would send a positive signal to the people of Bosnia, removing the potential for a return to conflict and heralding the prospect of long-term stability. This would in turn boost reconciliation in other areas and help attract foreign investment to the country and the region. Prospects for progress will hopefully improve as Bosnia gradually begins to reintegrate with the rest of Europe and as the public realises how unworkable the current defence structure is, and how counter-productive it is to the normalisation process within and without Bosnia.