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Bosnia: a new model army?

Bosnia's armed forces are now seen as genuine security providers - and far from a security threat. How did this happen?

© NATO Review

Ensuring Bosnia's armed forces were overhauled was an urgent need after the country's conflict. Despite several obstacles, it succeeded beyond expectations. Here, some who were at the heart of the change explain why it went so well.

Video length: 11.55

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Armed Forces played a central role

in almost tearing Bosnia and Herzegovina apart in the war in 1990s.

After the war, one of the most pressing but daunting task was ...

to create an armed force for the new country.

This meant bringing together soldiers who had recently been fighting each other.

This defence reform was neither rapid nor easy

but it was, according to international people and local people alike, a success.

I think it went further than we believed it could have gone.

I would totally agree that it was the biggest breakthrough since the Dayton Agreement.

Defence reform has gone a hell of a long way.

So far it is a very successful story, no doubt.

As far a defence reform is considered, it's fair to say that's one of the successes,

both made by local leaders as well as the international community in the country.

The achievements of defence reform go well beyond

just getting previously warring soldiers to work together.

A measure of how much progress has been made is ...

the Bosnian soldiers now serve as peacekeepers in places such as Iraq and Congo.

What's happened is we saw three armed forces

eventually turned into a single joint military in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

And that's actually a huge advance.

It's also it's a professionalization of the military, massive downsizing.

The original mandate of defence reform was to create a single personnel,

financial and logistic structure.

It was also foreseen that the ministries of defence of the country's two entities,

Republic of Srpska and the Bosnian-Croat Federation, would be abolished.

It became apparent about four months into the process though that there was a real interest

in going all the way, so to speak, to create a true singular military force,

at least to the extent we can have one in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

And we were able to do that.

So we went actually far beyond the written mandate

given to us both by NATO and by the high representative.

The result is joint armed forces. But the key word is "joint" not "united".

The format of the Bosnian Armed Forces is in fact a regimental one

similar to the one used in UK and Canada.

The file structures of the armed forces here will reflect the final political structures here.

And we have joint armed forces rather than united armed forces

because we have a joint country rather a united country.

The current level of the integration of the armed forces is as far as we can go at the moment.

And I don't think that any further integration is actually needed at the moment because,

I mean, the armed forces do operate basically as one single armed force.

So how did the Defence reform Commission

which was tasked with bring about the necessary changes, tackle this task?

As in all cases, it all comes back down to money and people

and that was the practical challenge that we had in the beginning.

But I can say that we were very lucky

because, at that time, the political forces in this country were very amenable.

They understood the importance to the country of this process.

And we had very good support from the international community

to include the high representative, the OSCE, and NATO itself.

We developed the concept for defence reform with our local partners.

This is not something we came with a model and told them this is the way it should be.

Quite the contrary.

As a matter of fact, I think that was the first thing that we realized was ...

we had to set and shape the political context and then create a process

whereby the people themselves in this country could buy into it.

Without that sense of local ownership, we would never have been successful.

The most important, or turning, point was to explain the broader context

and to identify interests of key actors in the process

and then to explain how their interests can be met through reforms.

The journey brought about some low points.

Well, there were a couple of little points. One was getting pneumonia.

The other one was, I think in a strange way, even though this is for the NATO Review,

I would say NATO's own failure to recognize its biggest success here.

We put in writing and signed with the political leaders here on July 18th of 2005,

one week after the 10th anniversary of Srebrenica,

the agreement that ended the army that committed the genocide of Srebrenica.

This was done voluntarily and... It was not recognized by NATO itself,

and not recognized by the international media

which was so focused on looking what happened in the past

that they missed the biggest story about the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

And some high points.

I was even in one meeting

where the president of the Republic of Srpska was briefing the other politicians,

Bosniac and Croat politicians, about what the regimental system was.

And I saw that as sort of the high point.

Defence reform has completely changed the image of soldiers in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

For example, the armed forces recently advertised for the first time for new soldiers.

For the 300 entry-level posts available over 3,000 applications were received.

Around half of the applicants had university degrees.

Those are people who know they're joining a multi-ethnic army.

There's no dilemma about this.

And I mentioned also how they're applying for jobs on the other side.

The fact that they're doing that indicates that there's no security risk,

that they feel comfortable being and working in other parts of their own country,

in a way that we have not seen with other major reforms.

Bringing down Bosnia's armed forces to around 9,000 men

from the hundreds of thousands previous employed

meant making provisions for the thousands of men and women

who would find themselves out of a job.

These provisions include a NATO Trust Fund

designed to help them make a transition to new skills and jobs.

Ever since the beginning of the defence reform process in particular

we have been very mindful of the need to look after those soldiers and those defence officials

that have been declared redundant by providing programmes

that either give them a financial incentive to cushion that transition

or to provide training and education

that they would need to become productive members of civil society.

But not all of the provisions, particularly some provided by the entities,

were necessarily the best course of action.

What concerns me is that the amount of money

being spent on demobilized soldiers, war veterans and disabled veterans

far exceeds the actual defence budget by two or three times at least.

In the Federation, the reason they're having problems is ...

they passed a law before the last general elections

that basically promised any disabled, or any demobilized veteran who is unemployed,

a monthly stipend with no requirement for job training or looking for a job

or putting into work in terms of building infrastructure nothing like that.

And surprise, surprise - the number of unemployed veterans actually went up in the months

after the passage of this law by about 40-50 thousand.

In addition of which, they found there are now more veterans from the war

than actually there were at the end of the war itself.

As Bosnia builds its security force up one key question is:

"What is the biggest security threat to the country now?"

I'll say something that might be surprising to many people.

In my personal opinion, one of the greatest security threats in this country

for the future lies in its education system.

If we go down to generation... to the generation that's coming up,

the war started 16 years ago

so a lot of people have actually completed education in segregated schools.

And we still have segregated schooling.

So if you grow up in different systems, learning different versions of the past,

you're actually building up problems for the future.

There has been a recent poll, or not so recent poll conducted by PRISM research that showed

that there's an increase of the number of people who would basically go to war

either to protect Bosnia and Herzegovina or to basically undo Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Despite these divisions, few expected

they would lead to anything like the conflict of the past in Bosnia.

You don't have it. No "engine" for a new war here.

There's always a potential for new conflicts, smaller ones.

Every successful story is important for social cohesion and for integration of society.

And in that way, I think that this process is very positive for integration.

The defence reform in Bosnia were both assisted by the international community

and in a sense also directed at them.

How much have they convinced the international community

that Bosnia is ready to join international organizations?

If you were to leave it to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

and Minister of Defence in this country, they'd be in NATO by next year.

We all realize it will take longer than that.

But given that kind of political support and with NATO headquarters in Sarajevo support,

I'm certain that they will continue along that path to NATO membership

and hopefully be invited to join NATO as soon as it is politically possible.

We are lucky that right now I think

NATO membership is supported by the majority of the population.

They're making such good progress in terms of defence reform,

that it's not unrealistic to expect, for example,

approval of the Membership Action Plan next year or in 2010.

That's moving along a pretty good clip compared to other countries in the region.

For some, this cannot come quickly enough.

As a kind of young man, I'm impatient.

I don't want to be part of the European Union or NATO when I'm a pensioner.

I'd like to enjoy the EU and NATO a bit earlier.

The armed forces have come a long way since the first days of defence reform.

What's the next step?

It seems to me that we are now in a kind of threshold

whether it's going to be a united armed forces

or it's going to go back into the divided armies.

And in the next... in coming months

that issue is going to, at least to my feeling, rise more and more.

The next step that is... or that has been discussed by some politicians

as well as international officials... is complete demilitarisation of the country.

But it's fair to say that step is highly unlikely

as long as there are standing armies in the neighbouring countries.

Regardless of what happens next Bosnia's forces have given a high profile example

of how the country can and has taken major steps away

from its past and towards a brighter future.

I view the armed forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina in a single military force that has ...

and is still being created as a leader in this social change in Bosnia and Herzegovina,

even though they all come from different ethnic backgrounds

and they served on different sides during that recent conflict,

they today proudly wear the same uniform.

And so, they give me a lot of confidence and optimism

for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Armed Forces played a central role

in almost tearing Bosnia and Herzegovina apart in the war in 1990s.

After the war, one of the most pressing but daunting task was ...

to create an armed force for the new country.

This meant bringing together soldiers who had recently been fighting each other.

This defence reform was neither rapid nor easy

but it was, according to international people and local people alike, a success.

I think it went further than we believed it could have gone.

I would totally agree that it was the biggest breakthrough since the Dayton Agreement.

Defence reform has gone a hell of a long way.

So far it is a very successful story, no doubt.

As far a defence reform is considered, it's fair to say that's one of the successes,

both made by local leaders as well as the international community in the country.

The achievements of defence reform go well beyond

just getting previously warring soldiers to work together.

A measure of how much progress has been made is ...

the Bosnian soldiers now serve as peacekeepers in places such as Iraq and Congo.

What's happened is we saw three armed forces

eventually turned into a single joint military in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

And that's actually a huge advance.

It's also it's a professionalization of the military, massive downsizing.

The original mandate of defence reform was to create a single personnel,

financial and logistic structure.

It was also foreseen that the ministries of defence of the country's two entities,

Republic of Srpska and the Bosnian-Croat Federation, would be abolished.

It became apparent about four months into the process though that there was a real interest

in going all the way, so to speak, to create a true singular military force,

at least to the extent we can have one in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

And we were able to do that.

So we went actually far beyond the written mandate

given to us both by NATO and by the high representative.

The result is joint armed forces. But the key word is "joint" not "united".

The format of the Bosnian Armed Forces is in fact a regimental one

similar to the one used in UK and Canada.

The file structures of the armed forces here will reflect the final political structures here.

And we have joint armed forces rather than united armed forces

because we have a joint country rather a united country.

The current level of the integration of the armed forces is as far as we can go at the moment.

And I don't think that any further integration is actually needed at the moment because,

I mean, the armed forces do operate basically as one single armed force.

So how did the Defence reform Commission

which was tasked with bring about the necessary changes, tackle this task?

As in all cases, it all comes back down to money and people

and that was the practical challenge that we had in the beginning.

But I can say that we were very lucky

because, at that time, the political forces in this country were very amenable.

They understood the importance to the country of this process.

And we had very good support from the international community

to include the high representative, the OSCE, and NATO itself.

We developed the concept for defence reform with our local partners.

This is not something we came with a model and told them this is the way it should be.

Quite the contrary.

As a matter of fact, I think that was the first thing that we realized was ...

we had to set and shape the political context and then create a process

whereby the people themselves in this country could buy into it.

Without that sense of local ownership, we would never have been successful.

The most important, or turning, point was to explain the broader context

and to identify interests of key actors in the process

and then to explain how their interests can be met through reforms.

The journey brought about some low points.

Well, there were a couple of little points. One was getting pneumonia.

The other one was, I think in a strange way, even though this is for the NATO Review,

I would say NATO's own failure to recognize its biggest success here.

We put in writing and signed with the political leaders here on July 18th of 2005,

one week after the 10th anniversary of Srebrenica,

the agreement that ended the army that committed the genocide of Srebrenica.

This was done voluntarily and... It was not recognized by NATO itself,

and not recognized by the international media

which was so focused on looking what happened in the past

that they missed the biggest story about the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

And some high points.

I was even in one meeting

where the president of the Republic of Srpska was briefing the other politicians,

Bosniac and Croat politicians, about what the regimental system was.

And I saw that as sort of the high point.

Defence reform has completely changed the image of soldiers in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

For example, the armed forces recently advertised for the first time for new soldiers.

For the 300 entry-level posts available over 3,000 applications were received.

Around half of the applicants had university degrees.

Those are people who know they're joining a multi-ethnic army.

There's no dilemma about this.

And I mentioned also how they're applying for jobs on the other side.

The fact that they're doing that indicates that there's no security risk,

that they feel comfortable being and working in other parts of their own country,

in a way that we have not seen with other major reforms.

Bringing down Bosnia's armed forces to around 9,000 men

from the hundreds of thousands previous employed

meant making provisions for the thousands of men and women

who would find themselves out of a job.

These provisions include a NATO Trust Fund

designed to help them make a transition to new skills and jobs.

Ever since the beginning of the defence reform process in particular

we have been very mindful of the need to look after those soldiers and those defence officials

that have been declared redundant by providing programmes

that either give them a financial incentive to cushion that transition

or to provide training and education

that they would need to become productive members of civil society.

But not all of the provisions, particularly some provided by the entities,

were necessarily the best course of action.

What concerns me is that the amount of money

being spent on demobilized soldiers, war veterans and disabled veterans

far exceeds the actual defence budget by two or three times at least.

In the Federation, the reason they're having problems is ...

they passed a law before the last general elections

that basically promised any disabled, or any demobilized veteran who is unemployed,

a monthly stipend with no requirement for job training or looking for a job

or putting into work in terms of building infrastructure nothing like that.

And surprise, surprise - the number of unemployed veterans actually went up in the months

after the passage of this law by about 40-50 thousand.

In addition of which, they found there are now more veterans from the war

than actually there were at the end of the war itself.

As Bosnia builds its security force up one key question is:

"What is the biggest security threat to the country now?"

I'll say something that might be surprising to many people.

In my personal opinion, one of the greatest security threats in this country

for the future lies in its education system.

If we go down to generation... to the generation that's coming up,

the war started 16 years ago

so a lot of people have actually completed education in segregated schools.

And we still have segregated schooling.

So if you grow up in different systems, learning different versions of the past,

you're actually building up problems for the future.

There has been a recent poll, or not so recent poll conducted by PRISM research that showed

that there's an increase of the number of people who would basically go to war

either to protect Bosnia and Herzegovina or to basically undo Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Despite these divisions, few expected

they would lead to anything like the conflict of the past in Bosnia.

You don't have it. No "engine" for a new war here.

There's always a potential for new conflicts, smaller ones.

Every successful story is important for social cohesion and for integration of society.

And in that way, I think that this process is very positive for integration.

The defence reform in Bosnia were both assisted by the international community

and in a sense also directed at them.

How much have they convinced the international community

that Bosnia is ready to join international organizations?

If you were to leave it to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

and Minister of Defence in this country, they'd be in NATO by next year.

We all realize it will take longer than that.

But given that kind of political support and with NATO headquarters in Sarajevo support,

I'm certain that they will continue along that path to NATO membership

and hopefully be invited to join NATO as soon as it is politically possible.

We are lucky that right now I think

NATO membership is supported by the majority of the population.

They're making such good progress in terms of defence reform,

that it's not unrealistic to expect, for example,

approval of the Membership Action Plan next year or in 2010.

That's moving along a pretty good clip compared to other countries in the region.

For some, this cannot come quickly enough.

As a kind of young man, I'm impatient.

I don't want to be part of the European Union or NATO when I'm a pensioner.

I'd like to enjoy the EU and NATO a bit earlier.

The armed forces have come a long way since the first days of defence reform.

What's the next step?

It seems to me that we are now in a kind of threshold

whether it's going to be a united armed forces

or it's going to go back into the divided armies.

And in the next... in coming months

that issue is going to, at least to my feeling, rise more and more.

The next step that is... or that has been discussed by some politicians

as well as international officials... is complete demilitarisation of the country.

But it's fair to say that step is highly unlikely

as long as there are standing armies in the neighbouring countries.

Regardless of what happens next Bosnia's forces have given a high profile example

of how the country can and has taken major steps away

from its past and towards a brighter future.

I view the armed forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina in a single military force that has ...

and is still being created as a leader in this social change in Bosnia and Herzegovina,

even though they all come from different ethnic backgrounds

and they served on different sides during that recent conflict,

they today proudly wear the same uniform.

And so, they give me a lot of confidence and optimism

for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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