The armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina
by Sgt. Peter Fitzgerald
First published in
SFOR Informer#127, November 28, 2001
The primary purpose of any armed force is
to defend a country's territorial integrity and sovereignty.
The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is unique, however,
with two distinct armed forces in defence of one country.
Such a defence structure has led to armed forces that have
become an economic burden on the country.
The General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP)
allows for two armed forces to respectively represent the
country's two entities, the Federation of BiH and the Republika
Srpska. The intention of the GFAP was to have the two forces
working together in the common defence of BiH. While great
strides in co-operation between the two militaries have been
made, much work still needs to be done to restructure and
downsize the armed forces in BiH (AF in BiH). Currently, military
expenditures are too high and the forces are too large to
justify such a burden on a peacetime economy.
The forces consist of the Army of the Federation of BiH (VF)
and the Army of the Republika Srpska (VRS). The VF is further
divided into two components, a Bosniac one (VF-B) and Bosnian-Croat
one (VF-H), but only at the headquarters is the VF manned
with officers and soldiers of the two components. Ensuring
the forces are under civilian control, each entity has a Ministry
of Defence. Also, the three members of BiH Presidency serve
as the Supreme Commanders of the AF in BiH.
There are currently more than 34,000 professional troops and
about 15,000 reservists in the AF in BiH.
The VF, with nearly 24,000 troops (16,618 VF-B, 7,225 VF-H),
has four corps. In the VF-B component, the 1st Corps is based
in Sarajevo, the 2nd Corps in Tuzla and the 5th Corps in Bihac.
The 1st Guard Corps of the VF-H is based in Mostar. The VF
has a number of combat arms units, including motorised infantry,
mechanised infantry, armoured infantry, field artillery and
air defence artillery. Other units include reconnaissance,
signal, engineering and logistical support. The VF also has
a rapid reaction force and an air force - air defence unit.
With approximately 10,000 soldiers, the VRS also has four
corps. Its 1st Corps is in Banja Luka, the 3rd Corps in Bijeljina,
the 5th Corps in Sokolac and the 7th Corps is based in Bileca.
Similarly, the VRS has a number of combat arms and support
units (infantry, artillery, signal, engineering, reconnaissance,
logistical). They also have an air force - air defence unit.
The bottom line
Steady personnel reductions of 15 percent over the past two
years have helped to bring the number of troops down, especially
from a 1995 end-of-war estimate of 430,000. Still, in a country
of 4 million people, supporting 34,000 troops is a great economic
burden when levels of unemployment reach 40 percent in BiH.
Last month the Organisation for Security and Co-operation
in Europe (OSCE) launched an initiative to raise public awareness
of the excessive level of military expenditures in BiH.
"The BiH militaries simply cannot be sustained the way
they are," said Robert Beecroft, head of the OSCE Mission
to BiH, in an Oct. 11 statement to the press. "They could
fulfil their mission far more effectively if their personnel
strength were significantly reduced."
The problem lies in military expenditures, where the BiH defence
budget is approximately 6 percent of the country's Gross Domestic
Product (GDP). European countries spend on average about 1.5
percent of their GDP on the military.
"In many countries the defence budget does not exceed
2 percent of GDP," said Beecroft. "In only a few
countries is the defence budget as high as it is in BiH. The
bottom line is that a defence budget is not supposed to represent
an undue financial burden on a country in peace time."
What is being done
With the help of organisations like the OSCE, the Office of
the High Representative (OHR) and SFOR, significant progress
has been made in getting the AF in BiH to co-operate in the
effort to restructure and downsize the forces.
Dutch Brig. Gen. Ton Strik, assistant chief of staff for Joint
Military Affairs, said in Oct. 11 press conference that SFOR's
task was to help the AF in BiH become a force to serve the
"The armed forces are now in the process of restructuring
and we as SFOR together with other organisations of the international
community are assisting them," he said.
Also, a common defence policy has been developed and progress
has been shown through the Joint Military Commission (JMC).
At a Nov. 7 JMC meeting, both armed forces discussed plans
to further reduce their militaries over the next several years
to a force of about 20,000 troops.
Lt. Gen. Novica Simic, VRS chief of staff, said his force
will shrink to 6,600 troops by 2005.
"The restructuring is not only about manpower reduction,
but also disbanding units and closing certain sites,"
he added. "It is our goal to create small armies that
can eventually support United Nations operations."
British Maj. Gen. John Kiszely, SFOR deputy commander of operations,
said these plans will help the AF in BiH become a "force
"The plans that both parties have put forward constitute
a remarkable step forward and a significant milestone in the
process of restructuring (the AF in BiH)," he said.
While admitting that the complex process has a long way to
go, Kiszely added that forces made "great strides"
in the restructuring process.
"The plans show great promise for the future," he