by NATO Deputy Secretary General, Mircea Geoană, at the Transformative Potential of the Euro-Atlantic Process in Bosnia and Herzegovina event
Ladies and gentlemen.
Dear friends and colleagues.
And thank you to the University of Mostar,
the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Bosnia and Herzegovina,
and the Rector’s Assembly of the Republic of Croatia,
for hosting this important event.
My sincere apologies that my agenda and current travel restrictions do not allow me to be with you in person today.
NATO and Bosnia and Herzegovina have a long-standing and mutually beneficial partnership.
For many years, our Alliance has supported your Euro-Atlantic aspirations and reforms.
As a matter of fact, Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the three partner countries on which we coordinate our approach very closely with the European Union.
Because we have an enduring commitment to a stable and secure Bosnia and Herzegovina.
And more broadly to the stability of the Western Balkans.
Last year, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which brought an end to nearly four years of terrible war.
The presence of NATO troops played a central role in bringing the warring parties to the negotiating table.
And after the agreement was signed, NATO forces oversaw its implementation through almost a decade of peacekeeping deployments.
NATO has remained on the ground ever since, through our Headquarters in Sarajevo, which performs a range of tasks.
These include assisting the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the reform of their defence and security institutions.
Supporting public diplomacy efforts to provide accurate information, counter disinformation and promote the benefits of reform.
As well as providing logistics and support to our EU partners’ Operation Althea.
NATO fully supports Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ongoing efforts.
One of the most significant achievements has been the creation of the Joint Armed Forces.
At the end of the war there were more than 400,000 troops, bitterly divided between three armies.
Today there is a single professional army of around 10,000 soldiers and 5,000 reservists under a unified chain of command.
This is a truly remarkable achievement.
And it shows what is possible when difficult issues are tackled with ambition and a spirit of consensus.
The election of the new Mayor of Mostar in recent local elections is another welcome sign of progress.
And the decision by the Council of Ministers earlier this month to set up the Commission for Cooperation with NATO and to progress the Reform Programme are further important steps in strengthening our cooperation. NATO’s support for Bosnia and Herzegovina takes many practical forms.
Since 2007, the country has participated in NATO’s Science for Peace and Security Programme.
We cooperate in important areas such as new technologies, disaster response, explosives detection, and, yes, cyber defence.
In May 2014, NATO coordinated emergency assistance following the devastating floods that hit the country.
NATO Allies and partner countries sent helicopters, boats, drinking water, food, shelter and funds.
In 2017, Bosnia and Herzegovina hosted an annual disaster preparedness and response exercise that brought together Allies, partners, and international organisations.
And most recently, Allies have approved a 500,000 Euro assistance package to help strained healthcare systems respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
For its part, Bosnia-Herzegovina is now an important security actor.
And I welcome Bosnia and Herzegovina’s continued contributions to our Euro-Atlantic security.
Including to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan and the Afghan National Army Trust Fund.
So NATO continues to support Bosnia and Herzegovina and vice versa.
But I want to underline that our cooperation does not prejudge any potential future NATO membership for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
And we fully respect the country’s sovereignty and independence.
Looking ahead, there is still much important work to be done.
Especially in the areas of institution-building and good governance.
NATO’s support plays a secondary role to the efforts that must be taken nationally.
Political deadlocks and institutional complexities can many times create frustration for all of us who wish to see Bosnia and Herzegovina thrive and prosper.
But important progress has already been made. Compromise may be difficult.
But the country must move forward in unity, with determination and in the spirit of compromise.
This is essential if the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina are to have the future they deserve and I know will have.
With unity, determination and willingness to compromise, we have seen that great things can be achieved. Major hurdles can be overcome.
I look forward to continuing the successful partnership between NATO and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
And to continuing to support stability, reform, and a peaceful and prosperous future for all.
So thank you again for inviting me.
I hope that at the next iteration I will be able to come in person.
And I wish you the very best and a very successful conference. Good luck.