Nikola Radovanović: Bosnian Defence Minister

  • 01 Oct. 2004 -
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  • Last updated: 04 Nov. 2008 00:07

Nikola Radovanović became the first Defence Minister of the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 15 March 2004. As such, he is overseeing reform of the country’s armed forces and defence structures. A 44-year-old ethnic Serb, he was a professional soldier

Nikola Radovanović became the first Defence Minister of the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 15 March 2004. As such, he is overseeing reform of the country’s armed forces and defence structures. A 44-year-old ethnic Serb, he was a professional soldier in the Yugoslav People’s Army before the outbreak of hostilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. He served in the Bosnian Serb Army during the Bosnian War and remained a soldier in the Bosnian Serb Army until 2000 when he joined the Bosnian Foreign Ministry. At the Foreign Ministry, he headed the Section for Peace and Security of the Multilateral Relations Department.

What are the principal security challenges that Bosnia and Herzegovina is facing?

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a European state and we are at the beginning of the 21st century. On the one hand, therefore, Bosnia and Herzegovina is facing so-called modern threats and challenges that are similar to any other country in this part of the world. These are the threats posed by organised crime, corruption, illegal trafficking, terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. On the other hand, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a special case in the sense that it is a post-conflict country. It is undergoing economic transition; its domestic institutions are weak and there is a strong foreign, civil and military presence under the mandate of the United Nations. In this context, the principal security challenge is the slow integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Europe and in Euro-Atlantic structures. As Minister of Defence, I can safely say that the traditional military threat is no longer a major issue in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

How are Bosnia and Herzegovina's armed forces currently structured and what proportion of GDP is spent on defence?

Bosnia and Herzegovina's armed forces consist of defence institutions at the level of the state, as well as at that of the entities. At the state level, there is now a Ministry of Defence for Bosnia and Herzegovina, a Joint Staff of Bosnia and Herzegovina and an Operational Command. State-level institutions now have supremacy over entity-level institutions and the Bosnian parliament has oversight over defence structures.

The armed forces consist of 12,000 professionals and some further 60,000 reservists. There are also up to 10,000 conscripts every year. The ratio between forces in the Federation and Republika Srpska is two to one. That means there are 8,000 soldiers on the Federation side, and 4,000 in Republika Srpska. The same ratio, more or less, also applies to the reservists and to the numbers of generals. We now speak of the Army of Republika Srpska and the Army of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina as two elements of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are more and more elements of jointness rather than of division. There is now, for example, one law on defence and a whole range of different policies, covering areas such as resource and personnel management, as well as training and doctrine, which are either already being applied everywhere or will be very soon. We can still identify differences, but there are more and more common elements.

The proportion of GDP devoted to defence has been significantly reduced in recent years. At 3.2 per cent of GDP, defence expenditures are still higher than they should be. Due to reforms, further savings are expected, as well as growth of the GDP at the other side. I expect that in a very short period of time it will come down to a typical European level of two per cent of GDP or maybe a little bit less.

A joint Bosnian unit is coming together for the 2 December ceremony at which EUFOR takes over from SFOR. How is that structured?

An honorary unit is being formed as the first permanent joint unit. Since it is an honorary unit, it has deliberately been drawn up according to the structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina itself. In this way, it consists of three platoons, each of them being from one of the constituent peoples. In addition, it has a band and a special section to escort the flag. In total, there will be just over 60 officers and soldiers.

What military reforms are currently under way and what more are planned?

We are in the first year of implementation of what are probably the most ambitious and comprehensive reforms in any area since the Dayton Peace Agreement came into force in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These reforms have made the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina the supreme commander of our armed forces. We are re-establishing state-level institutions in this field and bringing all military structures under democratic control. We are also downsizing in terms of personnel, military facilities and stockpiles of weapons and ammunition. And we are re-establishing joint policies and strategies to manage the system, especially in the field of resource management and logistics. Another important area of reform is that of military intelligence.

As Minister of Defence, I wish to continue working on this already agreed set of reforms and see it implemented during 2005. In addition, I anticipate that during this period we will identify further steps that need to be taken. It’s already obvious that professionalisation and specialisation will become increasingly important themes in the coming years. We’re not going to need as many tank drivers or gunners in the future and will have to invest in skills that are more relevant for combating modern security threats. But for now, we will be working to implement the reforms that have already been agreed.

What military assistance is currently provided to Bosnia and Herzegovina by neighbouring countries, and within what framework?

At ministerial level, there is now good defence cooperation throughout the region. This is a relatively recent development that is good news both for the countries in the region and the wider international community. We use these ministerial meetings to exchange information about the process of integration into both the Partnership for Peace and NATO and I find it especially useful to learn from countries such as Croatia, Hungary and Romania that have gone much further down this path. Otherwise, we have identified further areas of mutual cooperation. These include dialogue at high political and military level and the exchange of information, as well as regional training and education initiatives.

The most visible manifestation of regional cooperation that is currently available to Bosnia and Herzegovina is probably the Regional Arms Control Verification and Implementation Assistance Centre in Zagreb in Croatia. In Sarajevo, we have established a Peace-Support Operational Training Centre. This Centre is important for Bosnia and Herzegovina, but we also see it as an important institution at the regional level. For Bosnia and Herzegovina it's important because we don't have any state-level training institutions, and we see it as an opportunity to bring military officers together for their professional development. But 25 per cent of those who are supposed to attend programmes come from elsewhere in the region. The Centre should be recognised by the United Nations so that all attendees will be issued with certificates that will enable them to participate in UN or other peacekeeping operations.

What cooperation programmes currently exist with NATO?

Our situation is specific because we're not a member of the PfP programme. We are, nevertheless, working with NATO within the framework of a Security Cooperation Programme, which is focused on professional development seminars. Some of these seminars take place at the SHAPE School in Oberammergau in Germany. Others take place in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are, however, expecting to become PFP members any day and, as such, anticipate widening the areas of cooperation very soon.

What would membership of the Partnership for Peace mean for Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Membership of the Partnership for Peace would be important both to the way that Bosnia and Herzegovina sees itself and the way that it is seen by others. In effect, it would be a sign that Bosnia and Herzegovina had become a credible member of the international community. By becoming a NATO Partner, we would be a good way down the path towards a democratic, safe and more prosperous future. On the practical side, PfP membership would also bring with it access to more training programmes and activities that will speed our efforts to build stability.

Since membership of the Partnership for Peace depends largely on cooperation in arresting Radovan Karadzic, why are the Republika Srpska authorities not being more cooperative?

Full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague is the most important pre-condition Bosnia and Herzegovina has to fulfil to join the Partnership for Peace and Republika Srpska has not been sufficiently cooperative. That is a fact. The reasons for the lack of cooperation are many and complex. However, they essentially boil down to the behaviour of individuals. For me, it's extremely important that this last obstacle that stands between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Partnership for Peace is removed as soon as is possible. On the positive side, I think a new political climate is emerging in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska and that there is greater understanding of the importance of this question and more political will to resolve the issue.

How difficult do Croat, Muslim and Serb soldiers find it to cooperate today, given that many of them were fighting each other less than a decade ago?

I can't claim that they do not face problems. However, the problems are significantly smaller than one might expect, especially if you compare Bosnia and Herzegovina with other post-conflict countries, either elsewhere in Southeastern Europe or elsewhere in the world. Indeed, throughout our history we Bosnians have frequently demonstrated a remarkable capacity to work together and rally together. That is the key. Otherwise, the reform process is helping build mechanisms by which we can live and work together.

Is war now unthinkable in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or could it break out again?

Everything my colleagues and I are doing is based on the premise that the war is well and truly behind us. I hope that my generation is the last in this country to have to go through such an experience.

How do you view the termination of SFOR and the deployment of EUFOR?

I see it as an opportunity for Bosnia and Herzegovina that will help us get closer to our ultimate goal, which is admission into NATO. SFOR has been extremely successful. It has created a safe environment and it has enabled us to reach the level of stability we enjoy today. However, it's now increasingly up to Bosnian institutions to take responsibility for the peace process and to think to the future of our country beyond the foreign military and civilian presence. We have to take our destiny in our own hands. The process by which SFOR is handing over to EUFOR is helping focus minds on Bosnia and Herzegovina. EUFOR should be the last foreign military presence under a UN mandate in this country and will likely come to an end in the not too distant future. On the practical side, I am hoping to establish good working relations with the European Union’s military structures and am happy that a NATO headquarters will remain in Sarajevo to help speed our reform efforts.

How might Bosnia and Herzegovina contribute to enhancing security in Southeastern Europe and beyond?

In the Balkans security is everything. Without regional security there can be no security for any individual country. Bosnia and Herzegovina is in many ways a microcosm of the wider region with cultural, ethnic and religious diversity. Many see this diversity as a handicap. But I think that this can be an advantage and that our diversity should be viewed as a strength and as a bridge to other countries. On a practical level, we will contribute most to the stability of the region by maintaining the pace of reform and ensuring that we are not a source of instability, but rather a source of stability and security. We have also decided to prepare our forces to be able to play an active role in future peacekeeping operations world-wide.