Lessons of NATO involvement in the Balkans

Brig. Gen. James Baxter, UK Advisor on Military Restructuring to the government of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (ª)<br />"Securing Peace: NATO's Role in Crisis Management and Conflict Resolution"

  • 16 Oct. 2003
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  • Last updated: 03 Nov. 2008 22:58

Thanks etc
I arrived in Macedonia at the end of 2001 loaned by my Government following a request from the Macedonian authorities for a high level adviser on defence and security sector reform. As NATO shifted the emphasis of its operations in the country from tactical operations towards an advisory role I now have become the focus for the ongoing NATO advisory effort. I am embedded in the Government and deal largely at the Strategic level. I work principally on behalf of the Minister of Defence yet I support and advise the President's Office on military matters. I have also been used on national security projects such as the production of national strategies on defence and security and the development of a national crisis management mechanism. I advise on operational principles and procedures but by mutual consent I maintain a firewall that means I will not be consulted on the conduct of actual operations.

The bulk of my contribution will cover the challenge of SSR. None the less I felt I should provide one or two reflections from an insider's perspective on the key lessons from the NATO and EU operations in Macedonia since the crisis. They are not new nor are they necessarily directly applicable to the challenges that will face NATO, as we look further east.

- The value of rapid projection of capabilities as demonstrated in ESSENTIAL HARVEST
- The important role played by NATO negotiators, information experts and administrators in the political process and in support of military deployments. Perhaps NATO needs a deployable civilian staff of this nature.
- The excellent cooperation and coordination achieved by the main international bodies engaged in the reconciliation and stabilisation process.

Moving now to SSR - I would like to set out what I see as the nature of the challenge reformers and advisers face. The example I use will inevitably be Macedonia. However, I describe a situation that persisted over a year ago, much has already changed and much more I am certain will change in the future. In addition many of the obstacles to change I will cover have and will be encountered elsewhere:

- Firstly, Macedonia provides a very good example of inadequate civilian political control and oversight of the security sector caused by a grey constitutional framework that does not adequately define competencies between the Government and the President which can provoke political mistrust and allows both competition and duplication of effort right across the security sector. Some of the more serious consequences of this have been poorly coordinated reactions to security incidents, an independent and conservative military establishment and a militaristic and Para-military culture in the Police.
- Secondly the main security institutions are generally immature and their development buffeted by a long period of instability. Crucially until recently the Government did not have a unifying security strategy and the response to instability was generally characterised by poor inter ministerial cooperation, disjointed and poorly coordinated operations at the political and operational levels and a preference for mass and numbers at the tactical level as opposed to properly targeted intelligence led operations.
- There is a lack of civilian management skills and expertise compounded by a system of political patronage that often ignores talent and qualifications. In defence this cedes dominance to wily, conservative and privileged GS who generally fear reform. They in turn use their influence to cling to unrealistic force structures.
- Next there is the high political and economic price of reform. In a country where unemployment is currently in excess of 40% and where there is negligible economic growth the downsizing of the military is an activity fraught with political and social problems. In addition, the cost of reform has to be set against a range of other pressing priorities not least the implementation of the Framework Agreement resulting in a constant search for the minimalist and least disruptive solution.

How then does one confront challenges like these and what are the issues and dilemmas reformers like myself face are likely to encounter as NATO looks to other areas.

- Firstly, I believe it is very important to take a broad approach to security sector reform. Effective and enduring reform is not possible unless the process embraces a fairly wide definition of the security sector to include, the police, the military, border guards, intelligence services, crisis management mechanisms and customs services. Too broad a definition can cause a loss of focus but account must also be taken of parallel reform efforts in areas such as developing good governance and Justice and Home Affairs Reform. There is a tendency for international bodies to approach Security Sector Reform on a compartmentalised basis with different aims and objectives without linking the processes together under an overarching strategy. This does not match the trend since September 11 for much deeper integration of security sectors. In Skopje a range of reformers principally comprising the Stability Pact but also the IMF, public administration reform programmes meet regularly to share experiences and coordinate where coordination is required. We do not work to a strategy but we wish we did.
- An associated point is that through our rather compartmentalised efforts at reform I believe that we fail to do enough to bind security activity together. In Macedonia we have numerous ongoing reform efforts targeted at every element of the security sector but there is still little appreciation at the heart of government of how to synchronise and to coordinate security. The Government must take responsibility for this and I believe it is fundamentally important to start with a national strategy, which identifies ends, ways and means and keeps them in balance. Otherwise the tendency is for improvisation, duplication and lack of coordination. If you agree with this it is essential that the initial focus of reform is to work top down - to empower key decision makers and officials charged with the implementation of change. This is the way I have worked - but I have not had and equivalent counterpart in the Interior Ministry or more particularly in the PM's office, a gap I have sometimes filled but a balance that is essential. In spite of this, we are now starting to see substantial progress in Macedonia on the basis of new hierarchy of strategies - at the top end there is a new overarching concept for National Security and Defence and the Government are about one third of the way through a Strategic Defence Review. At lower levels there are police reform strategies and integrated border management strategies. Work is underway to develop a crisis management mechanism that will coordinate security operations and the work of the intelligence agencies. Implementation will not be simple but the approach is correct.
- The need for adequate resources for reform is a key issue and here Governments face the dilemma that you have to invest and spend in the short term to make defence and security affordable over the long term. This is a difficult concept to inculcate and realise when budgets are tightly and centrally controlled on an annual basis and there is insufficient appreciation of the need, particularly in defence, to plan and programme over a period of years. It is important that NATO and other organisations in the future and elsewhere are able to provide more focussed advice and help to identify additional resources or donations. It is not something that can be done easily at the coalface and the current processes are rather slow and complex.
- Balance between ownership and dependency. Truly enduring reform cannot be imposed from the outside it must be developed and grown from within. Such is the comprehensive nature of the international community presence and reform agenda in Macedonia that there is a clear tendency for the various external actors to try and do too much. Too many advisers are a bad thing and I have too often been asked for advice on advisors or to mediate and coordinate between well intentioned groups. More importantly we must be careful by working in this manner that we do not create too deep a state of dependency. Embedded advisers are essential in the initial stages of a reform effort but we must take care not to take on too many responsibilities and focus on developing the skills of decision makers.
- Too often we ignore the fact that there is a pressing need to educate civil society in defence and security matters. Whilst Governments have done a great deal to adapt old structures to new realities reform requirements are rarely adequately exposed or discussed as part of an inclusive and transparent public debate. The paucity and often-partisan and badly informed media reporting of security issues is partly to blame. However, unless public opinion is properly engaged there will be a serious lack of a non-governmental capacity to make a contribution to the checks and balances required in civil military and civil-security sector relations.

The final area I felt it is important to cover is who does it and how perhaps we could do it a little better:

- International bodies - many of the international bodies are reinventing themselves as SSR has risen in importance and become entwined in a broader range of transitional issues. SSR cannot be run by one organisation. The co-operation within the Stability Pact has been a framework of sorts for coordinating efforts in the Balkans. A similar but much more focussed and comprehensive approach - making clear who does what will be essential as attention shifts to the greater Middle East. I feel that NATO should not necessarily confine itself to military matters, especially as security sectors become more interlinked. National crisis management, intelligence coordination, supporting democratic oversight of armed forces, resettlement of redundant military and demobilised militias, centralised training and assistance and the extension of the clearinghouse process to the security sector are all potential growth areas for NATO. This is an activity where the IS/IMS and the military chain of command need to combine and unify their efforts.
- Bi-lateral efforts and assistance programmes are important but they need to be coordinated properly or they can become counterproductive to states overloaded with reform. Something we have managed to do in the NATO Advisory presence in Macedonia is to secure the acceptance of the Allies that I should play a coordinating role and direct national programmes more precisely to the needs of the Macedonians. This has not always been easy especially in the area of equipment donations and sales where the potential rewards for nations can be lucrative.
- Non-state actors - I will cover 2 main groups: firstly, NGOs who are essential to the process of educating civil society. Certainly we need more involvement of these groups but the focus should be directed not to the direct support of policy and reform implementation but more to the process of assisting ministers in promoting the understanding of sector issues and advising ministers on how to communicate and legitimise their plans. The other group comprises the private military companies, principally the defence consultancy firms who operate throughout Central and South East Europe. Opinions vary on these firms. The NATO Advisory Team works with and alongside the US firm contracted to the Macedonian MOD and our activities are entirely complementary - I tend to work on policy and concepts they are experts at developing the appropriate lower level processes. I have nothing but praise for their work, but observe that ex soldiers in the advisory business adapt very quickly to commercial imperatives. Serving officers want to see security self-sufficiency and to trust that the nation they are assisting will be fit and competent in all respects to fit into the Alliance.

In the first wave of defence transformation, NATO HQ and advisory teams from several core nations of the Alliance have played a crucial role in the enlargement process. As a consequence of which there is now a new generation of hardened and experienced reformers. In the difficult challenges posed by new operational theatres the Alliance has great potential and knowledge that could be brought to bear. However, security sector reform needs coordination from the highest to the lowest levels and we must be mindful that it will never be a short-term activity, if we commit it is for the long haul.

(ª) Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.