No. 4 - July 1996
Vol. 44 - pp. 11-16

The pillars of peace in Bosnia

Admiral Leighton W. Smith, Jr.
Commander, Implementation Force

Adm. Smith
Admiral Smith (left), with SACEUR, General George Joulwan, during a press conference in Sarajevo last January.
(NATO photo / 33Kb)
The NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) mission in Bosnia has been complex and challenging, and its success may point the way to the future of the European security environment. In addition to the military, however, there are two other pillars of the peace process in Bosnia - the civil and the political - for which the same difficult conditions are true, but to an even greater extent. Coordination between the pillars is crucial and IFOR has taken a leading role in coordinating with the civil pillar. It has also been assisting in restoring and reopening the transportation and utilities infrastructures as part of its contribution beyond the military tasks outlined in the peace agreement. Nevertheless, in the end, IFOR can do no more than assure the conditions for the absence of war. It is up to the Parties themselves to assume the responsibilities for rebuilding their society and assuring a lasting peace.

By any measure, the military implementation of the General Framework Agreement for Peace - the Bosnian peace agreement - has been a resounding success. I attribute this success in large measure to the political determination demonstrated by NATO, but also to a tremendous amount of planning, serious training and execution made possible because of the years of work devoted to these kinds of tasks within the Alliance. True, the scenario is certainly not what had been envisaged by our predecessors in the Alliance, but the foundation for what we have accomplished militarily is a direct product of what NATO has accomplished in its past.

Of course, the military aspect of the peace agreement is only one part of the total package. There are, in fact, three pillars which shore up the agreement: these are military, civil and political. If we are to move from the current situation in Bosnia, where we have an absence of war, to the desired state of a lasting peace, we must realize that, in the end, each of the three pillars must be strong enough to bear its share of the load.

When the transfer of authority took place on 20 December 1995, from the Commander of UN Peace Forces to the Commander of IFOR, IFOR's first priority was to establish a secure environment in which we, and the many civilian agencies and organizations with whom we would be working, could go about our various tasks. To do this, we had determined that we needed to demonstrate very early in the operation, and in a clear and convincing manner, that IFOR was indeed different from its predecessor, UNPROFOR - the United Nations Protection Force. This was accomplished within hours of transfer of authority by IFOR forces knocking down checkpoints and crossing the former confrontation lines into Serb-held areas, areas in which UNPROFOR had not previously been allowed to venture.

These acts were followed by other equally significant events which bore out what we had been stating in media releases for some time; NATO forces were robust, we were well trained, well equipped, disciplined, and well led. The bottom line was simple; we were a capable force and one which the former warring factions would be well advised to respect.

Likewise, we would be operating under different rules of engagement - something we had made abundantly clear. We were an implementation force in Bosnia under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, with a mandate from the UN Security Council, and we would use the capabilities of IFOR, as required, to ensure compliance with those tasks assigned to the military in Annex 1A of the General Framework Agreement for Peace. Force protection was a top priority and we would act decisively should our forces be threatened. We made it clear that the decision on the use of force was delegated to the "senior soldier" present. There would be no requirement to wait for permission; the senior soldier present would respond as deemed appropriate if that soldier felt that his or her subordinates were threatened. We were not tested on this score because of the resolve that had been stated and, importantly, demonstrated, in the early days following transfer of authority.

Clearly, IFOR was committed to peaceful implementation of the peace agreement but, if challenged, there had to be no doubt that the force available would be used convincingly when called for. NATO had demonstrated that resolve in Operation Deliberate Force - the air strike campaign in August and September 1995 - and the North Atlantic Council had stated, in no uncertain terms, that it fully supported a continued demonstration of that resolve.

Rapid establishment

The first days of any deployment shape, in many ways, the operational environment. Therefore, we wanted a rapid build-up of combat power. For that to happen at the speed we desired, we would need to have pre-positioned forces. During earlier planning we had laid out detailed requirements for communications, intelligence and logistics. For a variety of reasons, we were very limited in what we were allowed to pre-position, so we were faced with deploying our forces into an uncertain environment, in a Balkan winter, without the support forces having already established themselves in place. Despite the difficulties encountered, the combination of the actions by the UNPROFOR forces who transferred to IFOR upon transfer of authority, and the spirit of our energetic and enthusiastic forces who got on with their jobs, enabled us to rapidly establish ourselves in Bosnia.

'Ploughing new ground' hardly describes what we were doing in those early days, but we had done an enormous amount of planning. We had conducted countless 'brainstorming' sessions where the IFOR leadership had met face to face to discuss a variety of issues, we trained our staffs, established a deployable Joint Operations Centre with the help of the SHAPE Technical Center and received clear military guidance from the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), General George Joulwan. Therefore, in many ways, execution was the easy part.

Balkan Winter
"Inhospitable is perhaps too mild a term to describe the environment" faced by the IFOR contingencies deploying in a Balkan winter.
(US Department of Defense photo / 28Kb)
If I've learned nothing else in my 34 years in the United States Navy, it is to recognize talented people and good work. I have been blessed with an abundance of both. The entire Allied Forces Southern Europe (AFSOUTH) staff made significant contributions, each in his or her own way, but Lt. General Marvin Covault, and his successor as the AFSOUTH Chief of Staff, Lt. General Bill Carter, were absolutely essential in guiding the efforts of so many and bringing together the final product, an executable plan. Planning support and staff augmentation were provided by Major Subordinate Command colleagues, Air Chief Marshall Sir Richard Johns and General Helge Hansen, adding a significant burden to their already demanding NATO duties.

The staffs of the Air, Land, Sea, Support and Special Operations Components were equally challenged; the seemingly endless details that would later make the plan work had to be developed by those who would be at the point of the spear, actually doing the work. I could go on and on recognizing the splendid and productive work of so many more, but suffice to say that the successes we have enjoyed would never have been remotely possible had it not been for the work of a lot of talented people. That made easy the application of a philosophy in which I have long believed: "centralized planning, decentralized execution".

The Component Commanders knew their individual plans and, since we had spent hours with each other during planning sessions, seminars and training opportunities, each knew a great deal about his colleague's plan. Because military success is as much a function of synchronization and coordination as it is anything else, the knowledge shared and, importantly, the bonding that occurred between the Components were essential and have proven to be significant factors in our success. No one Commander could go it alone; no one Component could achieve success on its own. But, everyone knew that any single Commander, or Component, could cause failure if they did not do their jobs.

By the time the peace agreement was signed in Paris on 14 December last year, we had already put in place some of our forces, but not nearly what we had hoped. Nevertheless, deployment began in earnest. Additional ships sailed into the Adriatic joining those already involved in the embargo enforcement operation Sharp Guard. They took up their stations, swept for mines, launched aircraft and ensured the maritime superiority necessary for the ships that would follow with troops and equipment. Additional aircraft arrived at the several Italian bases already supporting Deny Flight assets. Air activity over Bosnia immediately increased and Close Air Support (CAS), to protect forces on the ground, was a high priority. These naval and air build-ups were rapid and convincing. Their presence did not go unnoticed; a new environment was being established, a new era had begun. This was precisely what we had planned.

We anticipated special challenges while deploying ground forces during a Balkan winter and we were not disappointed. Inhospitable is perhaps too mild a term to describe the environment. But again, anticipation and training paid off. Despite the difficulties, our force build-up occurred basically on schedule and without serious incident.

To the great credit of Lt. General Mike Walker and his three Divisional Commanders, many of the more difficult and potentially dangerous implementation tasks of the peace agreement were carried out during the initial stages of deployment. In Sarajevo, some 40 positions (20 Serb and 20 Bosniac) were evacuated and/or destroyed on D+7 - that is seven days after transfer of authority; former warring faction forces removed all forces and weapons from the two-kilometre exclusion zone along the entire former line of confrontation and checkpoints were removed, all the while setting up camps, hooking up communications, establishing contacts with the various parties with whom they would deal during the coming months, developing intelligence, opening roads and providing for the forces that were yet to come.

No one could fail to be impressed with what IFOR accomplished in the early days of Joint Endeavour. But another dimension of the successes, not fully appreciated by some, was the integration of forces which are not members of the Alliance. Over the first three months of Joint Endeavour, 16 non-NATO countries were first certified by either AFNORTHWEST or AFCENT (1), after which some transferred from UNPROFOR, while others were deployed to the theatre. These forces have been fully integrated into the IFOR and each one is contributing, in its own way, to the military tasks of the peace agreement. This was not an insignificant task, nor was it an easy one. In some cases the timing of the introduction of the force was not ideal, from a military perspective. But in the end, the composition of IFOR, where NATO and non-NATO forces, some of whom were former adversaries, work side by side in a complex peace support operation, is as much a statement on the future security environment in Europe as it is on the implementation of the peace agreement itself.

The other pillars

Non-NATO forces "have been fully integrated into the IFOR". Here, an American IFOR soldier (right) familiarizes his Russian colleague with American equipment.
(EPA/Belga 33Kb)
I said earlier that there are three pillars of this peace process. If I have done nothing else, I hope I have made clear that, for the military, the process itself is complex, the mission new and the operation one in which every day brings a new challenge. I would suggest that the very same conditions are true, and to an even greater extent, for the other two pillars, civil and political. I would also suggest that, while there has been progress in both, these two pillars have understandably not yet experienced the same rate of maturity or success as the military pillar.

Criticism that "the civilian organizations" have been slow in standing up to their tasks is, in my judgement, unfair. In fact, some of the civilian organizations have been in Bosnia for several years and have never stopped meeting the daunting responsibilities that were thrust upon them by the conditions in that war-torn country. Thousands of lives have been saved by the work of hundreds of volunteers who have met challenges head on, often in the face of grave personal dangers. I would, therefore, offer that the 'criticism' is not levied against those whom I have described above but, rather, against the lack of a strategic or operational plan that draws together the talents and contributions of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private volunteer organizations (PVOs) into organized and coherent, mutually supportive action. Therein lies the fundamental difference between military forces and their civilian counterparts.

Each of the various NGOs and PVOs has its own governing body, its own bank account and, in some cases, its own agenda. These factors alone make it extraordinarily difficult to draw them into a single plan. That is not to say that the aims of these noble efforts are incompatible; it merely recognizes a fundamental truth. This truth, in my view, has hampered the overall effort because there is clearly interdependence among these organizations. Nevertheless, that single plan is now coming together and IFOR is assisting in its development. We have members of our Civilian-Military Coordination (

Carl Bildt (left), the High Representative, is greeted by Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini prior to talks in Rome on 28 May.
(EPA/Belga 40Kb)
These efforts to assist the civil pillar are not all inclusive, but they do point out the importance we place on the relationship and coordination necessary between two of the three pillars. Indeed, my own relationship with the extremely capable High Representative, Mr. Carl Bildt, has been absolutely critical to our suceessful mission thus far. The work of both pillars is, in many ways, interdependent, and certainly crucial, each in its own way, to the rebuilding process in Bosnia. Despite our efforts at coordination, at times there are inevitable frustrations on the civil side. A distinct advantage the IFOR enjoys is the ability to make decisions and implement actions without the requirement to wade through the local bureaucracy that tends to hobble the civilian side.

We have funds allotted for specific purposes; we decide, and we can execute. Some important examples include work that IFOR has done to rebuild or reinforce some 50 bridges, with another 19 scheduled for work; to open over 50 per cent of the rail lines and over 90 per cent of the main road system; to repair buildings, restore water and power and assist in repairing telecommunications systems. We are involved in over 300 civic projects, with more on the horizon.

Because our forces are spread throughout the country we have also been able to provide to the civil side information developed to help prioritize repairs critical to restoring many of the basic infrastructure needs in Bosnia. Again, these figures, and the projects they represent, are by no means all inclusive, but they do serve as examples of the contributions IFOR has made, and continues to make, beyond the purely military tasks outlined in the peace agreement. However, despite all the coordination and work between the military and civil organizations, sooner rather than later, the Parties themselves must assume the responsibilities for implementing the agreements they signed in Paris.

The political pillar

Mr. Christopher
US Secretary of State Warren Christopher (left) and Serbian President Slobodan Milosovic during discussion on Bosnian issues in Geneva on 2 June.
(AP / 30Kb)
Of the three pillars, the one which has been truly disappointing to me is the third one, or the one I describe as the 'political pillar'.

IFOR can provide the environment in which the people of Bosnia can achieve peace. But, neither IFOR, nor any other body external to Bosnia, can bring peace to the people of that country; only they themselves can do that. This requires, among other things, political leadership willing to take the necessary risks, demonstrate the will and set the example for their constituents in moving towards peace. Regrettably, these important parts of the peace building process are not in evidence. Agreements negotiated in good faith are often disavowed by the same people who negotiated and signed them, often before the ink is dry. Failures on the part of the parties are routinely blamed on everyone, and every institution, except those responsible for taking the actions necessary to move the country from an absence of war to a lasting and meaningful peace.

Freedom of movement is a classic case in point. We see, on a daily basis, illegal checkpoints on all sides that have no other purpose than to restrict the movement of the other two sides. Bosniacs stop Croats and Serbs; Croats stop Serbs and Bosniacs; and Serbs stop Bosniacs and Croats. Freedom of movement is a fundamental right guaranteed by all parties, yet the actions of all parties in restricting this freedom is the single biggest impediment to achieving normalcy in Bosnia. As this is written, IFOR has shut down over 322 illegal checkpoints. The good news is that we are seeing far fewer now and we shall continue our efforts to facilitate this all important right.

Another disappointment, and an issue which has the potential to be very disruptive, is the continued and obvious presence of indicted war criminals who constantly remind us that agreements reached are not necessarily agreements honoured. IFOR is committed to detaining any indicted war criminal with whom it comes into contact in the performance of its mission. But again, sooner, rather than later, the Parties who agreed to cooperate with the International Tribunal must be held to account for what they freely signed up to do.

An investigator from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia marking where bullet casings were found at the site of a suspected mass grave in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
(EPA/Belga 73Kb)
Some progress has been made on Federation issues, such as the recent agreements between Bosnian Croats and Muslims to merge their militaries and establish common financial institutions. However, we do not see the toughness required to make the kinds of compromises that will satisfy the urgent desires of the people to regain some normalcy in their lives. The leadership of all the parties must recognize that the future of Bosnia is in their hands; success or failure of the peace depends, ultimately, on their actions and examples and on no one else. Recent speeches by Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, urging the citizens of Bosnia to begin the healing process through reconciliation, represent a welcome change. We all hope this previously absent approach will take root and the building of a lasting peace can begin in earnest.

No one can predict with certainty the outcome of this operation but one thing is abundantly clear: the opportunity for peace in Bosnia has never been better. IFOR seeks to facilitate the difficult process by providing an environment in which the three pillars of peace can be solidly constructed. But, no matter how hard we try, at the end of the day it will be the parties themselves who will have to assume the burdens of risk, negotiation and accommodation that will set the tone for reconciliation and, ultimately, move Bosnia from an absence of war to a lasting peace.

Each soldier, sailor, airman and marine in IFOR has contributed much of his or herself and willingly made significant sacrifices in getting us where we are today. They all look with pride on what they have accomplished in this joint endeavour and hope that their efforts will be rewarded with a meaningful and lasting peace for those who wish for it more than any others, the citizens of Bosnia.


(1) Allied Forces North West Europe and Allied Forces Central Europe, respectively.

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