Reforming Bosnia and Herzegovina’s defence institutions

James R. Locher III and Michael Donley analyse the progress that Bosnia and Herzegovina has made in the field of defence reform.

Marching to the same beat: Bosnia and Herzegovina now has a state-level Defence Ministry, Joint Staff and Operational Command (© Bosnian MOD )

Given that Bosnia and Herzegovina was at war less than a decade ago, it is remarkable how far the country has progressed in the intervening period in many areas and, especially in the recent past, in the security field. Despite ending the war with three rival ethnic armies, today Bosnia and Herzegovina is well on its way to meeting the defence-reform benchmarks identified by NATO as pre-requisites for entry into the Alliance's Partnership for Peace programme. Indeed, the only obstacle standing between Bosnia and Herzegovina and PfP membership is cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague (ICTY).

The pace of military reform has been particularly rapid during the past 18 months since the creation of a Defence Reform Commission to oversee the process. Under Commission auspices, Bosnian officials have established new state-level defence institutions to support their country's strategic objective of integration into Euro-Atlantic political and security structures. Moreover, as NATO hands responsibility for day-to-day security provision in Bosnia and Herzegovina to the European Union, the Alliance will refocus its efforts and take on a leadership role in the Defence Reform Commission to promote an ambitious defence-reform agenda.

High Representative Lord Ashdown established the Defence Reform Commission in May 2003 in the wake of revelations about illegal arms sales to Iraq, tasking it with drafting the legal and constitutional changes necessary to make Bosnia and Herzegovina a credible PfP candidate. The Commission's 12 members and four observers brought together for the first time under a single mandate the full range of local officials and international organisations involved in security and focused their work on a specific set of institutional reforms. NATO has been represented by Ambassador Robert Serry, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Crisis Management, and by the commander of the Alliance's Stabilisation Force (SFOR).

Working with the High Representative and Bosnian officials, the NATO Secretary General set out NATO's expectations for a credible PfP candidature. These included introduction of a state-level, civilian-led command and control structure including a state-level Defence Ministry; democratic parliamentary control and oversight of the armed forces; transparency in defence plans and budgets; development of a Bosnian security policy; and common doctrine, training and equipment standards. These expectations provided the basis for the High Representative's guidance to the Defence Reform Commission and the Commission's work plan for 2003. In addition to these defence reforms, the Secretary General made clear that Bosnia and Herzegovina needed to cooperate fully with the ICTY by detaining and surrendering individuals indicted for war crimes.

Defence reform has proved a complex process in almost all post-communist countries that have joined the Partnership for Peace. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, the challenge has been that much greater since, in addition to having to reform defence structures inherited from its communist past, the country has had to come to terms with and address the legacy of three-and-a-half years of war.

The communist inheritance included highly politicised command elements, weak civilian control below the head of state, almost no connectivity or communication between the Defence Ministries and general staffs, lack of transparency in budgeting and administration, and weak parliamentary oversight. The post-war environment was characterised by fragmented political authority and lack of trust.

Under the terms of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, defence matters were largely left in the hands of the entities - Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina - rather than with the new state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unique among its post-communist counterparts, therefore, Bosnia and Herzegovina embarked upon its defence-reform process with two Defence Ministries and divergent military establishments with competing political and ethnic loyalties. Bosnia and Herzegovina also had a third defence establishment: a weak Standing Committee on Military Matters at the state level.

Political breakthrough

Despite these challenges, Bosnia and Herzegovina has managed to meet nearly all of NATO's expectations. Following an intense period of consensus building and negotiation between May and September 2003, the Defence Reform Commission reached unanimous agreement on a 293-page report setting out the way forward. This report included draft changes to the two entity constitutions, three entity-level laws and two state-level laws, as well as proposals for two new laws, including a state-level defence law.

Bosnia and Herzegovina embarked upon defence reform with two Defence Ministries and divergent military establishments with competing political and ethnic loyalties

Constitutional and other legal changes approved by the state and entity governments made the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina supreme in defence, established civilian control over the military and created a new state-level Defence Ministry, Joint Staff and Operational Command. New laws set out the roles and functions of key officials, establish operational and administrative chains of command, and create new procedures for planning and coordinating defence budgets. Entity armies were made part of a single military establishment - the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina - commanded by a single operational chain of command. The Bosnian Parliament created a Joint Commission on Security and Defence to oversee these new state-level institutions, officials, and procedures. Entity Defence Ministries retained responsibility for administrative matters, such as manning, training and equipping the entity armies.

In addition to legal changes, Bosnian officials agreed to reduce active forces by a further 40 per cent to a total of 12,000 personnel; to shrink reserves by 75 per cent to 60,000; and to slash the annual intake of conscripts and the length of their service.

In the wake of this breakthrough, the High Representative extended and refocused the mandate of the Defence Reform Commission to assist Bosnian officials in the implementation of legislated reforms. The Commission's primary focus in 2004 has been to assist in building up the state-level Defence Ministry, Joint Staff, and Operational Command. Three major initiatives supported this work.

First, the North Atlantic Council, NATO's highest decision-making body, endorsed 14 implementation benchmarks to measure Bosnia and Herzegovina's readiness for PfP membership. Although it had been hoped that Bosnia and Herzegovina might be ready to join the Partnership for Peace by the December 2003 NATO Ministerial Meetings, the legislative process continued through the end of the year leaving no time for Bosnia and Herzegovina to demonstrate that reforms were being implemented. The 14 benchmarks outlined the progress in implementation - such as appointment and installation of key officials, Defence Ministry staffing, and reductions in force levels - expected to be accomplished by the Alliance's June 2004 Istanbul Summit. These benchmarks assisted the Defence Reform Commission in developing specific goals and timetables for implementation of agreed reforms.

Second, anticipating that Bosnia and Herzegovina would accomplish NATO's benchmarks by the middle of 2004, the Defence Reform Commission established a broader strategic agenda for 2004-5. In addition to completing the benchmarks, this agenda outlined other priority tasks and initiatives consistent with building up state competencies in defence. These include the renovation of buildings and infrastructure to support new institutions, establishment of a state-level command and control system, implementation of force restructuring leading to common equipment and training, development of a common military personnel system and reforming military intelligence.

Third, the Defence Reform Commission created nine teams - covering such areas as personnel, education and training, budget, finance and audit - to help Bosnian officials meet the NATO benchmarks and plan the actions necessary to implement the strategic agenda. The teams, co-chaired by local and international experts, often deliver products in the form of recommended policies, procedures or instructions for the Defence Ministry to consider issuing to the broader Bosnian defence establishment. The Defence Reform Commission also provides a neutral political environment in which the state and entity Defence Ministers can debate the relative merits of various policy options.

These three Commission initiatives have enabled the new Defence Ministry, which is headed by new Bosnian Defence Minister Nikola Radovanovic, to focus on its most important tasks and have given it the political support and technical means necessary to continue and extend the successful implementation of defence reforms. In recognition of the role he has played in this process, Minister Radovanovic was appointed a DRC co-chairman in May 2004.

NATO's reform role

At their Istanbul Summit, NATO leaders confirmed that they would bring SFOR's mission to an end in Bosnia and Herzegovina and hand responsibility for day-to-day security to the European Union. In the course of this transition, a new NATO military headquarters has been established in Sarajevo with the principal task of providing advice on defence reform, along with supporting tasks related to counter-terrorism, ICTY support, and intelligence sharing. A senior NATO civilian will co-chair the Defence Reform Commission under a new mandate from the High Representative.

NATO will take on new responsibilities within the Defence Reform Commission. In addition to coordinating and administering the Alliance's own security cooperation - and eventually PfP - programme with Bosnia and Herzegovina, the NATO co-chair will be responsible for leading the broader international involvement and assisting local officials in reaching the political compromises and consensus necessary to take defence reform forward. These new responsibilities will require insightful leadership and close collaboration with the High Representative.

The Defence Reform Commission that NATO will be working through is overseeing a politically successful process with an ongoing reform agenda and team infrastructure to support it. However, the scale of the task has been so great that significant challenges remain. Bosnia and Herzegovina now has three Defence Ministries; its armed forces remain divided into two armies; and the entities rather than the state still fund the defence establishment. In addition, the Defence Reform Commission in partnership with Bosnian officials has had difficulty coordinating bilateral and multilateral offers of training and assistance. Aligning these offers with actual Bosnian priorities and attracting international funding remain challenges. For example, substantial international financing - perhaps through the UN Development Programme and/or NATO trust funds - will be required to dispose of surplus arms and ammunition safely. Finally, ongoing failure to cooperate with the ICTY has continued to deny Bosnia and Herzegovina the benefits of participation in NATO's PfP programme.

Initially conceived as a temporary, technical effort to draft new or amended defence laws, the Defence Reform Commission has evolved into an engine of continuous change addressing all the ongoing strategic, operational, and technical issues relating to Bosnian defence reform. This process has not only assisted Bosnia and Herzegovina in identifying, planning, and implementing necessary reforms; it has also significantly improved coordination within the international community.

Additional reforms are necessary, such as further movement towards a single army (perhaps modelled along the lines of those NATO countries with regional units) and elimination of overlap between the new state-level Defence Ministry and each entity's Defence Ministry. These changes will be difficult, requiring further internal political commitment and compromise. But the experience of the past 18 months suggests they can eventually be accomplished as long as all sides in the Bosnian political leadership see change as necessary to gain the strategic benefit of closer integration into the Euro-Atlantic community.

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