Brigadier-General Anders Brännström is the Swedish Brigadier General commanding Multinational Brigade (MNB) Centre in Kosovo within the NATO-led KFOR mission.

(© KFOR)

MNB Centre is deployed in central and northeastern Kosovo and headquartered in Pristina. The area has a population of about 700,000, including Albanians, Gorans and Serbs. Brigadier-General Brännström has spent much of his career in Sweden's Arctic Infantry, where he has had a variety of appointments from platoon leader to brigade commander. In 1982 and 1983, he served as a platoon leader in the Swedish UN Battalion in Cyprus. And in summer 2000, he commanded the Swedish battalion (SWEBAT) in Kosovo. He is the only Partner officer currently commanding a sector in a NATO-led operation.

How difficult is it for soldiers from Partner nations to work together with their NATO peers in complex peace support operations?

It's actually quite easy to work together. This is the result of ten years of cooperating with NATO in the framework of the Partnership for Peace, as well as our experience in Bosnia and Herzegovina where Sweden deployed 12 battalions in the 1990s. Moreover, in Kosovo we have already been working together for five years. Critically, all soldiers - whether NATO or non-NATO - are, above all, soldiers with similar training and similar values. This makes the overall experience extremely positive.

What has been your greatest challenge as an officer for a Partner country running a key sector of a NATO-led operation?

My greatest challenge is the same as that which any commanding officer, whether from a Partner country or a NATO member state, would face. It is to get the very best out of the eight nations that make up MNB Centre. It is to make multinationality a strength and not a weakness.

Based on your experience in Kosovo, do you have any suggestions for improving the way soldiers from Partner nations work together with their NATO peers?

Harmonising staff procedures and communication systems is extremely important. Otherwise, when it comes to training and preparing young soldiers, non-commissioned officers and officers for multinational operations, the most important basic skill is that of language. It is absolutely critical for everyone involved to be able to communicate effectively in English.

In addition to language, what other key skills do soldiers require to be effective peacekeepers?

Peacekeepers need to be fair, firm and friendly. That goes for all levels in a peacekeeping operation. Locals have to see that a peacekeeper is friendly to those people who cooperate with him but that he can be tough with those who do not. In this way, peacekeepers will earn the respect of both local people and of other international organisations operating on the ground, which is essential to the success of a mission. The key skills are in fact simply those of a good soldier. And a good soldier will command respect from all parties.

Do you perceive any difference in the attitudes of Kosovars, whether ethnic Albanian or Serb to peacekeepers from Partner nations?

Differences are not ethnically based. Overall, the local population - both Albanian and Serb - has as much respect for soldiers from Partner nations as from the NATO countries. I should, however, highlight the exception to this rule. While ordinary, honest people from all ethnic backgrounds have a very positive attitude towards the peacekeepers, the criminal element and people with a destructive political agenda are hostile towards us. This may be a good sign, since it suggests that we are doing a good job.

The sector for which you are responsible, Multinational Brigade Centre, covers some of the most emotionally charged territory in Kosovo including Kosovo Polje the site of the celebrated battle of 1389. What impact if any has this had on your mission both in your preparations and in its day to day operations?

It is extremely important for all peacekeepers and especially for anyone in a leadership position to study the background to the conflict and the history of the area and its peoples. In this respect, I have a great advantage since I was the commanding officer of the Swedish battalion here in the summer of 2000 and am able to draw on that experience. The job of Battle Group Commander is not, of course, the same as that of Brigade Commander, but my earlier six-month tour stands me in good stead for my current assignment. Otherwise, it is critical to have good advisers. Before I came back to Kosovo I made sure that I had extremely good people around me.

How much of your time and effort is devoted to protecting ethnic Serb communities and what are the prospects for further sustainable Serb returns?

My task is to protect all ethnicities, people and organisations, as well as anyone and anything else that is threatened. I don't have any statistics concerning how much time we devote to one community as opposed to another. In any case, we work on these issues together with the police forces. I think that security is an important factor that potential returnees take into consideration when deciding whether or not to return. But it is not the only factor. The prospects for returns, therefore, depend on a combination of several factors. The state of the economy is, for example, also extremely important. We support anybody who wishes to return and to this end are trying to make the environment as safe and secure as possible.

KFOR has been in Kosovo for close to five years and generally remains popular. However, a final political solution for the province remains some years away. What impact has the lack of certainty over Kosovo's future had on the peace process and have you detected any change in popular attitudes to KFOR between your time in Kosovo in 2000 and now?

If I compare the situation today with that of three years ago, I don't see any change in KFOR's popularity and I don't foresee any change as long as we continue to perform well. A final political solution for Kosovo would probably make my job easier. But we all have to respect the fact that this is a process that will inevitably take time, since it is extremely difficult to resolve the multitude of problems related to Kosovo. I tell my men that our task is to work to create a safe and secure environment and hope that this will help bring about a political solution.

Which particular skills and expertise have the Swedish Armed Forces brought to KFOR?

I would like to highlight two factors. The first is the long history that we have of peacekeeping. Sweden has been involved in peacekeeping missions since the 1940s and Swedish peacekeepers have experience from the Middle East, Cyprus and Congo as well as from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. We are proud of our peacekeeping tradition and of the experience that we bring with us to KFOR. The second factor is the conscript system we have in Sweden. We base all our overseas deployments on people who have been trained as conscripts and who have volunteered to serve in a specific mission. In this way, every single Swedish soldier brings civilian skills to operations such as KFOR and there are teachers, plumbers, policemen and many other professions represented among us. These non-military skills can be extremely useful in peace-support and peacekeeping operations, especially when it comes to working with civilians.

How have you benefited from working together with NATO and how do Swedish soldiers in general benefit from this relationship?

Before coming to Kosovo we had to prepare meticulously for this mission. By working together with NATO forces on the ground we have been able to learn the Alliance's working methods and practical procedures, as well as the way NATO goes about operational planning. At the same time, by working within a NATO framework or indeed any other multinational framework, we are able to make a daily comparison between ourselves and soldiers from other militaries. This is not a competition. Rather it is a constructive exchange of information and opinion, which is positive. As a Swedish officer, both as a professional and as an individual, I have found the experience extremely good. I have received good support from NATO, from my commander, Lieutenant-General Holger Kammerhoff, and from all eight troop-contributing nations within MNB Centre.

How do most Swedes view NATO and might Sweden one day join the Alliance?

According to various studies of Swedish public opinion carried out by pollsters like Gallup, the majority of Swedes do not wish to join NATO. However, a question that is never asked in these polls is what Swedes think about Sweden working together with NATO. Here, I'm sure that most Swedes are very happy to be working with NATO in the PfP framework and in peacekeeping missions here in Kosovo, in Bosnia and Herzegovina and possibly in other places in the future. I feel that we're learning a lot from working with many different militaries, people and organisations within the NATO structure. And I'm sure that we can continue contributing to the common international effort here. As to whether we may one day join the Alliance, that's a political question and you have to ask a politician who is more competent to answer it.