Updated: 24-Apr-2002 NATO Speeches

18 April 2002


of NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson,
to the Bosnian people

It has been just over ten years since the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina broke out. April 6th, 1992, marked the beginning a quick spiral downwards into tragedy - for the dead, for the refugees, and for fragile and combustible neighbouring countries. It also struck a blow at the vision of a country, and of a region, at peace.

The end of that war, in 1995, marked the end of that tragedy, and the beginning of opportunity. Within the framework of the Dayton Peace Accords, and with the support of the international community, the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina were given a second chance to build a modern European country - a country where peace is the norm, where human rights are protected in law and practice, and where ethnic diversity is respected rather than despised.

Over the past six years, there has been progress in meeting those goals. The security situation has improved dramatically for all ethnic groups. Over 1.3 million refugees and internally displaced people have returned to their homes, and more and more are returning to areas where they are in a minority community. In fact, it is estimated that the bulk of remaining refugees and displaced persons who wish to return will be able to do so by 2004. This is an historic achievement, and an example that even the most terrible crimes can be reversed.

The political situation has also improved dramatically - but that process must continue. The common recognition of the equality of the three ethnic groups as constituent peoples in both entities is vital. The international community is looking forward to concrete measures from the local authorities to move this process forward.

These are only some examples of the progress BiH has made over the past six years, and there are more. But let there be no doubt: progress has been too slow, and it has not gone far enough. For BiH to realise its potential, and to enter the European mainstream, essential reforms must be made. They must be made immediately. And they must be made by the people of this country themselves.

Certain essential steps are clear. For example, the armed forces must be reformed. It makes no sense for any country to have separate command and control structures for its military establishment. The Standing Committee on Military Matters must be strengthened, and centralized command and control structures must be put in place. Armed forces under one command and democratic control - that is the model which every country in Europe and North America follows. It is the only model that makes sense. It is also a key requirement for joining the Partnership for Peace (PfP). It would be ironic indeed if Bosnia and Herzegovina were the last country to join PfP, simply because it persisted in hanging on to a military structure that serves no purpose.

Military reform is also urgent for another important reason: money. Simply put, a scandalous amount of money is being spent on Armed Forces in this country - spending that is not required, not productive and which diverts scarce funds from more pressing needs. BiH today spends 10% of its domestic budget on defence, three times as much as the United States. This is absolutely disproportionate, and must be reduced to levels that make sense.

Recent efforts to reduce the size of the armed forces are welcome, but further progress is still required. BiH must develop the kinds of armed forces all European countries need today: appropriately sized, affordable, under unified state control, and capable of participation in multinational peacekeeping operations.

But if Bosnia is to be welcomed into the Euro-Atlantic community, other measures are essential. Cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is high on that list.

Collaboration with ICTY is a keystone of the developing peace in the Balkans. For BiH, as with the rest of the Balkans, facing up honestly and openly to the wounds of the recent past is the only way to heal them, and move definitively towards a brighter future. That is why all those indicted by the Tribunal must -and will -- face trial.

Overall, it is time that the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina take ownership of their country. Instead of blocking reform, or waiting for reform to be imposed, they must themselves do what is necessary to make BiH a viable, healthy country, moving forward towards a bright future. The upcoming elections will be important step in that direction. It is vital that the people of BiH choose leaders who will help their country cease to be an international protectorate, and become a normal European country.

NATO is, and will remain, committed to Bosnia's future. The Alliance will stay engaged politically, to encourage the necessary reforms. NATO troops will continue to make their contribution to a safe and secure environment. But the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina lies fully in the hands of its people. With their courage and vision, Bosnia and Herzegovina can come out of the cold, and enter the Europe of the 21st century.

Go to Homepage Go to Index