Updated: 05-Apr-2002 Week of 25-31 March 2002

26 March 2002

Restructuring the armed forces
in Bosnia and Herzegovina

One of the main issues raised during the visit of the Tri-Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina to NATO HQ on 13 March 2002 was the restructuring of the country's armed forces. NATO's Stabilisation Force (SFOR) has been assisting the country's Standing Committee on Military Matters (SCMM) in this matter since May 2000 when the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) in Ministerial Session requested NATO's assistance. Since that time SFOR, working in close cooperation with the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, has assisted authorities in the downsizing of armed forces, as well as in the restructuring of those forces to make them affordable and capable of fulfilling their role in the service of the state and of the international community.

This work has presented enormous challenges, and when complete, will have involved the development and approval of a defence and security policy for the country, the reduction in the size of its armed forces by almost 75 percent, the development of a state-level command and control structure for the armed forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina (AfiBH), the creation of mechanisms to provide for state-level parliamentary oversight of defence plans and budgets, and common standards for training and equipping the armed forces.

In the longer term the goal is to help Bosnia and Herzegovina along the path to membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) and other European and Euro-Atlantic institutions. This process involves significant changes to be made in the political, economic and defence sectors in the country. In the field of defence, Bosnia and Herzegovina has made significant progress over the past two years. The Presidency has formally declared the desire of the country to join PFP, and during their recent meeting with the North Atlantic Council on 13 March, the Presidents reported on progress towards this goal.

A national defence policy was approved in 2001 and it is hoped that a security policy will be complete by mid-2002. Driven largely by affordability issues, the size of the AFiBH has decreased by approximately 25 percent over the levels of two years ago. These forces should decrease another 30 percent by the end of this year. This rapid downsizing of the armed forces has raised the spectre of a large number of soldiers being dismissed and added to the roles of the unemployed. The international community clearly recognises this problem, and with OSCE in the lead, is working closely with authorities from Bosnia and Herzegovina to develop and finance projects to assist former soldiers in acquiring the skills necessary to find civilian employment.

As for the state level defence identity for Bosnia and Herzegovina, SFOR is working with the OHR and the SCMM to develop concepts for a strengthened SCMM Secretariat and a Chiefs of Staff Committee that will, over time, evolve into unified ministerial-level and military staffs empowered and capable of carrying out the functions necessary to command and control the AFiBH and to interact with NATO, other international organisations and individual countries.

SFOR has created a structure to ensure these complex tasks are carried out in a coordinated and harmonised fashion. Working groups in each of the specialised areas are organised under what SFOR calls the Joint Restructuring Steering Board (JSRB). This Board, co-chaired by the SFOR Assistant Chief of Staff for Joint Military Affairs (JMA), and a representative from the OSCE Office for Security Cooperation, also includes representatives from OHR, the SCMM Secretariat and Entity Ministries of Defence and armed forces. NATO's Security Cooperation Programme has contributed to this process by organising and funding a series of workshops and seminars, and providing expertise on PfP and NATO compatibility issues. In addition, political support and momentum created by visits and meetings of NATO's North Atlantic Council with political and military leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the highest level have also contributed to this effort. However, despite the country's recent accession to the Council of Europe, much more work remains to be done in building a stable democracy.

Additional information:
  • NATO Handbook: The Furtherance of the Peace Process in Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • NATO Update: First visit of Bosnian Tri-Presidency to NATO HQ - 13 March 2002