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SFOR and armed forces in BiH

By 2nd Lt. Bruno Ménard
First published in
SFOR Informer#119, August 8, 2001

SFOR troops have a role to play in the process of supporting the army in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). That is what Brig. Gen. Ton Strik, Chief Commander of Joint Military Affairs (JMA), explains to SFOR Informer.
According to a BiH Defence Policy Document, the armies of BiH are oversized and are a burden on state budgets.
“That is one of the reasons that they need a change," said Strik.
The armed forces are composed of the army of Republika Srpska (VRS), and the Federation army (VF). Officially, the second one is one army but it actually combines Bosniacs (VF-B) and Bosnian-Croats (VF-H). The VF has a joint command and a joint rapid reaction force.
With respect to political power, at the moment there are two Ministries of Defence, one in the Republika Srpska and one in the Federation. But it is difficult for them to co-operate together. In fact, "the armed forces are focused on the defence of their own land but there will be no more war between the two entities," asserted Strik. And he added: "We are now working on operational groups to create a situation that there will be co-ordination elements of the two armies, where they will work and co-ordinate together better, just to save money and improve quality, which is lacking in all areas."
In addition, the armed forces come up against very important difficulties. In fact, there is not enough money for the defence budget and for paying the two armies. "For many months, there has been nothing done on maintenance. They have tried to get an organised budget," said Strik. In this situation, what can SFOR do?
The role of SFOR
According to the General Framework Agreement for Peace in BiH (GFAP), SFOR's purpose is to create a safe and secure environment, allowing that the country can build up again. The build up programme in BiH depends on its armies, in co-operation with SFOR forces. "The rules and arrangements that are written in the agreement are from COMSFOR," the general said.
For that, there must be no problem within its armies. "We would like them to become more like other European forces. We will help them with the restructuring process," said Strik.
SFOR is permanently in contact with the armed forces of the country. "In the old organisation, we had the factions liaison office, which was in charge of keeping contact with the armed forces. Now, at another stage, we are assisting them," the general added.
All the Multinational Divisions (MNDs) have one JMA officer. They are working within their area with the local unit commanders of the reconstruction process. As an example, SFOR forces are here for co-ordinating weapons storage efforts and training the armed forces of BiH.
"Restructuring of this country will take time. Some wish to wait, but if you want to wait until the memories of this war are gone, it will be too long. We have to try to find solutions together and still take care of the specific needs of the entities. On the basis of GFAP and the Constitution (included in GFAP), we will have reduced the army by 2005, and this will be compatible, with each entity working on the same doctrines and principles. They will concentrate on working within budgets and gaining quality of life," said Strik.
Towards a unified army?
Will we arrive at a unified army one day? "We cannot say our aim is to have a unified army. This must come from the government and the BiH Defence Policy Document. The restructuring process in these documents does not mention this exact issue, but states that we are to work towards stronger state level institutions, and towards one Ministry of Defence through the Standing Committee on Military Matters (SCMM), and to have policy arrangements that they can stand by. Right now, that is not the situation," Strik said.
"When you look to the future, with one army all things will be transparent, with one centralised head, overseeing all the systems, operating at a centralised state level," he said. Everybody knows it will take time. "We are not in hurry," Strik concluded.

Related link: SFOR at Work