The armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina

by Sgt. Peter Fitzgerald
First published in
SFOR Informer#127, November 28, 2001

The primary purpose of any armed force is to defend a country's territorial integrity and sovereignty. The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is unique, however, with two distinct armed forces in defence of one country. Such a defence structure has led to armed forces that have become an economic burden on the country.

The General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) allows for two armed forces to respectively represent the country's two entities, the Federation of BiH and the Republika Srpska. The intention of the GFAP was to have the two forces working together in the common defence of BiH. While great strides in co-operation between the two militaries have been made, much work still needs to be done to restructure and downsize the armed forces in BiH (AF in BiH). Currently, military expenditures are too high and the forces are too large to justify such a burden on a peacetime economy.
Current structure
The forces consist of the Army of the Federation of BiH (VF) and the Army of the Republika Srpska (VRS). The VF is further divided into two components, a Bosniac one (VF-B) and Bosnian-Croat one (VF-H), but only at the headquarters is the VF manned with officers and soldiers of the two components. Ensuring the forces are under civilian control, each entity has a Ministry of Defence. Also, the three members of BiH Presidency serve as the Supreme Commanders of the AF in BiH.
There are currently more than 34,000 professional troops and about 15,000 reservists in the AF in BiH.
The VF, with nearly 24,000 troops (16,618 VF-B, 7,225 VF-H), has four corps. In the VF-B component, the 1st Corps is based in Sarajevo, the 2nd Corps in Tuzla and the 5th Corps in Bihac. The 1st Guard Corps of the VF-H is based in Mostar. The VF has a number of combat arms units, including motorised infantry, mechanised infantry, armoured infantry, field artillery and air defence artillery. Other units include reconnaissance, signal, engineering and logistical support. The VF also has a rapid reaction force and an air force - air defence unit.
With approximately 10,000 soldiers, the VRS also has four corps. Its 1st Corps is in Banja Luka, the 3rd Corps in Bijeljina, the 5th Corps in Sokolac and the 7th Corps is based in Bileca. Similarly, the VRS has a number of combat arms and support units (infantry, artillery, signal, engineering, reconnaissance, logistical). They also have an air force - air defence unit.
The bottom line
Steady personnel reductions of 15 percent over the past two years have helped to bring the number of troops down, especially from a 1995 end-of-war estimate of 430,000. Still, in a country of 4 million people, supporting 34,000 troops is a great economic burden when levels of unemployment reach 40 percent in BiH.
Last month the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) launched an initiative to raise public awareness of the excessive level of military expenditures in BiH.
"The BiH militaries simply cannot be sustained the way they are," said Robert Beecroft, head of the OSCE Mission to BiH, in an Oct. 11 statement to the press. "They could fulfil their mission far more effectively if their personnel strength were significantly reduced."
The problem lies in military expenditures, where the BiH defence budget is approximately 6 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). European countries spend on average about 1.5 percent of their GDP on the military.
"In many countries the defence budget does not exceed 2 percent of GDP," said Beecroft. "In only a few countries is the defence budget as high as it is in BiH. The bottom line is that a defence budget is not supposed to represent an undue financial burden on a country in peace time."
What is being done
With the help of organisations like the OSCE, the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and SFOR, significant progress has been made in getting the AF in BiH to co-operate in the effort to restructure and downsize the forces.
Dutch Brig. Gen. Ton Strik, assistant chief of staff for Joint Military Affairs, said in Oct. 11 press conference that SFOR's task was to help the AF in BiH become a force to serve the people.
"The armed forces are now in the process of restructuring and we as SFOR together with other organisations of the international community are assisting them," he said.
Also, a common defence policy has been developed and progress has been shown through the Joint Military Commission (JMC). At a Nov. 7 JMC meeting, both armed forces discussed plans to further reduce their militaries over the next several years to a force of about 20,000 troops.
Lt. Gen. Novica Simic, VRS chief of staff, said his force will shrink to 6,600 troops by 2005.
"The restructuring is not only about manpower reduction, but also disbanding units and closing certain sites," he added. "It is our goal to create small armies that can eventually support United Nations operations."
British Maj. Gen. John Kiszely, SFOR deputy commander of operations, said these plans will help the AF in BiH become a "force of good."
"The plans that both parties have put forward constitute a remarkable step forward and a significant milestone in the process of restructuring (the AF in BiH)," he said.
While admitting that the complex process has a long way to go, Kiszely added that forces made "great strides" in the restructuring process.
"The plans show great promise for the future," he said.


Table of contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 5

Chapter 6