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New Series no.17/18 July - September 2000

Towards a single BH Army
by Zoran Kusovac

One army for Bosnia?

The agenda of the predominantlyüBosniak Army of BosniaüHerzegovina (ABüH) was to bring the whole of the country's territory under the central government's control. The Croatian Defence Council (HVO) originally fought against the Serbian onslaught in 1992, but during most of 1993 fought the ABH instead ý only to be forced into coüoperating with it against the Serbs by the USüsponsored Washington Agreement of February 1994. The third force, the Republika Srpska Army ( VRS), originally tried to overrun the whole country, then applied the fallback option of holding on to approximately 70% of territory ý a task in which it miserably failed in the face of coüordinated ABHüHVO attacks in late 1995.

Dayton divided BosniaüHerzegovina into two entities: the Bosnian Federation (Bosniak and Croat majority) with 51% of the territory, and the Republika Srpska with 49%. This was mirrored in the creation of a Federation Army (VF). To make it a viable force, the international community instituted the Equip and Train (E&T) programme, originally to address the imbalance in heavy weaponry in favour of VRS and HVO, and the imposed reduction of forces and equipment in accordance with the 1996 Florence Agreement on subüregional arms control. A US consultancy, Military Professional Resources Inc (MPRI), was contracted to guide the transformation of VF in line with NATO doctrine and standards. The fundamental approach in Dayton was to accept the realities on the ground ý division of the country and mutual political mistrust. However, the regional scene has changed substantially since December 1995, and the logic behind Dayton ý to counter the Serb domination by a credible VF ý does not hold any longer.

One of the fundamental regional deüstabilizing factors, the Croatian regime of President Franjo Tudjman, obsessed with partitioning Bosnia, was dismantled in January 2000. The new government immediately stopped pouring money into the remnants of the HVO, signing instead an agreement pledging transparent funding, which gives the Bosnian Croats only Kuna 300 million ($35 million) per year. Zagreb declared itself in favour of a stable Bosnia, which is a clear message that any eventual attempts by Bosnian Croat hardliners to undermine it would not be supported or even tolerated.

Following the 1999 NATO air campaign against neighbouring Yugoslavia, the Bosnian Serbs began to realize that the possibility of Serbia using its military might to support their eventual secession was becoming very unlikely. The VRS, now reduced to a paper tiger and plagued by lack of funds, strikes and decisive action by the NATOüled Stabilization Force (SFOR) disbanding rogue units and arresting suspected war criminals including Chief of Staff General Momir Tali_, cautiously and slowly began to coüoperate.

Following NATO deployment to Kosovo, all three sides in Bosnia are now fully aware that the alliance cannot extricate itself from the region and will have to remain a long time, with deployment into Montenegro and even into postüMilosevic Serbia a possibility. That would essentially remove the need to maintain any armies in Bosnia as guarantors of the present political order. If that order were to change into a more viable, efficient and cheaper centralized state, it would have to be followed by creating a joint army, thus removing the relics of the threeüarmy organization. Only a unified military structure would enable Bosnia's entry into NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme.

So far, only the Croats dare mention full demilitarization. Following the 15% cuts in December 1999, their component of the VF, one of four corps, numbers only 7,000. It is a force which Federation Defence Minister Miroslav Prce admits serves no military purpose. He voices the ideas floated by the new pragmatic Bosnian Croat leadership: instead of proceeding with full integration of a reduced VF, all Bosnian armies should either be disbanded altogether or integrated into a small joint force.

Prce's arguments are hard to disprove. The E&T programme saw the VF stuck with donations of equipment up to 30 years old, including helicopters which develop tail cracks and are not cleared to fly over 2,000m in a mountainous country, five different types of main battle tanks and other assorted heavy equipment, creating a logistical nightmare. Some VF officials claim the model of civilian control and military command structure is unworkable.

The Croats are now at odds with the international community, as they demand that the implementation of a NATOücompatible VF command structure be countered by the removal of equal powers between a Croat defence minister and his Bosniak deputy. The Serbs are equally unhappy with their predicament and are carefully probing the ground for a joint army. To be able to accept that, they would need political and financial guarantees; but the main obstacle to the possibility of their integration remains the regime in Belgrade, which has not given up the notion of treating Republika Srpska as a separate state, rather than a part of Bosnia.

Later this year, Alija Izetbegovic, the Bosniak member of the joint Presidency and the main symbol of the political ancien r‚gime, will retire from the political scene. That will coincide with the appointment of General Atif Dudakovic, a battleühardened professional soldier who has proved capable of efficiently coüoperating with the Croats and talking to the Serbs as new VF Chief of Staff. That could be an opportunity for the international community to present a new plan to create a smaller, professional joint Bosnian Army. This could bring relief to all three sides if it is followed by a programme guaranteeing its demobilized soldiers efficient integration into the civilian marketplace.

When NATO troops deployed to Bosnia in 1995 to implement the Dayton Peace Treaties, they found three local armies. Each of these at various times of the 1992ü5 war fought the others and at other times formed alliances. Each believed that a day would come when, reüorganized, reüequipped and reütrained, they would again take up weapons to achieve what Dayton cut short.

Zoran Kusovac is a Jane's Defence Weekly Correspondent based in Zagreb

US Government Boosts Bosnian Military Body's Profile

The US government gave its backing on Thursday to Bosnia's joint military committee, which NATO hopes will become the main defence policyümaking body for the two Bosnian regions, US embassy sources said. A United States military attache to Bosnia presented himself for the first time to the Serb, Croat and Moslem members of the Standing Committee for Military Matters (SCMM), which gathers the country's top civilian and military officials. The embassy sources said that by giving the military attache's credentials to SCMM, the US government aimed to support the body and give it international significance. `The reason that I presented myself to this body is solely to recognize the constitutional authority of the members of the presidency over the armed forces', military attache Steven Bucci told reporters after the official introduction.

Western countries that have spent billions of dollars to assist Bosnia's peace process are pressuring its leaders to begin a serious restructuring of the military, saying Bosnia could not afford to have two separate armies. NATO SecretaryüGeneral George Robertson urged Bosnia's leaders last month to start military reorganization under the leadership of the NATOüled peacekeeping Stabilization Force (SFOR) and integrate the two armies. But the Bosnian Serbs strongly oppose the unification of the two armies, saying it would contravene the provisions of the USüsponsored Dayton peace treaty, which ended Bosnia's 1992ü5 war. However, they have agreed to give more powers to the SCMM and to make further cutbacks in the military.

The SCMM currently includes members of the joint presidency and their military advisers, and defence ministers and army commanders from Bosnia's two highly autonomous territories, the MoslemüCroat federation and the Serb republic. It makes decisions on military reductions, restructuring and some appointments but does not make policy across the two territories, which is drawn up separately. NATO wants the SCMM to become the nucleus of Bosnia's state defence ministry and design stateülevel defence policy for both territories for the first time.

Bucci declined to comment on the plan to create a joint command for Bosnia, but hinted that it was a definite intention. `At this point I am not quite ready to comment on how we are going to get to that eventual goal, but I know that is what the country is moving towards, and as your country makes that determination then we will be ready to assist in any way we can', he told eporters.

Reuters, Sarajevo, 4 August 2000

The SecretaryüGeneral of NATO, George Robertson, who is visiting BosniaüHerzegovina, has called for the former warring armies there to unite as a single force. Lord Robertson was opening a new headquarters in Sarajevo for the NATOüled stabilization force, SFOR, five years after the Bosnian conflict ended. At a news conference, he said the Bosnian Serb Republic and the MuslimüCroat Federation which together make up BosniaüHerzegovina were spending too much on separate defence forces. Lord Robertson also called for concerted efforts to combat corruption and speed up economic reforms. He said Bosnia should follow the example of Croatia, which had turned away from what he called the failed politics of nationalism and extremism. The appeal was seen as a call for change in elections due in November.

From the newsroom of the BBC World Service, 19 July 2000

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