III What Makes Post-conflict Politics Work

Military Reform in Bosnia: A Single Joint Army


This chapter traces the progress of military reform in post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina and investigates the factors that enabled political elites to agree over military reform. The initial stages of stabilisation and post-conflict recovery in Bosnia and Herzegovina (hereafter Bosnia) were completed by 2001. The country has since embarked on an ambitious reform agenda, under the lead of international representatives, to take it towards democratic consolidation and NATO and EU membership. Military reform has been part of this larger reform package, which aims at bringing Bosnia into the European political mainstream. After the country expressed interest in Partnership for Peace (PfP) membership in 2002, its domestic political elites from all three ethnic groups managed to successfully negotiate the implementation of military reform. This resulted in an invitation for PfP membership for Bosnia in December 2006.

The findings here suggest that the main reason behind ethnic accommodation in the case of military reform is the informal practice of negotiating reform proposals in 'reform commissions' before they are officially sent to legislative institutions for debate. These reform commissions allow a neutral and safe space for negotiations where, aware of each other's veto powers, political leaders from the three groups make accommodating concessions to reach acceptable solutions. With the exception of various veto mechanisms, power-sharing elements appear to have limited impact on ethnic accommodation. However, the involvement of external actors, whose executive powers allow them to influence entity politicians, also accounts for greater ethnic accommodation in military reforms, by bringing the issue onto the policy agenda and maintaining a credible conditionality for PfP membership.

Security and Politics after Dayton

In November 1995 the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (better known as the Dayton Peace Accord) was agreed in Dayton, Ohio. Bosnia had been an independent state for little more than three years, the entirety of which it had spent in a devastating ethnic conflict between its three major ethnic groups: Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs. The conflict resulted in hundreds of thousands of victims, most of whom were civilians killed in 'ethnic cleansing' acts, as the three sides aimed to carve out ethnically homogeneous territories for their own ethnic group. Bosnian war atrocities such as the Srebrenica massacre, the Sarajevo siege, the Foča mass-rapes and the bombing of the Mostar Bridge, revealed the utmost failure of the state and international institutions to protect humans from suffering and to safeguard human life and dignity.

After a diffi and protracted negotiation process between representatives of the warring sides and the international mediators appointed by the UN, by the end of 1995 a peace agreement was agreed by all sides. The Dayton Peace Accords (DPA) was signed in Paris in December 1995 and contained among its annexes the new Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The new constitution established a new set of institutional and legal mechanisms to stop the violence and set the foundations for rebuilding the common state. One of the fi tasks confronting both domestic political elites and the international community in their endeavour to rebuild peace and a working state was to restore security. Immediate security concerns included lingering ethnic violence; widespread possession of small and heavy arms; developed networks of armed forces without any civilian or political control; and complete mistrust between ethnic groups and state institutions. Only after these were resolved, would Bosnia be able proceed with further reforms towards reconciliation and democratic consolidation. Thus, measures required for ensuring a minimum level of public security were the highest priority in the immediate post-confl period.

The DPA mandated international organisations: NATO, UN and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), rather than Bosnian institutions, with the task of addressing urgent security problems in the aftermath of the conflict. Annex 1A and 1B of the DPA regulated the role of the international community in the security domain in post-conflict Bosnia. Annex 1A (Military Aspects) limited the authority of domestic armed forces – both the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) and the Army of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (AfBIH) – and tasked international forces with implementing the territorial and military aspects of the DPA.1 This included separation of the armed forces, oversight over the transfer of territories between the two entities, and patrol of the inter-entity border. The international troops were under the command of NATO, which had received a Chapter VII mandate from the UN Security Council to authorise military intervention in case of breach of peace, or in this case breach and obstruction of the DPA. NATO stationed 60,000 troops on Bosnian territory in the first months after the end of the conflict, who were responsible for providing security under the IFOR and SFOR missions' mandates, removing any threats to the implementation of DPA and facilitating reform of the AfBIH.2

1 Annex 1A, Dayton Peace Accords, 21 November 1995. Available at: nato.int/ifor/gfa/gfa-home.htm

2 NATO, 'SFOR Mission'. Available at: nato.int/SFOR/organisation/ mission.htm (accessed 6 November 2013). Annex 1B (Regional Stabilisation) outlined the initial measures of confidencebuilding between the two sides in Bosnia (as well as between Bosnia, FR Yugoslavia and Croatia) under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).3 Those measures included: confidential negotiations, military liaison, notification of military activities and locations of heavy weapons, and the disbandment of armed groups. Both NATO and OSCE completed their tasks successfully. Despite numerous political spoilers of the peace process in Bosnia, especially among the Bosnian Serbs whose leadership resisted the implementation of DPA, no violent incidents took place to endanger the precarious peace. Unlike their UN predecessors, who had no power to militarily intervene during the war, NATO troops were a formidable military force who was not obliged to refrain from using military might in order to achieve their goals. In getting local political and military leaders to co-operate on the necessary measures for providing security and building confidence, the international community relied on its military strength. As one advisor to one of the first High Representatives (HR) admitted, 'the most blunt tool we had at our disposal were 60,000 over-armed troops that we could use, so in terms of military we had a very strong stick'.4 Although 'blunt', this strong leverage ensured that immediate military threats were successfully harnessed and any resistance from domestic actors removed. Thus external actors ensured the necessary background for any further security sector reform in Bosnia.

The actions of NATO and OSCE targeted the most pressing and urgent security needs of Bosnian society after the end of the war. But this process was far from smooth, as there were many in Bosnia who objected to the DPA, international military presence, and control of the armed forces. In RS, where the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) of Radovan Karadžić was in power, resistance was the strongest. Accused of war crimes and ethnic cleansing, Karadžić and his military chief Ratko Mladić were shunned by the international community and were not included in the Serbian delegation during Dayton negotiations. Instead, Serbian President Slobodan Milošević signed the agreement on behalf of the Serbian population in Bosnia. Getting SDS leaders to co-operate and sit at the same table as Bosniak and Croat leaders was a difficult task that often stalled the progress and pace of international security measures. Moreover, the conflict left a dark legacy of ethnic violence and crime, which further deepened the gap and lack of trust between ethnic groups in Bosnian society. In this context, further security reforms required both sensitivity to the delicate ethnic balance established by DPA, and domestic support from the leaders and people of the three ethnic groups.

3 Annex 1B, Dayton Peace Accords.

4 Anonymous, Political Advisor to the HR, 1996–97: personal interview with the author, London, 29 April 2010.

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