Military Reform in Post-Dayton Bosnia

In socialist Yugoslavia, the army remained a federal institution despite increasing decentralisation in many other areas. This allowed the military to stay free from the influence of the interests of individual republics and their leaderships. Aiming to protect the territorial and ideological sovereignty of the entire Yugoslav federation, the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) was widely perceived as being neutral and beyond republican squabbles, serving only the higher national interests of Yugoslavia.

However, the wars that followed the dissolution of the Yugoslav federation tarnished the reputation that JNA had enjoyed. Under the control of Milošević, the JNA supported the Serb side in the Croatian and Bosnian conflicts and abetted the Serbian paramilitaries that fought in these wars with weapons, ammunition and equipment. Although the JNA was not directly involved in committing ethnic cleansing and war crimes, its association with groups and persons who committed such acts implicated it in those activities, further destroying any remaining faith in its neutrality and professionalism. Admittedly, by the time of the Bosnian war there were only Serbs and Montenegrins left among the JNA ranks, any other officers and conscripts having left to join their new states' armies, so there was little Yugoslav about the JNA that was fighting in Croatia and Bosnia.

When the war in Bosnia was over, there was no effort to create a common state army along the JNA model. The DPA did not even envisage defence as a state competency; the two entities were individually responsible for it and all other aspects of military policy. The only areas that the DPA listed within state authority were: foreign relations, monetary and customs policy, air traffic control and communications, as well as immigration, asylum and return of refugees.15 Therefore, between 1995 and 2002 there were two separate armies within Bosnia, the AfBIH – the Army of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the VRS – the Army of Republika Srpska. The AFBIH was formed as a result of the Washington Agreement in 1994, which merged the Bosniak and Croat armed troops that had fought in the war, sometimes against each other.16 After the initial separation of the VRS and AfBIF by NATO troops at the end of the conflict, the armies had maintained limited contact through the confidence-building measures of the OSCE, but had functioned by and large as two separate organisations within the same state.

Given the separation of the two armies within different entities and the confinement of defence policy within entity policy domains, there are two crucial points on which the forthcoming analysis of military reform is focused. The first

15 Dayton Agreement, Article III, Annex 4: Constitution, 21 November 1995.

Available at: (accessed 6 November 2013).

16 Military Arrangements, Washington Agreement, 1 March 1994. Available at: (accessed 6 November 2013). case concerns the establishment of a Ministry of Defence as part of the centralstate government, which transferred part of defence policy from entity to state level. The second case refers to the creation of a single army in Bosnia. Both cases are part of the country's overall efforts to reform its military and defence sectors in order to be able to join NATO's PfP programme.

Case 1: Establishing State-level Ministry of Defence (2002–2003)

The impetus for changing the military-sector status quo, which had been stable since late 1995, came from two directions, one functional and one strategic. The functional reason was the need to cut the costs of defence, while the strategic was a shared desire to join NATO and its PfP programme. At its May 2000 meeting in Brussels, the PIC declared that the levels of spending on the two armies were unsustainable and demanded further actions to cut their sizes and cost. The PIC members demanded a roadmap that would pave the way for gradual creation of a state-level defence establishment.17 Similar demands were presented by NATO officials when they responded to Bosnian interest in joining the PfP programme. During his visit to Sarajevo and Banja Luka in January 2002, NATO's Director for the Balkans, Robert Serry, stated that Bosnia needed stronger efforts in order to fulfil the requirements for PfP membership. He also stated that reducing the armed forces and creating a joint plan and organised system of command and control at the state level were priority tasks for the country.18 In order for the country to be able to achieve one of its strategic priorities in foreign policy, PfP and NATO membership, it had to establish state-level defence institutions.

Although the need for defence reform existed and reforms were encouraged both by NATO and the PIC members, the issue did not become a priority on the domestic political agenda until late 2002. The HR at the time, Lord Ashdown, used a scandal in the RS military to justify urgency in changing the status quo and initiating military reforms. The scandal involved the Serbian member of BIH presidency, Mirko Šarović, who had been selling weapons to Iraq in violation of a UN embargo against arms trade with the country. Šarović, as the directly elected President of RS, was the Chairman of the RS Supreme Defence Council – the body which oversaw the transaction between the arms factory that produced the weapons and the Iraqi authorities. Although RS authorities tried to avoid repercussions by preparing a report that placed the responsibility on minor

17 'Military Issues', PIC Declaration – Annex, Brussels, PIC Main Meeting, 24 May 2000. Available at: (accessed 6 November 2013).

18 Institute for Security and International Studies, 'Balkan Regional Profile: The Security Situation and Region-Building Evolution of South-Eastern Europe'. Research study 01, 2002. (Sofia, 2002). Available at:

Balkan_Regional_Profile/2002/Balkan2002_01.htm#vi_2 (accessed 20 November 2010). officers in the factory, it was clear that Šarović and highest-level RS politicians were involved. Additional pressure was created when SFOR revealed that VRS intelligence units had been conducting surveillance on US, OHR, and NATO officials in Bosnia.19 These two events showed that the state of the military sector in Bosnia was such that it required immediate reform. Otherwise, Bosnia would end up in breach of international law and liable to sanctions for violating a UN embargo and spying on international officials.

The opinions held by Bosnian politicians of various ethnic and party backgrounds over the extent and direction of military reforms varied greatly. The senior coalition partner in the fBIH, the SDA, preferred the creation of a single army and state-level defence institutions and abolishing of entity armies and ministries of defence. Other Bosniak parties shared this stance. However the SDS, which was in power in RS, feared that the transfer of military control to the state or the creation of a single army would mean that it would be dominated by Bosniaks, leaving Serbs unprotected without an army of their own. It preferred keeping the VRS under entity control. The opposition's SNSD rejected the idea of a single army and argued for the complete demilitarisation of Bosnia. Its leader, Milorad Dodik, claimed that the only two countries that Bosnia could use an army against were Serbia and Croatia, who as signatories to the DPA were committed to preserving peace in Bosnia, rendering an expensive army for Bosnia pointless. The HDZ was also not keen to abolish the AfBIH, where Croats were a more equal partner to Bosniaks, for a single army where they were likely to have a lesser say and control. Getting the leadership of the two entities to agree to a common proposal for military reform in view of their diverse preferences and interests seemed unlikely, especially so since there was no state-level body that could initiate such a reform, with defence an exclusively entity competence.

Therefore, it was up to the High Representative, who placed the issue on the agenda, to find the most appropriate means to pursue the reform process. Lord Ashdown proceeded to establish the Defence Reform Commission (DRC) which consisted of representatives from both entities; experts and elected officials; as well as internationals. It was chaired by James R. Locher, a former US Assistant Secretary of Defence. The commission was mandated to propose legislative and policy changes that would reform Bosnia's military sector to fulfil the PfP membership requirements.20 As an ad hoc body not part of any state or entity institution, the DRC functioned as a forum where the representatives from the three ethnic groups and the international community would negotiate acceptable solutions before official proposals for reform would be introduced to the entity and state parliaments for formal debate.

19 Paddy Ashdown, Swords and Ploughshares: Bringing Peace to the 21st Century

(London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2006).

20 Offi of the High Representative, 'Decision Establishing Defence Reform Commission', Sarajevo, 8 May 2003. Available at: default.asp?content_id=29840 (accessed 6 November 2013). The reform commission thus situated the negotiation process outside the formal institutional setting, in an informal space where differences and conflicts would be resolved without resorting to veto and other resistance mechanisms that could block the entire proposal. It functioned as an informal institution, with implicitly accepted rules and behaviours, but outside the country's constitutional structure.21 Moreover the DRC was removed from public scrutiny, allowing its members to freely debate reform away from media and public attention. Naturally, the proceedings of the reform commission were affected by the awareness of formal veto and entity voting mechanisms, which is why a solution acceptable to all sides was sought. Once such a solution was found, the formal assent of the political elites would be within reach, since their objections would have already been addressed by the DRC. Otherwise, any of the three groups could have blocked the proposal in the state House of Peoples, where entity voting and group vetoes could be invoked, even if the proposal had passed entity legislatures.

Indeed, the bulk of the disagreements over the proposed reforms were addressed within the framework of the DRC. Faced with Serb and Croat resistance, Bosniak representatives dropped their demands for creation of a single army. Serb representatives, although favouring the status quo, accepted the creation of statelevel defence bodies as long as the two armies were kept under entity control. Such a compromise also suited the Croats, who did not object to the transfer of entity competencies to the state. As a minority in their own entity, they hoped for more equal influence in state-level institutions because of the parity principle applied there. In this context, in its final report the DRC delivered a compromise proposal retaining the two entity armies and entity ministries of defence, while also establishing a state-level defence ministry to control and co-ordinate the work of the entities.22 It was a proposal expected to be smoothly adopted in entity parliaments before passing to state legislature.

While its adoption was smooth in the fBIH Parliament, the opposition in RS, led by Milorad Dodik's SNSD, refused to vote for the proposed constitutional amendments until its demands for abolishing conscription were accepted.23 Although the SDS-led government was behaving accommodatingly to Bosniak demands for state-level defence authority, it is crucial to note that the opposition did not attack it for failing to protect the national interest of Serbs in the country. Rather, the SNSD opposed the proposed reform on alternative, functional grounds. This postponed the adoption of the laws and amendments proposed by the reform

21 See Helmke and Levitsky's definition of informal institutions in: G. Helmke and S. Levitsky, 'Informal Institutions and Comparative Politics: A Research Agenda', Perspectives on Politics, 2 (December 2004): 725–40.

22 Defence Reform Commission, 'The Path to Partnership for Peace', September 2003, Sarajevo. Available at: (accessed 6 November 2013).

23 'SNSD insistira na ukidanju vojnog roka' [SNSD insists on abolishing conscription], Nezavisne Novine, No.1935, 4 November 2003. commission because constitutional amendments in RS required two-thirds support in parliament in Banja Luka, which fell short of the ruling majority's support. Even though the government of RS supported the proposed reform, as did all fBIH politicians, an outcome secured by negotiations within the DRC, by refusing to support constitutional changes in entity parliament, the opposition in RS could block the entire reform. Eventually, after external pressure and persuasion from the High Representative, the SNSD gave the reform proposal its support and voted to amend the RS Constitution and Law on defence.

In the following months, measures agreed during the DRC sessions and contained in its report were enforced and state-level institutions in the area of defence were established in Bosnia for the first time, along with some downsizing of the two armed forces. Although the rationale behind the reform was creating a more efficient and cost-effective defence sector, the outcomes of the reform suggested otherwise. While a new state-level ministry of defence was established, the entity ministries were not abolished and retained the majority of their competencies, including managing and running the armies in each entity. The state-level ministry's role was to co-ordinate the work and co-operation between the entity institutions, a role already performed by the OSCE. Thus, instead of cutting the bureaucracy and streamlining defence competencies, the reform resulted in the creation of an additional layer of administration at the state-level, placing a further burden on the Bosnian budget, a large percentage of which was already being spent on funding the bloated public sector.24

Explaining Success in Establishing State Military Capacity

While not overly successful in cutting the costs of defence, in terms of ethnic accommodation between political elites in Bosnia this first instance of military reform can be evaluated as relatively successful for two reasons. First, there was a general consensus that military reform was necessary. In a rare case of normative unity, all Bosnian political elites shared the higher-level goals of joining the PfP and cutting budgetary costs. The only disagreement was as to the manner of reform; Bosniak parties interpreted NATO's recommendations as requiring the establishment of a full state-level defence institution whereas the SDS preferred as little adjustment to the status quo as possible. Second, power-sharing worked – all sides made concessions to accommodate others and arrive at a mutually acceptable proposal. The final policy solution that was adopted was a compromise among the preferences of each side. This also contributed to the issue becoming less ethnicised, as no side could claim to have been outvoted and marginalised in the policy process.

24 BiH has been spending over 50 per cent of GDP on the public sector, and between 1999 and 2002 close to 60 per cent of GDP. See: International Monetary Fund. 'Bosnia and Herzegovina: Selected Issues and Statistical Appendix', IMF Staff Country Report No.00/77, June 2000. Three factors contributed to this outcome: external actors, veto mechanisms and informal practices. By providing peace and security, external actors created space for military reform. Furthermore, the HR put the issue on top of the policy agenda and used his executive powers to encourage domestic politicians to co-operate. The availability of veto mechanisms in state legislature made all sides willing to compromise as every group's leverage was equal. Without the availability of vetoes, negotiations in the DRC might not have led to consensus. Given the lack of state-level bodies or forums where defence negotiations could be initiated and held, the establishment of the DRC enabled domestic political leaders to engage and discuss defence reform in a rather informal setting, and to eventually reach an agreement over it. Without the reform commission, state-level executive coalition between the three ethnic groups would have been insufficient to lead to accommodation over defence reform, as state-level government had no authority over defence issues.

The effectiveness of this approach to reform was demonstrated with the absence of intra-groups contestation on ethno-national grounds. Rather than discussing ethnic interests, resistance between the government and opposition in RS was framed in functional, economic terms. Finally, by including members of the armies in fBIH and RS in its work, the DRC further enhanced its chances for success, as members of the armed forces did not reject the proposed changes.

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