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Case 2: A Single Army (2004–2006)

Although there were no institutional or political obstacles to establishing state-level defence institutions envisaged with the first stage of defence reform, the control that the newly established state ministry of defence and parliamentary committee on security affairs were able to exert over entity armies and ministries proved to be very limited. Efforts to increase state-level control were met with institutional inertia because the control of day-to-day running of the armed forces remained within entity governments' authority. Moreover, some parts of the armed forces were not even under entity governments' control. The VRS maintained relations with individuals indicted for war crimes in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), whom they should have been trying to arrest instead of protect. In December 2004, EUFOR, which replaced SFOR, conducted a raid in one of the VRS underground facilities in Han Pijesak. It discovered evidence that Ratko Mladić had recently been hiding there and had been receiving regular assistance from the VRS.25 This incident showed that the ongoing defence reform in Bosnia was not nearly far-reaching to eradicate such illegal practices. In order to prevent the VRS from aiding Mladić or other war criminals, more comprehensive reforms were required.

25 'Mladić bunker secrets revealed', BBC News, 23 December 2004. Available at: (accessed 6 November 2013). Again, Lord Ashdown used this incident as a pretext to bring military reform back onto the agenda. Co-operation with the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague was one of the main provisions in the Dayton Agreement, as well as a crucial condition for any progress with NATO and EU integration. Resistance to the obligation to fully co-operate with the ICTY would make the RS government, by protecting Mladić, liable to serious sanctions. Ashdown used this as a threat in order to motivate the Serb leadership to participate in further reform of the military. Using his executive powers, he froze the assets of the SDS and removed officials in the VRS who had been involved in providing support for Mladić. In the same speech, Ashdown announced further military reforms whose direction and end-point were clear: entity ministries of defence were going to be abolished and replaced by a single state-level ministry, responsible for a single Bosnian army.26 Ashdown extended the mandate of the DRC and assigned it the task of preparing and negotiating the legislative solutions necessary for further reforms.

Bosniak leaders welcomed the prospect of further military reforms, especially since the end-point was a centralised defence apparatus with a single army, which had been their goal from the beginning. The Croat politicians, seeing that the reform was moving generally along the lines they desired, opted to take a less active role in negotiations. However, the Serb politicians' response was much less co-operative. After having his party assets and accounts frozen, the RS Prime Minister, Dragan Mikerević, accused Ashdown of 'not respecting the democratic will of the people and the democratic institutions of the country' by performing 'diktat par excellence' when demanding 'transfer of competencies of the army and military policy to the state level, while forgetting how much political will and efforts were necessary to ensure the reform of the armed forces'.27

However, since further military reform was triggered by serious misconduct among RS officials and implicated some in aiding alleged war criminals, the RS leadership feared that the HR could legitimately invoke his executive powers to impose military reform without necessarily taking their views into account. Unwilling to support further centralisation of the army, but fearing exclusion from the reform process if they refused to participate, Serb members begrudgingly took part in the work of the commission as it reconvened. This allowed them to express their views concerning, and needs from, the new military, and to incorporate these, along with other groups' input, into the final policy proposal. Additional pressure was provided by the RS opposition's ever-louder criticisms of the SDS's corrupt rule, which had cost the RS both money and a substantial part of its sovereignty –

26 'High Representative Maps Out Process to Tackle War Criminal Networks and to Reform BIH's Security Institutions', OHR, Sarajevo, 16 December 2004. Available at: (accessed 6 November 2013).

27 Dragan Mikerević, cited in 'Ešdaunove mere mogu da izazvaju konfuzno stanje' [Asdown's measures can cause confusion], Nezavisne Novine, 17 December 2004. Available at: (accessed 6 November 2013). the army. Again, the Serb opposition was not using ethnically charged rhetoric; instead, it used arguments about corruption to attack the government for leading Republika Srpska to give up its army.

By September 2005, the reform commission had published its final report, which outlined the necessary legislative and constitutional changes required. Given that the end-point of reforms was known from the start, and it included the creation of a single army, the negotiations revolved around the smaller details and transitional periods required to complete the transfer of competency from entity to state level. As expected, the final report recommended creating a single state ministry of defence and single armed forces by transferring all military competencies from entity to state level. Aiming to cut costs further, it recommended abolishing the conscript army and moving towards a small professional army, thus accommodating SNSD demands from the previous round of military reforms. The new Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina (AFBIH), instead of two separate forces, were to consist of three battalions, under a single administrative and operational command and funded by a single military budget.28 Those recommendations entailed comprehensive interventions in the defence legislation at entity and state level, as well as constitutional amendments that needed to be approved by entity and state parliaments.

Although the SDS leader and members of the DRC had agreed to the proposed reforms, not least because they wanted their party bank accounts released, they still had to convince members of their own party in parliament to vote for the proposal. The largest opposition party, the SNSD, was happy to support a single small professional army as it had been arguing for since 2002. For the SDS, accepting a single army meant abolishing the VRS, with which they had the closest ties. Such a reversal in party stance was hard to accept for many among SDS members, who persisted in supporting the VRS. However, the SDS managed to consolidate its ranks to support the proposed changes, despite resistance among some of its legislators. To boost support, the RS President, Dragan Čavić, addressed the RS deputies before the vote saying: 'There is no VRS anymore. It is true, it is gone, and I support that. Do you know why? Because the ABIH [Bosniak wartime army] and HVO [Croat war-time army] are also gone'.29 He justified the reform as a break from the past of 1992–95 towards a new page of NATO and EU membership. He also framed it as an equal compromise for all sides, not a decision that will only harm the Serbs in the country. Additional support was provided by arguments referring to Yugoslav experiences, which suggested that even in largely decentralised federal states there was only one army. A high-ranking SDS member

28 Defence Reform Commission, 'AFBIH: A Single Military Force for the 21st Century', Final Report, Sarajevo, September 2005. Available at: files/file/dokumenti/Izvjestaj-2005-bs.pdf (accessed 6 November 2013).

29 Dragan Čavić, cited in 'Narodna skupština RS prihvatila reform odbrane' [RS National Assembly accepted military reform], Deutsche Welle World News, 1 September 2005. Available at:,2484835,00.html of the BIH House of Representatives, explained that in every federation there is only one army, which is under state control, while federal units are responsible for public safety and order.30 Eventually, only the members of the Serb Radical Party (SRS) voted against the proposal and the RS Constitution was successfully amended, to allow a full transfer of defence competencies to the state.

Some public outcry against the move followed, especially from VRS war veterans and families of war victims in RS, who saw the abolishing of the VRS as a betrayal of national interests. This was not enough, however, to prevent the reform's implementation. Adopted without veto or the 'vital national interest' clause in both chambers of the BIH Parliament, the reform proceeded with implementation. The new legislation provided for sufficient transition periods to allow for officers to be gradually decommissioned, financially compensated and retrained for alternative careers, which made implementation less painful for the stakeholders.31 The link between successfully reforming the military and obtaining PfP membership was emphasised throughout the process and remained the most powerful pull factor in proceeding with the reform. As a result, by the end of 2006, at the NATO Summit in Riga, the NATO Alliance delivered upon its promise for PfP membership. Recognising that the initial conditions for PfP membership set in 2002 had been fulfilled, NATO invited Bosnia to join the PfP programme together with Serbia and Montenegro.32 According to Lord Ashdown this was the most important factor explaining the success of military reform – NATO's clear and unwavering 'magnetic pull' – which enabled him to persuade the RS and cantonal parliaments to agree to the creation of a unified army.33

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