Nikola Radovanovic, the first post-war defence minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, says his country is determined to overcome all obstacles on its way to entering NATO's Partnership for Peace programme.
By Antonio Prlenda for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo - 19/04/04
BiH Defence Minister Nikola Radovanovic. [Haris Memija]
The process of major defence reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) achieved a crucial milestone several weeks ago with the appointment of the country's first post-war defence minister at the state level. Nikola Radovanovic, 43, is an internationally-educated former Republika Srpska (RS) Army officer and BiH Foreign Ministry official. He will be in charge of making BiH ready for acceptance into NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme, expected during the NATO Summit in Istanbul in June. Among the specific tasks awaiting Radanovic are the establishment of the state-level defence ministry and the joint staff and operational command of the BiH Armed Forces. These institutions must be staffed with 65 per cent of their personnel before June. Radanovic is also responsible for reducing the armed forces to 12,000 professional soldiers and for implementing mechanisms to guarantee democratic control of the military.
SE Times: What are the main benefits for BiH if it joins the PfP?
Nikola Radovanovic: I believe that the main benefit lies in the fact that PfP membership represents the establishment of formal relations between BiH and NATO. This indicates that there are two contracting sides and that each of them accepts and respects the other as credible and capable. That kind of relationship with NATO is important to us, because in the current situation we are related to NATO through SFOR. And that is not fully a partner-type relationship.
The other aspect of PfP membership is a political one, because NATO has very clear standards that respect democratic values in civil-military relations. The fact that we could be accepted as a partner with those kinds of standards shows that we also belong to that community of states. And this, as well as our current membership in the Council of Europe, opens possibilities for further integration.
Establishing an operational command of the BiH Armed Forces is one of the tasks BiH Defence Minister Nikola Radovanovic must take on before the country can join NATO's Partnership for Peace programme. [Haris Memija]
One of the requirements which I am particularly interested in is that the defence minister must ensure members of the armed forces have conditions of work and development that allow them to be equal and respected members of their communities. PfP offers possibilities for education and exchange of experience to all those who want personal improvement and advancement. Our military cadre has experience and knowledge that is competitive and I believe they will be highly regarded when we give them a chance.
The reform is also useful if we speak about financial benefits. It is hard to objectively state the amount that we would save or spend, because there are indirect costs and savings. But all states that have passed through transition did recognise financial benefits in the process.
SE Times: Do you expect any particular problems to arise from the fact that, for some time in the future, BiH will effectively have three ministries of defence -- two at the entity and one at the state level?
Radovanovic: My experience during the first several weeks in this position indicates no remarkable problem. I found that BiH stands firm on its way to the PfP. There is a whole spectrum of actions, related to different competencies, waiting for us with regard to establishing the system in line with the State Defence Law. And it is inevitable that there will be situations in which different positions and opinions emerge regarding the process of co-ordination of procedures. All this is normal, considering our reality in BiH. And I expect that after every such experience we will find solutions for problems more quickly, and with greater capacity.
SE Times: High Representative Paddy Ashdown recently said that the largest political obstacles blocking the reform process in BiH come from the Bosnian Serb entity. Do you have any particular problem because of the fact that you come from that entity?
Radovanovic: This does not put me in a particularly negative position. Or, at least, I do not see it that way. If we talk about defence reform, it is a fact that the reform process is going quite well in RS. In some areas it is moving even faster than in the Muslim-Croat entity, the Federation of BiH. In the area that falls under my responsibility, I would not say that there is any visible obstacle to the process in RS. I find that the largest part of the High Representative's comments referred to co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and regarded areas other than defence.
SE Times: Apart from technical preconditions for PfP membership, which can be fulfilled through defence reform, the main political precondition is greater co-operation with the ICTY. Do you expect that BiH will join the PfP this year even if Bosnian Serb war leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic is still at large?
The fact that Bosnian Serb war leader Radovan Karadzic (shown on the right in the poster) is still at large may be an obstacle for BiH joining the PfP. [AFP]
Radovanovic: I do not know. We will definitely know the answer after the NATO Summit in Istanbul. The Peace Implementation Council for the BiH Steering Board recently expressed a very clear position on the issue. Full co-operation with the ICTY is necessary. A similar position is noted in the December communiqué of NATO's Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council; but there were also some statements to the effect that it is necessary to "remarkably improve" co-operation with the ICTY. In the end, I believe it will depend on the actual situation on the ground and on positions of individual governments of NATO members.
SE Times: What can BiH offer as a partner to NATO when it joins the PfP?
Radovanovic: We are just now in the process of preparing an answer to that question, as we develop our Presentation Document. According to the information that I have, the current reviews on the job done so far on the document are very positive. Definitely there will be areas in which we have proven skills and capabilities. We can certainly offer the expertise of our mine disposal specialists, and the document will also offer BiH airspace to NATO aircraft as well as some military ranges for combat training.