NATO committed to BiH, commander says

16/03/2010

NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo Commander Brigadier General John W Bullard says that Bosnia and Herzegovina will have to make tough decisions to facilitate its accession into NATO.

By Antonio Prlenda for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo – 16/03/10

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NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo Commander Brigadier General John W Bullard. [NATO]

US Marine Corps General Bullard has been commander of NATO Sarajevo for about three months. A naval aviator by training, Bullard is a leader with 26 years of experience. He previously served as the commanding officer of Marine Air Operations. Prior to his posting in Sarajevo, he was head of the Aviation Programmes and Weapons Requirements at the US Marine Corps headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. The general recently spoke with SETimes in an exclusive interview.

SETimes: You assumed command of NATO headquarters in Sarajevo from Italian Brigadier General Sabato Errico on January 15th. Could you explain your mission?

Brigadier General John W Bullard: The NATO mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is to support and assist the state authorities to make the reforms needed by this country for Alliance membership. In 2004, when this HQ was established, that meant co-chairing the Defence Reform Commission to eliminate entity armies, creating a single-state armed forces under democratic civilian oversight, and designing a military structure that met the realistic needs and abilities of BiH.

Those essential foundation tasks have been largely completed. NATO has recognised that accomplishment by admitting BiH into the Partnership for Peace programme. The NATO accession process involves programmes such as the Individual Partnership Plan, the Planning and Review Process and the Individual Partnership Action Plan. These contain tasks that need to be accomplished in order to lead the country towards NATO membership. NATO HQ Sarajevo is now assisting the state authorities to complete these tasks.

SETimes: What do you see as the top priorities for NHQ Sarajevo over the next 12 months?

Bullard: I see three important defence issues that need to be resolved for BiH. These involve the defence property -- both immoveable and moveable -- and the completion of the defence review.

When the two entity armies in BiH became one state's armed forces, it was necessary to identify the defence property in both entities that would be required for future military use and to transfer that property to the state ministry of defence. There were two kinds of property, that which was moveable, such as weapons, ammunition and military equipment, and that which is immoveable, such as training ranges, military bases, equipment and ordnance storage sites and buildings.

The failure to agree on the ownership and transfer of immoveable defence property to the state has led to the armed forces being required to guard many surplus and unnecessary military sites across this country. This task is consuming large human and financial resources. Resolving this issue would free soldiers and finances for essential modernisation and training and would allow for investment in the defence infrastructure to meet long term needs.

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Some of the stored ordnance is designated as "unsafe" and "unstable" -- which means it is visibly deteriorating, requiring careful handling and immediate destruction. [Photo courtesy of Brigadier General John W Bullard]

Second, BiH has large stocks of aging ammunition and explosives. Approximately 57% of their ordnance is considered to be "high risk". "High risk" is simply defined as being 20 years or older. Once this ordnance reaches 20 years of shelf life, the reliability can no longer be guaranteed and the explosive content and propellant charge begin to chemically break down. Unfortunately, this problem is further exacerbated since 97% of BiH's surplus ammunition and explosives reaches 20 years or older by 2013.

In addition, some of that stored ordnance is designated as "unsafe" and "unstable" -- which means it is visibly deteriorating, requiring careful handling and immediate destruction. In 2008, BiH destroyed 2,000 tonnes of this ordnance but in 2009 only 1,200 tonnes were destroyed. With a current stockpile of 25,000 tonnes of ordnance and a capacity to destroy only 3,000 tonnes per year, it is clear that disposal is proceeding far too slowly and much of that stock will be in an unsafe condition before destruction.

Finally, the defence ministry and the armed forces are currently completing a defence review that will identify key missions and tasks, thereby allowing a Force Structure and resources to be designed to match those needs.

SETimes: What changes do you foresee during your tenure as the commander of NHQ Sarajevo?

Bullard: Individual commanders of this HQ do not set short-term goals according to their personal tenure. NATO has a long-term plan for BiH, and each commander hopes to move that plan forward. The immediate challenge is to resolve the disposal of surplus ammunition, weapons and explosives, to complete the defence review and to finalise the issue of ownership of defence property. Achieving progress on these key issues is a priority for me and my HQ, together with continuing the professional development of the armed forces.

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SETimes: Will NATO conduct any exercises in BiH in the near future?

Bullard: The US European Command (EUCOM) held the communication exercise "Combined Endeavour" in Banja Luka in 2009 and it was a great success. BiH authorities did an excellent job of organising and managing this major event. An invitation has now been made to BiH to host the international medical exercise "Medecur" in 2012. Like "Combined Endeavour", this will be a US EUCOM exercise held in the spirit of Partnership for Peace programme.

SETimes: Could you comment on the future of NATO's presence in BiH?

Bullard: NATO is in BiH under the two mandates of UN Security Council Resolution 1895 and direction from the North Atlantic Council to advise BiH on defence reform. We will stay to complete the tasks implicit in those missions. NATO has shown that it has an enduring commitment to BiH. We are focused on an end state, not an end date -- and that end state is one in which BiH has completed the reforms needed to be considered as a NATO candidate.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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