NATO and the Defence Reform Commission: partners for progress


In the fall of 2005, legislators in Bosnia and Herzegovina's two entities approved a historic agreement drafted by the Defence Reform Commission. It ends conscription, creates a single Ministry of Defence at the state level and establishes a professional military force that is tailored to the needs of BiH, the needs of regional security and the requirements for integration into the international military community. A key step on BiH's path to Euro-Atlantic integration, the deal also reflects NATO's decade-long commitment to ensuring a stable future for the Bosnian people.

By Derek Chappell, Spokesperson, NATO Headquarters Sarajevo


In a post-conflict state such as Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the most difficult challenge is to change the focus of public attention from the past to the present and finally to the future.

When that change occurs will be determined by the people of BiH and influenced by their perceptions of the stability, security, opportunity and progress that their society provides them and their sense of nationhood and a common future.

International organisations such as NATO cannot impose a sense of nationhood on BiH. NATO’s role has been to promote conditions in which such feelings and perceptions can emerge and be expressed in society. NATO’s intent has been to serve as a catalyst for changes that will obviate the need for its continued presence in BiH.

That mission requires sensitivity to changing conditions, and it requires that the NATO mandate and its functions also evolve as change occurs.

An evolving presence

NATO has been in BiH for 10 years. In that time, the mission and the focus of NATO has transformed as the country itself has transformed. Its focus is now on the future -- on nation building through establishment of a single state-level Army under civilian command.

The NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) that was launched into BiH in 1995 was tasked with separating the warring factions and creating an environment in which the peace agreement could be implemented.

When, one year later, IFOR evolved into SFOR, NATO’s new mission was modified to deter hostilities, stabilise the peace and contribute to the emergence of a secure environment. That change recognised that NATO’s role was transitioning from a concern with the immediate needs of security and deterrence to active involvement in building a viable civil society.

The Transfer of Authority ceremony on 2 December 2004, which brought the NATO SFOR mission to a successful conclusion and created a new NATO HQ in Sarajevo, was in recognition of another transition -- that from successfully facing the challenges of post-war stabilisation to promoting nation building and BiH integration with European institutions.

Building national competence

While NATO may now have a lower profile in BiH than before, its tasks are even more critical to the future of the country. Its principal mandate is defence reform, which is an essential prerequisite for European integration, membership in Partnership for Peace (PfP) and eventually full integration into NATO.

The instrument to effect this change has been the Defence Reform Commission (DRC), which NATO has co-chaired since January 2005.

High Representative Paddy Ashdown established the DRC in May 2003, tasking it with drafting the legal and constitutional changes necessary to make BiH a credible PfP candidate.

The Commission's 12 members and four observers brought together for the first time under a single mandate the full range of local officials and international organisations involved in BiH security and focused their work on a specific set of institutional reforms.

Essential reforms involved creating a state-level, civilian-led command and control structure with a state-level Defence Ministry; democratic parliamentary control and oversight; transparency in defence plans and budgets; and common doctrine, training and equipment standards. These expectations provided the guidance given to the DRC in 2003.

The BiH Army had been based on an outdated, conscript system inherited from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, under which a yearly quota of 12,400 men was called up from both the Federation of BiH (FBiH) and Republika Srpska (RS). Conscripts were called up every two months for a four-month period of service. They received only two months of actual training and were then mostly used as a labour force or as guards. Upon completing four months of service, conscripts resumed civilian life as members of a reserve force of 60,000. No further military training was ever provided to those reservists beyond the original two months.

Conscripts received only the most basic military training. Living and working conditions were substandard due to severe financial constraints. The system did not produce a trained military force and, through the continuing flow through of new conscripts, the size of the reserve force soon exceeded its authorised strength.

The costs of this obsolete system were high. In FBiH, the annual cost of conscription and reserve forces amounted to 46m KM, while in RS it amounted to 15m KM, or 22 per cent of the entity’s defence budget.

This expenditure did not produce an effective defence force, did not meet the needs of BiH and crippled the military by diverting funds from essential improvements in equipment, training and living conditions.

In terms of command and control, the duplication and incompatibility of two entity defence establishments operating on the territory of a single state are obvious. DRC recommendations in 2003 had resulted in the establishment of two chains of command -- administrative and operational -- both culminating at the Presidency with the state-level Ministry of Defence as the responsible executive branch. Day to day operations of the armed forces, however, still remained at the entity level.

The authority of the state was limited to setting standards, and by the end of 2004 it was clear that even this was being resisted. Together with indications that elements of the operational and administrative chains of command were not fully under either state or entity control, the DRC was mandated to transfer remaining entity defence competencies to the state and to close down entity defence institutions completely.

The way ahead

The agreement that was drafted by the DRC and approved by both entity Assemblies in the fall of 2005 is an historic achievement. The legislation ends conscription, creates a single Ministry of Defence at the state level and establishes a professional military force that is tailored to the needs of BiH, the needs of regional security and the requirements for integration into the international military community.

The inefficient conscription system was terminated on 1 January 2006, as were the entity Ministries of Defence. The new BiH Armed Forces will be comprised solely of professional personnel. The inefficient reserve force of 60,000 was also abolished on 1 January 2006, to be replaced by a new Active Reserve force staffed by professionals who have completed active duty service. Its size will be limited to half of the active duty force.

The new Armed Forces will consist of 10,000 personnel, organised into a regimental system that will preserve appropriate military traditions and heritage of the former entity armies. There will be three infantry regiments, with smaller branches organised as single regiments. Each of the infantry regiments will provide one battalion to each of the AFBIH’s three infantry brigades so that each brigade comprises three battalions, one from each regiment. This is a major innovation for the AFBIH, which had previously been organised largely on the basis of constituent peoples.

State control is ensured through a single chain of command that proceeds from the Presidency of BiH to the Minister of Defence, then to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and down to Commanders of Operational and Support Commands. A single state defence budget came into effect on 1 January 2006. By 1 July 2007, the new Brigade HQ should be in place and by 31 December 2007, re-organisation should be complete.

The new Armed Forces of BiH will be trained, organised and equipped to NATO standards. They will be structured to take part in collective security missions abroad, participate in Peace Support Operations and to assist civil authorities in responding to natural and man-made disasters.

Under a single civilian-controlled structure, the armed forces will become a source of stability and confidence for the population.

A political precedent

The example that the defence reform process set is as significant as the reforms themselves. Working through local leaders and institutions, a historic consensus was forged that places the interests of the state above parochial political interests. Moderate and progressive BiH political leadership and the voices of reason and professionalism have prevailed over divisive historical experiences and emotion. The new BiH Armed Forces will underpin state security and assure regional security through integration into Euro-Atlantic structures

NATO is pleased to have been both a facilitator and a catalyst in helping BiH move beyond Dayton, from stabilisation to integration and from the divisions of history to the opportunities of the future.

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