143. From Implementation to Partnership: Post-SFOR Options In Bosnia

By
James Gow

An external military presence will be required in Bosnia after June 1998. This will remain the case for perhaps 15 years to come. However, over those years ahead, to make progress and to achieve eventual success, a more creative and proactive approach is required. This entails understanding WhatFOR? and recasting the nature of outside military involvement. Although Bosnia will need international military engagement, over time partnership should replace external implementation.

Aside from the military goals in Dayton's Annex 1A, three major tasks, which would require support from an external implementation force, need to be accomplished in order for the agreement to work. The first is the possibility of return for displaced persons and refugees to their homes. Ultimately, this is the most important of the goals because it could become the casus belli for a return to war. The second is political and constitutional integration under the Dayton provisions. The third is the apprehension of those indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Of these, the first depended on progress regarding the second--and both could only be achieved over time. Although this process was formally begun with the Bosnian elections in September 1996 and subsequent steps have been taken, there is a long way to go. Thus, the priority was the apprehension of indictees. This was important for two reasons. First, however difficult it might be to achieve and whatever the concerns about carrying it out, the potential difficulties of not doing so were always going to be greater. Strategic momentum was required for international implementation to be credible. That needed success, and the apprehension of indictees was the only area in which highly visible success was possible.

Second, it was necessary to remove individuals who were an obstacle to implementation and, therefore, to the peace process. Those who were holding power, even behind the scenes in some cases, were those who had been responsible for the war. Many of these had a vested interest in seeing Dayton stalled. It was, therefore, imperative that some action be taken. The British operation at Prijedor on July 10, 1997 regarding Bosnian Serbs was a vital step forward. The operation had a demonstrable effect. It created space and catalyzed a power struggle in the Republika Srpska. Since July, internal developments there have been positive, with Biljana Plavsic (although no angel) enhancing her position, thus undermining the strength of wartime leader and indictee Radovan Karadzic. The most vital element here is to have broken, albeit far from completely, the Karadzic-SDS hold on the entity. The space created allowed progress in political and constitutional integration, developments that will continue into 1998.

An international force will be needed after June 1998 because the tasks identified above will not have been accomplished by then. In particular, there may be a need for more action regarding the apprehension of indictees. It would be disappointing if further action had not occurred by the end of the SFOR mandate: by that time the job is unlikely to have been completed. When the right time and opportunity appear, before or after June, apprehension activities ought to continue.

There is also a military dimension to a continued international presence vis-a-vis the armies of the three communities in Bosnia. Fears exist that the Bosnian Army will launch offensives against the Serbian entity after an international exit. There are elements within the Bosnian military and political leadership who felt that, when the war ended in 1995, there was unfinished business. The prospects, however, for successful Bosnian Army action in 1998 or 1999 are not secure. Although the U.S. Train and Equip Program has begun to assist in putting organization and shape into the Bosnian Army, the latter is probably not capable of full-scale operational-level action (any more than it was while struggling on the Prijedor front in the autumn of 1995). It continues only to have SFOR-authorized training use of weapons and, then, only under supervision. The Bosnian Army is not yet capable of strategic-level planning and action. If it were to launch an offensive, there would be a very good chance that it would go wrong, as well as entailing, in effect, if not intention, ethnic cleansing. That would embarrass the United States, especially. It would, therefore, not be an advisable course of action.

All this means that an international force, including U.S. troops, will be needed in the current mode for at least two more years and in some form for decades ahead. However, whereas many analysts and policy makers think in terms of an implementation force in perpetuity, there needs to be more creativity in thinking on the future of Bosnia, especially regarding its armed forces. The idea, proposed by Ivo Daalder, that there should be an 18-month transition to a European Force (EFOR) is problematic on two counts. First, politically and practically, the Europeans who would be expected to take on the burden of implementation are unlikely to be prepared to do so. The key reasons for this are memories of the trans-Atlantic arguments over Bosnia in 1993-94 and, decisively, the judgement that without a U.S. presence, a European force would not be credible either to the Europeans themselves, or to the parties on the ground in Bosnia. Only a U.S. presence will be taken seriously--a presence maintained at its current level (25 percent of all forces deployed).

Second, it is necessary to introduce a phased program that moves away from implementation towards partnership. Neither Bosnia, Croatia, nor the FRY will join NATO's Partnership for Peace program (PfP) in the near future. Bosnia will not be able to join until it has a single, joint armed force--a prospect that is years away. For now, a program of partnership preparation for Bosnia must be set up. This means creating a single armed force to be a partner for the Alliance. Without this, there can be no chance of full PfP status for the country.

To understand how implementation could give way to preparation for partnership and then to eventual partnership, we must project 15 years, or more, ahead. This projection outlines the ways by which the international community might be able to reduce its commitment to Bosnia in terms of external implementation, combat-ready forces. Instead, it would work with the parties in Bosnia in a long-term program of activities, in which the Bosnian groups would come to be seen as reliable partners, rather than as troublesome groups of armed forces which it might be necessary to discipline through a use of force. This projection would entail three phases.

Phase I would have two stages: stage (a)--continued implementation and stage (b)--implementation with elements of transition. There will need to be continued implementation for a period of two to five years, during which time a period of transition should begin. Preliminary steps on a shift towards partnership could include English (and possibly French) language training for members of the armed forces in Bosnia, other training programs, and confidence-building seminars bringing soldiers from each community together. In addition, the role played by the US Train and Equip Program could be extended and reinterpreted as preparation for partnership.

Phase II would entail full preparation for partnership. International activity would be geared wholly towards the "train" part of Train and Equip. This would facilitate training and exercises and, crucially, would be considerably less costly than implementation. This would encourage the training of the armed forces and assist in the creation of a joint armed force for the whole of Bosnia, with joint command structures, but incorporating a community-linked regimental structure.

There would also be training and professionalization of a smaller Bosnian armed force in Phase II. Already, the forces of the Federation of Bosnia-Hercegovina have been reduced to about 45,000. This is the level at which it would be appropriate for them to stay. But, it would also be appropriate for a smaller element from the territory of the Republika Srpska to be gradually phased in through a series of joint activities. If future political developments make this possible, the international community should be prepared swiftly to build on them and to exploit them.

Joining PfP for a probationary period would be Phase III, to culminate in full partnership. This would represent the final phase of special international attention to Bosnia and, after the probationary period, the end of the peace process. There can be no certainty about the time frame: it could be longer (indeed, it must be as long as it takes). It is the only direction in which Bosnia and the international community can go if Dayton is to be successful.

James Gow spoke at an EES Noon Discussion on November 7, 1997.

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