Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Bosnia Adopts Common Defence Policy

Efforts are under way in Bosnia to unite the country's rival armies into a modern defence force.
By Antonio Prlenda

Bosnia's divided armies, more used to fighting each other than battling


foreign foes, are facing moves to weld them into a national fighting


force capable of deployment on international missions.


The initiative was taken by the country's new intake of political leaders who adopted a joint defence policy which could come into force early next year. Only a year ago, the very idea would have been dismissed as impossible. Since then elections have brought to power more moderate political figures who seek to bury old nationalistic hatreds.


For most of the five years since the Dayton Peace Accord ended the


Bosnian war, fiercely nationalist parties have held sway. As a result,


Bosnia remained a country with three almost completely separate armies.


This changed last November when elections brought moderate parties into


power in most of the state and entity institutions. In May, the country's new three-member collective presidency brought out the first official document to regulate the use of armed forces at state level. Many issues and technical details still remain unclear. The document is somewhat vague and not without flaws. Nevertheless, it has been hailed as a highly promising start.


The Dayton Accord split Bosnia into two regions, Repubika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation, each with separate armies. The latter was made of two almost separate components, the Bosniak-dominated Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Croatian Defence Council, HVO.


During the war, the Bosniak and Croat armies initially fought together


against the Bosnian Serbs. They turned against each other before agreeing to end hostilities in 1994 and form the Federation, under strong international pressure.


After the war, nationalistic leaders in both regions insisted that


Dayton permitted a defence system with two separate ethnically-oriented armed forces - one for the Federation and another for Republika Srpksa. They saw no need to talk about a common defence strategy.


Ferid Buljubasic, a Bosniak deputy federal defence minister, commented, "This new policy is a sound move toward the creation of a better defence structure. To have a policy which, although it results from compromises and contains some flaws, is capable of improvement is better than to have no policy at all."


Although the new defence document has not been published in full, sources who took part in negotiations say all three sides expressed support for the project. Federal defence minister Mijo Anic said last week that a joint Bosnian army could be established as early as next spring.


The document speaks of the development of military forces, under the democratic civil control, which would assist Bosnian citizens in cases of natural disaster and participate in UN peace missions.


But the biggest breakthrough and the key importance of this document was that it tackled vital issues - like command structure and the question of whether armies defend the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina or only its separate parts.


The document asserts that the purpose of armed forces in Bosnia is to protect the country's sovereignty - and that the collective presidency will be in charge of most military questions.


Antonio Prlenda is military and defence specialist for the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje