Comment: NATO Stays the Course in the Balkans

Replacement of SFOR by the EU’s new force for Bosnia does not mean NATO is any less committed to stability.

Comment: NATO Stays the Course in the Balkans

Replacement of SFOR by the EU’s new force for Bosnia does not mean NATO is any less committed to stability.

When the NATO-led Stabilisation Force came to an end and the European Union took responsibility for providing day-to-day security in Bosnia and Herzegovina, an important phase of the Alliance’s engagement in the Balkans was over.

However, the termination of the Stabilisation Force, SFOR, should be viewed as the beginning not of a NATO withdrawal from the region, but of a process designed to embed the whole of south-eastern Europe in Euro-Atlantic structures.

Even after EUFOR’s deployment – the official hand-over date was November 2 – NATO retains its own military headquarters, which will focus on defence reform, preparing Bosnia and Herzegovina for membership first of the Partnership for Peace, PfP, and eventually of the alliance itself.

The NATO headquarters, which will be headed by a United States one-star general with a staff of around 150, will also work on counter-terrorism, apprehending war-crimes suspects and intelligence-gathering. In addition, the United States itself will retain a residual presence in the country, with some 200 troops based in Tuzla. The US presence will serve as a forward base and training centre for other operations.

Cooperation between the European Union and NATO in Bosnia and Herzegovina will take place in accordance with a package of arrangements known as “Berlin Plus”, after the 1996 meeting at which NATO foreign ministers agreed to create a European Security and Defence Identity and make NATO assets available for this purpose. In practice, the arrangements seek to avoid unnecessary duplication of capabilities between the two organisations and to ensure that they work together hand in glove.

The strategic commander of the EU mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, who is also the EU’s most senior officer and is based at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers, Europe, SHAPE, in Mons, Belgium.

The chain of command will run from an EU cell at SHAPE through another EU cell at Allied Joint Force Command Naples - which is currently responsible for both SFOR and the Kosovo Force, KFOR - to ensure that the missions operate seamlessly together. Contingency plans exist for NATO to provide “over-the-horizon” forces if required.

EUFOR will derive its mandate from a new United Nations Security Council resolution and will have an initial strength of 7,000 – the same size as SFOR. That is a small fraction of the 60,000 more heavily armed and equipped troops of the initial NATO-led force, the Implementation Force or IFOR, which deployed in Bosnia in December 1995.

Bosnia’s security architecture at the end of hostilities in 1995 – which consisted of three rival armed forces – was not conducive to long-term stability. Since then, NATO and other international organisations have worked with the various Bosnian authorities, within the framework of a Defence Reform Commission, to reform the country’s defence structures. This approach bore fruit in 2003 with the creation of a single state-level defence ministry, and subsequently a joint staff and an operational command.

NATO is now taking a leadership role within the Defence Reform Commission and will work together with Bosnian authorities to maintain the pace of reform in the coming years.

In addition to implementing the defence-reform programme, Bosnia and Herzegovina must demonstrate that it is cooperating to the best of its ability with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, including helping apprehend former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, before it is able to join PfP. The lack of cooperation with The Hague in Republika Srpska is currently holding up Bosnian entry to PfP.

The model for EU-NATO cooperation in Bosnia and Herzegovina was established in Macedonia. There, NATO handed responsibility for peacekeeping to the European Union in April 2003, but retained a 180-strong military headquarters in the country. The NATO headquarters remains there to this day, assisting the Skopje authorities with defence reform and preparations for eventual alliance membership, as well as providing support to other NATO-led missions in the Balkans.

The threat of a new eruption of violence is greatest in Kosovo, where NATO had to deploy additional forces and Alliance-led peacekeepers were obliged to use force to maintain order and protect beleaguered Serb communities in March 2004. For this reason, NATO is maintaining a robust military presence in the province, with some 17,500 KFOR troops. This is, nevertheless, considerably fewer troops than the initial KFOR deployment of some 50,000 in June 1999.

In the wake of the March riots, all international organisations have re-examined their policies towards Kosovo, and several important initiatives have been taken to revitalise the political process so as to head off further violence.

While it is critical that violence is not seen to pay and the perpetrators of the March riots are being brought to justice, the issue of Kosovo’s final status, effectively on hold ever since the 1999 NATO air campaign, is likely to come onto the agenda in 2005.

As long as Kosovo’s status remains unresolved, KFOR bears special responsibility for maintaining a stable environment, with a mandate derived from UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and a Military-Technical Agreement between NATO and the Yugoslav Army. Tensions are likely to be heightened in the run-up to and during status talks.

Since the March riots, KFOR and the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, have developed detailed contingency plans with clearly delineated responsibilities to deal with a similar outbreak of violence in the future.

They have also sought to engage local communities more on security matters by bringing together KFOR, the Kosovo Police Service, the UNMIK police and the nascent Kosovo institutions in a new body called the Kosovo Security Assistance Group. To date, however, Kosovo Serbs have chosen not to participate in this body, thereby undermining its potential.

One of the great challenges is to persuade Kosovo’s Serbs that it is in their interest to participate in political life. However, whereas some 90,000 voted in the first Kosovo Assembly elections in 2001, only some 2,000 did so in October this year. The vast majority, whether out of conviction or because of intimidation, heeded a boycott called by Belgrade. Indeed, the key to changing Serb attitudes in Kosovo at a time when status talks appear imminent may ultimately depend on decisions taken in Belgrade.

Developments in Serbia and Montenegro continue to have wide-reaching implications both for Kosovo and for much of the rest of the region.

After the ouster of former President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, Belgrade set a very different foreign policy course and has generally pursued pragmatic and constructive policies towards NATO, even at times of heightened tension such as the violence in Kosovo in March.

In June 2003, Belgrade formally applied for membership of NATO’s PfP programme. Since then, military officers and civilians have been participating in NATO orientation courses. These aim to provide participants with a basic knowledge of the Alliance as well as an introduction to crisis-management issues, peace-support operations and civil-military cooperation.

By November 2003, relations between NATO and Serbia and Montenegro had improved to such an extent that the Alliance’s then Secretary-General, Lord George Robertson, was able to visit Belgrade on his farewell tour of the former Yugoslavia.

Serbia and Montenegro has recently made progress on defence reform and has cooperated with the Hague tribunal, most notably with the surrender of Milosevic. However, that cooperation has waned during the past year and several requirements must still be met before the country can be admitted to PfP.

Belgrade will have to deliver the most notorious indicted war crimes suspects that it is harbouring – in particular former Bosnian Serb commander-in-chief General Ratko Mladic – to The Hague. And it must drop the lawsuit it has against eight Allied countries and their leaders at the International Court of Justice, dating back to the 1999 air campaign.

The incentive for Belgrade to meet NATO’s requirements is the potential assistance that it could expect as a PfP participant. NATO is already assisting neighbouring countries with security-sector reform, offering them, among other initiatives, programmes to retrain military personnel for civilian life and to convert former military bases for peaceful uses.

By becoming a member of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Serbia and Montenegro would take the first step on the ladder of Euro-Atlantic integration and acquire a voice in a NATO forum.

NATO and the international community as a whole would also reap considerable benefits from Serbian and Montenegrin membership of PfP, as it will be difficult to rebuild long-term security and stability in the region without Belgrade as a constructive partner.

Despite many unresolved issues in the Balkans, progress is being made.

While that progress is often slow, the Balkans has certainly not proved to be the quagmire that many analysts predicted when NATO first intervened militarily in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995 - hence the decision to end SFOR.

While their roles and responsibilities may change, the European Union, NATO and other international actors must continue their effective partnership for as long as it takes to make reconstruction and stabilisation in the region both self-sustaining and irreversible.

Christopher Bennett is editor of NATO Review, author of Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse (New York University Press, 1995), and a former editor of IWPR’s Balkan Crisis Report. The latest issue of NATO Review examines NATO’s experience in the former Yugoslavia and the challenges ahead and can be seen at Alternatively, a free hard copy can be obtained by writing to

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