Bosnia is in for a Shake-up

While the world is gripped by the crusade against terrorism a question mark hangs over Bosnia-Herzegovina. The UN is scheduled to leave Bosnia by 2002, potentially in the slipstream of a US withdrawal from SFOR and -- presumably -- a withdrawal by SFOR from Bosnia entirely. The task is done, the argument goes. There is peace in Bosnia and the need to arrest a conflagration in Macedonia has, at any rate, eclipsed the need to provide a "safe and secure environment" in Bosnia. "The boys", in the words of US. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld "must go home" and although the United States has assured its allies that US. troops will not be pulled out peremptorily, the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York has turned the kaleidoscope through which the United States sees the world, coloring all the facets in the shades of terrorism. Not many US. Congressmen like seeing US. troops walking children to school in far-flung Bosnia -- and that is in times of peace. The United States is now, to quote President Bush "at war." The pull-out might therefore come quicker than previously feared, as the United States begins to divert funds, manpower and materiel in order to fight terrorism and shore up the defense of its territory.

Increasingly, analysts argue, it will become difficult to persuade the United States to stay in the Balkans and EU will be expected to take charge. True, there are those who think that the United States will become increasingly engaged in Bosnia but although these thoughts have emanated from officials within SFOR and the US embassies in Belgrade and London, these thoughts are infused with more hope than sense. The construction of Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo -- a sprawling camp with several restaurants, bus stops and cafés -- had previously led analysts to believe that the United States would stay in the Balkans, but as a source at SFOR notes: "that's just the way the US. troops travel." It is not that important and one should be wary of reading too much in to it. No one inside the Beltway thinks that the US. Administration or the US. Congress will become increasingly engaged. True, the United States might not know where it is going, but it knows where it is not going -- and that is deeper into the Balkans. Sure, the fight against terrorism might, momentarily, put a spotlight on Bosnia as SFOR hunts down people connected to Osama bin Laden, but once these people have been arrested the spotlight will be hurriedly be removed. There are already fewer US. troops in Bosnia, and there are only a few hundred US. troops -- mainly logistical support -- in Macedonia. Rumors abound that the United States will gradually cut US. troops in Bosnia by approximately 20%. What is more important is that US. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld believes, as he told the Washington Post, that "the military job was done three or four years ago."

Since Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made the comments to the Washington Post, analysts and policy-makers alike have argued that his analysis of the situation in Bosnia is flawed and that the proposed withdrawal of US. troops would be seriously detrimental to the peace and stability of the Balkans. There are a couple of strings to this argument.

It is true that IFOR and latterly SFOR successfully separated the largely exhausted warring parties at the conclusion of the Bosnian War. Yet to assert that this separation spells the end of the "military job" is to define "military" in such a narrow way as to make it nearly meaningless. In an interview with NATO Review, General Sir Rupert Smith, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, argued the following in deciding whether there should be a withdrawal of peacekeeping troops:

Judgements have to be made about the prospects of fighting starting again as well as the state of other institutions, such as a well-developed police force and a judicial system, all of which must be trusted by the local population.

Similar benchmarks have been expounded in studies commissioned by SFOR, especially in the study conducted by the US. Army Peacekeeping Institute, which hinted that a withdrawal of SFOR could not begin before SFOR had aided in the establishment of "a secure environment with respect for the rule of law". in an address to the UN Security Council, Jacques Paul Klein, head of the UN in Bosnia, noted that without a well-functioning judiciary, a peaceful and democratic Bosnia would not emerge. The idea that peace-keeping forces should be withdrawn before a sustainable peace is at hand is accordingly non-sensical.

There can be no doubt that Bosnia has not yet reached the benchmarks that General Smith elucidated: while the likelihood of war has seemingly decreased, it would be foolish if SFOR were to leave only to discover that it was their presence that had kept Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs from plunging Bosnia into war. There are still signs that this might happen even though the balance of forces favors the Federation over Republika Srpska. President Kostunica of Yugoslavia, however, recently insinuated that Kosovo and Montenegro could be swapped for Republika Srpska. Whether the suggestion was serious or not, it fuels the fire of secessionism in Republika Srpska. Similarly, although the attempt by the Croat Democratic Union (HDZ) to secede from Bosnia was thwarted, it illustrates the unfinished peace: deserters from the army were persuaded to return to their barracks largely because the HDZ was incapable of paying them the salaries it had promised. The UN worries that the upcoming conference of the HDZ might allow a repetition of the events. Without SFOR to deter, moves to redraw borders would probably cause the conflict to begin anew. Should the conflict re-ignite, NATO would probably be compelled to return anyway.

Jacques Paul Klein argues that the United Nations is on track to complete the work of reforming and restructuring the police by 2002. This is questionable, however. Examples to the contrary abound. The guy who runs the store selling sports equipment just around the corner from where I live told me that he had been forced by the police to donate sports equipment to none other than the police's football team! The judiciary remains dysfunctional, too. Just a couple of weeks ago a policeman in Trebinje chose not to arrest a well-known smuggler because the previous times he had arrested the perpetrator he had immediately been released. Contracts are often violated and legal remedies are negligible.

General Smith made the point that the police and the judiciary had to be "trusted by the local population". The relationship between police and population has to be marked by trust otherwise it is not possible to police -- this is as much the case in Norway as it is in Bosnia. In this view, police cannot police through force alone, but require a legitimacy, which is gained through trust -- trust that it will act fairly toward all ethnic group. The way to gain such a trust in Bosnia is to ensure that the ethnic make-up of the police mirrors that of the society that it must police. The procedures, installed by the UN, for vetting policemen that do not have the necessary qualifications (such as secondary schooling) are being manipulated to oust those policemen who are not considered loyal to the authorities. Overwhelmingly, the efforts to stamp out this activity are being obfuscated by the authorities. Where possible, disciplinary procedures are being used instead of criminal procedures to protect police officers caught engaged in criminality. The number of politically-motivated investigations, within the police, are high and will remain so as long as Internal Control Units (equivalent to Internal Affairs in the United States) are controlled by the Ministries of Interior and not the Police Commissioners.[1] The UN might have to re-start the process of vetting policemen and checking their names anew against rosters of known criminals.

The appointment of Police Commissioners by the IPTF Commissioner is also fraught with problems: there is no reference in the Dayton Peace Accords for the appointments of interim Police Commissioners by the IPTF.[2] The IPTF mandate is, in UN parlance, a "non-executive mandate" as opposed to a "executive mandate", and appointments of Police Commissioners therefore rests with the local authorities and not the IPTF. Interestingly, the authority to make such appointment seems to have been accepted by the local authorities -- yet the fact that there is no reference in the Dayton Peace Accords could potentially make IPTF vulnerable to pressure to install Police Commissioners favored by the Ministries of Interior. This would, in effect, ruin the exercise.

None of the benchmarks expounded by General Smith has thus far been met in Bosnia. What does SFOR and US. troops have to do with this? A lot. SFOR is needed to provide brawn to IPTF's brain. The IPTF has too weak a mandate and the Multinational Specialized Units (MSUs) are not up to the task, being kept on a short leash by Spain, France and Portugal. The degree of disagreement in Europe on the relative merits of para-military troops also makes the re-enforcement of MSUs unlikely. The MSUs are, at any rate, part of SFOR and would probably be loath to cut its umbilical cord and operate as a stand-alone unit.

The conclusion, that SFOR must stay and become more engaged as envisioned in the Dayton Peace Accords, is of course exactly what the United States resisted in at Wright-Patterson Airbase in Ohio and continues to resist. The scramble to construct a new security architecture in Bosnia has hence begun with different organizations, different countries, and different personalities vying to bid for the job. The bureaucratic game has begun and the outcome will probably not be clear before well into 2002 and probably not until Paddy Ashdown takes over as the High Representative.

The different scenarios include, but are not exclusive to:

  • strengthening of the UN mandate (which would make the mandate more executive and not simply supervisory) and giving the UN a comprehensive Rule of Law assignment;
  • handing over to the OSCE the responsibility for IPTF;
  • developing a security pillar within the OHR to complement the Independent Judicial Commission and giving OHR a comprehensive Rule of Law assignment ;
  • letting the EU take over security entirely (and possibly stationing a garrison of the Rapid Reaction Force semi-permanently in Bosnia);
  • re-organizing the entire international involvement in Bosnia fusing the UN with the OHR (thereby automatically giving the IPTF the strengthened mandate it needs) and letting the EU take care of the military and the MSUs.

Whether the outcome will include one of these options, a novel and imaginative amalgamation of some of these or something not yet elucidated is impossible to tell. All of the options have its champions and detractors. All of these have advantages and disadvantages. The fact remains, however, that something needs to happen and will likely happen. So watch this space!


[1] Criminality, of course, remains rife -- and is possibly even understandable given the salaries that the police are paid: the average monthly wage in the Federation was DM 437 in 2000, but the basket of consumables needed for a family of four cost DM 441.
[2] IPTF stands for International Police Task Force, a CivPol Mission under the auspices of the United Nations. IPTF monitors and advises local police with the objective of changing the focus of the police from the security of the state to that of the individual. In so doing, IPTF is helping to restructure and reform the local police to create democratic and professional police forces which are multi-ethnic, effective, transparent, impartial, accountable, representative of the society they serve, and which will facilitate the return of refugees and displaced persons.