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ICG Briefing Paper

ICG Bosnia Project, June 1997

Why it is Important to Make it Clear Now that SFOR is Staying Beyond June 1998

The International Crisis Group (ICG) strongly believes that NATO should continue the presence of a credible force in Bosnia and Herzegovina beyond June 1998 and that an announcement of such intention should be made public as early as possible.

NATO's presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina prevents a resumption of full-scale hostilities. This is no mean achievement and a critical component of the peace process. However, NATO's presence alone is not sufficient to ensure implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA), especially if that presence is limited to an unrealistically short time-frame set in stone. Simply extending the duration of NATO's commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina will not of itself transform the fortunes of the peace process. There are other obstacles to DPA implementation including, in particular, the continued liberty and influence of indicted war criminals, the restricted manner in which SFOR interprets its mandate, and the absence of an alternative mechanism to enforce compliance with the DPA. Indeed, if NATO or an alternative force were to remain indefinitely in Bosnia and Herzegovina without addressing these obstacles, the alliance's presence may simply succeed in turning the Inter-Entity Boundary Line (IEBL) into a de facto international border, thus effectively cementing the gains of ethnic cleansing and ensuring that displaced Bosniacs and Croats do not return to Republika Srpska. Nevertheless, it is critical that NATO or an alternative force of similar stature remains in Bosnia and Herzegovina beyond June 1998 and, critically, that the alliance indicates its determination to do so now for the following reasons:

  • If the purpose of NATO's intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina is to restore peace and stability to this war-ravaged country, the duration of the mission should, as a matter of principle, be linked to its successful completion, not a pre-determined exit date.

  • Emphasising exit strategies and not successful mission completion from the outset has undermined and continues to undermine the peace process. It also has a negative impact on morale among the troops stationed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

  • Nationalist leaders within Bosnia and Herzegovina are aware that SFOR is scheduled to withdraw in June 1998 and behave accordingly. They play a waiting game and consistently obstruct DPA implementation, confident that they will be able to pursue their wartime aims after SFOR's departure. Indeed, the media on all sides have already begun considering potential post-SFOR scenarios, including renewed hostilities. Such speculation further undermines the peace process and encourages all sides to prepare for the next war rather than comply with the military reduction targets they have agreed.

  • Since the DPA is not being implemented and, in particular, displaced persons are not returning to their homes as envisaged, the prospects of a new war are very real. Moreover, the Federation armies, the Bosnian Army and the Croat Defence Council, are currently receiving both military instruction and hardware as part of the US-sponsored "train and equip" programme. While designed to be a defensive project, it is clearly viewed as a threat in Republika Srpska. In SFOR's absence, incidents between both Bosniacs and Serbs and Bosniacs and Croats could easily escalate into a full-scale war.

  • Renewed fighting in Bosnia and Herzegovina would signify NATO failure and damage the alliance's credibility, thus jeopardising future peace-keeping operations.

  • According to a major psychological examination of US troops in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the US army finds that its soldiers lose their effectiveness after six months in theatre. The study, which was carried out by the US 67th combat support hospital and is scheduled to be published in a medical journal this autumn, contends that soldiers need to know why they are making sacrifices. Unless their mission is well defined, therefore, and they know that they are in Bosnia and Herzegovina to complete that mission, they face problems of motivation and morale.

  • Nation-wide elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina are scheduled for September 1998, two years after the first post-war poll. The justification for ramming through the September 1996 poll was that those elections were but the beginning of a process of democratisation. According to this argument, the September 1996 elections would lead to common institutions which would begin the process of welding the country back together, and that the September 1998 elections would give the non-nationalist parties a chance to compete on a more even footing. However, since SFOR is scheduled to withdraw three months before these elections, the poll may not even take place.

  • No strategy could be worse than stating for the next year that SFOR is pulling out as scheduled and then changing tactic at the eleventh hour and announcing an extension of the mandate. This was in effect what happened during IFOR's deployment in the first year of DPA implementation when emphasis on an exit strategy and uncertainty about the long-term security environment hampered reconstruction efforts.

Sarajevo, 2 June 1997

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