Bosnia-Herzegovina – Attaining Human Security

Kenneth Epps Defence & Human Security

Kenneth Epps

The Ploughshares Monitor June 2000 Volume 21 Issue 2

As part of an ongoing exploration of the relevance of human security doctrine and values to Canadian defence policy and planning, Project Ploughshares has sought to engage Defence and Foreign Affairs officials, members of the strategic affairs community, and members of the NGO community in regular discussions and roundtables, and in participation in events and discussions organized by other groups. With the support of and in cooperation with the Simons Foundation Ploughshares is currently pursuing two lines of study. The first is to look at the legal and international law implications of humanitarian intervention- under what circumstances is military intervention warranted or required to protect vulnerable civilians, and who decides. The second is to look at actual interventions- what defines success; what conditions are more conducive to success; what are the military equipment, training, and doctrine requirements for effective humanitarian action.

In support of this second line of inquiry, Ploughshares staff member Ken Epps participated in a recent tour, sponsored by the Department of National Defence, of Canadian military operations in support of the United Nations intervention force in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The following report describes the UN operation and Canada’s role.

In anticipation of a full public review of Canadian defence policy, these studies are intended to support an exploration of ways in which current military policy and practice would have to be reshaped to begin to bring human security values and standards to bear upon the mandate and action of Canadian military forces.

The challenges of Bosnia-Herzegovina

When the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) in Bosnia and Herzegovina- commonly known as the Dayton Accords- was approved in Paris in December 1995, the signatories agreed to a ceasefire followed by a complex process of reassembling a war-torn society within a newly constructed state. The challenges were manifold and formidable. GFAP-mandated and domestic institutions faced a range of hurdles arising not only from the legacy of a war that killed almost 250,000 people and displaced more than half the population1, but also from the nature and extent of the commitment to reconstruction.

The brutal war in Bosnia, which lasted from 1992 to 1995, will be remembered for the phrase it provided to the modern political lexicon – “ethnic cleansing.” Beginning as a fight for separation (with both Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats intent on independence or union with Serbia and Croatia respectively), the conflict soon led to militia attacks on individual towns and villages, often setting neighbour against neighbour as one ethnic group purged a community of members of another. In an effort to respond to the civilian misery created by the war, United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) troops were deployed in Bosnia in 1992, an extension of UNPROFOR deployment the same year in war-torn Croatia. The UN forces were mandated to assist with the delivery of humanitarian relief and to discourage attacks on six designated UN Safe Areas.

The early but restrained intervention of the international community could not prevent the injury or death of hundreds of thousands of Bosnian civilians, including thousands of Bosnian Muslims (Bosniacs) killed when Serbs overran the UN Safe Areas of Srebenica and Zepa in 1995.2 Targeted solely because of ethnic origin, civilians from all three major groups were forced from their homes, abused and raped, imprisoned, and murdered. From these “ethnic-cleansing” actions during the war, almost one hundred people were subsequently publicly indicted as war criminals, with many more “sealed” indictments not made public to prevent the accused from going into hiding.

As a result of ethnic cleansing, today there are about one million Bosnian refugees living outside the country and an equal number displaced within Bosnia-Herzegovina. The war redrew the ethnic map of the country as threatened ethnic minorities of one region fled to others where they could join a majority. Under the Dayton Accords these “Displaced Persons and Refugees” (DPREs) have the right to move back to their original homes, even though many face a return to minority status. To complicate matters, the homes of many displaced persons- where they have not been damaged or destroyed- have been occupied by members of the local majority ethnic group, often people who have moved from other regions themselves.

At the same time the construction of a single Bosnian state faces the challenge of overcoming divisions transferred from the war into the peace agreement. The GFAP explicitly defines an “Inter-Entity Boundary Line,” effectively an internal border separating the areas controlled at the end of the war by an alliance of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats- the Bosniac-Croat Entity or “Federation” – from the areas controlled by the Bosnian Serb Entity. The Boundary Line is a tacit acceptance of the division of Bosnia into two regions- a Serb-controlled area in the north and east (Republika Srpska) and a Bosniac-Croat area in the centre and west. The division is underlined by the use of “republic” in the name of one region.

The challenges of two entity areas are magnified by a political structure that provides for all three ethnic-based factions in national government. This tri-ethnic system extends from the presidency, which consists of three elected officials sharing the post on a rotating basis, through the structure of state ministries, all of which are equipped with representatives of the three constituent peoples (NATO 2000). Military forces are derived from three distinct armies representing the former antagonists, each with their own command structures, equipment, and bases. The limited cooperation among the three forces is conducted through the Standing Committee on Military Matters (SCMM).

While there have been some successes in creating a sense of national identity- the adoption of a state flag and new vehicle licence plates for example- most momentum has been generated by the international institutions mandated by the Dayton peace agreement. Domestic institutions appear to be incompetent, focused on exclusively servicing their own entities, or deliberately obstructing reform and the work of other entity representatives.3 Some international officials point to a legacy of the Cold War Yugoslav regime, noting that a “kleptocracy” of Bosnian political leaders operates a criminal system primarily serving its own interests.

The economy, meanwhile, remains dependent on international aid on the wane. Though SFOR operations have improved the physical safety of most Bosnian civilians, and there is evidence of reconstruction of war-damaged homes throughout the countryside, international analysts attribute most rebuilding to foreign aid and suggest there has been little indigenous reinvestment in the Bosnian economy. Reforms required to attract foreign investment, such as reform of the national bank, are considered slow or blocked by local political posturing. In cases where international pressure to privatize state-owned industry has been successful, some companies have become “cash cows” for political parties for their own use or even to prevent activities of rivals.4 With unemployment exceeding 50 per cent, particularly outside of Sarajevo, there are concerns that the economy may collapse as international groups withdraw and take their local spending with them.

(Within the capital the presence of many international institutions and non-governmental agencies has created a local economic boom of sorts.)

Even if the investment picture were to improve, the Bosnian economy faces a major obstacle in the widespread threat of landmines. SFOR officials estimate there are one million landmines throughout Bosnia, of which only 260,000 are marked. The nature of the Bosnian war, where belligerents advanced and retreated across changing front lines, has left mines buried across the countryside as well as in and around towns and cities. The Dayton Accords require entity forces to clear mines but the process is risky, slow, and not without political complication. According to an April 2000 briefing by the Bosnia-Herzegovina Mine Action Centre (previously the UN Mine Action Centre in Sarajevo), out of a possible mined total of 4,000 square kilometres only 16 square kilometres have been demined to date. With much of the population dependent on small-scale farming, land affected by pervasive mines has become a human security issue in the broadest sense of the term.

Bosnian challenges are set against an unstable regional backdrop that could disrupt and possibly reverse any momentum towards nation-building. Analysts point to the increasingly isolated and autocratic Milosovic government in Serbia/Yugoslavia as capable of creating another crisis that could generate massive refugee movements (from Montenegro for example) or even further war. At the same time, the precarious situation in Kosovo is serving to deflect international attention and resources- especially of NATO countries- from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Commentators refer to a donor fatigue with Bosnia that has seen a drop in international financial support as well as a reduction in SFOR forces from 34,000 to about 20,000 in just over a year.

International intervention and the role of Canadian troops

The GFAP agreement holds signatories to a wide range of military and non-military conditions. Articles in the accord require immediate military and regional stabilization measures (Annexes 1a, 1b, and 2) as well as longer term commitments such as elections, the return of displaced persons, and development of a constitution and human rights standards (Annexes 3 to 11). On the military side, the Dayton Accords called for immediate compliance by the conflict parties to several conditions, including an extension of the October 1995 ceasefire, the withdrawal of foreign combatants, and cantonment of heavy weapons and troops.

The Dayton Accords also approved major and widespread international intervention in the political, economic, and military dynamics of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Office of the High Representative of the UN Secretary-General (OHR) is charged with directing Bosnian economic recovery and the creation or reconstruction of national (or “common”) institutions like the banking system. Currently the country’s most important political office, the OHR has the power to dismiss elected Bosnian officials if they are deemed to be obstructing implementation of the peace process, a power that already has been used more than 20 times. The reform of the police and justice system is the responsibility of the International Police Task Force (IPTF) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) which is most actively engaged in tracking and prosecuting suspected war criminals. Regional interests are represented by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), responsible for arms control and overseeing elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Accords also call for the intervention of a multinational implementation force (IFOR), operated by NATO and sanctioned by the UN under Chapter VII of the UN Chapter.

The IFOR mandate ended after one year in December 1996 when the UN Security Council created the Stabilization Force (SFOR), also under the command of NATO. SFOR’s mission to provide a “safe and secure environment” in Bosnia is intended to prevent renewed hostilities and create a base on which other Dayton Accord arrangements may be built. The stability provided by SFOR has been likened to the ground floor of a house where the walls are the components necessary to any democratic society- common national institutions (to provide good governance), a respected and effective legal system (to establish the rule of law), and an economy that offers reconstruction, employment, and a system free of crime and corruption. The roof of the house is a stable, elected government operating in a democratic manner.5

SFOR operations, headquartered in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, are based on a partition of the country into three regions, each the responsibility of a “multinational division” (MND) of NATO forces. Under British, French, and US military leadership respectively, MND area operations involve other NATO forces, including troops of recent member states like the Czech Republic. Canadian participation in the SFOR mission- dubbed “Operation Palladium” – is concentrated within the British-led MND. The Canadian area of responsibility (AOR) corresponds to two Bosnia canton areas (cantons one and ten) in the country’s northwest, an area about the size of Nova Scotia currently populated by Bosniac and Croat majorities. The large majority of Canadian soldiers and air crew operate in the AOR, although some troops and officers are assigned tasks in other MND areas (DND, no date).

The Canadian contingent in Bosnia6 is responsible for several missions and tasks arising from the Dayton Accords. Canadian troops must ensure the compliance of the entity armed forces within the Canadian AOR, which typically involves inspections of arms cantonments (where weapons have been stored since the end of hostilities), or accompaniment of entity forces when they conduct training or movements. Canadian SFOR soldiers also maintain a rigorous patrolling program throughout their operational area- by vehicle and on foot- to monitor and protect civilian populations. Using interpreters to speak with local residents, the patrols pay particular attention to suspected criminal activity and to returns of displaced people. The resettlement of displaced persons is a central goal of the Dayton Accords, recently reinforced by a national Property Law that guarantees the right of return to former homes. SFOR troops are responsible for the necessary security and as DPRE returns grow (with over 100,000 expected to return throughout Bosnia during 20007), this role is expected to become more dominant and demanding.8 In the town of Drvar alone, the site of one Canadian SFOR base, the Canadian contingent expects to oversee the return of between 2,000 and 4,000 Serbs to a predominantly Croatian area in the summer of 2000.

According to mission statements, wherever possible Canadian troops support the efforts of other actors in consolidation of peace and post-conflict reconstruction.9 In practice, this often involves SFOR support of local police operations. For example, Canadian soldiers regularly assist local police with their formal responsibility for the safe transfer of homes to returnee owners, a task complicated by the estimated 60 per cent of local police who themselves illegally occupy homes owned by others (UN 2000). Canadian troops have even provided crowd control when it has been beyond the ability of police, most notoriously in Drvar in April 1998 when a Croat-generated riot threatened local Serb residents, including the town’s Mayor.

Patrolling troops collect and confiscate small arms and light weapons in support of “Operation Harvest,” a disarmament program encouraging civilian populations to hand in illegally held weapons, explosives, and ammunition. The program is officially led by the entity administrations via local police, but SFOR patrols are active in promoting the weapons amnesty and collecting materiel. SFOR also assists the OSCE which, among other tasks within Bosnia-Herzegovina, is responsible for organizing and supervising elections, a role that has included responding to intimidation of voters, ballot stuffing, and violence during elections. As with refugee returns and weapons collection, local police are mandated to deal with criminal activity and security problems during elections, but SFOR troops have been visible and provided assistance as necessary.

Besides providing military security support, SFOR personnel work with government and non-government actors towards reconstruction of civil authority and infrastructure. The Combined Joint Civil Military Task Force (CIMIC) of SFOR provides for CIMIC teams in all MND areas to cooperate with civilian groups and to participate directly in reconstruction efforts. CIMIC assistance includes liaison and instruction by specialists drawn from NATO-member reservists (SFOR Informer #82 March 1, 2000) as well as involvement of SFOR troops, on a volunteer basis, in the reconstruction of war-damaged communities. In Krnjeusa, a predominantly Serbian village destroyed during Bosniac and Croatian militia advances, for example, Canadian SFOR soldiers based at the near-by town of Coralici constructed a children’s playground adjacent to the village school. Before their deployment to Bosnia, Canadian troops also collected donated supplies to equip the village school and medical clinic, the latter reconstructed with funding in part from the Canadian International Development Agency (Edmonton Sun May 15, 2000). Elsewhere, Canadian troops regularly gather information on civil reconstruction needs to pass to NGOs and authorities involved in development programs. In their AOR, Canadian SFOR forces are involved in, or have completed, over 20 CIMIC projects officially linked to “mission success.”

Opinions vary, but Canadian SFOR troops appear to be adequately equipped for their mission tasks. Communications across the Canadian AOR- a region of endless peaks and valleys- have been secured by the construction of three radio rebroadcast sites, including one on top of a mountain (Mount Gola). Canadian-built light armoured vehicles (LAVs)- largely older 6-wheeled Grizzlies and more recent 8-wheeled Bisons- seem well-suited to frequent operation patrols. The wheeled chassis of the LAV provides for easy and rapid mobility around Bosnian towns and villages and “proven” (mine-free) roads in the countryside. The armour of the LAV, which can carry several soldiers, offers sufficient protection from any small arms fire likely to be encountered in Bosnia.

Canadian SFOR equipment also includes Griffon utility helicopters, built by Bell Helicopter Textron at Mirabel, Quebec. Three CH-136 Griffons were recently assigned to Bosnia to provide aviation support, with five more expected as the result of Canadian troop withdrawal from Kosovo. Perhaps most notably, the recently procured, and expensive, Coyote reconnaissance vehicle appears to have come into its own in Bosnia. With a 10-metre elevating mast and equipment capable of video and infrared surveillance, the LAV-based Coyote is ideally suited to provide support to SFOR troops and Bosnian police, for example when public gatherings are threatened by disturbance. The vehicle can sit unseen behind town buildings to monitor crowd activities, and report developments to on-site security forces.10

Future options

To the extent that the profound international intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina ended the country’s armed conflict and brought a considerable measure of security to Bosnian civilians, the GFAP has been a success. For the sole reason that further bloodshed was prevented, the nearly five-year commitment of tens of thousands of NATO troops and thousands more UN, OSCE, and other civilian workers has justified the considerable cost to the international community. Moreover, there have been positive steps taken within the state, including some demilitarization measures. OSCE officials report that during 1999, entity armed forces reduced their troops, light equipment and spending by 15 per cent, and a further 15 per cent reduction is expected by the end of 2000. As of April 1, the entity groups have begun exchanging information on military expenditures, a beginning to transparency in defence budgeting.

Nevertheless, the GFAP mission faces lingering problems that, if they outlast the patience of external donors to resolve them, could result in a return to war. Already there are signs of mission fatigue.11 Although it is generally conceded that fewer troops are now able to maintain military security and stability in Bosnia, some SFOR officials point out that the recent halving of NATO’s commitment to 20,000 troops was not centrally engineered and no one seems to know when or where it will end. There is widespread recognition that a long-term SFOR commitment to Bosnia is required to provide the stability needed for lasting reconstruction (with some estimates exceeding 20 years), yet in the absence of a jointly agreed to, long-term withdrawal plan, the mission may suffer from unilateral decisions by NATO member states. In the case of Canada, currently increasing its troop commitment from about 1,400 to 2,000 troops- and with that its Area of Responsibility- the withdrawal of troops by other states could complicate or prolong its commitment.

Meanwhile, military stability has yet to translate into political or economic stability. Indeed, some observers argue that there has been so little progress in implementation of non-military articles of the Dayton Accords that a rewriting of the agreement may be necessary (briefing by a senior Canadian political official, April 6, 2000). Others have called for Bosnia to become a UN protectorate so that domestic blockages can be bypassed. Yet, international commitment to political and economic reforms in Bosnia-Herzegovina appears to be wavering, as patience with entrenched domestic political positions wears thin and as attention shifts to Kosovo. Some of this change in attitude can be detected in growing reference to the need for Bosnian “ownership” of the Dayton process which, given the current lack of confidence in Bosnian institutions, may be little more than an effort to shift responsibility before a drop in commitment.

For Canada, the lessons of Bosnia appear to provide a mixed message of confidence and concern. On the one hand, it is apparent that Canadian SFOR troops have contributed significantly to providing the safe and secure environment that must prevail for any hope of long-term stability in Bosnia. Despite lack of training in many aspects of the Bosnian mission (including lack of crowd-control training due to deliberate Department policy), Canadian soldiers have performed well under often trying circumstances. With SFOR responsible for overseeing the safe return of displaced people to their homes, Canadian officers are well aware that their rules of engagement include protection of civilians, and they fully expect to have to fulfill this task for some time to come (comment by senior Canadian SFOR officer, April 3, 2000).

On the other hand, the experience of Bosnia clearly demonstrates that military security is not equivalent to human security. As one OHR official put it, Bosnia has shown that the book, “The Later Stages of Peacekeeping,” has yet to be written. Despite almost five years of NATO-imposed peace, the Bosnian population continues to face political insecurity from obstructionist leaders feeding ethnic hostility, and economic insecurity from a war-torn economy struggling to find a place in an increasingly global marketplace. International and regional support of political and economic development notwithstanding, the post-Dayton construction of Bosnia-Herzegovina risks collapse, in part because world attention has moved on. To prevent human insecurity degenerating into renewed military insecurity- resulting in long-term NATO (and Canadian) troop commitment, or worse, in return to war- Canada must seek more coordinated international action on the political and economic fronts, including greater attention to a role for non-partisan civil society.12 Canada and its NATO partners have demonstrated impressive military peace intervention capability in Bosnia; the challenge is to do the equivalent in broader human security areas.

Project Ploughshares staffperson Ken Epps participated in the Department of National Defence’s Security and Defence Forum field excursion to Bosnia and Croatia in April 2000.

1 The UN estimates that civilian deaths during the Bosnia war totalled 156,500 (not including the 8,000 – 10,000 missing from Srebrenica and Zepa) and military deaths totalled 81,500.

2 Restricted UN force rules of engagement left troops ineffective in many instances, with results ranging from UN troop capture to the slaughter of civilians in Safe Areas. In 1993 the UN authorized NATO to use force to prevent military flights over Bosnia and to support the UNPROFOR mission, but it was not until 1995 that a combination of NATO air strikes against Serb positions around Sarajevo and the recapture of significant territory by the combined Croat-Muslim (Bosniac) forces brought the belligerents to the bargaining table.

3 The High Representative, Wolfgang Petritsch, has stated, “At present, ruling politicians do not only not cooperate- they even go so far as to obstruct reforms, which, in their view, would undermine the conservation of territorial gains made during the war” (See NATO 2000).

4 For example, in the village of Krnjeusa, about 70 km from Canadian SFOR Camp Coralici, Canadian troops recently assisted with re-installation of electrical poles and cables in preparation for the return of Serbian families. (During the war the Serbs fled after attacks by both Croats and Bosniacs, destroying their own homes as they left.) The nearby power-relay station, in spite of its installation by international agencies, is controlled by a private company associated with a Croat-based political party. The company demanded an exorbitant fee to connect the village to the supply.

5 The house analogy was offered in an April 2000 briefing in Sarajevo by a Canadian SFOR official.

6 In April 2000 the bulk of Canadian SFOR forces consisted of members of the Third Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Battle Group.

7 According to a senior SFOR advisor, between 70,000 and 90,000 DRPEs returned to their homes in 1999 with more than 100,000 returns expected in 2000.

8 Canadian SFOR officials see the challenge of internally displaced returns as one of persuading temporary residents throughout Bosnia to make simultaneous moves counter-clockwise around the country. Croats currently living in MND Southwest would move east to MND Southeast, while Bosniacs would move north into MND North and Serbs would move west from there into MND Southwest. Since the movements require three-way exchanges of homes, the challenge is far from straightforward.

9 The Bosnian 2000 mission statement of the Third Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Battle Group reads: “3 PPCLI BG will conduct operations aimed at ensuring a secure and stable environment in our AO, including operations (in priority): to deter resumption of hostilities; to ensure continued EAF compliance of the military aspects of the GFAP; and with capabilities, to support the IC and Dayton compliant local institutions in their efforts to achieve the civil development objectives of the GFAP- all with a view to facilitating the full implementation of the Dayton Accords and the eventual elimination of the need for NATO-led military forces in BiH.”

10 Although the Coyote is designed for battlefield use, Canadian troops readily admit that it would be constrained to the point of being a sitting-duck under combat conditions. Because it cannot operate its sophisticated surveillance equipment on the move, and its high mast makes it an easy target when it is at rest, it is hard to picture a useful combat role. Yet the same characteristics appear not to have hindered its peacekeeping effectiveness

11 “[T]he international community is showing signs of political fatigue, donor fatigue and compassion fatigue. Other pressing problem areas- Kosovo, Chechnya, East Timor, and several areas in Africa- demand our attention and our resources. The international community is quite rightly asking: what has been achieved in these four years, what are the results of over US$5 billion in investment, and how much longer will Bosnia and Herzegovina be a patient on international life support systems?” – from a statement by Jacques Paul Klein, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Coordinator of UN Operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina to the OSCE Permanent Council, Vienna, 3 February 2000.

12 The “Stability Pact” of major funding agencies takes a regional approach to long-term development of Bosnia and its neighbours. The concern of the UN Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, among others, is that the regional long-term approach may not adequately deal with the medium-term needs of Bosnia [“The State of Peace Implementation in BiH,” UNMIBH document, March 9, 2000].


DND, AOperation Palladium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, SFOR.

Edmonton Sun 2000, “Helping Bosnia heal,” May 15.

NATO 2000, AAddress by the Military Advisor to the High Representative for Bosnia Herzegovina, to the NATO Security Cooperation Course at Oberammergau, 11 April 2000.”

SFOR Informer #82, 2000, “An overview of CIMIC- the builders,” March 1.

UN 2000, “UNMIBH Armed Protection Group (APG),” United Nations Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 9 March (Annex I).

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