Activation of MAP in BiH would lead to development of BiH society

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Commander of NATO HQ Sarajevo Brigadier General Walter T. Lord

At this point, BiH has contributed just over 600 soldiers to NATO and UN operations abroad. While that number does not look large on the surface, it is actually a significant contribution given that the army only has on any given day somewhere between 9,000-10,000 soldiers. Up until now, they have contributed security forces for NATO bases in Afghanistan and explosive ordinance disposal in Iraq. They now have military police in Afghanistan. Those are actually three capabilities that we have difficulty in filling, so I would say that if BiH can continue to do those things as part of the alliance, whether as an allied member or as a partner, that would contribute to NATO operations significantly.

By: Medina Malagić

In an interview for “Sarajevo Times”, the Commander of NATO HQ Sarajevo Brig. Gen. Walter T. Lord touched upon various issues that NATO currently faces in BiH. He discussed with us the ongoing NATO skepticism among BiH citizens and what is being done to create a more objective and informative perspective of NATO’s activities in BiH, its overall purpose and goals. He assessed what needs to be done in order for the AFBiH to more effectively serve the needs of its citizens, since many argue that the AFBiH is too costly and an unnecessary drain on the nation’s resources. Stressing that NATO is primarily a political alliance and not a military one, Brigadier General Lord said that every nation has something to contribute. So far, the AFBiH has proven to be capable of providing assistance in key NATO areas of operation. He also spoke of BiH’s unique geographical position, the defense property issue that still has to be resolved, and the problem of surplus ammunition and arms throughout the country.


During the recent meeting with the NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen with members of the BiH Presidency, it was brought up that there is NATO skepticism in the RS, and that this is one of the problems regarding BiH’s further steps towards the Alliance. A possible referendum has also been mentioned so that RS residents could vote on NATO membership. With this in mind, is there anything more that can be done that would serve to promote the benefits of NATO membership to the BiH public?

Over the course of the past two years we have conducted a pretty extensive public outreach program, mostly in the RS and somewhat less in the FBiH. Opinions towards NATO and information about NATO tend to be more favorable in the FBIH. Specifically in the RS over the course of the past two years, we have conducted meetings with mayors and held town hall meetings with people in all 63 municipalities. We have been to schools, universities and even military units to talk about who we are and who we are not, what we do and what we do not do, and what the people of BiH could expect if and when BiH becomes a NATO member. In essence, our purpose is to dispel some of the rumors and false information about NATO membership, such as forcing BiH to take on missions abroad and forcing NATO bases on BiH soil. These are all things that people tend to talk about in public that are not necessarily true, and which shed a bad light on NATO. Thus, what we plan to do is continue this outreach program and to put more of a Bosnian face on it. We want to give people information so that they can share information with their fellow BiH citizens. It was important early on to have people who are experts at who we are in NATO and what we do. In the FBiH, it was mostly my predecessor, the US commander who did these outreach activities. In the RS, it was mostly the previous deputy, Col. John Olsen from Norway. We have come to a point where we realized that it is fine for citizens to hear about NATO from an American and a Norwegian. However, at some point we have to decide that it is Bosnians who need to be talking about NATO integration and not us.

We are working more and more with media and I appreciate our cooperation with you (Sarajevo Times). I believe that an objective, inquisitive media is a hallmark of a free society. You have to ask tough questions, not only of us but also of your own political leaders. We have held several media workshops, specifically in the RS and we intend to do more of those because media do spark public debate and public interest. In such a way, wein form the media about who we are in NATO and what we do, so that in turn the media can inform the public in a very objective way.

There was an ongoing controversy regarding the initiative to dismantle the Armed Forces because it is a huge expenditure for the country. Do you think that this initiative was justified or was it just an attempt to derogate the Armed Forces, which is considered, according to some experts, one of the basic pillars of state building?

Another argument is that the Armed Forces of BiH (AFBiH) are too costly. Some say that there should be no military at all because it is too much of a drain on the budget. At the opposite ends of the spectrum there are political leaders who say that the army needs to be in existence exactly as it is. Then, there are others who look more objectively and say that the AFBiH should be something in between, as something that can accomplish the mission we need but at the same time more affordable. What we continue to tell people is that when they jump to a conclusion, they have put the cart before the horse. They have answered the question before they have started to examine the question.

Any nation’s military force is built as a product of what we call a defense review. NATO Headquarters Sarajevo started a comprehensive defense review several years ago. Unfortunately, due to political ramblings and other priorities for our work with the Ministry of Defense (MoD) and AFBiH, we put that review on the shelf. What we are recommending to all political leaders in this country is that they empower the MoD to revitalize that review. The defense review would help a nation answer questions like, what is our national defense strategy? What do we want our Armed Forces to be able to do for us, domestically and internationally? What can we afford? The end result is an army that is prepared to answer the needs of the nation, but to do so in a cost-effective way. Those are the biggest arguments that we get against NATO integration and the existence of the AFBiH, and mostly out of the RS.

We see an Armed Forces and Ministry of Defense that truly want to improve, implement reforms and become effective for the people. Unfortunately, they are not empowered by their political leaders to do that. Thus, implementation can be a huge problem and we have seen that recently with the defense property issue. The Membership Action Plan (MAP) as part of the NATO integration process was conditionally approved. One condition was the resolution of the defense property issue. There are 63 properties that are called perspective, so they will be used by the MoD. These properties need to be registered to the state for use by the MoD. Although the political leaders in this nation agreed last year to resolve that issue in a political way and begin the registration process, implementation has not happened due to political struggles.

The training program “LOGEX 13” held in Sarajevo has been deemed a big success. It is also a key component in BiH fulfilling and complying with NATO standards. Can you give a more thorough assessment of the training program and whether or not it demonstrated that NATO is ready to further intensify talks with BiH on eventual NATO membership?

We have to wait for the formal after-action review from the exercise before we can say what could have been better. Based on my observations from touring the site and watching the exercise happen, it was really a success for two reasons. Firstly, it addressed specifically logistics. The logistics and procurement sector is one that we, from a NATO Headquarters perspective and several bilateral actors in BiH have decided to focus on because it tends to be the root of so many other problems that the AFBiH is facing. Secondly, it was a complex exercise and it was done well. As we move further down the line, and hopefully toward MAP activation, the tasks that the AFBiH and the MoD have to perform will become more complex and there will be more scrutiny. This was a great start to show that they could host such a complex exercise and do it well.

It is also a visible sign that NATO is ready at this point to intensify talks with BiH. I would point to the fact that our headquarters existence is physical proof every day that NATO’s doors are open to BiH. We want to intensify talks in order to move to the next step. There isn’t another nation on the planet that has 72 people employed by NATO dedicated to helping a country along the path to NATO integration.

Since BiH and other Western Balkan countries do not possess a high military capacity, how important is the geographical position of BiH for NATO, especially regarding the consolidation of security in BiH, the region and for the NATO alliance?

Obviously the Balkans is and has been for quite some time a focus area for NATO when it comes to regional stability and security. Due to its position both geographically and culturally, this is a very important component to NATO’s outlook for regional stability and security. When it comes to the size of the AFBiH, the beauty of NATO is that it is primarily a political alliance, not a military one. People tend to lose sight of that fact. Now, NATO does have significant military capability and responsibility. However, when the leaders of NATO sit around the table to talk about important issues facing the alliance, it is not generals sitting around the table. It is NATO Member Countries elected political leaders.

The other very important aspect of NATO to remember when we look at size and types of Armed Forces is that it is a contributory alliance. It consists of very large nations with very large armies, and very small nations with very small armies. Also, in one case no army at all-Iceland. Regardless of the differences, we all bring something to the table. We are an alliance that allows each nation to decide what they bring to the table, both in general and in specific operations. So, if BiH can have even a small yet effective army that can contribute to NATO operations in even niche areas, that will be a significant boost to NATO’s capabilities.

At this point, BiH has contributed just over 600 soldiers to NATO and UN operations abroad. While that number does not look large on the surface, it is actually a significant contribution given that the army only has on any given day somewhere between 9,000-10,000 soldiers. Up until now, they have contributed security forces for NATO bases in Afghanistan and explosive ordinance disposal in Iraq. They now have military police in Afghanistan. Those are actually three capabilities that we have difficulty in filling, so I would say that if BiH can continue to do those things as part of the alliance, whether as an allied member or as a partner, that would contribute to NATO operations significantly.

Solving the issue of immovable defense property is one of last remaining steps in order for BiH to begin the first MAP cycle. While this issue has been agreed on by BiH’s tripartite presidency, implementation has often demonstrated to be a slow process in BiH. What recommendations would you give to BiH politicians/political parties to expedite the full implementation of immovable defense property and other remaining conditions for eventual NATO membership? What needs to be done to sustain momentum and lead to long-lasting, viable and positive solutions for the country?

I read last week on the “Sarajevo Times” website that the government has formed a three-person working group to move the issue forward. I am always an optimist, so I am truly hoping that this is a step in the right direction. We will move the issue down the road. I would say that BiH politicians should look beyond the issue as just a NATO MAP requirement. There are other benefits to resolving the defense property issue. One, it will free roughly ten percent of AFBiH that is everyday guarding non-perspective properties. This ten percent of the AFBiH needs to be engaged in training and domestic operations to support the citizens of BiH. Another benefit is cost savings. We can take those 36 properties that are non-perspective and immediately turn them over to entities or municipalities for their use, and potentially use those for some kind of economic development rather than having them guarded by soldiers and not being used by anyone.

The criteria for fulfillment of the Membership Action Plan are clearly defined. However, every aspiring country requires a unique and individualized approach to successful implementation of the criteria. What are the individual approaches that need to be taken into consideration and applied in BiH’s case?

We will have that question answered when MAP is activated and NATO receives the Annual National Program (ANP) from BiH. The ANP is the document that actually lays out a course of work to get a country down the MAP path to potential NATO membership. One of the great things about having a MAP activated is that it does not only deal with military developments in a country. It really spans all activities in government-security, defense, the economy, legal structure and economic development. So, when a country activates MAP it is forced to take a very objective and transparent look at the way it governs. There will be additional benefits across all aspects of BiH society as we start to tick off the requirements of the ANP.

Among the approximately half dozen nations that have activated MAP and joined the alliance, the amount of time between activation and full membership can be as short as five years or as long as twelve. It is just a matter of how quickly a nation is able to tackle all of the requirements of the ANP and MAP in general. Thus, I would not want make a guess for BiH at this point. However, I would stress that throughout the process and even nations that have taken ten or twelve years, the beauty is that all along the way you see improvements in how your nation is governed across all aspects of society.

There are still many challenges regarding surplus arms and ammunition in BiH. Is NATO doing anything to directly tackle this ongoing problem, and is it part of the requirement for NATO integration?

It is still a significant problem. Depending on which inventory you have in front of you, there is anywhere from 13,000-18,000 tons of surplus arms and ammunition. That represents a danger in several ways to BiH. It is a physical danger because much of the very old surplus ammunition is unserviceable. It is unstable and dangerous. At some of the weapon storage sites, communities have grown up around the fence line and around the property. If there is an accident at one of these sites, as there had been in other nations in the region, it could pose a very real physical harm to the citizens who live near the sites. It also poses a political danger and we have stressed that with the political and military leaders of BiH, because if there is a mishap, and there will certainly be human tragedy if that happens, someone has to be held accountable.

This is a problem that has existed for many years but with no progress. We have tried to constantly remind leaders that your citizens will look to you and wonder why you could not solve the problem. There is a two-pronged approach right now to solving the issue. One is in the hands of the AFBiH and MoD leaders-a commission on dealing with this issue that is led by one of the generals of the AFBiH, and obviously with international initiatives. On the international side, there has been renewed vigor to solve this issue within the international community and several bilateral actors, including some of the embassies.

We have worked through workshops and commissions to find potential solutions. We are now seeing very intense vigor, both domestically and internationally to solve the problem. This renewed energy will not produce an immediate resolution because it will take years to deal with all of this excess ammunition and weapons. However, it will get the process started.

The issue of surplus weapons is not a direct requirement that we have addressed from NATO HQ Sarajevo. Tangentially, it is an issue because, as I have said, one of the things that we have looked at very closely is the logistics and procurement sector. The logistics sector is expected to deal with inventory of weapons, arms, equipment, vehicles, and any military moveable property in an effective way. Therefore, while it is not a direct issue for NATO HQ Sarajevo, it is certainly impacted directly by our work.

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