[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 2 December, 2004, 12:59 GMT
Highs and lows of Nato's Bosnia mission
As Nato hands over its peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Hercegovina to the European Union force, the BBC's South-East Europe analyst, Gabriel Partos, looks at the peacekeepers' record over the last nine years.
The deployment of a 60,000-strong multinational contingent in Bosnia from December 1995 has remained, to this day, Nato's biggest land operation.

German soldier in Bosnia
Soldiers already in Bosnia are being given new badges
It followed three-and-a-half years of conflict - Europe's bloodiest since World War II - during which the United Nations peacekeepers, Unprofor, had neither the clear mandate nor the military hardware needed to stop the fighting.

When the Dayton peace agreement put an end to the conflict, a devastated Bosnia remained divided into three ethnically largely homogenous regions.

The armies of the formerly warring sides - the mainly Muslim government, the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian Croats - remained heavily armed, and the peace implementation mission appeared to have many potential dangers.

The Nato mission was known as the Peace Implementation Force, or I-For, later rebranded the Stabilisation Force, or S-For.

I-For's first commander, Britain's General Sir Michael Walker, was eager to stress on his arrival in Sarajevo that his units had come in response to an invitation from Bosnia's rival sides.

I-For's initial objective was to supervise the ceasefire lines and oversee the separation of forces. Much of that was accomplished without any trouble.

But there was one major exception, in the pull-out of Bosnian Serb forces from parts of Sarajevo they previously controlled, which was accompanied by the wholesale destruction of property by the withdrawing forces. On that occasion, I-For looked the other way; it did not want to provoke a renewed conflict by trying to stop the mayhem.

But overall, the Nato-led forces were successful in carrying out their main tasks, says Professor James Gow of London University's Kings College, the author of several works on the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

Those who were obstacles fled or eventually were picked up or went into hiding, and otherwise people began to co-operate
Professor James Gow

"The first key achievement of S-For - or in its initial form, I-For - was to secure the peace in Bosnia and Hercegovina through implementing the military parts of the Dayton agreement on separation of forces and cantonment, and going beyond that to provide a secure environment so that the elections of September 1996 could be held," he said.

"That was the strategic key point - to confirm the Dayton agreements."

Safe environment

S-For's presence has ensured that Bosnia has been at peace for nine years.

Apart from ensuring the separation of forces, S-For has also overseen the gradual change-over from what was a highly militarised society divided into three armies into a peaceful country with a combined armed force of only 12,000 soldiers - two-thirds of them serving in the Muslim-Croat federation's army, and the remaining one-third in the Bosnian Serb republic.

It has also contributed to creating a safe environment for many refugees to be able to return to their pre-war homes. There have been few attempts to challenge S-For's authority, and only a handful of occasions when its troops were attacked. Most of its casualties over the years have been caused by traffic accidents.

Portuguese soldier as part of Nato force at Bosnia checkpoint
The Nato operation has helped create a stable environment for local people
S-For has also performed another function - to capture war crimes suspects indicted by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

That policing role has served three purposes, according to Professor Gow: "One is ensuring that people on the wanted list go The Hague.

"Two is removing them from wherever they are, and being obstacles to the peace process.

"And the third is the message that it sent because we began to see a pattern: those who were obstacles fled or eventually were picked up or went into hiding and otherwise people began to co-operate. It helped to take Dayton forward."

Initial reluctance

S-For has apprehended and transferred to The Hague more than 20 war crimes suspects. But it started its arrests in mid-1997 - 18 months after Dayton - and it had missed many valuable opportunities before then to seize some of the most prominent suspects.

During that early phase, I-For commanders insisted that their mandate only allowed them to make arrests in the course of carrying out their other duties.

That initial reluctance to go for the war crimes suspects was due to concern that such a move could cause serious casualties and might even lead to a flare-up in the conflict. But that policy - and continuing caution in subsequent years - has contributed to S-For's failure to capture the two leading suspects, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leader, Radovan Karadzic, and his military commander, Gen Ratko Mladic.

In spite of that failure, Professor Gow believes S-For's performance in this area is quite reasonable.

"Although I would say the record on war crimes suspects is probably about seven out of 10... there are instances, such as at least two of the three American attempts to pick up Mr Karadzic in the last year and a half which appear to be so clumsy.

General Ratko Mladic
The shadow of missing war crimes suspects still hangs over the mission
"Rolling armoured vehicles across empty valleys at four o'clock in the morning, where there's a road that goes only to one destination, isn't really the best way of going about something of that kind."

Now, as S-For hands over to the European Union's Eufor, the new mission is inheriting the task of arresting Mr Karadzic and Gen Mladic.

But it's a sign of how much has been achieved that the multinational military presence has been reduced from 60,000 nine years ago to just 7,000 today - a size Eufor is going to maintain for the time being.

Although its mission is at an end, Nato is keeping a small headquarters unit in Sarajevo and the US troops their base in Tuzla, in the north-east, with a view to helping Eufor go after war crimes suspects.

Nato will also continue to help reform Bosnia's military forces, leading to their eventual integration.

Without achieving those two objectives, Bosnia cannot hope to join Nato's Partnership for Peace - let alone the alliance itself.

Ashdown calms nationalism fears
13 Feb 04 |  Europe
Country profile: Bosnia-Hercegovina
22 Sep 04 |  Country profiles


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific