interview by Sasa BIZIC
NOVI REPORTER: What will B-H have to change in the structure of defense forces if gets a chance to join NATO?
BARASIN: Above all, it will have to have a unified military structure, instead of two armies. There cannot be three components, as is the case now with the Army of Srpska (VRS) and the Federation B-H Army, which in turn has the Bosniak component and the Croatian Defense Council (HVO). Therefore, the complete organization of the army will have to be modified. United civilian control already exists, through the Presidency of B-H, Parliamentary Assembly of B-H, and the Ministry of Defense of B-H. The Chiefs of Staff at the B-H level have already been formed. All of these elements determine a unified structure. Therefore, what remains to be done is to align details that remain in the current model, such as the possibility that soldiers and officers at the same time wear state and national insignia on their uniforms. The current concept is not far from the unified structure, so that the formal abolishment of entity armies will be the most visible change. The assertion that the organizational structure of the VRS has been kept is nonsense.
What is the role of the Srpska Ministry of Defense and the VRS Chiefs of Staff in the current hierarchy?
Those bodies have purely administrative role. They only have jurisdiction over recruitment, training, part of the budget, and that's all. None of the state institutions in Srpska has command authority over the military - from the president of the republic, over the Ministry of defense and the Chiefs of Staff. The VRS Chiefs of Staff, as they are currently still called, can only command units subordinated to it based on the directives received from Sarajevo. They simply transmit orders from above.
You said that there is a misalignment between the structure of military forces and true defense needs of B-H. What are the true defense needs of B-H?
There is a problem of defining what truly endangers B-H, i.e. if it is endangered from within or from without. A correct and precise assessment of the degree to which B-H is endangered defines which kind of army we need. At this moment it is important that B-H is not endangered from outside. It is only endangered in the minds of Bosniaks and they keep talking that the Army of B-H must exist and that it will defend the sovereignty of B-H from neighboring countries. Due to their intransigence we have been forced to create a new Yugoslav People's Army and the most recent war demonstrated that such a model is not efficient in [preventing] internal conflict. Based on such analysis it becomes clear that we are creating a totally useless concept of unified military force and that no one knows its purpose. Personally, I very much doubt the efficiency of that army. I only believe that it will be like all the other armies, a big spender of taxpayer's funds, while it will contribute nothing. At this moment it is difficult to say what the true defense needs of B-H are, but closest to the truth is the statement that we need a military capable of preventing internal, inter-ethnic conflict. Bosnia is not endangered from outside, since the international community has mechanisms to protect the sovereignty of B-H if it wants to. If it does not, then even an army will not help. If there was a vision of the future of B-H, demilitarization would have been the best solution. If would truly bring lasting peace in this region. At the same time, it may have given impetus to neighboring countries to move in the same direction. This way, as long as military exists in B-H politicians will have a sword in their hands that they can swing around if they are not doing well politically. They can come up with enemies, homogenize their nation, all in order to hide the failure of their social and economic policies.
Joint Chiefs of Staff of the armed forces of B-H has 12 colonels who will be promoted to generals. At the end of the war you had the rank of colonel. Is there a significant difference between colonels and generals regarding possible involvement in war?
I find it difficult to believe that ten years after the war it is possible to create an army that would not include any persons who participated in the war. I wonder how creators of that brilliant plan intend to make colonels? I can tell you that you can't "make" a colonel in a couple of years. He has to be educated, carry out some responsible military functions and be de facto enabled to act like a colonel or someone with a higher rank. That cannot be done in a few years. In B-H we do not have a system in which high ranking officers can be educated. The current solution involves sending officers to short seminars abroad, but even that is done in the worst possible way. Some officers are being sent to Greece, others to Germany, America, some to Turkey. They return with different knowledge and experiences. Also, military forces in B-H use armaments from all sorts of manufacturers. I cannot see how the maintenance of that equipment can be organized at all.
The assertion that officers who participated in the war cannot be high ranking officers in the army is persistently being promoted, but I wonder who else will be trained so quickly for such high ranking and responsible positions.
According to official interpretation, there is no mandatory military service in Srpska anymore, but the reserve forces will still be trained. Could you explain?
That is simply an attempt by the politicians to mislead the people.
That solution was supported by both the ruling parties and the opposition.
True. That was an unprecedented compromise between the government and the opposition. All of them found motivation to support the proposal, but it is nevertheless an ordinary political swindle. Above all it is a swindle since they said there will be no recruitment, but there will be training. I absolutely do not care how they will refer to the phenomenon, but people will be expected to put on uniforms and spend four months in the barracks. Secondly the plan about reserves with 20,000 members in Srpska and 40,000 in Federation B-H is questionable. I agree - an army needs reserve unites. However, how will new soldiers be added to those reserves without recruitment and regular training? There is the concept of a professional army, but there are also other solutions that make it possible to maintain reserve units. One article of the Srpska Defense Act defines the existence of the reserve units. Nothing else has been decided. It is not clear how those reserve units will be trained for combat, since that would be their purpose. All those questions provoke widely differing reactions, ranging from laughter to confusion, because the current Defense Act says nothing. In Srpska there will be recruitment in a transitional period. What will happen then? When we get to the situation to implement the Srpska Defense Act the Parliamentary Assembly of B-H will say: "Wait a minute, you do not have the authority to enact that law, defense is under our jurisdiction." Then, they will impose mandatory military service for the united army, and that will remain. Therefore, all the talk about the end of mandatory military service is nothing but a political game. In my opinion that is impermissible in connection with such a serious issue.
What is the financial significance of the membership in the Partnership for Peace? Are there any joint military activities within that association?
The Partnership for Peace is a pretty flexible organization. It includes a huge number of defined contents and looks like a large menu in a restaurant. You pick up the menu and choose what you like. There are certain financial obligations, regarding the expense of standardization, something that is already important in B-H, because of the obligation to reduce the number of soldiers and adjust to the requirements of the alliance that we wish to join. There are also joint military activities, but the participation is voluntary. True, they are not the same as in NATO. In military activities under the auspices of the Partnership for Peace a country can participate with a military unit, but also with representatives or observers. What does one gain by joining the Partnership for Peace? In my opinion, nothing special. If you join the Partnership for Peace you have the obligation to observe the basic rules of the game - such as good cooperation with neighbors, showing understanding for problems faced by other countries, or a higher level of cooperation and tolerance. An important difference between the Partnership for Peace and NATO is that in case of an armed attack on a country which is a member of the Partnership for Peace other member countries do not have the obligation to participate in the joint defense of that country, while in NATO that obligation does exist. If the attacked country is a NATO member, then it is considered that the whole alliance has been attacked.
Advocates of joining the Partnership for Peace in B-H use as their main argument that almost all European countries, including Russia, are members of that organization. Does it matter that only B-H and Serbia-Montenegro are not members of the Partnership for Peace?
Many European countries are not NATO members and they are surviving somehow. The fact that some countries have and some haven't joined the Partnership for Peace is not a serious problem. A bigger problem is how to pull Bosnia-Hercegovina out of poverty and to bring living standard in Bosnia-Hercegovina to a higher level. All European countries first resolved internal problems, got their economy back on its feet, and only then joined international alliances - from the European Union to the World Trade Organization, while NATO was usually the last one on the list. B-H currently faces much more serious problems - the level of poverty is high, the economy is not functioning at all, corruption is at an unprecedented level... In such a situation one cannot wonder if our priority should be joining the Partnership for Peace and NATO, if we cannot join the EU and other, much more important economic and political integrations. The order should be different. First we should improve the economy so that it can support the military required by NATO.
How do you interpret the unusual condition that the Republic of Srpska must extradite to the Hague Tribunal the best known war crime suspects before B-H can join the Partnership for Peace?
The principles for joining the Partnership for Peace imply voluntary approach and a possibility to pick which options you'd like to use. Then we get a condition - if there is no cooperation with the Hague Tribunal you cannot join the Partnership. Therefore the membership in the Partnership for Peace is used to exert pressure and get war crime suspects arrested. So far no one has managed to arrest the suspects, and even if that happened it is highly questionable if that would be accepted as fulfillment of conditions for joining the Partnership for Peace. I do not think that cooperation with the Hague Tribunal is a condition for joining the Partnership for Peace. I actually believe that the truth is exactly the opposite. Forcefully expressed desire of B-H state officials to join the Partnership for Peace has motivated some of the international community representatives to say - you can get in if you arrest war crime suspects.
Most observers agree that B-H will not be invited in Istanbul to join the Partnership for Peace and that the political leadership of Srpska will not arrest important Hague Tribunal suspects. Could that lead to new erosion of already diminished sovereignty of Srpska?
I do not think that Srpska has sovereignty. Sovereignty is definitely gone. Also, Srpska is currently under so many sanctions that I do not see which additional sanctions could be introduced. Those sanctions are obvious in many fields - from lack of investment from abroad, over lack of international assistance, to travel restrictions. However, there is no doubt that new sanctions would have negative effects in political sense. Consequently, the leadership of Srpska must take a clear stand regarding the cooperation with the Hague Tribunal. Is the cooperation with the Hague Tribunal really the only condition for the recovery of Srpska and its economy? If that is the case then it is necessary to sincerely state - are we for arrests of Hague Tribunal indictees or against them? Current theatrical attempts only additionally worsen already complicated situation. In that sense the leadership of Srpska does not have a clear strategy. We must realize that without international integration there can be no progress. That is totally clear and no one has questioned that conclusion. However, it is not clear in which manner and at what level cooperation with international factors can be established. One possibility is to get from them a list of specific tasks and obligations, a road map of sorts. It is questionable if anything can be achieved by imposed requirements, or if Srpska gains anything from accepting that type of relations. Consequently, I say that we must realize that without cooperation with the Hague Tribunal and other institutions there can be no international integration, which is bad. On the other hand, cooperation with all international factors must be bidirectional and not, as until now, simply issuing of orders by international factors.
Starting with early 2005 American forces within SFOR will be replaced by EU countries troops. What is the motivation for that plan - political or technical?
I don't think that this is only a technical issue. I believe that it also includes an important political message. It is very important that the EU take responsibility for the situation in B-H, both from the EU point of view and from the B-H point of view. It is logical and rational for B-H to attempt to become a member of the European community of nations, rather than of some non-European organizations, and to align its behavior with interests of European nations. On that sense foreign policy of B-H until now hasn't had clearly defined direction and strategy. An obvious example is the fact that B-H, contrary to the stance of most EU countries, accepted the unilateral agreement with the USA in which it was accepted that American nationals accused of war crimes cannot be extradited to the International Criminal Court. I find that decision totally incomprehensible, especially if we consider that most EU countries have opposed such behavior of Americans and their refusal to accept the jurisdiction of the ICC.
B-H Presidency has approved sending of a unit of 36 explosives experts from Bosnia-Hercegovina to Iraq after September 1. What could be consequences of that act?
I am not prepared to test what terrorists will to if B-H is present in Iraq in support of American and British military forces, if they will forgive us or if they will take revenge, the way they did in Spain and other countries. On the other hand, we cannot but wonder - where will they strike - in Sarajevo, Banja Luka or Mostar? I do not want to speculate, but it is obvious what their target is likely to be. I do not see any reason for participating in a senseless endeavor, which can only be bad for us. Our participation in such an adventure is the consequence of the fact that B-H does not have a state strategy, but we have national strategies. Even in that case there is an exception, since it seems to me that Serb representatives do not have any strategy at all. Bosniaks at least have clear views. They want close relations with Arab and Islamic countries. With their tacit approval they participate in "peace operations" in Iraq to please Americans. Croats have a clear strategy. They want to strengthen ties with Croatia and the Western part of the world. Serbs on the other hand have no strategy. There is the Agreement on Special and Parallel Links between Srpska and Serbia-Montenegro. That document has already been signed twice, and it will probably be signed again after the forthcoming elections in Serbia. The more we sign that document the further away we are from cooperation with Serbia. Unfortunately, Serbia also does not have a strategy. If they did we would not be where we currently are. Therefore, there is no state strategy in B-H, but there are competing strategies of its nations. In that case, that much should be clear - there is no country either.
Original headline - "Nova JNA je neupotrebljiva", Issue 66