DPC Policy Note
Three The continued presence of EUFOR/Operation Althea, the successor to the NATO peacekeeping force deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) at the end of the war, is at risk of being vetoed by Russia in the UN Security Council in November as a part of its policy of disruption in the Western Balkans, with potential Chinese support. A vote against EUFOR’s Chapter 7 mandate from the UN Security Council (UNSC) to “maintain a safe and secure environment” would also potentially eliminate the Chapter 7 mandate of the NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo. These executive mandates are essential for deterring organized violence, and to retain a legal foothold from which to react to any security threats that may emerge.
Preparations are urgently required this summer for NATO to seize the role of EUFOR in case of a Russian veto, and to reinforce its troop presence, based on NATO interpreting Annex 1A of the Dayton Peace Agreement as an open-ended justification to maintain such a deployment under NATO auspices, as well as ensure ability to control BiH’s airspace. Otherwise, NATO and the EU leave BiH vulnerable to Moscow’s (and Beijing’s) veto – and perhaps unilateral Russian deployment of forces in support of its own agenda in the region.
Preventing a precipitous move by Moscow, and perhaps even deterring a veto (in which it may be joined by Beijing), is within NATO’s capability. This would require the following, beginning immediately:
- An explicit and articulated commitment by NATO members, led by the US, to assert the obligation of NATO forces to maintain the Annex 1A safe and secure environment as stipulated by Dayton – irrespective of any Russian veto. This would, in effect, amalgamate and supersede the existing EUFOR force. Such a commitment may indeed deter any Russian veto or precipitous action. Only once the door is closed to Russian direct interference in BiH (at least through direct investment of troops by air) and NATO’s posture considerably shored up in BiH should Moscow be informed of NATO’s determination to stay put, regardless of Russia’s actions in the UNSC. Austrian forces could participate, but the force would need to come under the command of a NATO member, preferably from a country sending operational reinforcements.
- Reinforcement of the current EUFOR force with US/NATO troops, with particular attention to the “hinge” of the Republika Srpska in Posavina, with a deployment to Brčko, effectuated through Tuzla airport. The former Camp McGovern site has had infrastructure largely dismantled, but is still available. Ensuring monitoring and control of BiH airspace would facilitate “area denial,” preventing a Russian airborne deployment.
- A long-overdue needs assessment to determine the requirements for a proper NATO-led deterrent mission in BiH, commensurate with the tasks in Annex 1A and the current political and security environment.
- Over a decade ago, in March 2011, DSACEUR assessed the troop requirement to meet the mandate at brigade-strength (e.g. ~5000 troops), with a wider deployment footprint in BiH and greater mobility.
- While awaiting this needs assessment, current military infrastructure must be maintained to preserve NATO’s options to deploy forces by air to Mostar and Tuzla. Of particular note is the Ortiješ airfield complex, which includes Mostar’s airport, and is capable of accommodating NATO’s C-17 transports and is closer to US forces in Italy.
- Washington and other NATO members should give consideration to maintaining a standing NATO presence with US participation, for training and operational purposes, in BiH – as with the remaining US presence in Germany. Tuzla airport and Brčko District – combining the ability to air deploy reinforcements in proximity to one of BiH’s most strategic locations – should be assessed.