Will the shift in EU and global tectonics spell the end of EUFOR?

The UK has been chief exponent of maintaining EUFOR’s Chapter 7 enforcement mandate, which is up for renewal in the EU on Tuesday and the UN Security Council next month. What do Brexit and inflamed frictions with Moscow portend for EUFOR? DPC assesses and proposes action to secure this crucial insurance for BiH peace.

Will the shift in EU and global tectonics spell the end of EUFOR?

On Tuesday, October 18th, the EU’s General Affairs Council will convene to discuss numerous policy matters – the extension of the EU’s Chapter 7 deterrent force in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), EUFOR, will be among them.The EU launched Operation Althea in December 2004 after more than two years of pressing to take over NATO’s Dayton Annex 1A enforcement role, to “maintain a safe and secure environment.” NATO made the handover only after agreeing under “Berlin plus” terms – the EU could use and employ NATO assets, and NATO would be able to back up the force if needed.

As DPC previously has documented, the force is already anemic at 600 troops: incapable of even defending Sarajevo International Airport without external reinforcement, and well below the full brigade that a prior DSACEUR/EU military commander determined was required for effective deterrence or reaction capability.

Despite the EU having a mandate under the UN Charter’s Chapter 7, which allows for use of force to protect international peace and security, it seems to want to disconnect itself politically from the responsibility it so aggressively pleaded to take on over a decade ago. Then, taking on the NATO Stabilization Force’s peace enforcement role EUFOR allowed the EU to demonstrate its capability to mount a Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) operation in a permissive environment. But having responsibility to enforce Dayton’s terms, now that it is being aggressively challenged, seems a mission the EU would rather not keep. In the European Council’s last renewal of the mandate on October 15, 2015, as was the case in the past, the mission is mischaracterized as follows:

“Operation Althea, which retains the capability to contribute to the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities’ deterrence capacity if the situation so requires while focusing on capacity building and training [emphasis added]. In this context, as part of the overall EU strategy for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Council confirms the EU’s readiness to continue at this stage an executive military role to support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s authorities to maintain the safe and secure environment, under a renewed UN mandate.”

The mandate to maintain a safe and secure environment as stipulated in Dayton now legally belongs toEUFOR; it is not shared with domestic authorities. The tortured wording of the European Council conclusions indicates that many EU members would like to be shorn of this responsibility. Furthermore, it is unclear to which BiH authorities the conclusions refer. If the AFBiH, there is no internal or public security mission permitted under the terms of the BiH Law on Defense. “Deterrence capacity” is a discordant term if referring to police. Such weasel wording indicates evident lack of will among EU members. While the force is not fit for its intended purpose, keeping the Chapter 7 mandate would allow the West to deploy forces to BiH to deter or react to a security crisis without having to jump through any legal or political hurdles (though a political decision to deploy troops to a “hot” crisis is far from assured). Without the mandate, BiH will remain without any external guarantees for its internal security – and the EU will default on its own voluntary commitment to provide those guarantees.

Frictions among EU member states have been evident for years, with large continental members, led by France, advocating EUFOR’s closure. To date, Britain has been the bulwark among large member states advocating for a continuation of the mandate, and is supported by several Central European countries, including leading EU troop contributors Austria and Hungary (the number two contributor is Turkey). In the past, Paris leveraged its opposition to EUFOR’s extension into EU support for its military efforts in Africa, such as the Central African Republic. Britain contributed troops to last month’s EUFOR Brzi Odgovor (“Rapid Response”) exercise at Manjača on September 25th. After the June vote for Brexit, Britain has dramatically less political capital – and strong incentive to conserve it for the tough bargaining to follow Article 50’s invocation next year. It is by no means guaranteed, even with BiH’s ever-degrading political climate, that EUFOR’s mandate will be extended by EU European affairs ministers next week.

The most daunting hurdle lies ahead in the UN Security Council session a month from now. DPC has repeatedly warned that the West needs a Plan B in the event of a Russian veto of the EUFOR mandate extension in the UNSC. In Moscow’s 2014 abstention – the equivalent of pulling the trigger on a blank cylinder in a loaded revolver aimed at the EUFOR mandate – Ambassador Vitali Churkin decried both the EU and NATO’s efforts to integrate BiH, noting other options were available. This followed on the heels of the Republika Srpska government’s own advocacy to end EUFOR, marking a major shift in Banja Luka’s policy on the mission, which had previously been supportive.

The wider geopolitical environment is hardly reassuring, given amplified acrimony over the failed ceasefire in Syria (during which Russia and ally Bashar al Assad have continued flattening Aleppo) and Moscow’s rejection of the MH17 inquiry’s findings that a Russian Buk surface-to-air missile was responsible for shooting down the Malaysian jetliner over eastern Ukraine. Moscow has cast vetoes in the UNSC over Bosnia and Herzegovina in the past; there is ample reason to worry that one might be cast on EUFOR’s Chapter 7 mandate.

At the operational level, the presumption appears to be that NATO would pick up the mantle of the Chapter 7 mission – it also holds a Chapter 7 mandate. But there is no indication that this has been planned for at the politicallevel. And, as in 2014 and 2015, there is a deafening silence among EU and NATO members in terms of commitment to maintaining the legal mandate – necessary, but not alone sufficient, to prevent organized violence.

DPC’s recommendations for EU and NATO leaders remain the same as they were in 2014, when we published “EUFOR: In Urgent Need of a Plan B”. To preserve the West’s ability to act to maintain peace, EU ministers must extend the EUFOR mission. Contingency planning for maintaining Annex 1A enforcement in the event of a potential Russian veto needs to be agreed at the senior political level in the EU and NATO in the coming weeks. While NATO could assert that its Chapter 7 mandate is untouched by a Russian veto (legal opinions vary on this point), the most unassailable way to maintain the force would be to secure an invitation from the BiH Presidency – in advance of the November UNSC vote – to maintain the force, as mandated by the Dayton Peace Agreement. This may well be difficult given the alliance between Croat BiH Presidency member Dragan Čović and RS President Milorad Dodik, as well as Serb BiH Presidency member Mladen Ivanić’s migration from an Atlanticist policy to a me-too posture vis-à-vis Dodik. Zagreb might be helpful on the former. But the political planning required for NATO to take up the reins and secure a state-level invitation is critical to the West’s capacity to intervene – and hopefully get serious about BiH after the US election.