NATO remains present in Bosnia and Herzegovina and will continue its engagement to help the country in implementing all necessary reforms for the benefit of all citizens, said US Brigadier General Robert Huston, NATO Headquarters Commander, who is leaving Bosnia.
NATO cooperates and partners with Bosnia's Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces by implementing reforms which, Huston said, are strengthening key pillars to establish a democratic society.
Bosnia applied for NATO membership in 2005 and NATO set conditions for the country to join the Euro Atlantic security alliance. Those conditions include identifying the military facilities within the country that had belonged to the Yugoslav Army and registering them as ownership of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
But the country is made up of two semi-autonomous territorial entities as a result of the 1990’s war in the country. They include the Republika Srpska (RS), mostly populated by ethnic Serbs, while the other, the Federation (FBiH), is shared between Bosniaks and Croats. The RS had been opposed to state ownership of those facilities, asserting they should belong only to the entities.
After years of negotiations, the issue has been resolved, and Bosnia can proceed to its next step toward NATO membership by activating the Membership Action Plan (MAP).
"The MAP is a partnership programme between NATO and candidate countries, which is a large help to the future scope of reforms from which all citizens of Bosnia will benefit," Huston said.
MAP’s framework for NATO’s requirements addresses not only defense issues, but also those regarding general security issues, political and democratic monitoring, responsibility and transparency in the decision-making process with respect to financial and budgetary procedures, the justice system and much more, according to Huston.
Another one of Bosnia’s priorities is the implementation of the Defense Review so that the country can present NATO members with as much progress as possible ahead of the July NATO Summit, being held at its headquarters in Brussels.
General Huston pointed out some of NATO’s successes in the country, including the unification of Bosnia’s armed forces in 2005 following a violent war in 1992-1995. NATO played a key role in uniting the armies.
"At one point, it was difficult to even consider that the entity armies could be united under one Ministry of Defense and one flag of the Armed Forces. That is proof of how far we have come and what is possible to achieve when we all work together," Huston said.
Huston is now concluding his mandate as NATO Commander in Sarajevo, after a year of serving the post. He advised Bosnia’s authorities on military aspects of security sector reform and was in charge of all NATO forces operating on Bosnia’s territory.
He said he made many friendships during his tour in Bosnia and that he will continue to be a strong advocate for the country in the future.