Photo credit: Danilo Krstanović, REUTERS
The military aspects of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) are outlined in its annexes 1-A (demilitarisation) and 1-B (regional stability). They foresaw only partial disarmament and partial demobilisation of the three warring parties and activities aiming at regional stabilisation. If we look at this from the perspective of the concept of Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR), the reintegration of ex-combatants was not even considered in the DPA.
The DPA negotiators did not follow the logic of peace.
In its annex 1-A, the part that deals with partial demobilisation, the DPA only focused on male combatants, leaving out the fact that the whole of the society needed to be demilitarised. One would expect that full demilitarisation, including demobilisation and disarmament, should have been a logical outcome of the DPA following the war and people’s traumatic experience of it. But of course, that did not happen. The DPA negotiators did not follow the logic of peace.
According to their logic, the establishment of some form of military protectorate and bringing in new soldiers, this time international ones, was understood as key for keeping the peace. As if building peace required more militarism and weapons! And, as if this was not counterintuitive and strange enough, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), seen as the superior military world power at the time, was awarded a key role in peacekeeping, sidelining the UN. One of the reasons for choosing NATO as the “peacekeeper” might be that NATO was already engaged through the UN Security Council resolutions. NATO operations included monitoring and enforcement of compliance with UN imposed sanctions and no fly-zones over BiH; air support to UN missions on the ground; and airstrikes in coordination with the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR).
Another potential reason for NATO getting a more prominent role than the UN in military matters in the DPA was that the UN peacekeeping missions at the time were tainted with their failures to protect civilians from genocides in BiH and Rwanda. These failures showed problems with command responsibility concerning whether the UN troops were to be commanded by the country from which the troops were deployed, or UN headquarters. These problems in the chain of command facing the UN provided an opportunity for NATO to step in. Unlike the UN at that time, NATO conveniently already had the needed hierarchical structures in place.
It is worth reflecting that the post-cold war context allowed NATO to present itself as a peace-maker, since there were no opposing political and military powers. One would expect that with the end of the cold-war, which was used as an excuse for the race in armament, there would be no need for military expansion, especially not into the peacebuilding arena. However, this logic proved to be in contravention to the neoliberal, military expansionist ideology.
Instead of dissolving the armies and paramilitaries active during the war, and supporting peace by destroying the arms and militarist culture, NATO-led troops in BiH were to guarantee that the armies and paramilitaries behave according to arrangements set forth in the DPA. It seems as if they followed the logic of “might is right”. This was a classical militaristic approach telling us that peace was best kept through a credible threat of military violence. As Zoran Pajić, a professor of international law and former head of the Legal Reform Unit in the Office of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina points out, the result of the marginalisation of the UN was that NATO became “the central mechanism for international conflict resolution”. The consequences of this were grave and were felt far beyond BiH.
In retrospect, the DPA has done very little to demilitarise our society. More than anything else it repackaged the militarisation, creating a space for a shift from one form of a militarised society to another.
The DPA was an experiment in liberal peacebuilding and BiH was used as a playground for various geopolitical ambitions. BiH was also used as testing grounds when it came to deployment of international military and police missions. In order to control the warring parties, 60,000 international armed troops were deployed to BiH immediately after the signing of the DPA. These numbers were gradually reduced, due to the changing nature of the mandate of the international forces on the ground. Nevertheless, international soldiers still remain in the country 25 years later!
Annex 1-A of the DPA provided for the establishment of a multinational force, named the Implementation Force (IFOR). IFOR was to operate under the authority of the North Atlantic Council, through the NATO chain of command. The UN Security Council Resolution 1031 transferred the authority from the UNPROFOR to IFOR. Once the IFOR mandate expired it was reshaped into Stabilization Forces (SFOR), based on discussions and agreements between NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers and the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) that gathered countries overseeing the implementation of the DPA (for more on PIC see essay 4).
UN Security Council Resolution 1088 provided for the authorisation of SFOR to become the legal successor to IFOR. The SFOR troops, when they took over in 1996, counted 32,000 soldiers. At the end of its mandate, following several restructurings, the SFOR counted a total of 12,000 soldiers. While the subsequent changes in the mandate of international military forces were led by or coordinated with NATO, both the IFOR and the SFOR contained troops from NATO and non-NATO countries.
After the conclusion of the SFOR mandate in 2004, UN Security Council Resolutions 1551 and 1575 handed over primary responsibility for military aspects of the DPA to the European Union (EU) and its European Force (EUFOR) Operation Althea. At the same time, the resolutions recognised and welcomed a continued NATO presence in the country and establishment of the NATO headquarters in Sarajevo.
Have you had enough acronyms yet? We thought so too. Unfortunately, they did not stop changing the letters before FOR—and the combinations are never ending. At the moment we are with EUFOR, but it seems that chances are greater that we are going to get a new letter in front of the FOR before the international forces leave.
Prior to shifting the military responsibility to the EU, the EU already held primacy over the appointment of the High Representative in charge of the civilian aspects of the implementation of the DPA. These sort of power divisions were not exactly spelled out in the DPA but were part of the internal agreements between the EU and the USA. According to the US diplomat and lead DPA negotiator Richard Holbrooke, part of the negotiations leading up to the DPA included discussions among the international powers about who would oversee what. The US Congress was unwilling to provide any other funds but for the military, while it was expected of the EU to cover the reconstruction. As Holbrooke very bluntly put it in his book, “There were good arguments on both sides [EU and USA] of this issue, but it was not decided on its merits, or on the basis of Bosnia itself. The critical variable would be who paid for the civilian effort.”
The US interest and engagement in BiH changed after 11 September 2001, shifting the attention of the USA to the Middle East. Some of the political elites within the EU saw this as an opportunity to act on their ambitions to formulate a joint EU security policy as a complement to their imperialist, capitalist ambitions. BiH provided a great opportunity for the EU to start experimenting with deployment of forces under joint command, as a precursor to future joint EU forces. While the deployment of EUFOR to BiH in 2004 was the first of its kind, the EU has since deployed several missions around the world, from Palestine in 2005 to the Central African Republic in 2020. The ambitions of the EU bureaucrats and political leaders grew even further: the end of the occupation of Afghanistan and withdrawal of US and coalition troops in 2021 provided an opportunity for a revival of the ambitions of the EU to establish the so-called “European strategic autonomy” through creation of an EU military force.
Taking over the military aspect of the peace agreement was also integral to the EU’s strategic objective of enlargement. Previously the EU already took over the international police forces through deployment of the European Police Mission (EUPM). It was understood that all the countries of the so-called Western Balkans, including BiH, would eventually become the members of the EU and would consequently become a geopolitical and military part of the EU. These actions were always presented as beneficial for BiH, but they were never actually part of conversations with people living in the country. Since 2012 the EUFOR troops in the country have counted 600 soldiers, backed up with an out-of-country Intermediate Reserve Force, based within Europe, able to rapidly deploy to BiH should EUFOR troops require support.
Shifting acronyms that reflect geopolitical dynamics, along with shifting uniforms, represent a process of repackaging the militarisation that wants us to believe that peace is best preserved through the strong presence of a military. But we have to ask, peace for whom? Military presence has never been peaceful for women. This presence is always gendered, both in its composition and in its consequence on the affected society. For BiH, the international troops that arrived did not just bring new weapons and uniforms to the country but also brought new forms of corruption, smuggling in people and arms, exploitation, black markets, and additional forms of militarised masculinities. As Madeleine Rees, head of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in BiH at time when violence against women became known, noted: “By definition peacekeepers are engaged in countries where peace is tenuous and where pre-conflict norms have been undermined or replaced. The presence of large numbers of internationals, mainly men in uniform, in and of itself has a destabilising effect on the social and economic environment and contributes to the continuation and escalation of militarised societies.”
Shifting acronyms that reflect geopolitical dynamics, along with shifting uniforms, represent a process of repackaging the militarisation that wants us to believe that peace is best preserved through the strong presence of a military.
The presence of international troops, but also the outsourcing of peacekeeping roles to police officers and other internationals arriving to BiH, created a whole new free market that commodified violence against women in BiH. The growing number of “customers” made BiH a notorious site of sex trafficking and exploitation of women in the context of peace-making. For a while, sex trafficking was a very profitable business for everyone involved, apart from the exploited and enslaved women. As stated by Kathryn Bolkovac, a member of the peacekeeping forces in BiH in 1990s, the “police and humanitarian workers were frequently involved in not only the facilitation of forced sexual abuse, and the use of children and young women in brothels, but in many instances became involved in the trade by racketeering, bribery and outright falsifying of documents as part of a broader criminal syndicate.”
Even though all these consequences could have been predicted—as it is a well-documented fact that violence against women rises with an increase in military presence—the highly militarised male decision-makers insisted on these deployments without even considering protection mechanisms. It took years before the worst aspects of this renewed violence against women could be dealt with, adding to violence and harms experienced by women because of the war and the militarised “peace”.
The mobilisation of international troops was tightly connected to the process of demobilisation of the combatants. The international troops were to guarantee a safe and secure environment for all three warring parties during the process of their demobilisation.
We have to take a pause here and reflect on the fact that once upon a time the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) maintained a huge army (People’s Army of Yugoslavia) in order to keep us “safe” from foreign troops; and now foreign troops were keeping us safe from ourselves! This approach of military securing the peace was not successful in the SFRY given that the SFRY dissolved in a destructive war. Moreover, we ended up with deep trauma after experiencing the use and abuse of a military that was supposedly “people’s”, i.e. “ours”, against us during the war. Why would this reversed approach work any differently?
Even the limited commitment that existed at the beginning to ensure demobilisation of the warring parties was not long-lived. Instead of planning for full demobilisation and, in fact, demilitarisation of the country through abolishment of the military as such, the warring parties, led by the international community, looked for ways to keep some form of military structures in place. Already as the very process of disarmament and demobilisation was ongoing, a defence reform was taking place, aimed at creating a new army and unifying former adversaries under a single command.
The demobilisation of the existing militaries took place in ad hoc phases and seemed to be based on “learning by doing” rather than a strategic plan. The demobilisation of more than 300,000 soldiers started in 1996 with the first round of voluntary demobilisation, and then continued again in 2002 and 2004 as part of the military budget cuts. Following the demobilisation, the process of unification of the three separate armies (and the ex-combatants who were not demobilised but remained in the armies as salaried employees) was finalized in 2005, resulting in one, joint and professionalised Armed Forces of BiH. With the reform came also the removal of conscription, as a result of pressure exerted by civil society. This small win was an important one. However, we still got stuck with an army. This time a “modern,” professional army under the auspices of the international military.
The unified military, while seemingly integrated, still replicates the ethnic divisions created by the war and reinforced by the DPA. This way, space has been left open for ethno-nationalist elites to, if nothing more than symbolically, use separate regiments to create tensions and conflicts, when they see fit. Not to be forgotten is the fact that these new “unified” forces are trained and armed, which means that, should the ethno-nationalist political elite ever require a new army, they will have readily available soldiers, notwithstanding in small numbers. They will also have modernised infrastructure, equipment, and weapons. All they need to do is divide it by three.
Another segment that was mishandled in the DPA, and consequently during its implementation, was the police. Even though, during the war, different police forces were visibly present as part of the troops and took part in the atrocities, their demilitarisation, including their demobilisation and disarmament, was not addressed. The parties to the DPA committed to disarming and disbanding all armed civilian groups, except for authorised police forces, which proved to be highly problematic as many war criminals were part of the official police forces during the war and continued to be so after the war.
Instead of addressing the role the police had during the war, the DPA, in its Annex 11, brought in another layer of policing to BiH. This time, police were in international uniforms, further strengthening the protectorate mandate of the international community. Annex 11 established a UN International Police Task Force (IPTF) and gave it a mandate to, among other things, monitor, observe, and inspect law enforcement activities, including judicial organisations (!), advise and train law enforcement personnel, and advise authorities in BiH on the organisation of effective civilian law enforcement. From this mandate, the IPTF deduced its later role in conducting a vetting exercise, which resulted in removal of some police officers who had committed crimes during the war. So at least some form of “cleaning-up” among the ranks of the police forces eventually did take place.
Instead of addressing the role the police had during the war, the DPA, in its Annex 11, brought in another layer of policing to BiH.
However, the vetting exercise was not without its problems. While many war criminals were indeed removed, too many of them still remained among the ranks. The process was also corrupted by false allegations that led to removal of officers that potentially were not involved in violations of human rights, without any possibility of appeal. What did not take place at all was the demilitarisation of the police. Instead, militarisation was continued by employment of new officers and establishment of new organisational units, which are now equipped with military-grade weapons.
Unlike the reform of the army, which ended with some form of unification and at least some reduction in the number of troops, the police reform was never completed. Its forces have remained divided along BiH’s two entities (the Republika Srpska and the Federation of BiH) and along the ten cantons, under the direct control of the ethno-nationalist political elites, susceptible to abuse of power. Furthermore, the highly militarised police can easily be deployed as a military wing of the ethno-nationalist political elites, and this time in greater numbers (and potentially even better equipped for street battles) than the army.
The disarmament process followed the same logic deployed in the process of demobilisation. The warring parties were partially disarmed under the provisions of the DPA only to shortly thereafter start the armament process again, this time of the now joint Armed Forces of BiH and various and numerous police forces. The outmoded tanks, weapons, and strategies from the 1990s were discarded only to be replaced with better arms and modern military and police exercises. The military exercises got americanised names, such as Joint Resolve, Immediate Response, and Double Eagle, while the new uniforms were fashionably designed in line with Hollywood blockbusters. The army even opened up to women, in accordance with the neoliberal understanding of the UN Security Council resolutions, popularly called the Women, Peace and Security agenda. Feminised uniforms appealing to women were also created. This time, the militarisation and armament were deemed acceptable, even desirable, because it was done according to the NATO and/or US and EU “standards”.
The military aspect of the DPA foresaw disarmament of civilian and paramilitary groups but never provided for a broad process of disarmament of the society as such. Disarmament became a project-driven endeavour, lacking a systematic approach. The projects were usually implemented and supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), individual embassies, or a third party. Once they ended, as per project logic, the “project” was declared finished and successful, no matter what it actually achieved. However, those who did not voluntarily give away the illegal arms they kept were not prosecuted, because a proper process of disarmament and sanctions was never put in place. Sanctions followed only if the weapons were discovered by accident. Years later, after these “successful” projects, the police still randomly find whole arsenals in people’s homes, including anti-aircraft guns. The “success” of these projects is clearly demonstrated by the fact that more than 25 years later we are still disarming. Currently we are at the stage of implementation of the UNDP-run projects with really specific (and somewhat unbelievable) names: Explode and ExplodePlus!
Instead of repurposing the factories for civilian production as part of the disarmament process, the infrastructure of these factories was rebuilt and modernised to keep up with the demands of the global, lucrative arms trade.
But the existence of residual weapons from the war has not been our only problem. It is potentially not even the biggest one. The fact that the DPA did not even attempt to ensure full disarmament and demilitarisation of the country meant that significant space was left for the ethno-nationalist political elites to capitalise on the lucrative affairs of the arms industry. Ignored was the fact that the SFRY had a very developed arms industry and that a significant number of factories that produced weapons were based in BiH. Forgotten was also the fact that the deadly products of this highly developed industry were indiscriminately and viciously used against us, killing and wounding many, destroying our homes and our lives. Instead of repurposing the factories for civilian production as part of the disarmament process, the infrastructure of these factories was rebuilt and modernised to keep up with the demands of the global, lucrative arms trade. In contrast, most of the non-military industry was either purposefully destroyed or just simply left to die out. It is incomprehensible that at the moment when peace was negotiated and plans for transitioning the country from war to peace were put in place, the infrastructure that enabled and supported the war was not entirely dismantled. Having factories that produce arms in our front yard means that, if needed, weapons can be quickly produced and abused by the ethno-nationalist elites again.
In addition, the production of arms is currently being presented by those in power as an economic development strategy. This approach has further militarised our society and economic development itself. Basing economic development, amongst others, on the proliferation of the arms industry means that the industry has become a significant employer, effectively militarising women and men employees and their families. They are pushed into dependency on the proliferation of weapons production; their economic well-being thus becomes tied to somebody else’s destruction.
As per the capitalist logic of measurement of “economic development” in terms of GDP growth, the more arms we produce and sell the more “developed” is our economy. Even the media that reports on such economic development gets sucked into reproduction of militarisation, as its reporting is usually oriented towards uncritically promoting economic successes of the growth of this industry and its importance for the poverty stricken country.
In its provisions for partial demobilisation and disarmament, the DPA completely neglected reintegration of ex-combatants. At that time, the concept of DDR was still under development, and it was not yet a mainstream approach to peacebuilding. The concept of DDR emerged from the experiences of confidence-building measures in Latin America in the 1980s and was further developed based on experiences from the African continent. During the early 1990s, when the World Bank was pushing through structural adjustments programmes, scholars and practitioners working with the World Bank introduced the concept of DDR as an option to deal with the budgetary implications of over-sized militaries. It was only much later that the UN adopted Integrated DDR standards. That may explain the gap in the DPA regarding reintegration, as well as the fact that it was the World Bank that took the lead in the ad hoc process of reintegrating ex-combatants in BiH.
The limited reintegration programmes that were rolled out in BiH did not actually manage to reintegrate many people; rather they left the majority of ex-combatants to fend for themselves. In the same way as the ethno-nationalist elites were using the ex-combatants’ bodies during the war to gain power, they have continued using them in their power struggles on the battlefield left open by the DPA.
Following the signing of the DPA and throughout 1996, lacking any mechanism for systematic demobilisation, 300,000 soldiers simply took off their uniforms and left the armies and paramilitaries. Most of the ex-combatants left the armies only to enter a life in poverty.
Within the process of post-conflict reconstruction and recovery, the issue of how to reintegrate 300,000 jobless men roaming the streets soon became an emergency. The international community scrambled to deal with the issue. Since the DPA did not foresee reintegration, it was not clear who would oversee such programmes. The IFOR was mandated for the military part, the BiH government lacked capacity, and the civilian aspect of the DPA was entrusted to the Office of the High Representative. What was left was the World Bank with its “experience” from the African continent. Again, lacking a strategic approach to total reintegration of ex-combatants, we ended up with yet another project-driven intervention into this important segment of peacebuilding. They even gave it a proper “emergent” name.
The World Bank initiated an Emergency Demobilization and Reintegration Project that awkwardly combined soldiers, returnees, war victims, the disabled, and others (among them war widows). The project lasted from 1996 to 1999. It ended up costing approximately USD 9.2 million, out of which 7.5 million was a loan to BiH. An unknown percentage went into consultancy fees, outsourcing, and overheads, effectively returning a portion of that money back to the lenders (especially since the World Bank itself was implementing the project in one part of the country).
It may very well be that a country recovering from war needs a loan to be able to implement reintegration programmes. However, the loan could potentially only pay off if the programmes managed to actually reintegrate ex-combatants into the BiH economy, or establish effective mechanisms to deal with consequences of militarised masculinities. But this was not really the case in BiH. The project had limited results, making this loan just another addition to the country’s growing debt.
According to the World Bank’s documents, this project (as per any project logic) was fairly “successful”. In its short-sighted project-manner it measured success in numbers of people assisted instead of societal impact. About 100 small enterprises were started by ex-combatants; some 19,000 people received on-the-job training, resulting in 80 per cent of those participating receiving jobs (though it is unclear whether they were all ex-combatants and how long those jobs really lasted); an additional 3,300 persons received counselling and job-finding assistance, with 25 per cent eventually finding employment.
There are not many external evaluations or documentations of this project to be found. In one evaluation done by the Bonn International Center for Conversion and the Geneva-based Democratic Control of the Armed Forces, it is possible to find additional information. Such as, for example, that the NGOs contracted by the World Bank to provide counselling services reported a rate of 41 percent of people with clear symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Despite the clear implications that the existence of PTSD among ex-combatants has for their ability to reintegrate, this finding did not result in amendments to the project, or the provision of additional support. Not to mention securing a continuity in the support needed for people with PTSD. It is also unclear how many ex-combatants were ultimately included in the reintegration project, as it targeted other beneficiaries as well.
What is clear, though, is that the assisted ex-combatants make up only a small portion of the 300,000 ex-combatants that left the army the first year after the DPA. Since no long-term monitoring mechanisms were put in place, we know nothing of the project’s sustainability. It is not unreasonable to imagine that a sizable portion of the ex-combatants ended up in traditionally male-dominated and short-term construction jobs, which were, in the war-destructed country, in high demand. But these jobs were more often than not insufficiently paid and were more of a seasonal type of work than sustainable employment. Thus, it is fully possible that the numbers reported in the World Bank’s documents reflected only immediate results and not long-term successes. The number of ex-combatants still waiting in line at the employment agencies confirms this.
The Emergency Demobilization and Reintegration Project was followed by a project implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) called the Transitional Assistance to Former Soldiers in BiH. It was simply “logical” that one organisation that ultimately should not have anything to do with DDR-programmes be replaced with another with an equal lack of mandate! Since IOM is an agency supposedly dealing with migrations (as it is prominently stressed in its name), we wonder whether the understanding was that the ex-combatants were “migrating” to civilian life—hence IOM’s assistance was needed.
The IOM project targeted soldiers (the majority of which were ex-combatants that remained in the army after the war ended) and civilian personnel who served with the armed forces and were demobilised by 2002 as part of military budget cuts. The project lasted until 2006 and consisted of non-monetary assistance through provision of vocational training; purchase of cows and agricultural production for start-up of businesses; enhancement of “marketing skills”; business counselling; and three hours (!) of training in human rights, democracy, and civil society.
The project activities were a supplement to the severance-package provided by the Ministry of Defence in the amount of 5,000 EUR. The severance package was only provided to the soldiers dismissed from the army as part of the second round of demobilisation.
The absence of women during the peace negotiation resulted in the invisibility of women’s needs when it came to demobilisation, which was entirely focused on men. Also, women did not need to be “reintegrated,” apparently. There seems to have been a perception that women are adaptable to any circumstance—war, peace, reconstruction. Unless they were recognised as victims of, for ethno-nationalist narratives and manipulations, particularly “suitable” war crimes—e.g. rape, genocide, or concentration camp detainees—their existence and participation were not acknowledged.
But women were not “absent” during the war. Women were also part of armed forces or were mobilised in the labour force in order to support the military or sustain civilian aspects of life during the war. Not seeing the different ways women participated in the armies, no “emergency” or “transitional” assistance targeted the specific needs of women. As far as their status as ex-combatants was concerned, women were perceived as a small group of beneficiaries, almost not identifiable. Therefore, in case someone even remembered them, no special gender-sensitive programmes were deemed necessary.
The reintegration of ex-combatants as part of the disarmament and demilitarisation process clearly lacked sustainability. Even though this project approach to reintegration failed, the ethno-national political elites understood very well the power they could draw from organised ex-combatants (or the threat of unsatisfied ex-soldiers if not co-opted in the ethno-nationalist projects). Consequently, strong, ethnically-based veteran associations (exclusively male) were created. The veteran associations became influential, interest-based organisations. Their leadership has consisted of few selected and “privileged” veterans close to the (exclusively male) political elites, while the membership has mostly come from the invisible and underprivileged masses of manipulated ex-combatants. Over the years, the ethno-nationalist political elites have maintained political control over the many veteran associations in the country. One of the ways the control is exercised is through privileging veteran associations in distribution of public money intended for the support of non-governmental organisations. This is in addition to all other benefits veterans receive from the public budgets. This privileging continues to date.
Given the political division created by the DPA, the veteran associations quickly became a militarised wing of the ethno-nationalist political elites in power. In this context, militarised does not necessarily mean armed, but rather is a symbolic reference to the veterans’ combatant experiences and role during the war. Their power is exerted from the fact that they could present a physical threat and the stories of their “heroism” can easily be used for mobilisation of new bodies. This mobilisation of new bodies can be seen in the examples of some of the commemorative practices that clearly involve children, as well as in the organizing of military camps for children based on patriotic narratives. The mobilisation continues through perpetuation of their “heroism” in the next generation and even entire families. The associations have been easily manipulated by the ethno-nationalist political elites in times when they have needed to manufacture heightened tensions, usually to achieve economic goals.
Worth noting is the division made between civilian victims and veterans. The relationship between the two is both gendered and hierarchical. Veterans are masculinised, seen as exclusively male, and in comparison to civilian victims of war, valued more in society and public life. Nevertheless, the veterans are not, in the post-war society, representative of hegemonic masculinity. After the war, the ethno-nationalist elites in power reshaped hegemonic masculinity, which is now represented by successful, war and transition profiteers, turned millionaires. Apart from a privileged lot, most veterans are seen as failing to adapt to new demands of masculinity. They are both praised and patronised. Their sacrifice for “the cause” that was not entirely achieved is applauded but their failure to adapt is disdained. On the other hand, civilian victims are feminised, seen as weak and reduced to passive recipients of whatever the ethno-nationalist elites have in store for them.
The failure to address militarised masculinities and to reintegrate ex-combatants into the post-war society created a considerable group of men (and few women) unable to adapt to civilian lives. The skills they developed as combatants during the war were the only skills with which they were left. In the post-war, poverty stricken country, with a non-existent support system, they were forced to look for ways to monetise their skills. Some remained hooked to ideologies of war and destruction that were never adequately dealt with in post-conflict BiH, deploying their skills as fighters on foreign fronts, e.g. Ukraine and Syria. Some became co-opted by criminal groups, which benefited from their military experience. Some were absorbed by the new unified Armed Forces of BiH, while others were recruited by private security companies or private military contractors to jobs in the newly created neoliberal market of global warfares.
Looking back at the entire process of disarmament and demobilisation as it was dealt with in the DPA and through its implementation, it is clear that the demilitarisation of the society was neither part of the negotiators’ vision of post-war BiH nor a desirable outcome for the political elite. The militarisation merely shifted shape (and agents) to better fit the vision of what BiH was to become—in the Balkan region, in Europe, in the world.
So, where are we today?
This new militarisation is an insidious one. The whole framework of peace created by the DPA has been that a strong military, even if an international one, is the guarantor of our peace. This construction is now properly matched with the liberal understanding of peacebuilding as being taken care of through a “healthy market economy,” where the glorification of a blooming domestic arms industry comes in handy.
For years ethno-nationalist elites in power have been force-feeding people living in BiH the narrative of how development of a military industry and participation in the international arms trade is the guarantor of our economic prosperity. There is something deeply perverse in the fact that a country that itself still lives with the consequences of war, now 25 years later, considers weapons as one of its most successful export industries. BiH today exports destruction in the form of shells, torpedoes, mines, rockets, ammunition, and other weapons to countries such as Afghanistan. Our arms exports went from 35 million EUR in 2004 to as high as 105.3 million EUR in 2015. While, comparatively speaking, this is not a huge amount, as regards BiH export this is significant. We also import arms and are not even reluctant to do it from our neighbouring countries that were part of the conflict and continue to be part of the problem.
As for the Joint Armed Forces of BiH, they currently count 10,011 men and women, including civilian employees and reserve army. This number may not sound like much, but the costs for maintaining this machinery are high. This time around the militarisation has been marketed for women as well. With the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and its subsequent operationalisation in BiH, the military elites stopped ignoring women. With support from the international community, UNSCR 1325 has been used as a tool for further militarisation, opening up the recruitment process for women and “inviting” them to become part of the now “modern and professional” army.
The main purpose of the army seems to be to serve the needs of NATO’s imperialist missions (soldiers from BiH could be found in Afghanistan, Congo, and Mali), or as in the most recent development, be a host to NATO’s demonstration of military powers. By participating in and hosting part of the US Army-led NATO military exercises “Defender Europe” BiH is put in the middle of dangerous geopolitical games between NATO and Russia. Furthermore, it adds to the internal conflict dynamics created by ethno-nationalist elites.
The purpose of the BiH army is to eat up 28.85 per cent of public expenditures at the state level. A recent brochure published by the BiH Ministry of Finance shows that at the state level, the Ministry of Defence is by far the biggest consumer of public money, spending as much as 146.9 million EUR in 2020 for just existing. Comparatively, the Court of BiH (where high level cases of corruption are to be prosecuted, as well as organised and war crimes) and the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees (that is the only ministry at any level having explicit portfolio on human rights), together have spent little under 13.9 million EUR. The army has no purpose whatsoever, apart from providing employment opportunities to young men and some young women willing to militarise. On the other hand, the state institutions that could (but don’t!) make a difference in terms of supporting sustainable peace, are under-staffed, under-capacitated, and in the case of the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees, don’t even have a proper mandate.
The only proper way to ensure this country (and this region for that matter) is not thrown into yet another war is to demilitarise and disarm both the country and the region! Fully and properly this time!
To this needs to be added that both Croatia and Serbia are currently running an arms race, which BiH is occasionally trying to participate in, unnecessarily wasting money. The fact is we can never catch up to our dear neighbours, nor should we even be trying. The only proper way to ensure this country (and this region for that matter) is not thrown into yet another war is to demilitarise and disarm both the country and the region! Fully and properly this time!
Obviously, in terms of devouring resources, the army is a problem. But at the same time the ethno-nationalist elites don’t really count on the army to do most of their militarisation bidding. For that they have the police forces, which are divided and under the direct control of the ethno-nationalist political elites.
Consequently, the banner of militarisation is no longer exclusively carried by the army but also by the various police structures. And BiH has many. In addition to various police forces at the state level, both the Republika Srpska and the Federation of BiH have their own police forces and so do each of the ten cantons, which makes the militarisation of the police difficult to track. While the army, despite its comparatively oversized budget seems to be struggling to find the means for arms and military equipment the police forces don’t seem to have the same problem. Over the years the police have continued to militarise through different interventions. We are witnessing an arms race between the different police forces (between the entities or even between the cantons within the Federation of BiH), with nothing less than military-grade weapons; frequent training in targeting and suppressing protests; establishment of new specialised police units and so forth. The police are looking more and more like an army, under heavy control of the leading ethno-nationalists autocrats.
Over the years the police have been used to crack down on human rights defenders, environmental activists, workers, or citizens seeking justice. They frequently use excessive force, in an obvious attempt to dissuade and criminalise anyone who dares to protest against the political, economic, or social order.
Recently, we have also seen examples where cantonal or entity police forces have engaged in actions against directives from state-level ministers or in the activities that have been in direct violation of the Constitution of BiH. In 2018, cantonal police forces of Herzegovina-Neretva Canton (HNC) were sent to stop the transport of the people on the move from Canton Sarajevo to HNC, in direct contravention to state-issued decisions. The same year we witnessed the parade of the entity police forces of the Republika Srpska (RS) during the marking of the unconstitutional day of RS; as well as cantonal police of Una-Sana Canton setting up check-points between entity lines to control the buses arriving to the canton in order to conduct racial profiling of people, unlawfully negating freedom of movement for people on the move. These along with other practises have been ongoing elsewhere, e.g. the Cantonal Ministry of Interior of Sarajevo Canton insisting to intervene and militarise humanitarian issues around people on the move as if these are security issues (potentially inspired by generous EU donations).
The (not so) funny thing is that the EU—the “guardian” of the peace in BiH—as well as some UN agencies, participate in the militarisation of the police. Through Pre-Accession Assistance and cross-border collaboration programmes with non-member states, the EU provides both direct funding and equipment to various police structures, or project money to the IOM (here they come again in a different capacity!), which then uses the money to, among other things, equip various police forces.
The reason for this is two-fold. On the one hand, the EU, along with the international financial institutions, is the main driver behind austerity and extractivist policies that directly cause poverty and damage to natural resources. These are, of course, the very reasons why some of the protests happen. The EU needs the BiH governments to be able to “handle” the discontent, and for that the police “need” to be properly equipped.
On the other hand, BiH has, due to “fortress Europe” policies of the EU, become the main hotspot for people on the move along the Balkan route. The concept of (de)militarisation as applied in BiH meant replacing the military as protectors of the borders with a specially formed police branch. This of course did not mean demilitarisation of the borders but rather a new form of militarisation of the border police and borders. In recent years the militarisation has seen new worrying levels. Today the role of the border police is not just “to protect” the borders of BiH, but also—since the country is on the inner borders of the EU—to protect the EU borders as well, serving as, to paraphrase their militarised language of waging the war, the “first line of defence” against people on the move.
In the same spirit of racialised and classist protection of the “fortress Europe”, the EU is also supporting the militarisation of the police within the cantons that have been designated as bearers of the “burden” of the “migration crisis”. Through funding provided to IOM, the EU is paying highly problematic private security agencies, hired to (violently) “maintain order” within concentration camps set up for people on the move. The EU is also providing the police forces of those cantons with various types of security equipment to establish a racialised order—e.g. razor wires, ID-scanners, surveillance cameras, and vehicles used to transport people on the move from “unwanted” areas to designated concentration camps.
It is safe to say: militarisation is alive and well in BiH.
In preparation for a presidential visit. Sarajevo, February 13, 1996
There was no room for women during the demobilisation and demilitarisation efforts.