By Drazen Remikovic
The parliaments of Bosnia and Herzegovina will soon begin debating whether to abolish the country’s armed forces — a controversial proposal put forth by Republika Srpska (RS) President Milorad Dodik.
Dodik’s Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, the majority party in the RS parliament, is poised to support abolishing the armed forces. But politicians and citizens are divided on the issue, while analysts said that without the army the state could lose its subjectivity.
“BiH has a bulky military machine that spends too much money and doesn’t give any results,” Dodik’s proposal said.
“We dont need an army, because we have NATO soldiers in BiH, we have Croatia and Serbia which have legal obligations to provide peace in BiH,” Zeljko Mirjanic, president of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats in the Assembly of RS, told SETimes. “BiH spent over 1 billion euros on [the Armed Forces] … . It is smarter to invest these funds in economy, especially in the time of economic crises.”
After the war, there were more than 60,000 NATO troops in BiH, but the numbers have been drawn down to the current level of about 1,200 NATO and EUFOR troops.
In 2006, BiH established a unified armed forces, which today includes about 10,000 soldiers with an annual budget of around 150 million euros. The country’s total annual budget is 500 million euros. Safet Halilovic, a deputy of the Party for BiH in the Federation of BiH parliament, said every serious state has a military force.
“I think this initiative will not win support … all countries in the region have an army, so BiH can not be without an army,” Halilovic told SETimes. “Reform of the armed forces is one of the best things that happened in post-war BiH. There is space to reduce costs, but the military is certainly needed. Think about terrorism, houligans, fires and floods. Army is the last line of defence in such situations. ”
Denis Hadzovic, director of Centre for Security Studies, a Sarajevo-based NGO which deals with military issues, said the proposal is more political than legitimate.
“Army is one of the crucial characteristics of the independence and subjectivity of one state,” Hadzovic told SETimes. “[The Armed forces of] BiH gave its great contribution to peace missions across the world. On the other hand, you can’t just fire 10,000 people. You need to find them a new job before any initiative or proposal.”
In May 2010, NATO conditionally invited BiH to join the Membership Action Plan, but only if all immovable defence properties are registered as BiH state property, for use by the country’s defence ministry. Due to political disagrements, this issue is still unresolved.
The properties in question — 69 sites — include military barracks, training and shooting ranges, a dozen military storage depots, a radio communications network and several radar facilities and airfields.
In mid-March Dodik reopened the issue of BiH’s membership, reiterating that the citizens of RS will decide in a referendum whether they wish to join NATO.
“If we decide to join NATO, BiH can enter in that organisation as a demilitarised country also,” Dodik told the Asembly of RS when he presented the initiative to members of parliament.
Bojan Vlaski, a lawyer from Banja Luka, said the state should spend the funds for the army in other ways.
“It would be much better if we can spend the money that we are giving for the army for some economic growth, opening new jobs, education,” Vlaski told SETimes.
Eldin Ramizovic, an engineer from Sarajevo, disagreed.
“It is unthinkable that someone is seeking the abolition of the army in a country that only 15 years ago survived the bloody war that killed 100,000 people,” Ramizovic said.