By Drazen Remikovic
The clock is running for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The country has roughly four weeks to determine ownership of dozens of military facilities — bases, barracks and warehouses — before NATO holds its annual spring summit, this year in Chicago.
The sorting process is a crucial step in BiH’s path to potential membership in the Alliance.
On April 10th, NATO members meeting in Brussels made clear that BiH is on track to get the green light for a Membership Action Plan (MAP). Since then, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent a letter to BiH’s Presidency, asking authorities “to register these assets as soon as possible so that BiH can enjoy all benefits that MAP has to offer.”
Specifically, 69 pieces of property are on the table. Ownership is in question because they were all once in the hands of the former Yugoslav army. For example, in Republika Srpska, there are about 45 barracks. Just over half of them are to be registered to the state. The rest will be handed over to local authorities, who will convert them into a range of purposes.
A military barracks in Bijeljina, for example, is to be allocated to the municipality. “If we get this location, we will transform it into a student campus, and one part of the barracks would be used as a medical clinic,” Bijeljina Mayor Mico Micic told SETimes.
NATO wants the list winnowed down so that BiH’s military can use what is left to its full capacity. When finally registered to the state, the armed forces will have unlimited use of these properties.
Currently, the value of all this property is unclear, but by some estimates it could be worth hundreds of millions of euros.
So while a political agreement was struck last month regarding the process, the Council of Ministers must implement it by the May 22nd summit.
Denis Hadzovic, director of the Sarajevo-based NGO Centre for Security Studies, told SETimes, “I think that the technical part of the property registration is much easier than the political part. I am sure that BiH will succeed in doing this; that we will bring a document to the NATO summit in Chicago that proves that we earned the MAP.”
Deputy Defence Minister Mirko Okolic seems optimistic.
“The Council of Ministers has already begun to work on this and I think that the job will be completed by the NATO summit,” he told SETimes.
But larger issues loom. “After MAP, I think political debate will follow on whether BiH even needs to join NATO, because there are different views on this issue in Sarajevo and Banja Luka,” Okolic added.
In mid-March, RS President Milorad 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 when the time comes.
Regardless, Ines Kuburovic, spokeperson for NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo, said the headquarters has continuously co-operated with state institutions to help them meet the requirements to activate the MAP.
“It is important that what was agreed at the political level be applied. Once this is fulfilled, Alliance members will be ready to activate the MAP plan,” she told SETimes.
That, in turn, launches the next part of the process, none of which will be easy. BiH “will have to meet a number of reforms in the political and defence fields. Countries that participate in MAP provide to NATO an annual programme that includes objectives, mechanisms and implementation plans for the tasks in various areas,” Kuburovic explained.
After meeting with BiH Presidency member Bakir Izetbegovic earlier this month, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the Alliance is committed to BiH receiving full membership.