Arms Control and Military Stability in the Balkans

By O Hanlon, Michael | Arms Control Today, August 1996 | Go to article overview

Arms Control and Military Stability in the Balkans


O Hanlon, Michael, Arms Control Today


On June 14, five of the political entities emerging from the former Yugoslavia signed an agreement on sub-regional arms control patterned after the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty Completed after just five months of negotiations, the new agreement fulfills a chief goal of the November 1995 Dayton peace accord that brought an end to the four-year Balkan war: the establishment of numerical limits on the heavy weapons of the former combatants.

Following the precedent of the CFE Treaty, the Balkan agreement imposes ceilings on five categories of heavy weapons (tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), large artillery pieces, attack helicopters and fixed-wing combat aircraft) for the three principal countries involved in the conflict: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (now comprised of Serbia and Montenegro). The accord also imposes limits on the weapons of the two main Bosnian entities to emerge from the war: the joint federation established by the Muslim-led Bosnian government and the Bosnian Croats, and the Bosnian Serbs (formally known as the Republika Srpska).

This CFE-style attempt to establish a stable military balance in the Balkans has become the primary arms control tool for strengthening the prospects for peace. With the international peacekeeping force scheduled to leave Bosnia by the end of the year, this balance will be an important factor in efforts to prevent the resumption of war. This goal has taken on an added urgency as Bosnia's upcoming elections threaten to only harden the already deep political and ethnic divisions within the country. At the same time, efforts by the United States and other countries to arm the federation's armed forces through the so-called "trainand-equip" program, although legitimated by the June accord, present both opportunities and risks for the parties involved. How that program is conducted will have much to say about whether the overall arms control process helps bring lasting peace to the Balkans.

Overview of the Accords

The June accord, formally called the "Agreement on Sub-Regional Arms Control," differs in five important ways from the 1990 CFE Treaty on which it is modeled. First, rather than limiting the arms of just two opposing "groups of states" (comprising 30 countries) as the CFE Treaty does, the Balkans agreement involves at least three truly independent and militarily significant actors. Second, unlike the CFE Treaty whose parties are all sovereign states, the sub-regional accord includes sub-state entities. Third, whereas the CFE Treaty required significant reductions in weaponry by both groups of states, the Balkans accord allows one of the principal parties to actually increase its heavy weapon holdings in four of the five categories of arms. Fourth, unlike the CFE Treaty, which was negotiated in the final days of the Cold War, the Balkans accord governs a region recently at war and where the risk of further hostilities is acute and real. Finally, the June arms control agreement applies to militaries that do not have weapons of mass destruction as backup deterrents.

Largely as a result of these differences, the Balkan arms control agreement will probably have a more difficult time in promoting peace and stability than the CFE Treaty faced during the final years of the Cold War. Truly stable military balances, hard to create under the most geographically and technologically favorable circumstances, are exceptionally hard to promote among small neighboring countries with long borders, limited reconnaissance and monitoring capabilities and sometimes shifting alliances.

More importantly, the June accord could contribute to a destabilizing rearmament effort by the forces of the Bosnian federation. A number of Muslim officials still have the ultimate goal of reunifying all of Bosnia under Sarajevo's control, and many leaders of the country's other two ethnic groups-including the federation's Croat defense minister-are worried that the Muslims would pursue this goal with military force if they felt capable of doing so.

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