NATO's IFOR in Action: Lessons from the Bosnian Peace Support Operations

By Smith, Leighton W. | Strategic Forum, January 1999 | Go to article overview

NATO's IFOR in Action: Lessons from the Bosnian Peace Support Operations


Smith, Leighton W., Strategic Forum


Conclusions

* Peace support operations are difficult and future military leaders must understand the complexities and dangers of these so-called military operations other than war.

* Most peace support operations have essential military, civil, and political elements which entail difficult and distinct responsibilities.

* In Bosnia, the Implementation Force (IFOR) successfully met the military provisions of the Dayton Accords because of its robust force, its rules of engagement, and its resolve to use force when necessary. Yet peace has not yet been secured because of civil and political problems.

* On the civil side, the UN High Representative has been unsuccessful in coordinating the work of private and non-governmental organizations because the Dayton Accords did not give him the requisite authority.

* On the political side, the five states still talk in divisive, not conciliatory, terms. There remains little agreement concerning the Dayton Accords.

Three elements--military, civil, and political--seem to be the essentials of the operations in Bosnia; and, these elements probably apply to all peace support operations. Each element has difficult and distinct responsibilities. Yet they are interdependent to the degree that overall success in achieving peace in Bosnia is a function of each element working in harmony with the other two. Regrettably, despite great efforts on the part of many, progress in the civil sector has been slow; and among the political bodies, nearly nonexistent. That is why Bosnia has an absence of war rather than the peace the Dayton Accords sought to establish. And that is why there will be little progress unless and until the political leadership there demonstrates a willingness to work together to create the conditions for peace.

Military Success in Bosnia

Historians will likely judge that the military provisions of Dayton were successfully implemented. One important reason is because of the pre-Dayton dialogue between the military (charged with carrying out the mission) and the political leadership (responsible for providing guidance to the military). The comprehensive Military Annex, drafted in Dayton with considerable input from the military leaders both from NATO and the U.S. Joint Staff, avoided assigning missions to the military for which it was not appropriately trained. Moreover, specific events were laid out in a timeline so that progress toward success could be measured. The annex, as drafted, was implemented successfully by IFOR. As the IFOR commander I was pressured from many sides to "expand" the mission, to take on additional responsibilities and/or to read more into the military role than was actually there. Even so, the harshest of critics familiar with the tenets of the military annex admit that the military mission was tremendously successful and provided a secure environment in which the other two pillars should have been able to work to achieve their difficult and challenging tasks. We were able to make immediate progress in our military tasks because of what I refer to as the "Three R's of Success." These are a Robust Force, the right Rules of Engagement (ROE), and the Resolve to convincingly use the first two when and where necessary.

The force was much more robust than its predecessor, the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR). IFOR was robust because we were well-trained, well-disciplined, well-equipped, and well-led even at the most junior levels. We were also sized to the job at hand and given the right ROE. In Bosnia, our ROE were quite broad and robust. Because of that we were able to use the professional forces assigned to us quickly and convincingly. This allowed us to set the stage in the early days of IFOR's existence and, later, to gain control of situations which might have otherwise gotten out of hand. The resolve that was needed was not just that which we demonstrated after deploying into Bosnia. …

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