Operation "Joint Endeavour"

The controversy generated by Operation “Joint Endeavour” in the Republika Srpska demonstrates the need for NATO to better articulate the purpose, objectives and benefits of such initiatives.

By Mirjana Kosic

With the approaching NATO military exercise “Joint Endeavour 2009” due to take place from 4th-17th September in Kozara barracks near Banja Luka, the media in the Republika Srpska has increasingly reported on the supposed ‘real’ purpose and hidden motives underpinning NATO’s determination to hold such an exercise in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Though Derek Chappell, the Spokesperson at NATO HQ in Sarajevo, specified that such “a [major] communications interoperability exercise” will for the first time be organized in a non-member state as “a tribute to the efforts Bosnia and Herzegovina has made in the implementation of the defence reform in the past few years”, some political-military analysts in the Republika Srpska and Serbia have warned that the real intention behind the exercise is to exert political pressure on the Serb authorities. Coinciding with the time-frame for resuming and possibly finalising talks on constitutional reform announced by the High Representative, Valentin Inzko, this exercise will allegedly serve as a subtle demonstration of the power which NATO “has a tendency to use whenever sensitive decisions are to be made in certain countries”, according to several analysts. Other claims suggest that the exercise will provide NATO with an opportunity to identify and detect surveillance facilities in the Republika Srpska, with the ultimate goal of establishing its complete control over communication systems in Srpska.

Whilst the officials of the BiH Armed Forces dismissed these claims as ‘ungrounded’ and simply ‘rumours’, emphasising that this event is “an important step forward towards Bosnia and Herzegovina’s accession to NATO”, the President of the Serb National Movement, “The Choice is Ours”, Dane Cankovic, announced a series of protests in response to the forthcoming exercise, asserting that “armed NATO soldiers are not welcome in the Republika Srpska”.

In order to placate the public and dismiss prevalent speculations, Petar Djokic, the Chairman of the Board for Security of the Republika Srpska National Assembly, said that though “this exercise will undoubtedly have further implications on relations within the region and Bosnia and Herzegovina itself”, he believes that “it should not be viewed as such, but rather as an attempt to make Bosnia and Herzegovina even safer through the assistance of NATO”. Djokic also reminded that Bosnia and Herzegovina has already been involved in activities within the Partnership for Peace Programme for several years and that he personally doesn’t think that “there is any conspiratorial thinking within NATO against the Republika Srpska or Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

Despite the recent agreement of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s respective political elites to jointly work towards its progress to Euro-Atlantic structures, reality demonstrates a somewhat different picture. Though regarded at the time as an ‘unprecedented, historic achievement’, the establishment of a single state-level Ministry of Defence and the professional military with a ‘common doctrine, training and equipment standards’, has not instilled an overwhelming feeling of confidence and stability amongst Bosnia and Herzegovina’s three major ethnic groups.

Whilst in other countries at least fractions of civil society are synchronised in their opposition or support to Euro-Atlantic integrations, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s example shows that there is no cohesive civil society capable or willing to recognise possible threats or opportunities as common. If NATO in Bosnia and Herzegovina is indeed working for “a better tomorrow and a stronger today”, in concert with national institutions and various other segments of society, they must in future jointly endeavour to better articulate the purpose, objectives and benefits of similar joint endeavours in order to prevent similar speculations and to avoid unnecessary antagonising public opinion.

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