Yossef Bodansky: Some Call It Peace
l. The Regional Military Build-up and Dynamics
While public and media attention in the West are preoccupied with the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, important strategic developments are taking place in other parts of the former Yugoslavia. Indeed, the implementation of the non-military aspects of the Dayton-Paris Accords -- from the "hunt" for alleged war criminals to the discovery and preservation of new grave sites -- are but irrelevant sideshows to real dynamics in the region. A profound process of crucial significance to the future stability and shape of the former Yugoslavia is taking shape. The essence of this process is that the key players are preparing for the establishment of a status quo and strategic posture they can live with so that they can concentrate on post-war recovery. Significantly, all the anticipated key events in this process are planned for the days after the anticipated withdrawal of I-FOR. In other words, as far as the regional powers are concerned, the mere presence of I-FOR constitutes an impediment to their ability to reach a form of non-violent co-existence and stability.
However, the two dominant local powers -- the Serbs and the Croats -- are increasingly apprehensive that they would have to go through a regional war more horrible than the Bosnian wars before they could consolidate a tangible solution for the former Yugoslavia. The desire for a Zagreb-Belgrade solution has been prevalent in both capitals throughout the war. Presently, there is a grim realization in both capitals that only a fierce and essentially needless war would compel the US, and to a lesser extent other Western states, to permit the majority of the peoples of the former Yugoslavia to determine their own fate. As of the Fall of 1995, at the very same time world attention was focused on the historic "peacemaking" process in Dayton, the local powers embarked on an intense military build-up. Their concurrent strategic maneuvers clearly demonstrate the determination of Zagreb, and to a lesser degree Belgrade, to embark on a regional war once they are convinced that that might be the only option to compelling Washington to recognize their preferable long-term solution for the region.
Thus, in the long-term, the dominant strategic trend in the former Yugoslavia is the escalation of an arms race between Croatia and the rump Yugoslavia. This military build-up is in preparation for the regional war to determine the fate of the post-crisis Balkans. The only thing Zagreb and Belgrade agree on is the inevitably of the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina between them: the elimination of a Muslim political entity. The differences in the military build-up in the new Yugoslavia and Croatia are a reflection of the emerging national priorities of these two key players. Both are united in their commitment to co-existence in a new Balkans, having carved up Bosnia-Herzegovina between them. However, before they can address their own destinies, both Zagreb and Belgrade must first cope with the presence of a mighty international force -- I-FOR -- deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina specifically in order to bolster and consolidate the Islamic administration in Sarajevo and facilitate its hold over the entire territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
2. I-FOR In The Equation
By early 1996, the NATO-dominated I-FOR (Implementation Force) had established itself as the dominant military force in Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as potentially a most destabilizing catalyst for a future escalation of fighting. This dynamic is the outcome of the mere presence of I-FOR, directly affected by the creeping of its missions and roles for political reasons. That the current evolution in I-FOR's roles is in variance with its intended role -- as well as the principles of, and guidelines for I-FOR's operations during the year-long stay in Bosnia-Herzegovina -- is quite irrelevant by now. Rhetoric about I-FOR's "real" roles and operations espoused by the Clinton Administration in the US created false expectations in Sarajevo, resulting in pressures on the forces in-country to deliver on the US promises. I-FOR's inability to deliver, for both operational and legal reasons, had thus, by mid-1966, become a source of a major contention between Sarajevo and the international force established to defend it. By the early Spring of 1996, tension was building to the point that any minor incident or provocation could easily have incited a major clash between the Bosnian Muslim forces and their I-FOR protectors.
The deployment of I-FOR began in December 1995. Mandated by the Dayton-Paris Accords for a one-year implementation of the Accords, I-FOR is a NATO-dominated international force of about 60,000 troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina. More than 35,000 additional troops -- mainly naval and air assets, as well as services and support units -- are deployed in Italy, the Adriatic, Hungary and Croatia. I-FOR is controlled through a convoluted US-dominated command structure which includes elements answerable to NATO and other bilateral "arrangements" with the US, including the presence and operations of the Russian contingent. This reality has created a series of command and authority loopholes through which interested parties -- particularly the Clinton Administration -- can circumvent the mandate and intent of I-FOR.
In accordance with the Dayton-Paris Accords, I-FOR is deployed in three zones, each of which is dominated by one NATO main power that is responsible for the implementation of the Accords in its specific zone. The three zones are:
- The North Zone dominated by the US 1st Armored Division based in Tuzla.
- The South-West Zone dominated by the British 3rd Division based in Gornji Vakuf. In the Spring of 1996, the British desire to move their HQ to the better installations in Banja Luka was frowned upon by the US arguing that this would legitimate and embolden the Bosnian Serbs. * The South-East Zone dominated by the French 6th Light Armored Division based in Mostar. Sarajevo, the most contentious area of Bosnia-Herzegovina, is in the French zone.
While the US element deployed from Germany, the main French, British, and other international elements were formed on the basis of the upgrading of their respective contributions to UNPROFOR and the Rapid Reaction Force organized in mid-1995.
The I-FOR ground forces element in Bosnia-Herzegovina is supported by massive NATO air power located mainly in Italy and onboard aircraft carriers in the Adriatic. Other intelligence and support missions are flown from as far away as Germany and the UK.
Another I-FOR-related UN force of 6,700 was to be deployed in Croatia to create a buffer between the Serbs in Eastern Slavonia and the Croat Armed Forces pending the implementation of a year-long hand over of power to Zagreb in compliance with a separate agreement that is a byproduct of the Dayton Accords (more on the Slavonia issue below).
For all intents and purposes, I-FOR is an occupation force dominating the key roads and strategic infrastructure of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as regulating the activities of the various armed forces of the local factions. I-FOR's first mission is to oversee the withdrawal of the warring factions to the new "Peace Agreement Line" and establish a 4 km wide demilitarized separation zone between them.
This mission has already been largely accomplished without any major difficulty. The disarmament phase, which includes concentration of agreed-upon arsenals and units in specified barracks and cantonment areas, as well as the destruction of excessive heavy weapons, is still unfolding with many bumps along the road but no major crisis.
Once the separation of forces was completed, I-FOR settled into a routine of patrols and checkpoints. However, by early 1996, there was an expansion in I-FOR's activities into increasing involvement in pursuit of Serb "war criminals" as well as oversight of suspected sites of mass graves, mostly of presumed Muslim victims alleged to have been killed by the Bosnian Serbs. These additional activities and missions have directly resulted in a growing number of incidents of friction and contention between I-FOR and local armed groups. While the vast majority of these incidents have so far ended up peacefully and without resorting to the use of force, the marked rise in the number of such incidents increases the likelihood of a localized confrontation getting out of control and rapidly escalating into a wider clash before it can be contained.
Potentially most destabilizing are the rules of engagements, especially those given to the US forces. These were summed up by President Clinton: "If you are threatened with attack you may respond immediately and with decisive force." In a country awash with small arms and infantry weapons, any conflagration involves the display of arms and even pointing of weapons. Any such raising of weapons in the vicinity of I-FOR may be interpreted as a hostile intent and swiftly reacted to by an inexperienced young soldier. This option alone provides an open field for provocations, misunderstandings and uncontrolled escalation. There should be no doubt that I-FOR, with its superior firepower and mobility, would quickly emerge on top. But there remains the consequent escalatory potential for revenge and protracted clashes. Bosnia-Herzegovina is, after all, a land hardened by more than four years of extremely cruel fratricidal wars in which all sides inflicted and endured tremendous levels of casualties. The threat of massive military punishment is not as effective as it might seem from Washington DC, and the political impact of accumulating casualties in the capitals of the West is bound to be devastating to the policies of the Clinton Administration.
And the possibility of such a confrontation and casualties continues to grow. As of late April 1996, I-FOR had found itself increasingly in the middle of efforts by the Bosnian Muslims to stage mass returns, later termed "visits", into Serb-held territory in strategically crucial areas. These "spontaneous" refugee demonstrations, well organized by AID, are conducted mainly in order to incite clashes with Bosnian Serbs, or, if successful, to unilaterally reclaim property presently held by the Bosnian Serbs. It is Sarajevo's intent to have these "visitors" established in Bosnian Serb held places. There, they will be inevitably attacked by Serbs -- whether by a spontaneous street mob or in a government-sanctioned crackdown is irrelevant -- and then call on I-FOR and Bosnian Muslim forces to defend them against the Bosnian Serbs. This type of I-FOR intervention is bound to instigate wider clashes between I-FOR and the Bosnian Serbs, as well as provide Sarajevo with the "justification" to dispatch its own Bosnian Muslim forces into Bosnian Serb-held territory in order to protect the "refugees". The mere fact that all the "refugee" demonstrations in April 1996 took place in areas patrolled by the US Army, known to be disposed toward the Bosnian Muslims, is in itself alarming.
By now, there was strong and incontrovertible evidence that the deep hostility and mistrust between the warring factions were not diminished by the signing of the Dayton-Paris Accords. The few segments of the implementation of the military parts of the Accords -- the parts that all sides were interested in -- involving civilians clearly demonstrated the intensity of the hostility. Among these incidents are the scorched earth policy implemented by Croat forces withdrawing from areas in western Bosnia to be returned to the Bosnian Serbs, and the harsh and tragic self-eviction of the Bosnian Serbs from their suburbs of Sarajevo -- which were handed over to the Muslims -- simply so that they would not have to remain under Sarajevo's rule. The ongoing clashes instigated by the Bosnian Muslim "refugees", coming on top of the earlier incidents, demonstrated that despite the cessation of fighting the various communities were opposed to any meaningful reconciliation and cohabitation.
Little wonder that by March 1996 even US intelligence gradually accepted the long-held positions of European experts with I-FOR. Official Washington has been increasingly apprehensive about the prospects of Bosnia-Herzegovina. US Intelligence now expected that I-FOR's "operating environment" in Bosnia-Herzegovina "will grow more complicated" in coming months primarily because of the disinterest of all factions to reach a permanent "peace".
The Pentagon experts warned that the prospects for peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina were rapidly declining. Lt.-Gen. Patrick Hughes, Director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), told US Senators on July 24, 1996, that without a continued I-For presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina, "the former warring factions will turn once again to violent conflict in an attempt to achieve their aims". Officially, Washington was still holding to the opinion that a massive reconstruction program channeled through Sarajevo would bring all the factions together by self-interest to benefit from the flow of reconstruction assistance. However, the skeptical and more experienced Europeans proved reluctant to provide the enormous international aid required to rebuild the Bosnian economy and political institutions. Moreover, with the Middle East donors insisting on spending their contributions only on Bosnian Muslims, and with the US denying international aid to the Bosnian Serbs as additional leverage to extradite their leaders as war criminals, the lure of foreign aid has been illusory. By March 1996, the dynamics of civil affairs virtually stalled and there was no hope in sight for repatriation of refugees or countrywide elections. Under such conditions, the peace effort, as differentiated from the temporary cessation of fighting, could very well be doomed. Hence, there is the potential for eruption sparked by any incident or provocation. Indeed, US and European intelligence experts agreed that Bosnia-Herzegovina would probably fragment after the withdrawal of I-FOR toward the end of 1996.
US intelligence now concurs with the analysis of the Europeans that a de facto coalition of Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs has emerged out of common determination to prevent, virtually at all costs, the ability of the Muslim administration in Sarajevo to assert its authority over the rest of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Any effort by the Muslims to impose their power would most likely be resisted by force by both Croats and Serbs.
Despite widespread vilification and the indictment of their leaders for war crimes, the Serbs' Srpska Republic continues to function. It increasingly appears as a viable entity, building closer -- albeit still arms'-length -- relations with Yugoslavia and expressing resolve to survive as a Serb entity. Furthermore, the Croats' Herzeg-Bosna has already been de facto integrated into Croatia. Zagreb is the undisputed dominant power in this part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In this, Sarajevo is completely powerless. This reality now gives hope to the Bosnian Serbs that they will ultimately be able to do the same, possibly joining the new Yugoslavia as an independent Republic. On top of this, by early 1996, the Muslim-Croat tensions had been rising so high that the viability of the "federation" was threatened. (More on this below.)
In the Spring of 1996, with the shock of the US-led NATO bombing of the Bosnian Serbs, the harsh imposition of the Dayton-Pans Accords, and the ensuing deployment of I-FOR waning, the indigenous leaderships in Bosnia-Herzegovina returned to the pursuit of the objectives for which so many of their people had killed and died. Hence, the ultimate objectives and strategic goals of the Erring factions have remained the same, Dayton-Paris Accords or not. There is no indication that any leader or constituency is willing to give up on its maximalist objectives. The "year of I-FOR" is seen more and more as an interlude -- to rest exhausted forces, amass weapons, and boost local economies a bit -- rather than a venue to try "peace".
The key military commanders in Bosnia-Herzegovina showed no interest in the premature resumption of fighting. Indeed, senior I-FOR commanders remain quite confident that the warring factions, particularly Croats and Serbs, will continue to abide by the military aspects of the Dayton-Paris Accords. They are also increasingly apprehensive that as far as the Bosnian Serbs and Croats are concerned, fighting will flare up only after the withdrawal of I -FOR. Neither government has an interest to challenge the I-FOR buffer that ensures a certain degree of stability for the time being. The plans of the Bosnian Muslim leadership are not that certain, and actually may be quite different.
I-FOR is currently scheduled to withdraw toward the end of 1996. However, Washington, despite explicit statements to the contrary by President Clinton and his top aides, now contemplates an extension of I-FOR's stay and greater involvement in civilian missions -- from re-building to policing "reconstruction" and "resettlement -- as the sole alternative to a virtually inevitable violent and spasmodic collapse of the US "peace".
In mid-March 1996, the Clinton Administration was openly warning that "the fragile Bosnian peace" would most likely collapse the moment I-FOR was withdrawn. Several civilian humanitarian agencies joined in the urging to ensure the presence of NATO troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina beyond the one year stipulated by the Dayton-Paris Accords. Nobody bothered to ask any of the local leaderships whether they would agree to such a drastic change in a document to which they are signatories.
While the Clinton Administration continues to pressure for keeping at least a reduced NATO force in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the other key contributors of forces -- Britain and France -- were, in late Summer 1996 insisting on leaving when the US left. Both London and Paris were adamant about this despite pressure from Washington that they stay longer. Undeterred, the Clinton Administration is talking to the Europeans about a "follow-on force" comprised of European troops and enjoying fire, air and logistical support from nearby US forces. Despite what is being described by European officials as "relentless American pressure", the West European governments remain reluctant to buy this policy.
By late March 1996 the West Europeans were looking for even earlier dates to begin their withdrawal. Having realized the growing pressure inside Bosnia-Herzegovina and the collapse of even a semblance of desire for reconciliation, the Europeans are searching for a "dignified" schedule for an early withdrawal, which could be presented as the completion of duty. Presently, the Bosnian elections are considered a milestone worthy of expedited withdrawal. "Everything has to stay until the Bosnian elections, which have to be held by the middle or the end of September," a senior French official explained. "After that, everybody leaves if the Americans do." But as things were standing in April 1996, there was no guarantee that there would be countrywide elections because of the reaction to the Islamicization campaign waged by Izetbegovic's SDA, and the consequent building mistrust by both Croats and Serbs. This apprehension was significant because the Croats were increasingly eager to get rid of the "federation", officially the key to a future multi-ethnic Bosnia.
Undeterred, the Clinton Administration continued to press for a further increase in the enforcement of Sarajevo's power under the barrels of I-FOR. I-FOR was to achieve that by escalating the hunt for Serb "war criminals" and imposing civilian authority on Bosnian Serb-held territory through the movement of refugees. European and even US senior officers repeatedly expressed their objections to these new tasks, citing both the original mandate of I-FOR and their fear of clashes with the local and heavily armed population. Meanwhile, as these I-FOR dynamics were taking place, and attracting political and public attention in the West, a far more important military activity was occurring throughout the former Yugoslavia. Hectic military preparations for the day I-FOR would leave were taking place. The main event anticipated is when the aspirant regional powers -- Croatia and Yugoslavia -- will surge to assert their regional power posture. Fully aware of these dynamics, Sarajevo was not sitting idly by: the Islamist leadership was contemplating seizing the initiative by launching a pre-emptive strike.
3. The Regional Military Build-up
The differences in the military build-up in the new Yugoslavia and Croatia are a reflection of the emerging national priorities of these two key players in the Balkans. Both are united in their commitment to co-existence in a new Balkans, with Bosnia-Herzegovina divided between them. However, there is a profound difference in their perception of the immediate future. Tudjman's Zagreb believes there is no escape from a major war before a new realignment of forces in the territory of the former Yugoslavia can be established. Milosevic's Belgrade, still hopes to be able to negotiate and bargain its way to Western recognition of the emergence of a new Serb-dominated Yugoslavia and a new Croatia dominating the territory of the former Yugoslavia, including the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina between them. The new Yugoslavia is exhausted from the sanctions and the collapse of Serb spirit. Croatia, in sharp contrast, is rejuvenated by the success of the offensive in the Krajina and Bosnia-Herzegovina, particularly the Western tolerance of the ensuing ethnic cleansing of Serbs. Tudjman is in a fighting spirit, convinced that Zagreb will be able to realize its regional aspirations only through the force of arms.
In the Fall of 1995, a Zagreb emboldened by the recent military victories in the Krajina and western Bosnia-Herzegovina, began examining both the next phase of its regional strategic ascension and the overall character of its intended military build-up. Although the ultimate military challenge remained a major war with Yugoslavia, the strategic emphasis was on preparing for a post-war era of coexistence with a larger Yugoslavia. The primary challenge then facing the HVO (Croatian Defense Council of Herzeg-Bosna) will be a relentless and uncompromising quest for regional hegemony.
There is also a political aspect to this build-up. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman increasingly stresses the military factor in Croatian politics. In late September 1995, Tudjman unleashed far-reaching personnel changes in, or purges of, the Croatian High Command. Even the heroes of the recent fighting were removed from power in order to ensure a politically and personally fiercely loyal High Command. Official Zagreb protested any political motive behind these personnel changes. "There is no direct political motivation for the majority of recent changes and promotions in the Croatian Army General Staff, but it is not clear how these changes will be reflected in the structure of the Croatian Army command that has had considerable successes this year," a Croatian commentator explained. By early November, this became a trend so strong that even nationalist intellectuals in Zagreb began to worry whether the Croatian Democratic Union's (HDZ) politicization of the Croatian military had gone too far.
The militarization of Croatian politics is clearly expressed in Tudjman's own adoption of a special set of uniforms for the Commander-in-Chief, complete with gold braid. Far more important has been the increasing politicization of the military and reliance on the active participation of uniformed senior officers in HDZ public political activities. For Zagreb as of the Winter 1995-96, military triumph and glory had become interwoven with the quest for political victory. Increasingly disdainful of the democratic process and public opinion, Pres. Tudjman and his immediate coterie feel increasingly compelled to deliver external military achievements as the primary source of public support and legitimization.
This need to ensure positive military dynamics only complicated Zagreb's ability to cope with the unfolding security challenges. Over this period Zagreb has been, and still is, confronted by two major national security challenges. Militarily more complex is the yearning to take on the Serbs in Eastern Slavonia. Zagreb is convinced that barring a completely new Tudjman-Milosevic agreement or understanding, such an operation will most likely result in a war with Yugoslavia. Of far greater political importance and sensitivity is the challenge of coping with the endurance of the "federation" with Sarajevo. Zagreb has no illusions that it is its being the sole corridor to Sarajevo that constitutes the key to the US support, including the Massive support for Zagreb's wars with the Serbs. However, as tensions grow in Mostar and throughout Herzeg-Bosna and related areas, the viability and survival of the "federation" is increasingly in doubt. This trend closely befits Zagreb's real long-term strategic military analysis, as expressed in President Tudjman's hand-drawn map of May 1995 (see page x, at the front of this book). Moreover, Zagreb cannot see a non-violent solution to these fundamental crises and challenges it is presently facing.
In late 1995, Zagreb set the order of meeting and solving its security challenges on the basis of political expediency: primarily the position of the Clinton Administration. It is because of the importance of the US support to the Croatian war effort -- from endorsement of the violation of the embargo, to providing military expertise and intelligence -- that the Croatian High Command wanted to conduct as many offensives as possible while being in Washington's good graces. Tudjman also sought to retain the US political umbrella for the aggressive military operations and the ensuing ethnic cleansing of the local Serb population. Therefore, Zagreb resolved to first deal with the Eastern Slavonia challenge, that is, before the inevitable collapse of the "federation" which will inevitably have very adverse repercussions for US-Croatian relations.
The mere threat of a bloody and imminent collapse of the "federation" had a major impact on Zagreb's approach to the crisis. Zagreb had an added incentive to consider the escalation of tensions in Eastern Slavonia in the context of its long established grand strategy. Rhetoric about the completion of the "liberation" of the motherland not withstanding, the essence of the Eastern Slavonia crisis became a prime instrument for the implementation of the Croatian grand strategy; namely the capitalization on a regional eruption in order to get the US to shift priorities away from Sarajevo and into endorsing Zagreb's priorities. Thus, as far as Zagreb was concerned, an occupation by force of Eastern Slavonia became expedient for as long as there was no doubt that Belgrade would react with force, escalating the Croat surge into a major Croat-Yugoslav war.
In the Fall of 1995, the emboldened Zagreb decided that there was no alternative to the seizure of Eastern Slavonia by force of arms. With the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina reaching a peak, and the US-led search for a negotiated solution intensifying, Zagreb was apprehensive about the possibility of a cessation of hostilities that would 1 eave Eastern Slavonia under Serb control. Such an arrangement was unacceptable if only because of the economic importance of the region, considering the oil resources and agricultural potential, as well as the commercial potential from access to the Danube. With a possible shift to reconstruction, Croatia needed these resources. Croat military experts stressed that there was no conceivable substitute to Croatia's complete and unchallengeable control of the territory all the way to the Danube. Therefore, Zagreb felt a sense of urgency in dealing with Eastern Slavonia.
Meanwhile, Zagreb also formulated a strategic assessment of its new and emerging posture in the region, particularly with the evolution of the situation in Eastern Slavonia as indicative of the overall change in the regional role of Croatia. Zagreb concluded that the quick resolution of the Eastern Slavonia problem, even if by force, was the key to establishing Croatia's regional hegemonic posture. While the US-led NATO air forces did not bomb the Serbs in Eastern Slavonia, Croatia was confident that the US would demand the return of the area to Croat sovereignty in the context of any US-imposed plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Zagreb reasoned that the US was so motivated primarily because of the Croatian Army's recent successes in Krajina and Bosnia. With such a record, Zagreb would inevitably be inclined to continue the offensive momentum and, Zagreb believed the US decided, the only way to contain the spread of violence would be by the US ensuring that Croatia's demands were met fully. Having thus established its deterrence profile, Zagreb now expected to be recognized as "an inevitable partner [of the West] capable of solving by military means not only the internal problems of the occupied areas, but also decisively influencing the total balance of military forces in the territories of the former Yugoslavia".
Even as practical considerations dominated the Croat decision to assault Eastern Slavonia, the Tudjman Government concentrated its public agitation on patriotic themes. Zagreb stressed the symbolism in returning Vukovar -- the site of fierce battles at the beginning of the war -- to Croat sovereignty. Official Zagreb stressed the occupation of Eastern Slavonia as the key for the successful conclusion of the "Motherland War": "This area is politically very important. This is where Vukovar, the greatest symbol of the Homeland War, is. With time, Vukovar has become a myth, and until it is liberated the Homeland War will not be over."
In early October 1995, Croat officials began openly raising the prospects of the resumption of hostilities against the Serbs in Eastern Slavonia. "If we fail to resolve in a peaceful way the problem of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srem, I am certain that the Croatian Army will do this very successfully," Croatian Army Chief of General Staff General Zvonimir Cervenko said at a military event in the town of Osijek, in western Croatia. The commander of the Osijek area, Gen. Djuro Decak, said at the same event that "the Croatian Army in this region faces numerous complex tasks". He expressed his confidence that all the then existing challenges to Croatia's security would be removed in the very near future.
Militarily, Zagreb was confident in its control over the decision where and when to strike in order to reclaim Eastern Slavonia. In mid-October 1995, the Croatian elite was ready to go to war. In a speech to the 3d HDZ Congress in Zagreb, Croatian Defense Minister Gojko Susak openly urged President Tudjman to give the order to attack: "Mr. President, by carrying out your orders we have managed to defend Croatia. The Croatian Army is at present a powerful regional force; the direction and the screenplay for the final act are finished. We await your order!" While President Tudjman did not give the order, by now -- mid-October 1995 -- the military option for resolving the Eastern Slavonia crisis was Zagreb's preferable solution. This decision was based in part on the growing Croat military might.
Earlier, in late September 1995, in the aftermath of the 1995 offensives, the Croatian Army could mobilize up to 400,000 troops in a very short period. The heavy weapons arsenal included over 600 tanks, some 400 of them relatively modern and in good operational status. The Croats also had some 600 other armored vehicles. The artillery was under strength, but Croatian military experts were convinced their forces were "certainly great enough to crush the Serb defense". In the aftermath of Operation Storm, Croatia began concentrating its best forces toward its east border. The core of these forces included seven professional brigades, the Guards corps forces, as well as the special forces units of the Ministry of the Interior, considered Croatia's best. All these elite Croatian forces were being concentrated against Eastern Slavonia.
In early October, Croatia intensified its preparations for the forthcoming military operation. Croatian reinforcements included 15 brigades in a first military convoy, and eight in a second: a total of about 45,000 troops. The heavy weapons assembled included 200 tanks, 150 armored personnel carriers, 350 artillery pieces, and 28 multiple rocket launchers. The professional brigades arrived with the first convoy and deployed in offensive dispositions behind the Vinkovci-Zupanja line. Additional quality units established defensive positions in anticipation for a possible Yugoslav Army counterattack in the direction of the Spacvanske woods.
The key to the Croatian offensive contingency plans was a swift decision of the war through the aggregate impact of special operations and strikes throughout the entire depth of the Serb dispositions.
Toward this end, Croatia deployed several special forces and sabotage units, including commandos and frogmen. The Croat operational plan called for these elite forces to advance along the Danube, partially by boat, in an attempt to destroy the bridges near Bogojevo, Batina, and Backa Palanka. Croatian special forces might also operate inside Hungarian territory in order to get to the Serbian rear.
The Croatian offensive would start with synchronized strikes by special forces and artillery across the Serb lines, along with assaults by combat engineers to neutralize the Serb minefields and open assault routes for the tank and mechanized units.
The Croatian contingency plans also included plans for preventive strikes against the possible intervention by the Yugoslav Army. Toward this end, the Croats established in the Osijek area a strong bridgehead on the Drava River, directly threatening Darda. New mobile bridges were brought close to the Drava River in order to serve for a limited-size Croatian assault into Yugoslavia. The primary objective of such an attack would be the disruption of command, control and communications of the 11th Yugoslav Army Corps. Zagreb was convinced that the mere fact that the Yugoslav Army would have to concentrate on chasing Croat units on Yugoslav territory instead of rushing to save the Serbs in Eastern Slavonia would have a devastating propaganda and psychological impact on the Serb defenders. Therefore, an increasing number of Croatian special forces were allocated to such operations in the Yugoslav rear.
A closer look at this aspect of Croatia's contingency plans suggests that Zagreb planned to instigate the involvement of the Yugoslav Army from the beginning. Croat military experts explained that the army expected Yugoslav flank fire against its tanks surging into Eastern Slavonia. The local army units were briefed to be ready for a theater-wide escalation as a result of a Croat "shell falling on Yugoslav territory either deliberately or accidentally. In such a case the Yugoslav Army would certainly respond to this fire, again either deliberately or accidentally." The Croat contingency plans stipulated that once such a localized fire exchange "happened", it would be "even more difficult to get it under control". Therefore, and regardless of the political ramifications, the concentrated Croatian military power facing Eastern Slavonia was calculated from the beginning to be able "to defeat" whatever military intervention might occur from Yugoslavia.
The Croat military intelligence assessment in early October 1995 stipulated that "Yugoslav Army troops will become involved in the fighting in the area, but to what extent and how many is still unknown". The options examined in Zagreb ranged from a dispatch of "volunteers" sanctioned by Belgrade to an organized military involvement of quality forces such as artillery, armor, and air forces on the side of the local Serb forces. Croat military intelligence was most disturbed by the Yugoslav concentration of forces around Sid and at the bank of the Danube. From their permanent dispositions, these forces could deploy into Eastern Slavonia within a few hours, thus creating an escalatory threat Zagreb could not address but through preemption. The Croat assessment also claimed that small Yugoslav units were already deployed on Croatian soil in Baranja and Eastern Slavonia, thus creating a justification for a Croatian preemptive strike.
Croat Military Intelligence identified the main Yugoslav force grouping their forces would have to confront as the "the Northern Army": the former 1st Army of the "Yugoslav Army" with Headquarters in Belgrade. The Croat analysts concluded that in case of a major escalation, the Northern Army would be able to commit to battle the corps from Belgrade, Novi Sad, Valjevo, and Uzice. These forces constitute some 48 percent of the entire Yugoslav Army. By Croat calculations, Belgrade would be able to commit to battle about 300,000 troops (under conditions of general mobilization), 450 tanks, 350 armored combat vehicles, and 7,000 guns of all calibers. Croat Military Intelligence concluded that under conditions of such an all out Yugoslav military intervention, "the combat power of the Croatian Army is not too superior to theirs, at least on paper". As will be discussed below, this realization influenced Zagreb's decision to modify the political-strategic context of its forthcoming offensive.
The primary area of concern for Zagreb was air power. Both military experts and military intelligence analysts agreed that air power was the only area where Croatia faced major military problems when facing a possible Yugoslav intervention in the fighting in Eastern Slavonia. The performance of the Croatian Air Force in the earlier fighting was unsatisfactory and the losses incurred -- four MiG-21s -- were beyond the sustainability of the Air Force. Facing the well-trained and well-equipped Yugoslav Air Force would be a far greater challenge. Zagreb was most apprehensive because their MiG-21bis were outclassed by the Yugoslav MiG-29s even when equipped with comparable AAMs (air-to-air missiles). Therefore, the primary objective of the Croatian forces would be to deny the Yugoslavs the ability to conduct air operations rather than support Croatia's own ground offensive.
The Croat military experts remained so apprehensive about the prospects of Croatian air power that Zagreb resolved to address the issue of Yugoslav air power at the political level. Zagreb made a Yugoslav use of air power a casus belli. In communications with the Clinton Administration, Zagreb now conditioned its continued participation in, let alone support for, the then-intensive US mediation efforts for Bosnia-Herzegovina on the active containment of the Yugoslav Air Force by US/NATO forces. Consequently, Croat military experts were no longer worried about the threat of surface-to-surface missiles and air power from Yugoslavia. Military experts in Zagreb stressed that "by using those [missiles], and the Air Force in general, Milosevic would clearly show his involvement in the fighting on the Croatian state territory, which could prompt primarily the United States to take more determined action. It would not be too surprising if, after that, several dozen Tomahawks from US warships in the Adriatic were to take off and fly toward the airports in northern Serbia and Vojvodina." Subsequent Croatian military intelligence assessments were based on the premise of early neutralization of the Yugoslav strategic infrastructure by cruise missiles from US Navy vessels. Zagreb was confident it had a US commitment to that effect.
However, by mid-October 1995, intense political negotiations dominated the crisis around Eastern Slavonia. Several international mediators, Peter Galbraith and Carl Bildt among others, tried to avert a Croat offensive by pressing Belgrade for additional concessions. The mediators' efforts were aided by continued Croatian military pressure. Zagreb continued to concentrate additional troops toward the Srem-Baranja region. Moreover, Croat Special Forces began infiltrations and provocations across the Serb lines. In Belgrade, the international mediators used the ensuing growing tension as a point of leverage on Milosevic, threatening that Yugoslavia would be punished if the Slavonia crisis escalated into major fighting. Toward the end of October, the mediators were quite confident in their ability "to deliver" Belgrade.
But Zagreb was not so confident. The Croat leadership continued to consider any conflagration with Yugoslavia as the key to consolidating the permanent partition of the former Yugoslavia. This ambivalence was clearly expressed in the threat assessment by Croat military experts. Zagreb was still not certain about the extent of a potential Yugoslav military intervention in case of an assault on Eastern Slavonia.
Croat military intelligence pointed to recent Yugoslav military exercises which could be considered as rehearsals for intervention. For example, when the Yugoslav Army in western Vojvodina conducted its annual joint tactical exercise, Croat experts stressed it was "of an interventionist type" if only because live firing practice was included. The main task of the exercising forces was to conduct "a quick counterattack and maintain a persistent defense after capturing a certain area". The Northern Army command, to which the exercising 12th Corps belongs, defined the primary role and task of the 12th Corps to be "a rapid reaction force" in the endangered "Serb" territory. Not without reason, Croat experts interpreted this scenario as providing support to the 11th Slavonia-Baranja Corps in the event that the Croatian Army suddenly launched the anticipated offensive against Eastern Slavonia, Baranja, and Western Srem. Further more, the Croats were alarmed when the Yugoslav River Gunboat Flotilla from Novi Sad, the Army's Airborne Troops, as well as the Air Force and Air Defense Forces participated in these exercises. Croat analysts noted that the Yugoslav units demonstrated "power and strength" to be taken into consideration. They noted the wide gap of quality between these units and the "domestic" Serb corps in Eastern Slavonia.
Croat military experts paid special attention to the role and performance of the Yugoslav Special Forces. Croat military intelligence concluded that around 2,000 elite troops of river minesweeper units, Amphibious and Airborne Troops units, as well as specialized combat engineers units, were being trained to restore communications and access to Eastern Slavonia under adverse conditions. Most important, from Zagreb's perspective, was the Yugoslav demonstrated ability "to provide urgent support" for the Serbs across the Danube even after the bombing or exploding of the bridges on the Danube. Croat military experts consider the pre-emptive blowing-up of these bridges a precondition for the assault on Eastern Slavonia. Thus, the Yugoslav ability to restore communications across the Danube worried Zagreb.
Most significant, however, was the strategic conclusions which the Croat military experts derived from the exercises of the Yugoslav 12th Corps. "Nevertheless, whatever we might think of the strength of the Yugoslav Army, the exercise was instructive. Because the Novi Sad Corps will sooner or later certainly get involved in the event of the military reintegration of the occupied area into the state and legal system of Croatia. River- and air-borne assaults 'thrown' behind the back of the Croatian Army should weaken the assault strength of the Croatian forces. And both things irrevocably confirm that the 11th Slavonia-Baranja Corps is defenseless on its own, no matter how much and how General Loncar [Commander-in-Chief of the 11th Serbian Corps in Eastern Slavonia] entreats the Serb warriors to take up arms." [Note: the 11th Serb Corps in Eastern Slavonia is a Croatian Serb army, not connected with the Armed Forces of Yugoslavia. -- Ed.] So Zagreb resolved to ensure through political means, particularly pressure on Belgrade from the US and the rest of the international community, that the Yugoslav Armed Forces would not intervene across the Danube when the Croat Armed Forces stormed their brethren in Eastern Slavonia.
Indeed, by the last week of October 1995, Zagreb was increasingly confident that the specter of a Yugoslav intervention was averted. Western, particularly US, military and diplomatic sources in Zagreb concurred with this assessment. "Belgrade will not step in to rescue rebel Serbs occupying part of Croatia if the Croatian Army seeks to retake the area," confirmed a knowledgeable diplomat. "Belgrade's reaction would be more likely limited to some artillery fire from Serb territory against Croatian targets or 'symbolic' plane or helicopter raids," opined another Western military official.
The Western intelligence assessment, as shared with the Croatian Government, was based on a combination of identified difficulties in the Yugoslav military capabilities, and Belgrade's justified fears of the negative ramifications of US objections to such a move. Considering the declared positions of US Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith and US envoy Holbrooke, Belgrade's reading of the situation was accurate. Indeed, senior Croat officials confirmed that they were told by senior US diplomats that while in Belgrade, Mr. Holbrooke personally warned Mr. Milosevic about US military action if Yugoslav forces tried to interfere with the Croatian "reunification" of their country. Indeed, a UN political assessment prepared in Zagreb concurred that "the signs coming from Belgrade that it will not defend the Serbs are putting pressure on the rebels to agree to whatever it is Zagreb demands".
Nevertheless, in late October, Zagreb was reluctant to give up on the military option. Croatian forces deployed in offensive dispositions now included around 10 brigades. The hard-core offensive element reached over 40,000 troops ready to attack at any moment. A Yugoslav military intelligence assessment pointed to the unfavorable military posture. "Zagreb has concentrated 40,000 troops with 200 tanks and 400 artillery pieces and systems. The 1st, 2d, 4th, and 7th professional brigades have been stationed in the possible theater of operations. The Serb side has carried out an additional mobilization and it is ready to confront the Croats with around 25,000 soldiers, 150 tanks and 300 artillery pieces and systems. The military balance is thus 2:1 in favor of the Croats, but that is still less than the necessary 3:1 proportion in favor of the attacker, which is considered necessary for a successful offensive."
The Military experts in Belgrade acknowledged that only a political resolution in Zagreb could prevent a Croatian blitzkrieg. Given the magnitude of the threat, and the complexity of defeating the Croats under the constant threat of US intervention, Belgrade opted for a negotiated compromise. Zagreb put forward harsh conditions. Toward the end of October, Zagreb accused its Serb interlocutors of a "combination of stalling and a pretended readiness to negotiate". The Croatian negotiation strategy was based on the assumption that the Serb leaders in Eastern Slavonia were fully aware of their military hopelessness if Belgrade was deterred from an all-out intervention on their behalf. "If the 'Yugoslav army' remains passive, 20,000-30,000 rebel Serbs over there have no chance at all of resisting for any length of time," Croat experts concluded. Zagreb was confident that the Croat forces already in place constituted an overwhelming force that could break any Serb resistance in 24 hours.
All this time, the Croatian military build-up continued. In mid-November 1995, Croatia moved the elite 1st Brigade -- the Tigers -- as well as several 105 mm heavy artillery pieces and a few tanks to Vinkovci. This force movement was in violation of the UN-designated weapons exclusion zone. Protests by the UN observation post in Novska, on the main road between Zagreb and Eastern Slavonia, that the Croat military convoys were in violation of UN directives were ignored by both the convoys' commanders and Zagreb.
In late December 1995, despite the Tudjman-Milosevic "understanding" about the fate of Eastern Slavonia reached in Dayton, Zagreb resumed discussions of the military option to a quick resolution of the Eastern Slavonia "threat". Most knowledgeable officials and observers in Zagreb anticipated an offensive by February 1996. The "Croatian Army will liberate Eastern Slavonia as early as February in only 24 hours," was the opinion of Croat experts. Barring additional comprehensive concessions from Milosevic on all other contentious issues between Zagreb and Belgrade, war was considered inevitable. Zagreb intended to use the anticipated February 1996 onslaught on Eastern Slavonia as a demonstration of Croatia's newly found might and regional posture. Zagreb's over-confidence was well-founded because in accordance with the Dayton "understanding", the US guaranteed Zagreb that "Yugoslavia must no longer intervene militarily in Eastern Slavonia, because otherwise it would immediately be subject to the economic sanctions". Indeed, diplomatic circles in Zagreb assessed that "unless the so-called Federal Republic of Yugoslavia becomes involved in the fighting directly, it should not take more than 24 hours for the Croatian Army to liberate Eastern Slavonia and Baranja".
This threat assessment has since been proven to be well-founded. In late February 1996, Zagreb increased its pressure on the Serbs in Eastern Slavonia. As the weather improved, there was a revival of the Croatian threat to use force, followed by renewed troops movements and force reinforcements in the forward dispositions facing the Serb forces.
As Zagreb anticipated, by late 1995 Croatia had already become a regional power and aspiring hegemon. Irrespective of Zagreb's preoccupation with the improvement of war-fighting capabilities for the anticipated fighting over Eastern Slavonia and the Bosnian territory claimed by Croatia, the key to Croatia's regional posture was strategic weapons. By early Fall 1995, there was an increased preoccupation with the establishment of a strategic balance of power through ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. A Croat strategic study issued in early October 1995 stressed the preponderance of strategic weapons as the key to the future regional balance of power.
The study stressed that the Croat defense planning and primary weapons acquisition programs must go beyond the necessary preparations for the numerous clashes and wars likely to take place in the immediate future. Ultimately, a Croatia and a Yugoslavia which absorbed parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina would emerge as the dominant powers of the former Yugoslavia. There would be a tenuous co-existence between these powers. Therefore, in the absence of "an extended peace settlement in the area," the primary challenge facing Zagreb would be "some kind of arms race between so-called Yugoslavia and Croatia" in order to establish a stable strategic environment and reduce the risk of wars. Toward this end, Zagreb anticipates "attempts of both Yugoslavia and Croatia to introduce surface-to-surface missiles with a 400-kilometer range, armed with conventional warheads, with the capability of carrying chemical weapons, into their arsenals." In addition, the strategic arsenals of both sides would be reinforced with the acquisition of modem strike aircraft and smart munitions, as well as modem long-range artillery. The study also does not rule out that both Croatia and Yugoslavia would ultimately have to embark on military nuclear programs.
Croatia moved quickly to begin implementing the recommendations of this study. In the second half of December 1995, after the signing of the Dayton-Paris Accords, Zagreb and Tehran signed a secret agreement for comprehensive and multi-faceted military cooperation. A major part of this agreement was Tehran's expressed willingness to deliver long-range ballistic missiles to Zagreb. Earlier during the war, Tehran had repeatedly offered to supply both Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina with ballistic missiles capable of hitting Belgrade. Zagreb elected to reject the Iranian effort, fearing the ramifications of such strategic weapons at the hands of Sarajevo.
The December 1995 deal, however, was only between Tehran and Zagreb and did not include Sarajevo. Actually, the deal was between Beijing and Zagreb with Tehran serving as the mediator as well as a "fictitious" end-user for the SSMs' delivery. The deal calls for Croatia to get both the 300 km-range M-11s and the 600 km-range M-9s. Both SSMs are to be in the export version which is suitable only for non-nuclear warheads. The SSMs will be provided with their special transport and launch vehicles, which allow very good maneuver-ability. In return for fronting for the PRC, Iran got Croatia to permit the continued consolidation of Islamist presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina despite the constraints in the Dayton-Paris Accords and the Croatian growing fears of Islamist terrorism and subversion. In late December 1995, in Tehran, Chinese and Iranian military experts concluded the deal for ballistic missile deliveries with Croatia.
One of the reasons that Beijing opted for Tehran to act as a front was the concurrent Chinese effort to strengthen economic cooperation with the new Yugoslavia. The PRC is most interested in gaining access to Yugoslav military technology in order to modernize older Chinese weapon systems, as well as winning a big slice of the civil reconstruction market for Chinese products. Efforts to reach such a deal peaked in mid-December 1995, when Yugoslav President Zoran Lilic was on an official visit to China as guest of Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Jiang stated that "China attaches great importance to developing its long-term and stable friendship and relations of cooperation with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit". Premier Li Peng added that the PRC "sincerely hope that this peace accord be implemented practically so that people from countries concerned could heal the wounds of war they have suffered so long and rebuild their economies".
However, the tripartite Croatia-PRC-Iran deal did not live long. In early 1996, Zagreb began pressing Beijing to transform the deal into a bilateral agreement. The Croatian excuse was an expressed apprehension that the US might intervene and prevent the deal because of Iran's central role. Beijing raised that option with Tehran in late January 1996 in the context of strategic discussions between PRC and Iran held in Tehran. These discussions were part of the ongoing strategic cooperation and coordination in relation to the Trans-Asian Axis. The new Chinese Ambassador, Shiji Wang, delivered a special message to First Deputy President of Iran, Hasan Habibi, that covered the SSM issue as well as many other issues of common interest. Tehran agreed. Habibi concluded the talks stressing that "the common outlooks of the two countries in relation to many regional and international topics is a good reason why the two countries could further expand their relations".
Virtually immediately, Zagreb moved to improve its own formal relations with the PRC. Mate Granic, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Croatia, arrived in Beijing in early February 1996 to consummate the missile deal. His was the first official visit of a Croatian official to Beijing. Granic visited the industrial city of Shanghai, including the production sites of many of the PRC's high-technology weapons. In a subsequent meeting with Granic, Chinese Vice-Premier and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen stressed the PRC's growing interest in the situation in the former Yugoslavia and the close relations with Croatia. He stated that "China is willing to make constant efforts for the peace process in the former Yugoslavia along with other countries." Qian added: "China and Croatia share many common views in safeguarding sovereignty, promoting the economy, and maintaining world peace." He concluded: "China has consistently supported the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Croatia."
Beijing's strategic siding with Croatia did not prevent Beijing from continuing its pursuit of Yugoslav military technology. In mid- March 1996, Beijing hosted Pavle Bulatovic, the Minister of National Defense of Yugoslavia, on an official visit. Chi Haotian, Vice-Chairman of China's Central Military Commission, hailed the importance of the visit. Chi called Bulatovic's visit "a symbol of restoration and development of high-level exchanges between the two armed forces", and added that it would "help promote good relations between the two countries". Referring to the PLA's desire for military technology from Yugoslavia, Chi explained that Bulatovic's visit "would lay a sound foundation for the smooth, sustained and stable improvement of their [PLA-JA] ties". Bulatovic expressed his hope for "the reinforcement of overall cooperation" between the PRC and Yugoslavia, and Yugoslavia's "willingness to cooperate with China in various aspects".
This Yugoslav-Chinese security relationship did not prevent Beijing from taking over the Croatian missile deal. In early May 1996, Croat military sources stressed "that Iran dropped out of the entire deal as the intermediary and that Croatia will purchase the necessary missiles directly from China". They expected the first SSMs to be delivered soon.
Zagreb publicly scoffed at suggestions that the introduction of new ballistic missiles would alter the regional strategic balance. "The claim that the purchase of such missiles would threaten the peace in the region as Croatia acquires the possibility of carrying out missile attacks on Belgrade does not stand and can only be uttered by somebody who is ignorant of the situation in this region." The Croat experts acknowledged that "the Croatian Army has had missile systems that can reach Belgrade as well as other towns in Serbia for quite some time". These missiles -- old-fashioned SCUDs -- were purchased in Eastern Europe and delivered via Hungary. Their combat effectiveness, operational reliability and accuracy were dubious at best. Hence, the availability of these few older SCUDs never really featured as a strategic consideration during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The acquisition of the accurate and highly efficient M-9s and M-11s would change the strategic posture drastically.
Meanwhile, Zagreb continued to pay close attention to the evolution of conventional military activities. According to the strategic study of early October 1995, Zagreb was anticipating a major change in the nature of the military dynamics affecting Croatia. "The basic characteristic of the war conducted so far in the territories of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina (except the NATO air strikes) is that it has been a conflict of a low technological level, with the application of archaic tactics, also including putting cities under siege." The Croat experts were now convinced that future regional conflagrations would rapidly escalate to a more conventional mobile war requiring large scale use of long-range artillery, air power and even various missiles. Meeting the needs of such a war now dominated the Croatian growing military build-up, especially the acquisition of modern air power.
Toward this end, Croatia purchased in late 1995 a small number of MiG-29S fighters. They were slightly used -- with up to 200 hrs -- but thoroughly refurbished by the Russian Air Force. They were purchased through a Central European intermediary. The first two MiG-29Ss were delivered with the latest model and upgraded electronics. Moreover, the Croats purchased R-73 [AA-11] AAMs (both R-73A and R-73M) which would also be installed on the ex-DDR (East German) MiG-21bis, as well as R-27 [AA-10] long-range AAMs. However, in early 1996, pilot training was lagging to the point of adversely affecting operational use of both the MiG-29S and MiG-21bis fighters.
Moreover, Croatia revived its effort to activate the squadron of Su-25s purchased in 1993 (with Iranian funds and also for use by the Bosnian Muslim forces). These attack aircraft were still in crates because of lack of technical skill and pilots. By now, Tehran had given up on the transfer of these aircraft to Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Zagreb felt confident it could take possession of all of them. There was a sense of urgency concerning the Su-25s because they would be most beneficial for precision strikes against the key bridges over the Danube in the offensive on Eastern Slavonia. Such strikes could stop 'the flow of Yugoslav reinforcements.
In early 1996, Zagreb had reached the conclusion that its Su-25s would not be operational in February, then the planned time for launching the offensive against Eastern Slavonia. Instead, the primary ground-attack tasks were allocated to the Mi-24 combat helicopters. Croatia acquired a few more helicopters in Ukraine to replenish losses incurred during the war and even increase its arsenal.
Another Croatian strategic effort was to increase its naval power to conduct operations way beyond coastal defense and into the central Mediterranean. Toward this end, Zagreb negotiated with Lviv the purchase, jointly from Russia and Ukraine, of surplus ships of the Black Sea Fleet. Zagreb also discussed the acquisition of production know-how from Ukrainian military shipyards for the modernization of its own major combatant shipbuilding programs.
Weapons acquisition was but a part of Zagreb's bigger and more ambitious military plans. In early December 1995, the Croat High Command submitted and got approval for plans for a marked modernization of the entire defense system. At the top, Zagreb decided to adopt a US-style structure. The Soviet-style General Staff was to be replaced by a new operative body called the Joint Staff. Like its US counterpart, the new Joint Staff consists of the three chiefs of staff of the Ground Forces, the Air Force, and the Navy. The chiefs are subordinate to the chairman. Unlike the US, however, in Zagreb, the Chairman is the Supreme Commander himself: President Franjo Tudjman. This arrangement puts Tudjman in constant and direct operational control of the military system, thus further politicizing it. Zagreb stresses that the new high command system was devised with "massive assistance from US military experts", with the endorsement and encouragement of Washington.
The other major development in the Croatian military is the reorganization of the main ground units to cope with the growing flow of new weapons systems. Croat military experts pointed out that with the rapid acquisition and absorption of heavy weapons, the main unit of the Croatian Army will become the Division, rather than the present Brigade. These new divisions "are being trained to take on more complex assaults or defensive operations over a much wider area and are able to concentrate considerable forces on the main prongs of an attack". Croat experts anticipated that in case fighting resumed in the Summer of 1996, the Croat Army would already be able to field its new combined-arms divisions at the core of any offensive.
Starting early 1996, Zagreb's threat assessment considered the resumption of major fighting increasingly likely. And despite the heated rhetoric and force deployments against the Serbs in Eastern Slavonia, senior military experts in Zagreb now consider Bosnia-Herzegovina to be the most likely theater of a future war. This strategic development reaffirmed the pure military assessment prevailing since the Fall of 1995 but pushed aside for political reasons.
Indeed, the Croatian strategic study of early October 1995, specifically identified the primary site of the main future Croat-Yugoslav contention as being the "area of Bosnia-Herzegovina ...
taken by the Serb entity [and used] as a possible military training ground for some new threat to Croatia." Significantly, this scenario of the future regional war starts from a conflagration along this Yugoslav-Croat border. There is no Bosnian entity in this recent Croat strategic study.
In developing this strategic posture, Zagreb was motivated by the military-geographic realities of the region. In late October 1995, a follow-up strategic study pointed to emerging urgent priorities. Zagreb's analysis of the changing regional military balance, taking into consideration the then-unfolding Dayton process, only further emphasized the importance of Croat control over much of Bosnia-Herzegovina. There could be no substitute to Croatian dominance over most of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the study stipulated, because the "approach to the relations between these territories, including those in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is inevitable because Bosnia-Herzegovina territory and Croatia represent an integral military-geographical and communications entity, while its position and shape represent a protuberant operational base for potential attacks on the territory of Croatia. A straight line connecting the northernmost and the southernmost points of Croatia, 490 kilometers long, encompasses 68 percent of Bosnia-Herzegovina. ... These are only some of the quantitative and qualitative indicators that, from the point of view of a possible threat to Croatian territory, show the interdependence of the territory of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina."
Subsequent developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina, particularly over the implementation of the Dayton-Paris Accords only reinforced Zagreb's conviction that a future war ending with the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina between Croatia and Yugoslavia was virtually inevitable.
Closely examining the regional dynamics in the early Spring of 1996, particularly the intensification of the Islamicization of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the US tolerance of the flagrant violation of the mujahedin clause in the Dayton-Paris Accords, made Zagreb desperate to get out of the "federation". This desperation was best reflected in the growing Croat-Muslim tension in Mostar.
In January and February 1996, tension between the Croats and Bosnian Muslims, particularly around Mostar, reached such intensity that locally based I-FOR senior officers were apprehensive about the imminent resumption of war. In January, HVO forces [Croat armed forces from Herzeg-Bosna], including "seconded" Croat "volunteers" [from Croatia proper], even deployed to forward position in readiness to storm and occupy the Muslim-held eastern Mostar. Only intense US pressure restrained Tudjman from ordering the offensive. The declared compromise ostensibly reached during the Rome summit in mid-February had virtually no effect on the tension on the ground.
Mostar is a symbol for the irreconcilable gap between the true aspirations of the Croats and their declaratory policy adopted to please Washington. The leadership of Herzeg-Bosna continues to insist on their being primarily parts of Croatia rather than an integral part of the "unified" Bosnian component of the "federation". The Bosnian Croats threaten to use force if Sarajevo attempts to deploy Muslim forces on the area they hold. Moreover, locally-based Croatian HV [Croatian Army] units, still in Bosnia-Herzegovina even though they should have withdrawn earlier, cooperate closely with their HVO counterparts against Sarajevo's forces.
In late April, tensions grew again as both Bosnian Muslim and Croat forces refused to compromise over the fate of Mostar. Instead, with strong backing from Zagreb, the Herzeg-Bosna leadership made Mostar into a test case for the survival and viability of the "federation". Dragan Gasic, of the European administrative group in Mostar, stressed the crucial importance of the Mostar precedent:
"If Mostar fails, the Federation will fail. And if the Federation fails, Dayton will fail."
And it is precisely for this reason, that Zagreb has encouraged its proteges in Bosnia-Herzegovina to resist any compromise over Mostar virtually at all cost. In early May 1996, intense European and US pressure on Zagreb somewhat reduced the threat of immediate conflagration. However, the military option, which would inevitably lead to the collapse of the "federation" is still pursued by Zagreb. The Croatian build-up continues in eastern Croatia in areas permitting rapid reinforcement of Herzeg-Bosna. Croat military experts acknowledge Zagreb's anticipation for the revival of fighting: an excuse for the completion of the Croat occupation of the parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina claimed by Croatia.
By May 1996, the overall political dynamics throughout the former Yugoslavia had convinced Zagreb that its own worst case scenarios of an intense regional war were most likely to happen. Zagreb is most alarmed by the extent of US support for Sarajevo despite the lingering mujahedin problems, Sarajevo's proven support for international terrorism, and the growing bellicosity of Izetbegovic and his closest aides. It was not lost on Zagreb that even when political pressure in Washington prevented the Clinton Administration from going on with a rapid implementation of arming the Bosnian Muslim forces, the Administration put tremendous pressure on Turkey and other Muslim states to complete the task. This dynamic convinced Zagreb that the only way out of the consolidation of a Muslim Bosnia tied to it in the "federation" arrangements is with guns blazing. Meanwhile, Zagreb was increasingly apprehensive about the military recovery of Yugoslavia with assistance from Russia and its improved economic capacity. The Croat analysis of the period of unchallenged military superiority over Yugoslavia may have to be re-examined.
Taken together, these developments led Zagreb to conclude that if a regional war was to be waged, it should happen soon. Present strategic and military conditions were most favorable and expedient for Croatia to consolidate its posture as a regional power through the use of force. Furthermore, considering the growing uncertainty in Washington -- from the growing Iran-Bosnia Crisis to a heated elections campaign -- it was imperative for Croatia to strike out when it could still count on the determined support of the Clinton Administration as demonstrated in the offensives of 1995.
In a sharp contrast with the assertive Croat Army, the once-vaunted Yugoslav Army is in a dire state. The arsenal and order of battle are still formidable. However, the legacy of the lingering embargo and political climate has taken its toll. The two main problems adversely affecting Yugoslavia's overall military capabilities are the accumulating effect of shortages of spares and equipment, and the aggregate impact of manpower retention problems caused by the overall devastating economic conditions.
By 1996, the Yugoslav defense establishment was well on its way to alleviating the technical problems. Relying on its defense industries and clandestine imports from Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Yugoslavia was able to overcome some of the most acute problems during the early 1990s. It took some time to convert the defense industrial system -- once spread all over the former Yugoslavia and in constant touch with other defense production establishments around the world -- to the confines of the new Yugoslavia and political isolation. But once the conversion was completed, Yugoslavia embarked on a steady and solid road to recovery as far as the military technological capabilities were concerned. The lifting of the embargo and the availability of hard currency funds helped to further expedite the resolution of these problems.
However, the Dayton-Paris Accords also strive to constrain and even eliminate Yugoslav military industrial capacity; that is, the country's ability to cope with national emergency through mobilization of national production. Under the Dayton-Paris Accords, Yugoslavia is not allowed to manufacture weapons above 30 mm caliber, which means sacrificing its entire self-sufficiency in tank and artillery forces. Dependency on foreign suppliers, no matter how committed, is a major consideration for national decisionmaking considering that a foreign supplier can never be fully trusted. Given the lessons of the recent embargo, the international community would most likely prevent supplies from reaching Yugoslavia in any event.
Nevertheless, in the Summer of 1996, Yugoslavia was working on solidifying its strategic cooperation with Russia. The process was boosted in mid-June when Russia announced its willingness and intent to resume military and technological cooperation with Yugoslavia. Such a cooperation would not only provide the Yugoslav Armed Forces with the required arms and spares in the short run, but also give boost to the defense industries which are near collapse (for economic reasons) because of the embargo and the Dayton-Paris Accords. The Russians seek cooperation in joint programs aimed at capitalizing on export markets once held by Yugoslavia and which Belgrade can no longer service. Such cooperation would contribute to the retention of skills and expertise even if actual production lines remain paralyzed.
The manpower problem, however, is far from being resolved. In 1994-95, the manpower crisis had already reached the point of aggregate impact on the operational capabilities of the military system as a whole. With the improvement of the economic situation, the easing of the problem has already begun. But it is far from being alleviated, let alone resolved.
The Army's manpower problem is complex and multi-faceted. As far as the war-fighting capabilities are concerned, the most serious problem is the retention of quality personnel, especially veteran NCOs and technicians, as well as junior officers with potential for long service and promotion to senior ranks. In the long-term, it is somewhat comforting for Belgrade that the main reason for these people leaving the service is economic: namely, the collapse of the standard of living on military pay, the Army's inability to provide basic living conditions, particularly housing, and basic services. This means that there is no serious alienation between this strata and the military system. Hence, once the economic incentives are restored, it is safe to assume that the professional and technically capable population which provided the solid and high-quality cadres will return to service.
Indeed, the overall Yugoslav manpower system remains healthy. There is no serious break between the public and the military system despite the economic hardships. During the 1990s, the percentage of people meeting their obligations for both the draft and mobilization for periodic training remained stable and very high. The population remained patriotic and the intimate contact between the public and "their" army remained viable. The only exception is the potential long-term impact of the migration of youth to avoid military service. Although presently the number of youth escaping service is very small, the phenomenon is nevertheless worrisome as a precedent setting trend, namely, the legitimization of avoiding conscription and national service.
Thus, in early 1996, the central and core problem facing the Yugoslav Army was its finances. However, the financial plight was so acute as to, in the words of a critical military analyst in Belgrade, "question the elementary existence of the Army". As Milosevic's Belgrade continued to disengage itself from crises and commitments which might have escalated into the use of force, the importance of the General Staff and of its influence on the political centers of power, have been "in constant regression". Consequently, the analyst observes, the 1996 military budget "only serves for mere survival": a dangerous situation considering Zagreb's continued preoccupation with the option of a regional war.
Meanwhile, even without any major war, the Yugoslav defense budget does not permit the sustainability of present cadres, let alone the professionalization of the Army structure and other manpower reforms so important for both more efficiency and further democratization of a once-communist system. The post-reforms Army of Yugoslavia was to be 100,000 to 120,000 strong. About half of this was to be composed of professional soldiers: Officers, noncommissioned officers, civilians employed by the military, and soldiers under contract. The present retention problem has a direct impact on Yugoslavia's ability to meet a national crisis. In times of national emergency, the professional component should serve as the core around which a mass army predominantly made of reservists is built. Therefore, the erosion in the capabilities of the professional core also reduces the overall capabilities of the entire military system.
A close examination of the Yugoslav defense budget pointed to significant budget shortages in 13 important subjects: Salaries, supply service and health, training and education, remount and maintenance of technical equipment, maintenance of immobility, social programs within the Army, functional expenditures, massive armament and provision of military equipment, transformation of military objects into objects for accommodation, war materiel reserves, construction and furnishing of officers' apartments, supply of necessary means for general use, and unplanned expenditure. These shortages do not include the funds needed for the replacement of the already outdated weapon systems and the attrition suffered by newer equipment because of shortages in spares.
Nevertheless, faced with growing tension throughout the former Yugoslavia and fully cognisant of the grand designs of Zagreb and Sarajevo, Belgrade could not afford not to attempt a certain level of modernization and build-up despite the acute economic situation. Russia has proven a loyal and generous supporter. Once the embargo was lifted, Russia expected to provide Yugoslavia with large quantities of sophisticated weapons, including additional aircraft, mainly MiG-29s and other modern aircraft. The Russian Armed Forces would assist with the supply of spares and technical expertise in order to quickly raise the serviceability of existing weapon systems. Russia would also contribute to the modernization of the Yugoslav air defense, providing a wide variety of systems from the S-300 and S-300V SAMs/ATBMs to the highly lethal battlefield 2S6 Tanguska. Moscow agreed to examine granting licences for self-production of aircraft and helicopters. Yugoslavia also acquired a few T-72s in order to retain the size of its high-quality tank units despite continued attrition due to maintenance difficulties.
One reason for Belgrade's sense of urgency in accomplishing the modernization of the Yugoslav Armed Forces is the ramifications of the regional disarmament agreements in the Dayton-Paris framework. Given the history of Zagreb and Sarajevo in totally violating arms acquisition legalities in the past, it is understood by Belgrade that the Croatia and the Izetbegovic forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina will continue this practice in violation of the Dayton-Paris Accords. As well, Belgrade is aware of the vulnerability of Yugoslavia to military intervention by NATO and especially the US. Considering the repeated threats by the Clinton Administration "to bomb Belgrade" [i.e.: the Yugoslav Serbs] if the Bosnian Serbs did not give up on any one of a number of key issues during the war, enduring apprehension about a US-led military intervention is comprehensible.
The Vienna talks seek to further limit the size of the Armed Forces of the former Yugoslavia, creating an untenable balance of forces which Belgrade is apprehensive will create temptations for others to exploit. Indeed, the Yugoslav analyst points out, senior officers have great misgivings about the outcome of the Vienna negotiations over "the reduction of its military potential, cooperation with the Western military alliance, and acceptance of foreign control over its materiel, etc." As professionals, they obey Milosevic's orders. But an increasing number of senior officers now worry about the long-term negative impact on "the role of Serbs on the geopolitical map of Europe".
In mid-June 1996, the Yugoslav High Command was determined to rebuild the Armed Forces despite the adverse strategic climate. General Momcilo Perisic, Chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Armed Forces, is fully aware of the country's grave strategic environment. "The FRY is surrounded by some 2.5-million soldiers in combative armed forces, in a region that is still exposed to contradictory and uncertain processes. That is why all those who succumb to dilemmas as to whether to have and develop a modem army, or not have an army at all, are completely wrong. Historical experience tells us that in this region extremely strong and well-equipped armed forces are necessary at all times, forces that will be prepared to make great sacrifices."
Gen. Perisic is optimistic about the Yugoslav Armed Forces. Belgrade is "strengthening the Yugoslav Army as the heart of defense, the freedom and independence of the FRY, which in case of armed aggression will be the first to lead and the last to stop in the defense of its country". The Armed Forces in recent years. Gen. Perisic stressed, have prevented the war from spreading to the new Yugoslavia; have supported "our people"; and have created a deterrence posture which affected the overall outcome of the regional political negotiations, reducing the price Yugoslavia had to pay. The Armed Forces have been "a stabilizing factor in the country".
But with the evolving strategic environment, new challenges are facing the Armed Forces, Gen. Perisic explains: "The members of the Yugoslav Army are undertaking enormous efforts to create a modem and well-armed force in line with the defense needs of the country and its financial possibilities." A major effort is directed at reversing the manpower problems and resolving the retention crisis. One solution is the consolidation of a smaller but stronger professional army as the core of the national defense at times not requiring full national mobilization. According to this concept, Gen. Perisic said, "the Yugoslav Army will develop as a modem army, organized, equipped, and trained in a modern fashion, but also as a numerically smaller and partially professionalized armed force. Its maneuvering abilities and firepower will increase, but with the strength of its peacetime component it will be able to prevent any form of aggression against the FRY, and create the conditions for a successful campaign in an imposed war, even under the most unfavorable of circumstances." Gen. Perisic acknowledges that given the strategic and regional dynamics, time is very short for Belgrade to complete these military reforms, restoring its own strategic posture.
In the early Summer of 1996, Belgrade was facing two major national security threats, both of which could easily escalate into a major regional war. The tension with Croatia continued as a direct outcome of Zagreb's determination to enforce the destruction and partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina even at the cost of a regional war. Meanwhile, an increasingly despaired and radicalized Sarajevo was contemplating a strategic breakout against the Bosnian Serbs aimed to ultimately drag the US, and NATO, into taking on Yugoslavia. Sarajevo knows that even a post-Dayton Belgrade would not be able to withstand the total destruction of the Bosnian Serbs, and would have to intervene on their behalf, thus giving Sarajevo and Washington the excuse they have been looking for. Neither of these eruptions is inevitable. However, their likelihood is growing because of the political-military dynamics in Belgrade.
By any regional standard, Yugoslavia is still a formidable military power. The main problem, is that both the political and military elite in Belgrade are passive and dispirited. They are preoccupied with the restoration and reconstruction of the Yugoslav economy and military infrastructure, as they should, but to the point of being politically oblivious to the region around them. The Belgrade elite seems incapable of seizing the initiative and fighting for their own future. This impression, far more than any factual analysis of the Yugoslav military posture and capabilities, creates a sense of vulnerability that is increasingly irresistible for Sarajevo to exploit. Thus, by their own passivity, the Yugoslavs may become victims of the circumstances and conspiracies around them. For Sarajevo, this process appears to be the core of the dramatic breakout it is seeking.
4. The Transformation of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Military
Anew military factor emerged in the Spring of 1996: a "wild card" in the regional balance of power. It is the reorganized Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In accordance with the provisions of the Dayton-Paris Accords, the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army should transform into the Federation Army, incorporating both the Bosnian Muslim forces and Bosnian Croat forces (HVO). Massive military aid from the US and its NATO allies (mainly Turkey), including training and indoctrination, should transform these various military forces into a single genuine "multi-ethnic" armed forces committed to the defense of Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, the emerging Bosnia-Herzegovina Army is actually a Muslim entity committed to the realization of Sarajevo's maximal objectives, with or without the promised US aid. It is because of this real character of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army that it constitutes a potential spark for a regional conflagration.
In the early Summer of 1996, before the anticipated massive build-up had begun, the Bosnian Muslims already had a formidable force, highly suitable for operations in the mountainous terrain of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In the aftermath of the initial demobilization required by the Dayton-Paris Accords, the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army still had around 120,000 men. The main regional division is the corps structure: 1st Corps with its headquarters in Sarajevo, 2nd Corps in Tuzla, 3rd Corps in Zenica, 4th Corps in Mostar and Konjic, 5th Corps in Bihac, and the 7th Corps in Travnik. The troops themselves are divided into 78 infantry brigades, 13 mountain brigades, nine motorized brigades, two artillery brigades, five territorial brigades, one long-range reconnaissance brigade, and one special forces brigade, as well as two anti-aircraft defense regiments. The Bosnia-Herzegovina Army also has three divisional headquarters that were used during the war to conduct and lead the main offensives. Their peacetime state is yet to be determined.
While the size of the tank and heavy combat vehicle forces of the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina falls short of the Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat forces, their artillery and rocket forces are at least equal. Despite the embargo, the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina has succeeded to amass a diverse force of heavy artillery and long range multiple barrel rocket launchers sufficient for the conduct of major offensives. Further more, the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army's arsenal of multi-purpose automatic guns, mortars, and particularly light missiles -- both ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles) and SFSAMs (shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles) -- which are all optimal for mountainous terrain is superior to that of Sarajevo's real and perceived enemies. Moreover, the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army's fleet of assault helicopters and light aircraft is growing rapidly as their long-denied arsenal is now being openly acknowledged.
These forces and arsenals do not include the formidable HVO -- the Bosnian Croat forces -- that neither Zagreb nor Mostar, the self-declared capital of Herzeg-Bosna, show any inclination of integrating into a military force dominated and controlled by Izetbegovic's Sarajevo.
Meanwhile, motivated by its own political considerations, the United States and a few Muslim states already began to rearm and train the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army in the Spring of 1996. The US launched the program even though the mujahedin and Iranian presence issues had not been resolved. To stress Washington's commitment, the first shipment of largely small arms and military equipment was approved on March 14, the day the UN embargo on small arms was lifted. Over the next few weeks, the US Air Force delivered some 49,000 M-16 rifles, machineguns, and an assortment of military communications equipment. Bosnia-Herzegovina Army officials in Zenica and Tuzla confirmed the arrival of the US rifles. They complained that only small quantities of guns and a few communications systems were actually delivered to the Bosnian forces. As the first shipments of US military equipment were arriving in Bosnia-Herzegovina, some Bosnian soldiers were sent to Germany and Turkey for training. In mid-May, more than 200 Bosnian soldiers left for training on new NATO-style tanks and artillery weapons in Turkey. Gen. Enver Hadzihasanovic expects a group of pilots to soon begin training on new US-made helicopters in Turkey.
Of greater strategic importance was Sacirbey's announcement that Sarajevo was negotiating "a major contract to improve the federation army's command" with the US consulting firm Military Professional Resources. He stressed the firm's previous success in preparing the Croatian Army for its 1995 offensives in the Krajina and western Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Already in its fledgling phase, the "Equip and Train" program was causing discord between the US and its European allies. British and French senior officers with I-FOR openly declared that their governments were dead set against Washington's rearmament plans for Bosnia-Herzegovina. If fully implemented, these programs would only introduce more heavy weapons -- especially tanks and artillery -- into an explosive region that is already falling apart.
The main regional strategic development is Sarajevo's expectations from, and plans for, the US-led military aid. NATO sources briefed by the US expected a second batch of heavy weapons to be approved on June 12. I-FOR believes this shipment to include about 40 M-1 and M-60 tanks, around 100 armored vehicles, mortars, anti-tank rocket systems, and tactical vehicles. Assuming successful completion of the pilot training in Turkey, the US will also supply 30 Apache, Cobra and Black Hawk helicopters between July and September 1996. According to Bosnia-Herzegovina Army sources, confirmed by both Yugoslav/Serb and Croat military sources, the US commitment under the "Equip and Train" program includes the supply of 40 tanks, 80 armored personnel carriers, 2,550 trucks, 144 artillery pieces with calibers ranging from 75 mm to 155 mm, 318 antitank weapons, 30 helicopters, 170 surface-to-air missile systems, as well as large quantities of small arms and other infantry weapons, and communications systems. These quantities will be enough to arm a few high quality combined-arms units. Training and organizational support is to be provided primarily by US and Turkish personnel.
Although Sarajevo would have loved to receive larger quantities of weapon systems, the quantities of weapons promised by the US do not constitute a major problem for the Bosnia-Herzegovina High Command. The General Staffs plans require the establishment of "a professional army, smaller in number, but excellently armed and trained. Its backbone would be the best soldiers of our army, matured in battles throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina."
Sarajevo has tremendous problems with the objectives of the US military aid program. It is the understanding of Sarajevo that Washington would like Bosnia-Herzegovina "to form a very respectable defensive military force which would be capable of repelling all potential aggressors from its territory". For the Sarajevo General Staff, the essence of the US aid for the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army means "neither the creation of an Army that represents a threat for anybody, nor the creation of formations that would defeat the army of the Serb entity". Washington is interested in a balance of power which would preclude any side from making a decisive military move as a key component of the consolidation of lasting peace. Committed to the consolidation of control over the entire territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Izetbegovic's Sarajevo would have nothing of it.
Therefore, Bosnia-Herzegovina has resolved to rely on the Muslim world in order to build a far stronger army on its own. Irrespective of the US promises, the General Staff believes that the greatest help for the acquisition of weapons, military equipment and for training will come for the traditional wartime supporters of Bosnia-Herzegovina: the Islamic countries, particularly from Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, as well as from Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Egypt. Sarajevo is optimistic about its ability to implement this design because the US already intends to transfer most of the responsibility for training and equipping to Turkey. Even though Ankara promised Washington that it will abide by NATO's guidelines and will not deviate from the responsibilities as defined by the Dayton-Paris Accords, both Ankara and Sarajevo know better. The Turkish military delegation that had visited Bosnia-Herzegovina back in early 1996 examined the situation and positively noted all the Bosnian requests. Given Turkey's assistance during the war, Sarajevo can only be encouraged.
Sarajevo's decision to go around Washington's back in pursuit of military capabilities reflected a thorough re-examination by the Bosnia-Herzegovina General Staff of the advisability of the entire process of acquiring US military aid. In mid-March, the Bosnian General Staff became acquainted with a Croatian military analysis of the anticipated US arms shipments to Bosnia for the HVO forces. The Croat General Staff anticipated problems because of the quality of weapons proposed by the US and advised the HVO accordingly. A Croatian military expert concluded that "the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army and the HVO will be given weapons from Vietnam!"
The Zagreb analysis was professionally done. The Croat military experts realized that beyond political preconditions, including Sarajevo's resistance to grant autonomy for the HVO and unwillingness to see a real departure of the mujahedin, the primary challenge facing both the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army and the HVO was that "the reorganization of the armies must be based upon a completely new concept, doctrine of war and military strategy, and operational tactics". Given the pressing schedule for equipping the armies as stipulated by the Dayton-Paris Accords and the available budgets, Washington will limit the quality and sophistication of the weapons delivered. Most likely, the US will deliver second-hand weapons from existing stockpiles in Germany. The Croat military analysts are reportedly "unanimous" in their conclusion that "the latest generation of equipment is out of the question, but it could be equipment from the Vietnam War or some items from the West's war against Iraq". At the same time, the Croat military experts insist the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army should not reject these weapons because they can still be useful against the Serb arsenal. Left unsaid is Zagreb's relief that these weapons will also be inferior to the HV's growing arsenal.
The Bosnian Muslim General Staff was not surprised by the Croatian analysis. Iran, Pakistan, and other Muslim states have been arguing over the years that the US would never permit a Muslim state in Europe to acquire credible military capabilities. The new Croatian analysis proves them right. Moreover, Sarajevo is not oblivious to the growing criticism among the key European members of I-FOR of Washington's intentions to arm the Bosnian Muslim units as the US component of I-FOR withdraws from Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Europeans call the US plan the "arm and run" formula.
Sarajevo was also provided with Iranian advice on the peculiarities of the US election year, and its implications for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Forced to chose between the political support of the Europeans, who oppose the plans to arm the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army, and implementing the build-up of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army, the Clinton Administration will side with the Europeans in order to achieve the timely withdrawal of the US I-FOR contingent in time for the US elections. Hence, Sarajevo concluded, the likelihood of obtaining the entire military aid program, as promised, from the US was low. Hence, in March, the Sarajevo General Staff devised two concurrent programs: (1) to acquire weapons and other military supplies from alternate sources not burdened by US supervision; and (2) develop a crash program for a swift acquisition of heavy weapons and related military supplies under emergency conditions.
For the first program, Sarajevo embarked on an effort to revive the Muslim military support programs which existed during the war. Tehran, Islamabad, Ankara and Kuala Lumpur agreed to provide both heavy weapons and expertise on top of their current commitments. Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states contributed large sums of money for the purchase of off-the-shelf weapons systems from the PRC, the former Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe.
In early May, the first shipments of weapons were ready for delivery. Hassan Cengic, the Bosnia-Herzegovina Deputy Minister of Defense, acknowledged that Bosnia-Herzegovina "has arms abroad" which will "soon come into the right hands". The primary impediment for the delivery of these weapons was Zagreb's opposition to their delivery via Croatia. Still, Cengic was optimistic about the arrival of these weapons. "We have arms abroad, bought or donated by friendly nations, and they will soon be delivered to the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina," he asserted. During the war, Cengic has been instrumental in organizing and running the main weapon supply programs of Bosnia-Herzegovina, working in close cooperation with Iranian Intelligence.
The second program, devised with Iranian assistance back in early March, is more sinister. The Bosnia-Herzegovina High Command realized that large quantities of some of the best weapon systems in the US arsenal were already on Bosnian soil: I-FOR's equipment. This is front line equipment that belongs to the US Army's best units in Germany. It constitutes a quality leap over anything available to any of the other armies in the Balkans. At first, Sarajevo sought a political arrangement whereupon Washington would decide to leave these weapons behind as surplus once I-FOR withdraws. Riyadh was even approached and asked to influence the Clinton Administration to go along with the plan, and promise some financial compensations for the left-behind equipment.
However, by late March, Sarajevo was dubious about the prospects of such an arrangement. The slow pace of the US supply of small arms and the lingering problems with Washington concerning the Islamist presence and US demands for integration into a joint "Bosniak"-Croat army, convinced Sarajevo that the US could not be trusted to complete the military aid program because of the doubts about the viability of the US commitment. The leak of the Pentagon's intelligence assessment warning that Bosnia-Herzegovina was fragmenting and was likely to return to fighting the moment I-FOR withdrew was considered by the innermost circles in Sarajevo as a proof of Washington's duplicity and enduring anti-Islamic posture.
Hence, the Bosnia-Herzegovina High Command began to seriously examine what the Iranians call the "lessons of Beirut". VEVAK experts have argued for some time that the United States was incapable of withstanding a large number of casualties, especially when they are inflicted suddenly. As demonstrated in Beirut and Mogadishu, faced with a sudden surge of fatalities, the US would give up the pursuit of strategic interests and quickly withdraw. Now, the Iranians argue, any spectacular terrorist operation inflicting heavy casualties on the US troops, particularly given election-year considerations, would compel Washington to swiftly withdraw the troops into safety. It was highly likely that the bulk of the US heavy weapons and equipment would be left behind, especially if pressure was put on the US. According to Yugoslav military and intelligence sources, Gen. Delic bought the idea in mid-March.
Preparations began immediately in a dedicated cell within the ranks of the 1st Bosniak Brigade "Nocne Ptice" [Night Birds]. The 1st Brigade is the unit which would sponsor, operationally support and assist in terrorist operations against I-FOR. These preparations were supervised by a small cadre of Iranian senior intelligence officers and a few expert terrorists from elsewhere in the Middle East. They are supported by a group of specialists and experts from Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Lebanon, including veteran car-bomb experts from Lebanon.
Moreover, the early May 1996 warning to I-FOR issued by the Egyptian Islamist "Salim al-Kurshani" should be considered in the context of these preparations. The name of the two organizations mentioned by Al-Kurshani -- the "Islamic Group – Military Branch in Bosnia" and the Bosnian Islamic Jihad -- have since been mentioned by other sources in the context of active preparations for Sarajevo-sponsored attacks against the US contingent of I-FOR.
Contemplating the launching of terrorist operations against I-FOR, Sarajevo had no doubt that any use of violence would inevitably lead to the resumption of fighting with both Croats and Serbs. By now, Sarajevo was awash with rumors about joint conspiracies between Belgrade and Zagreb to partition Bosnia-Herzegovina once I-FOR withdrew, and, echoing Tehran's theme, about a global conspiracy aimed at preventing the rise of a Muslim State in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the Spring of 1996, Sarajevo was increasingly pushing itself for the resumption of fighting.
More than anything else, the mere availability of such an option to swiftly reinforce the Bosnian Muslim arsenal, even if through drastic measures, bolstered the self confidence of Sarajevo. The political and military leadership concluded that they could resume the pursuit of their maximalist program without fear of finding themselves without the necessary weapons and military supplies.
By mid-March 1996, the Bosnia-Herzegovina General Staff began active preparations for the resumption of fighting. Brigade General Enver Hadzihasanovic, the Commander of the General Staff of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army, acknowledged that the activities of the army were now focused on planning for the next war Hadzihasanovic explained that his forces were already working on "maintaining... the high combat-readiness of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army, [in] case the other side chooses the war option once again. That is why the changes in the army are being carried out in such a way as not to influence the main tasks."
Sarajevo's assertiveness was clearly reflected on Armed Forces Day, April 16,1996. In his address. Gen. Delic stressed the new era of reorganization of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army. "The peace placed new tasks before the political and military leadership of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which must be realized in a planned, qualitative, and responsible manner. This primarily involves the transformation of the army into a peacetime military formation that is capable of defending Bosnia-Herzegovina and the peace within it."
In his address, Ejup Ganic stressed the predominance of the Bosnian Muslims in the ostensibly multi-ethnic Army. "In this part of Europe, the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army is a new factor of peace, defense, and stability. The program of the Army has been and will remain Bosnian, regardless of the fact that the Bosniaks, proportionally speaking, constitute the majority. There are also Croats in the Army, there are Serbs and Jews."
The most authoritative statement of Sarajevo's objective came on April 21, 1996, from President Izetbegovic himself. Izetbegovic visited Bihac to celebrate a major parade of units of the 5th Corps. The singular importance of the visit was demonstrated by the presence on the review stand of Vice-President Ejup Ganic; Prime Minister Hasan Muratovic; General Rasim Delic; Divisional Gen. Atif Dudakovic, commander of the 5th Corps; a delegation of the Bosnia-Herzegovina government; as well as representatives of the diplomatic corps mostly from Muslim states and foreign military attaches. The large parade included members of the 501st, 502nd, 503rd, 505th, 506th, 507th, 509th, 511th, and 517th Brigades, the Air Force Group, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the military police, the 510th Mechanized Brigade, the 5th Combined Artillery Unit, the 5th Light Artillery Anti-aircraft Division, and the 5th Engineering Battalion, and other units.
Izetbegovic delivered a short speech to the troops. The parade of the 5th Corps, he explained, was "a message for both friend and foe; to make friends rejoice and to warn the enemy never again to raise its finger against our people". Izetbegovic highlighted the challenges facing Bosnia-Herzegovina. "I am here to say not a great deal... to tell you that the struggle for Bosnia-Herzegovina has not finished yet, that it goes on and to wish you success on this long difficult and honorable road toward a free and democratic Bosnia." In a subsequent political rally later that day, Izetbegovic was even more explicit. He declared that "the struggle will continue until Bosnia is unified and democratic".
Yugoslav and Croat sources were alarmed by the display of militancy in Bihac. Both Belgrade and Zagreb are concerned about the renewal of war in Bosnia-Herzegovina because of Sarajevo's growing siege mentality and militancy. Croat insiders now expect the renewal of war with the Bosnian Muslims. Zagreb notes that such an eruption will take place at a time when the superpowers are pressing Croatia to disarm and demobilize. Such a development only encourages Sarajevo to strike. Therefore, Croatian insiders insist, the renewal of war in Bosnia-Herzegovina "is becoming a reality and a nightmare that it is hard to escape from, despite guarantees from the United States".
Yugoslav and Croat sources explain that Izetbegovic's threats in Bihac were addressed not only to Zagreb, but primarily to the Clinton Administration. Izetbegovic delivered a joint message to Washington -- from the Bosnian Muslims and the Iranians -- that Sarajevo's objective is a "unified Bosnia" under a Muslim rule, and without the presence of the US. Izetbegovic is convinced that he can triumph with Iranian and Muslim aid without the West/US. All that he needs is for the US to leave him alone and definitely not help Croatia. Tehran remains convinced that a Beirut-type act of spectacular terrorism can deliver such an outcome.
The growing military tensions were also expressed in strong positions taken by the Sarajevo military elite, as if intentionally trying to instigate crises with their Croatian counterparts. For example, on May 21, General Rasim Delic, demanded that the commander in chief of the federal army be Bosniak. The Bosnia-Herzegovina Army can ensure "the protection of state integrity and the sovereignty and territorial borders of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina," only if "this role be performed by Alija Izetbegovic, president of the Presidency of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina".
The next day. Brigadier Salko Begic, commander of the Bosnia-Herzegovina air force and anti-aircraft defense, highlighted the war dangers discussing his plans for the future. "It is our goal to create an air force that, with a qualified cadre and technical equipment, will be a significant element in preventing any sort of aggression against our country. Our objective is to build a defensive air force. If necessary, however, it will be capable of offensive operations," Begic explained. "We need multi-purpose aircraft that will successfully carry out all the tasks of modern fighter planes, bombers, and reconnaissance aircraft. The dominant force will consist of military helicopters, which are exceptionally suitable for fighting on this terrain. The whole system will be enhanced with unmanned aircraft, which can be effectively used for reconnaissance. Transportation needs can be met quite successfully with the present equipment."
By now, late May, senior Bosnia-Herzegovina officers were openly acknowledging that their problems with the US were insurmountable. The US was indeed withholding the bulk of military aid because of its fear of rising Muslim militancy in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Sarajevo was increasingly convinced that the Iran-inspired scenario of an eruption of fighting instigated by the Bosnian Muslims (through provocations and terrorism) was perhaps inevitable and imminent. "I am seriously preparing for the next war," Gen. Atif Dudakovic, the 5th corps commander, declared. "We see that all sides are trying to undermine the [Dayton-Paris] agreement."
These are not idle threats. The eruption of fighting around the Brcko area is already looming. All sides have been increasingly reluctant to resolve a dispute about boundaries in the critical Brcko area -- the part of northern Bosnia that links the eastern and western Serb-controlled areas -- through negotiations. According to the Dayton Accord s, the parties were to name arbitrators by June 14, 1996, and unconditionally implement their decision by the end of the year. However, all indications suggest that Sarajevo is determined to bring about the disconnection of the corridor at all cost. "In Brcko all the issues that originated the conflict come together again," Carl Bildt, the international representative in charge of coordinating civilian efforts to put the peace agreement into effect, warned. "The area was 52 percent Muslim before the war, but Serb 'ethnic cleansing' was brutal, and President Alija Izetbegovic is insisting that his boundary has to extend through Serb territory right to the Sava River. It's nowhere near being sorted out."
Fully aware of the regional and global strategic significance of any attempt to cut the Brcko Corridor, Sarajevo is determined to implicate the US in its military surge. Indeed, the US is already directly contributing to the potential resumption of fighting and escalation. By training and preparing the 2nd Corps the US has expedited and helped preparations for the Bosnian Muslim attack on the Brcko Corridor. Most disturbing is the US training of the elite units which are saturated with Bosnian Islamists and foreign mujahedin. In late April 1996, Bosnian Serb sources described the ongoing US training effort: "The Muslims are receiving their greatest support for terrorist-sabotage actions from the US. US instructors are providing intense training to the reconnaissance-sabotage units in an attempt to replace the Iranian instructors. In view of this policy, the United States is already supplying Alija's army with arms. The main training camp for the men from the 28th Muslim Division is in the area of the village of Vukovije, northeast of Dubrave airport near Tuzla."
In late May, the Bosnian Army accelerated the conditioning of the strategic theater for the resumption of fighting. Bosnia-Herzegovina Army special forces, including Mujahedin, have been "running operations" behind Bosnian Serb lines throughout north-eastern Bosnia. For example, on the night of May 29/30,1996, Bosnian Muslim special forces blew up a bridge at Krstac on the river Janja, near Bijeljina. Although the bridge was right on the border between the "federation" and the Srpska Republic, its destruction is of far-reaching importance. This operation was a strategic move intended to prevent Serb counter-attacks on Tuzla from the flank in case of a major offensive by the 2nd Corps on Brcko. I-FOR's efforts to further investigate the explosion were rebuffed by local Bosnian Muslim authorities.
In early June 1996, military intelligence in both Belgrade and Pale became apprehensive about joint preparations by the US elements of I-FOR and Sarajevo to deal with the Brcko Corridor. According to their intelligence information, the US and Germany decided to strangle the Serb-held western parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina by cutting the vital Brcko Corridor. A special "federation" task force comprised of Bosnian Muslim and Croatian soldiers trained in the US would attempt to reclaim Brcko in the name of "ethnically cleansed" Bosnian Muslim refugees. A special I-FOR battalion, reportedly made up of US and Scandinavian soldiers, officially tasked to "protect" the Bosnian troops and civilians, would actually seize the city from the local Bosnian Serb garrison. Fearing "escalation", I-FOR would then insist on a cessation of hostilities, thus creating a situation on the ground which would ensure that Brcko would be handed over to Sarajevo by international arbitrators.
In the meantime, military intelligence in both Belgrade and Pale believe, I-FOR will assist the Bosnia-Herzegovina troops to disrupt the Serb traffic along this vital corridor. If permitted to persist, such a blockade will bring about to collapse of the western parts of the Srpska Republic. Any Serb attempt to re-open the corridor by force would inevitably result in the resumption of fighting with I-FOR supporting the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army. Little wonder that the mood in the Banja Luka region is reported to be resembling the Republic of Serbian Krajina just before the fall of Knin.
Part III -- After The Experiment >>