Commander Eric Folkestad for Fokus: Why BiH's reforms for NATO are vital?
BiH was invited to join MAP in 2010. It was clear that some issues would not be quickly resolved. We wanted to ensure that the authorities in BiH were able to formally tell us what its priorities were.
Will the reforms in the Reform Programme help BiH if it ever decides to apply for NATO membership? Yes. But this is not the only reason why BiH should continue to implement these reforms, said Eric Folkestad, Commander NATO Headquarters in BIH in his interview with Fokus.
Brigadier General Eric Folkestad served, until recently, the deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Africa and the Southern European Task Force in Vicenza, Italy. In his interview with our portal, he speaks about BiH's NATO path, its obligations, and future cooperation.
Fokus.ba: BiH Minister of Defense Sifet Podžić said that BiH is "on the last step to NATO membership". He said this in the context of ongoing debates and completely opposing views among politicians in BiH on the BiH's status in the context of NATO integration. I would therefore like to ask you to give us decisive information as to where BiH stands in the context of its path to NATO membership.
Folkestad: Every relationship with NATO is unique – and is rightly determined by the country themselves. Just as any future decision on membership is for BiH to make, the authorities here set the priorities and areas for cooperation in our current relationship.
BiH was invited to join MAP in 2010. It was clear that some issues would not be quickly resolved. We wanted to ensure that the authorities in BiH were able to formally tell us where its priorities were and what reforms they were interested in achieving with our help- and the help of our 30 allies. The Reform Programme is the result.
Will the reforms in the Reform Programme help BiH if it ever decides to apply for NATO membership? Yes. But this is not the only reason why BiH should continue to implement these reforms. Whatever, its future relationship with NATO, these reforms are vital to BiH- they are the basis for any stable democracy: they help strengthen democratic accountability and civilian oversight of the institutions responsible for defence and security, and ensure proper respect for human rights and the rule of law
Immediate Response 21 Exercise. Photo: NATO Headquarters Sarajevo
Fokus.ba: Further polemics refer to the obligation of each country aspiring to NATO membership to submit the Annual National Plan (ANP), some politicians referring to it as the Reform Program. Could you please tell us whether BiH submitted the ANP in late 2019 to NATO HQ Brussels, and what is happening with the ANP which was supposed to be submitted a year after?
Folkestad: I think I covered this in my answer to the last question. The focus of our relationship with BiH is the Reform Programme.
The Commission for Cooperation with NATO held a public consultation on the contents of the Reform Programme to ensure that the process is transparent and there can be no question over what the Programme seeks to achieve.
The Reform Programme seeks to implement reforms which will strengthen democracy in BIH and help the country to continue to move forward. It in no way prejudges any future decision on membership.
Fokus.ba: How should the recent NATO declaration be interpreted with respect to BiH and its future?
Folkestad: The communique from the recent NATO Summit in Brussels underlines NATO's continued commitment security, stability and prosperity in BiH. To its sovereignty and territorial integrity – including its sovereign right to determine the nature of its relationship with NATO; to the Dayton Agreement; and to the authorities here as they deliver essential reforms which- whether they realize it or not- touch and benefit everyone in BiH.
But it also recognizes that security, stability, and prosperity are best achieved through meaningful cooperation – whether that's co-operation with international partners, regionally and through NATO, or co-operation inside BiH between political leaders.
Brigadier General Eric Folkestad at Peace Support Operations Training Center. Photo: NATO Headquarters Sarajevo
Fokus.ba: The standstill in the registration of defense properties, which is a responsibility of BiH, has been obvious for a longer time. The RS still opposes this process despite court decisions in favor of the BiH Office of the Public Attorney. But there's still a lot of work to be done in the FBIH, too. What is your opinion on this issue?
Folkestad: Progress is being made. We understand that this is a sensitive issue but it's also an important principle – to ensure effective democratic, civilian oversight and accountability.
There is also a cost of failing to comply with court decisions. A country that is able to demonstrate a high respect for the rule of law may be more able to attract foreign investment and international business. Businesses want legal certainty – so they look for jurisdiction with public institutions which are effective, accountable, transparent and inclusive: these are the foundations of peace and stability.
That's why the reforms that NATO is helping BiH to make are so vital. They will help create these conditions and give business the confidence to invest and create jobs.
Fokus.ba: What could you tell us about future military exercises in which NATO and BiH will participate together? The last one made a big impact with the general public.
Folkestad: Training together is critical to ensuring that we are effective in a crisis. It helps us understand each other, and to identify what works and what needs improving. Whether it's through NATO exercises, like Steadfast Defender- which was a huge NATO exercise held across Germany Portugal and Romania at the start of the summer, or bi-lateral exercises like IMMEDIATE RESPONSE, which was conducted between US and AFBIH.
IMMEDIIATE RESPONSE was the largest exercise of its kind AFBiH have ever undertaken – and it was an incredible success. The US forces were very impressed with the professionalism and experience of the BiH soldier.
This year AFBiH will also undergo their Self Evaluation Level 2 (SEL-2) which is the next step on the path to having a light infantry battalion group that is entirely interoperable with NATO forces. There are also a number of other exercises focused on disaster and emergency response, in BiH and the region.