NAPLES, Italy – Although many years have passed since NATO first deployed 60,000 troops to Bosnia and Herzegovina, or BiH, in the aftermath of the Bosnian War, the relationship between the former Yugoslav Republic and the Alliance continues to grow.
U.K. Army General Sir James Everard, the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe
, and U.S. Navy Admiral James Foggo, commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, visited BiH, Feb. 21, 2018, to highlight their shared interest in the region and to meet with the country’s defence officials. Everard also serves as the operational commander of European Union Force Althea. The military Operation Althea, named after the Greek goddess of healing, was launched in BiH in 2004 and has contributed to the maintenance of the safe and secure environment in the country ever since.
"The mission in Bosnia is a shared mission with NATO and the European Union
,” said British Army Colonel Jonathan Campbell, the Naples-based director of staff European Union Command Element.
Campbell also spoke to the importance of two 4-star senior officers visiting BiH together.
"I think it sends a very powerful message, both to our own organizations and also to the region about their care for that particular country,” Campbell said.
During an interview
last month, Everard stressed the strategic importance of the Western Balkans for NATO and the EU and the positive aspects stability and security in the region can bring about.
"I think of all of those countries, and many of them made really good progress, Bosnia and Herzegovina faces the biggest challenge because there are really intractable political problems, and it requires political action to unpick them,” said Everard.
Despite political difficulties, EU and NATO military commands say they are cooperating to offer the country the best possible opportunity to enjoy security, stability, democracy, rule of law and universal human rights.
"Suffice it to say that we are both here because we are in support of Euro-Atlantic integration, in both the European Union and NATO, for Bosnia and Herzegovina,” said Foggo during a joint statement with Everard following a meeting with the country’s top defence officials "And so we talked about training, we talked about personnel, we talked about ammunition and explosive ordnance disposal, and we talked about the future of Membership Action Plan activation.”
The relationship between NATO and the EU in BiH is one in which European Union Forces, or EUFOR, are doing a job tactically on the ground with approximately 600 personnel. NATO Headquarters Sarajevo has about 50 people looking at the strategic level relationships with the Bosnian government.
"But if the situation on the ground was to get worse again then the EU would call for reserves and for the capabilities, and those capabilities, the assumption is they would come from NATO,” Campbell said.
Everard isn’t the only dual-hatted NATO and EU general around. The chief of staff at JFC Naples, Italian Army Lieutenant General Luciano Portolano, also serves as the head of the EU Command Element. With this comes the responsibility to look after the EU aspects on the ground in Bosnia.
Leaders cite Operation Althea as a prime example of NATO and EU cooperation in action, as NATO and EUFOR share common infrastructure, accommodation, communication and information system networks and force protection.
Visible advances in the country many credit to NATO and EU cooperation weren’t lost on Foggo.
"I have traveled here many times before, but it’s been about 15 years since I’ve been back,” said Foggo. "I was struck by the progress that I saw in construction and infrastructure as I drove here this morning from the airport.”
Although EU and NATO positions are not always the same in terms of BiH policy, the relationship between the EU and NATO has evolved over the years, according to Campbell.
"The EU have done a strategic review of Bosnia in the last 9 to 10 months we’ve been involved in that process, and it’s come up with four conclusions,” explained Campbell. "Some of those conclusions have an impact on NATO, and so we need to resolve between the two organizations where those points meet.”
Demining was one area that Campbell highlighted since mines are still killing people on an annual basis in BiH. Ammunitions weapons explosives disposal was another conclusion touched on.
The two areas Campbell said that affect NATO the most is ensuring full situational awareness for the commander of EUFOR so he won’t miss indicators and warnings of any breakdown in law and order. The other area concerns capacity building and training and the challenges of the relatively juvenile Armed Forces of Bosnia.
Campbell said he expects Foggo and Everard will discuss the latter two conclusions during their trip to the Balkans.
"Generally, the coherence between the two is very, very close,” Campbell said of security lines of operation between NATO and the EU.
Following the Feb. 21 meetings, Everard seemed encouraged as he spoke about Operation Althea.
"As many of you know, this is a small operation, but it does an important job,” said Everard. "And my meetings here today are to decide where this operation goes next. And what is so pleasing is we have, I think, absolute agreement with the madam minister and chief of defense and with Admiral Foggo, who represents NATO, on what we need to do.”
Foggo wrapped up the meetings by giving thanks and looking ahead to what he foresees as a prosperous future and relationship.
"I would like to personally thank madam minister and the chief of defense for the support that the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina have given NATO and the EU and other nations in places like Afghanistan Resolute Support
and with your peace support operations training center here, which is exceptional,” said Foggo. "It’s an honor for me to be here, and I look forward to coming back many times in the future.”
Story by JFC Naples Public Affairs Office