Belgrade Suspends Implementation of Sub-Regional Arms Accord

Wade Boese

ONE WEEK AFTER NATO began its bombing campaign against Yugoslav territory and military forces, Belgrade suspended implementation of the June 1996 Agreement on Sub-Regional Arms Control, but stressed that the move was not a withdrawal from the regime. All other parties to the agreement, Croatia and both entities of Bosnia-Herzegovina (the Muslim-Croat federation and Bosnian-Serb-controlled Republica Srpska) said they will continue implementation where possible.

In letters dated March 31 and April 1, Yugoslavia informed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is helping implement the agreement, that it was temporarily suspending implementation because of the impossibility of conducting inspections on Yugoslav military forces in light of NATO air strikes, which began March 24. No provision exists, however, for temporary suspensions, while withdrawal from the agreement, which Belgrade emphasized it was not doing, would require a 150-day notice and is proscribed until after December 14, 1999.

As a key goal of the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the fighting in Bosnia, the 1996 agreement capped the number of tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), heavy artillery, combat aircraft and attack helicopters that the former warring parties could possess. Limits were apportioned according to the size of each party's population on a 5:2:2 ratio between Yugoslavia (composed of Serbia and Montenegro), Bosnia and Croatia. The Bosnian limit was further divided on a 2:1 basis between the Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian Serbs.

All parties met, and have remained at or below, their limits after destroying nearly 6,600 weapons by November 1997. As called for by the agreement, the parties annually exchange information on and conduct inspections of the capped weapon holdings. To date, 338 inspections have been conducted.

Meeting informally without Yugoslavia on April 28, the other parties to the agreement decided that implementation should continue, although "adapted to the circumstances." Seven inspections involving Yugoslavia from April to August have been postponed, while the other parties carried out two inspections in May. The parties agreed to continue to meet informally until Belgrade renewed its participation, which an OSCE official said all parties, at this time, expect to take place.

U.S. Halts 'Train and Equip'

For the second time, the United States on April 19 suspended the "train-and-equip" program that provides the Muslim-Croat federation with U.S. weapons and training, a major carrot for its adherence to the 1996 agreement. Ambassador Robert Gelbard, special representative to the president for implementation of the Dayton accords, reportedly cited inflammatory speeches regarding Bosnian-Muslims by Croat and Bosnian-Croat generals and the continuing failure of the two entities to truly integrate their forces as reasons for the move. Last year, the program was halted from June 1-17 until the forces put into use common rank insignia and flags.

The $400 million program aims to create a Muslim-Croat force in Bosnia that can counter Republica Srpska. U.S. and European critics of the program fear it may create a much stronger federation force that could go on the offensive once the international presence leaves Bosnia.

According to Stephen Geiss, deputy director of the program, most of the weapons, including 15 UH-1H utility helicopters and 126 howitzers, have been delivered and the focus is now on creating a professional, integrated force that is oriented toward NATO military doctrine. U.S. officials have not identified what steps are necessary for the program, currently expected to run through September 2000, to get back underway.

Once train and equip ends, Washington hopes to develop a normal arms sales relationship with Bosnia, much like Croatia, which President Clinton on April 8 determined as eligible to receive U.S. weapons. Zagreb, however, is currently at its limits for all five categories of arms under the sub-regional agreement and would first need to make headroom before importing any U.S. weapons.

Regional Process Stalled

As a follow-on to the 1996 agreement and as called for in Article V of the Dayton accords, Southeast European countries were to work on "establishing a regional balance in and around the former Yugoslavia." By December 1998, however, only very vague goals of continuing a process of stability and transparency had been proclaimed, without any reference to arms limitations. In February, French Ambassador Henry Jacolin, OSCE special representative for Article V negotiations, held a plenary to set out a negotiation schedule, but NATO air strikes have brought the languid process to a standstill.