Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 04/2014

The Bosnian Train and Equip Program: A Lesson in Interagency Integration of Hard and Soft Power

Christopher J. Lamb

March 2014

Institute for National Strategic Studies


Military assistance to Bosnian forces was part of a complex plan to resolve what one former Secretary of State called “the problem from hell.” When Yugoslavia began to disintegrate in the early 1990s following the Soviet Union’s demise, it released a mix of nationalist and ethnic movements that led to civil war. Ill-disciplined combinations of regular and irregular forces struggled to control territory and protect civilians, sometimes herding them toward ethnically homogenous enclaves in a process widely referred to as “ethnic cleansing.” The intentional displacement of civilian populations, often encouraged by atrocities including mass murder and rape, was a tragic and complex foreign policy problem that defied simple and easy solutions. The program to train and equip the Bosnian Federation Army after the signing of the Dayton peace agreement in 1995 was a key element of the U.S. strategy to bring a stable peace to Bosnia. Highly controversial at the time but obscure today, this program was implemented by a small interagency task force widely referred to as the “Train and Equip Program.” The small task force achieved all of its operational goals. It forged a rough military parity between previously warring parties, rid Bosnia of foreign extremists, and strengthened Bosnian Federation institutions and their pro-Western orientation. The program was simultaneously criticized for being too small and too much, which underscores how contentious it was and the inherent difficulties in assessing any military balance. The fact that the weight of the criticism shifted from the first half of 1996 when the program was more often criticized as anemic to the spring of 1997 when it was commonly criticized as being too robust underscored how fast the program made progress once it got going…