It is the European Union’s biggest-ever peacekeeping operation and a crucial test of its military credibility. A 7,000 strong force has taken over NATO’s mission in Bosnia. The occasion was marked by a ceremony in Sarajevo. NATO will maintain a presence – sharing responsibility with the EU in the hunt for war crimes suspects, notably former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzicand Ratko Mladic.
A quarter of a million lives were lost in the Bosnian war in the early 1990s, as the former Yugoslavia fell apart. But, guarded, bankrolled and steered by the West, the tiny Balkan state has since come a long way. It is in two parts now – a Muslim-Croat federation and a Serb Republic. The new force, known as EUFOR, isn’t exclusively European. It comprises over 30 nations, including Canada, New Zealand and Turkey.
Some might see the change as a non-event. After all, open hostilities in Bosnia have long since ended and 80 percent of the peacekeepers already present are simply trading in their old NATO badges for shiny new EUFOR ones. But Europeans believe that by ensuring this is the last international watch needed on Bosnian soil, they will force the world to take them seriously as the global military and diplomatic player they want to become.