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Interview: NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer Speaks With RFE/RL

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (file photo) NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was interviewed by Djeracina Tuhina of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 14 July in Brussels.

RFE/RL: Secretary-General, NATO has always promised that it won't leave the missions in the Balkans until all the problems are solved. The fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina wasn't accepted in Partnership for Peace [PfP] in Istanbul shows that there are still some unsolved problems; yet again, you decided to leave. How can you justify this transition from NATO to the European Union forces?

De Hoop Scheffer: First of all, I do not think NATO leaves. You are right, the EU is going to run an operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but NATO will stay; NATO will have a headquarters, NATO will have a general, NATO will be involved in defense reform, NATO will -- together with the EU -- hunt the persons indicted for war crimes. You can't say NATO is going, that NATO is leaving.

RFE/RL: But EU troops will be visible, not NATO troops.

De Hoop Scheffer: Well, you must realize first of all that if you look at SFOR, the present operation, 85 percent of the forces are European. So that will not make such dramatic or tremendous difference. But, the allied leaders in Istanbul have said that the time has come for SFOR to end, and I am glad, we are glad that the European Union is going to take over, because -- as you rightly say -- not all the problems are over yet. So I think it is also the wish of the authorities that "a force" will stay in Bosnia and that will be a force under the leadership of the European Union, which I think is a good development and NATO is not going to leave, let me stress that again.

RFE/RL: But how many numbers, how many NATO personnel will be in Bosnia?

De Hoop Scheffer: I can't give you numbers on NATO personnel, but I can tell you that the EU is taking over responsibility for the mission, but that NATO will go on having a number of responsibilities. I mentioned [to] you the headquarters, the general, advisers, advisers on defense reform.... So you cannot say NATO is leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina, because NATO isn't.

RFE/RL: It is not disappearing.

De Hoop Scheffer: It is not disappearing. But have trust, I say this on behalf of the United Kingdom as a lead nation, I think the U.K. is a country which is extremely capable and competent of being a lead nation of such a mission. The nations who are now participating in SFOR for the greater part will stay. So the change is not that fundamental. Let's look at it from the positive side and let's conclude that SFOR, which started with 60,000 troops, is now going down to a level of around 7,000. That is a very good sign of development in the country; it is a very good sign indeed.

RFE/RL: Yet again, problems are there. The most serious one is the question of the cooperation with the Hague [war crimes] tribunal.

De Hoop Scheffer: I agree. And when the NATO ambassadors under my chairmanship were in Sarajevo not too long ago, we seriously discussed these problems with the leadership and I think the leadership realizes, as NATO does, that a lack of full cooperation with the tribunal in The Hague is the reason why Bosnia and Herzegovina did not get the Partnership for Peace status in Istanbul. There are a few people, perhaps more than a few, in the Republika Srpska who don't understand that collaborating with Mr. [Radovan] Karadzic and covering for him means that Bosnia and Herzegovina is paying a high price for not, I hope not yet, having Partnership for Peace, because I am very much in favor [of] Bosnia and Herzegovina getting Partnership for Peace, but everybody knows that the full cooperation with the tribunal in The Hague is an essential condition for that.

RFE/RL: But [Bosnia and Herzegovina] has become sort of a hostage of Republika Srpska. While the leadership already fulfilled all the required conditions, including the Ministry of Defense and everything, now the question of The Hague that belongs, as you said, to Republika Srpska, makes the whole territory the hostage of this part.

De Hoop Scheffer: We discussed this and I discussed it extensively with the parliament in Sarajevo and they of course used the same arguments. And then my reaction was -- listen, dear friends in parliament in Sarajevo, you also have your responsibilities, you also have to see to it, I mean, we are discussing [Bosnia and Herzegovina], we are not discussing entities, let's not discuss entities, please, we are discussing the sovereign country Bosnia and Herzegovina. The country is still having the problems, that within its territory, within its borders we have Karadzic and we have others. Let's see that we can solve this problem as soon as possible, as far as I am concerned, this afternoon, rather tomorrow than the day after tomorrow. I sincerely hope so, because I think, and let me repeat this again, I think that [Bosnia and Herzegovina] should qualify for Partnership for Peace. The same, by the way, goes for Serbia and Montenegro, where I will also go soon and my story there will be the same -- cooperate, show full cooperation, do it, it can be done and do it.

RFE/RL: I guess you don't agree with some kind of skeptics that say that [the] Istanbul decision not to accept Bosnia and Herzegovina is a consequence of a general mood in the alliance that [Bosnia and Herzegovina] goes in a package with Serbia and Montenegro in PfP.

De Hoop Scheffer: No, such [a] general mood I have not found in the alliance over the past six months and I am now secretary-general. Definitely not. The mood in the alliance, I think, vis-a-vis [Bosnia and Herzegovina] and Serbia and Montenegro is a positive one. NATO, as I said before, is very much committed to the Balkans. Let there be no misunderstanding, NATO is, was, and stays committed to the Balkans. Also the EU is going to take over the mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. So that commitment is there, that commitment stays. I would like to see, I say that again, rather today than tomorrow, that full cooperation with the [International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia] in The Hague is there and then I will be the first to tell the NATO ambassadors and the NATO nations the moment has come to seriously address the question of PfP. Because I realize what a deception it is and it has been that Istanbul did not decide for PfP for [Bosnia and Herzegovina], but I say again, everybody knows what conditions should be fulfilled.

RFE/RL: Has Karadzic won the war against NATO? It has been almost a decade of hide and seek.

De Hoop Scheffer: But you know in wars the last battle is the most important one. And I say again, he can hide but he will not be able to run forever. And SFOR, as you know, has done everything in its power -- let's realize that the authorities are the first responsible, I mean, not SFOR, the authorities are the first responsible for getting Karadzic and others -- SFOR has done and is doing everything it can to assist as much as it can, so will EUFOR, Operation Althea as it is called, the goddess of healing, which is nice because there is still some healing necessary of course in [Bosnia and Herzegovina] as you also said. "So let's get them" is my parole, and is my mantra. And SFOR will do everything it can to assist.

RFE/RL: Yes, but you decided to conclude the operation before catching him.

De Hoop Scheffer: First of all, let me repeat, NATO is not leaving, the EU is taking over the responsibility, the force level will be as it is when SFOR is going to end, so I can not see any strong argument, a convincing argument that the fact that Karadzic is not yet in The Hague would lead to a nondecision about SFOR. The decision about SFOR has been made, NATO is not going to leave [Bosnia and Herzegovina] as I said, and Operation Althea -- EUFOR -- will as much as SFOR has done support the authorities in getting Mr. Karadzic. I can assure you that that will happen.

RFE/RL: Sooner rather than later?

De Hoop Scheffer: As far as I am concerned tomorrow rather than the day after tomorrow; so sooner.

RFE/RL: You have received harsh criticism from the Hague tribunal, from [prosecuter] Madam [Carla] Del Ponte's office, not you personally but SFOR. Do you have any comment concerning the whereabouts of Mr. Karadzic and why the operation of the arrest was delayed?

De Hoop Scheffer: I do not. The only thing I know is that SFOR has done and is doing everything it can to assist in getting Mr. Karadzic. So I do not accept any criticism or take any criticism on SFOR. SFOR is doing everything it can. I do not know in this very moment I am talking to you, I would wish I did, where Karadzic is hiding. But SFOR will do everything it can to assist the authorities in getting Mr. Karadzic.

RFE/RL: I have to go back to the more or less beginning. There is a lot of confusion among the population on how will Bosnia look like after the EU or Althea take over. Will it be the same soldiers, almost the same uniforms, but different flag, or how will it look like physically in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

De Hoop Scheffer: Well, as you know, I will visit Sarajevo with Javier Solana, the high representative of the European Union. I think this visit shows, by the way, how much the two organizations are committed to [Bosnia and Herzegovina]. Two organizations -- the EU and NATO. The soldiers, the men and the women, will still wear uniforms, what patches they are going to wear I do not know, I heard yesterday that the operation is going to be called Operation Althea, we labeled it EUFOR up to [a] day ago. So how the details will exactly look like I do not know, but I can assure you as secretary-general of NATO and I have a European vocation as well, that the European Union is more than able and competent to do this mission as good and as well as SFOR has done it.

RFE/RL: But in any case do you have a "Plan B" for the worse-case scenario, if EU mission fails in certain elements? Does NATO has a "Plan B" to jump up in order to help in certain situations?

De Hoop Scheffer: Yes, NATO has. May I refer to the unfortunate incidents in Kosovo in mid-March, where we saw a flare-up of ethnic hatred and ethnic violence, as I say, NATO is not leaving, NATO is of course at this very moment discussing with the EU exactly the question you are asking me about the reserve forces. We hope that they won't be necessary, but I take your point, you can never entirely exclude it, but you can rest assured that NATO will go on to play its role in this respect.

For the audio of RFE/RL's interview with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, please click here.