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Evidence of meeting #42 for National Defence in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was membership.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Excellency Milorad Zivkovic  Chairman, House of Representatives, Parliamentary Assembly of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Denis Becirovic  Vice Chairman, House of Representatives, Parliamentary Assembly of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Martin Raguz  Member, House of Peoples, Parliamentary Assembly of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Good morning, everyone.

I see we have a point of order coming up.

But before I do that, I'll first apologize to our witnesses for being late. We had votes in the House. It is my understanding that we can extend our time to 12:30, since your next meeting has been postponed or cancelled.

Mr. McKay, you have a point of order.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

It's just very brief, Mr. Chair. I don't wish to take any time away from the committee.

When the minister was last here on March 13, I asked a series of very specific questions on the supplementary estimates (C). He said that he would “appreciate the time parameters we're working with here, so I will undertake to give you more fulsome and specific information.”

I've yet to receive that and I don't know whether our clerk has. If not, I'd ask that our clerk pursue it.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

We shall pursue it. We'll put a letter in to the minister and his staff, asking them to follow up on that question.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

That's all I wished to raise.

Thank you.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you.

We have joining us today, from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina—and I apologize if I mispronounce people's names here—the chair of the House of Representatives, Milorad Zivkovic. We have the vice-chairman of the House, Denis Becirovic. We have a member from the House of Peoples, Martin Raguz. Also joining them is Her Excellency the Ambassador in Ottawa for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Biljana Gutic-Bjelica.

In the interest of time, I'll open it up to opening comments.

I understand that you have your interpreters with you. So with that, Mr. Zivkovic, perhaps you could bring your opening comments to the committee.

Welcome to Canada.

11:45 a.m.

His Excellency Milorad Zivkovic Chairman, House of Representatives, Parliamentary Assembly of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Honourable Chair, ladies and gentlemen, Your Excellency, Ambassador, allow me to thank you for the warm welcome we've had over these days.

Before this meeting we had discussions with the parliamentary secretary regarding this issue. We understand you had voting and we parliamentarians understand that on a lively day such as today you need to spend much time in the House. We discussed several issues and I've updated the parliamentary secretary on issues in this area.

Briefly, allow me to say that the reform of the defence system in Bosnia and Herzegovina is considered to be one of the most important reforms. Before that, we had three armies that were at war with each other. Since that reform we have one army, whose command and powers are at the presidency. At the same time, our foreign policy orientation is for Euro-Atlantic integration.

I can inform you that in NATO integration we have accomplished much more than in EU integration, simply because the political demands were smaller. We have proved that we are trained and capable of acting on high NATO standards. That was proven in the peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan, which was a theme of the summit in Chicago. The redistribution of military property is under discussion. After we finish, this will give us full membership in the NATO alliance.

We can say that in Bosnia and Herzegovina, currently we are satisfying accommodations in the area of security. We are not immune to terrorist activities, but I can say that we handle them maybe even better than some European countries.

Regarding the parliamentary dimension, we in the parliamentary assembly have a joint committee on defence and security composed of members from both houses of the parliamentary assembly.

That is a specific characteristic of the parliamentary assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We have several joint committees where representatives from both houses are members, and one of those is the committee on defence.

I'm taking this opportunity to thank Canada for its support to Bosnia and Herzegovina on its road to NATO, and for all the assistance and help provided with the demining of the land and all of the other help. Of course, there is a lot of work still to be done there, and we are in need of your help.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you so much.

We'll go to our first round of questioning.

Mr. Harris, you have seven minutes.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you very much, Chair.

I want to thank you all for coming today. As you may know, in our Parliament there are the government members who sit on that side and the opposition members who sit on this side of the committee meeting. So we represent the opposition party, just for your information.

I'd like to ask first of all about the following. We in Canada, of course, assisted you throughout your struggles and difficulties over the last number of years. I'm reading something here telling me that you now have an armed forces consisting of 15,000 soldiers. Is that correct? If so, how did you accomplish the process of disarmament and integration of the three groups who were hostile—though not all toward one another of course?

11:50 a.m.

Milorad Zivkovic

According to the law on defence and on armed forces, we have 9,000 soldiers and an option to have a reserve of up to half that number of soldiers.

As I've said, the reform of defence was one of the most successful reforms. The process of destroying ammunition was transparent, which we managed to do successfully with the co-operation of the international community.

In order to achieve our two goals, the first one to increase security and the second one to decrease the cost of the army, we had to decrease the number of soldiers. We want to achieve NATO standards with their full equipment. Our soldiers are well trained physically according to those NATO standards.

Since we have agreed on military property, we will manage to save in that area, so basically we won't have to cover up for the inadequate property that we had so far.

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

I'm sorry, may I interrupt? We only have seven minutes.

I wanted to be a little bit more specific. You've downsized. There's a small military force, and you say that you've been very successful in disarmament of the population. Is it true, then, that you have no concerns? You've mentioned terrorism, but I don't know what you mean by that. Do you have no concerns about any latent hostilities from the conflict, from a military perspective within your country?

11:55 a.m.

Milorad Zivkovic

Well, I said it was the political assessment that NATO membership would provide more security in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region, and when I mentioned decreasing the number of soldiers, I meant actually that those discussions are run by the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The political resolution is that we don't need armed forces for Bosnia and Herzegovina, but for peacekeeping operations.

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you.

Can you tell me what the partnership for peace membership means for Bosnia and Herzegovina and what obligations you have undertaken as part of that arrangement?

11:55 a.m.

Milorad Zivkovic

[Witness speaks in his native language]

11:55 a.m.

Denis Becirovic Vice Chairman, House of Representatives, Parliamentary Assembly of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina

I greet you also most heartedly.

Your question of whether security is expensive, and the answer is yes. But instability and insecurity is even more expensive.

We, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, are aware of all the global challenges and global changes. It is clear that for global challenges we must find global solutions. Bosnia and Herzegovina has three theoretical and practical solutions when it comes to security. One is membership in the NATO alliance. Second, a theoretical solution, is an alliance with Russia. Third is to proclaim political neutrality.

We have committed ourselves to the road to NATO, but we must not forget that Russia is increasingly more active in the economic area and every other aspect.

Our country, regardless of the fact that it is a really small country, wants to keep, maintain, and preserve peace in alliance with other countries. Isolationism, as an option, is out of the question. Of course, North America did learn the hard way in 1941 with Pearl Harbour, and in 2001 in New York.

We want to become a member of the strongest political alliance in the history of humanity. To us, membership in the NATO alliance primarily means stability and security for all of our peoples. Stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina means stability of all of southeast Europe and the entire region.

In 2014, we will mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War, which was initiated in Sarajevo.

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

I'm going to have to cut you off there. Unfortunately, the time has expired for Mr. Harris, and I do have other members who have other questions.

Mr. Chisu, you have the floor for seven minutes.

Noon

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much to our guests for showing up.

Noon

Vice Chairman, House of Representatives, Parliamentary Assembly of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Denis Becirovic

I have one more sentence to say, if you'll allow it.

You must understand that we have taken serious steps to achieve all of this, and our troops are in Afghanistan in peacekeeping operations. Several days ago, we agreed on a settlement regarding military property in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you for that clarification.

Mr. Chisu.

Noon

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much, honourable guests, for coming to our committee.

In 2004, I was in your country for a year, and I have noticed great progress since the war and after the implementation of the Dayton accords. Most of the army was at the forefront of the entire reconciliation in your country between various ethnic groups.

In 2009 you applied to NATO's membership action plan, MAP, and in April 2010, at the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, you were officially invited into MAP, which is the next step to integration in NATO. However, I would like you to clarify a couple of things.

NATO members have three major concerns. The first issue is that in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are still 23,000 tonnes of high risk, unsafe, and unstable surplus ammunition and weapons. Some of it is hidden and needs to be destroyed. The second issue is the lack of political support for the proposals of the military leadership on defence review, defining the long-term plan for the development of the armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina by 2020. The third issue is the technical and political challenges related to the precise technical description of the inter-entity boundary line.

So can you elaborate not only on the defence property issue, but also on these three points I expressed?

12:05 p.m.

Vice Chairman, House of Representatives, Parliamentary Assembly of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Denis Becirovic

On the first question, weapons are still not cleared in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as you've said. We must state that the process is mainly finished, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is as stable as the countries of Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and other neighbouring countries.

Regarding long-term support to the armed forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina until 2025, the Minister of Defence has made a plan, and that plan has support that was proven at the last summit in Chicago.

On the third question about inter-ethnic boundaries in Bosnia and Herzegovina, such boundaries do not exist in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is a unified, single, multi-ethnic country, and people of all three ethnicities live in both entities. We must be objective. You can still feel the reason, the feelings, tied to the previous nineties conflict.

It is also a fact pointed out by numerous foreign analysts that there is no similar conflict that we have had and no similar progress that we have achieved in such a short time. Bosnia and Herzegovina is an example of the success of the west, the international community, and local domestic parties.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Corneliu Chisu Conservative Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

I have a question, continuing on this issue. I was in Strasbourg in January and saw a report on the progress of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the Council of Europe. Of course, membership in NATO will also depend on the situation you are resolving—the political issues inside Bosnia and Herzegovina.

How do you think these issues will reflect on membership in NATO?

12:10 p.m.

Milorad Zivkovic

I spoke on these issues as the speaker of the House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and I presented the opinion and standpoint of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

I was referring to the conditions set up for Bosnia-Herzegovina, to the settlement. After they finalize the military property, I expect that the map will be finalized in October this year.

Allow me to say that as parliamentarians we came here on this visit to exchange opinions. As I said, we have advanced much further in NATO integration than in EU integration because there were no political conditions.

I come from the part of Bosnia-Herzegovina that's called Republika Srpska, where we have special, separate opinions regarding NATO integration and the revision of the Dayton Peace Agreement. There's the opinion of the National Assembly of the Republika Srpska, which is binding for us as parliamentarians at the state level. There will be a referendum held regarding the application to NATO.

We are carefully monitoring what our neighbours also do, especially Serbia. If the NATO conditions are too detailed and we change the Dayton agreement, the constitution, more thoroughly, I'm afraid that we might be stuck on that road.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you. The time has expired.

I know it's going by fast, but in every round we've actually been between nine and ten minutes already.

Mr. McKay, you have the floor.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Thank you, Chair.

What does Bosnia-Herzegovina see as its greatest military threat?

12:10 p.m.

Martin Raguz Member, House of Peoples, Parliamentary Assembly of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina

The biggest security threat and challenge for Bosnia-Herzegovina, if we look at it historically, has come from abroad. Of course, that was helped by the lack of internal consensus. Now it's time that this new political generation achieves a definite political consensus regarding the future of our country, and that's our biggest challenge.