The many flags of the NATO-led Implementation Force in Bosnia
During the early to mid-1990s SHAPE became more operationally oriented and busier than at any other time in its history. Soon after U.S. Army Gen. George A. Joulwan became SACEUR in 1993, the situation in Bosnia Herzegovina worsened and NATO became increasingly involved in supporting international efforts to stop the fighting.
NATO warships continued operations in the Adriatic Ocean to stop the flow of arms into the crisis area, NATO aircraft patrolled the skies over Bosnia-Herzegovina to enforce the UN no-fly zone and prevent air strikes from taking place, and the SHAPE and AFSOUTH staffs continued to work on contingency plans for possible intervention to assist the withdrawal of UN peacekeeping forces in Former Yugoslavia, should this prove necessary, and on plans for possible NATO participation to help implement the various peace plans being proposed by the international community. Preparations were also underway for NATO aircraft to provide close air support to UN peacekeepers threatened by warring parties.
These commitments in support of the UN led to NATO's first combat actions since its founding in 1949. On February 28, 1994 NATO aircraft shot down four Bosnian Serb fighter-bombers carrying out a bombing mission in clear violation of the UN no-fly zone. NATO aircraft also conducted several limited air strikes at the request of United Nations peacekeepers.
After the Bosnian Serbs overran the Srebrenica safe area, murdered many of its inhabitants and then began to threaten two additional UN-declared safe areas, NATO carried out Operation Deliberate Force. From late August until mid September 1995, NATO aircraft attacked Bosnian Serb military targets to force them to withdraw heavy weapons from the Sarajevo area. NATO's forceful action contributed to the Bosnian Serbs' decision to enter into peace negotiations, and in November 1995 the warring factions signed the Dayton Peace Accords. At the same time NATO agreed to assume responsibility for leading an international peacekeeping force to implement the peace accords in Bosnia Herzegovina.
SHAPE and its subordinate headquarters quickly produced NATO's military plan to implement the Dayton Accords, and on December 20, 1995 responsibility for peacekeeping in Bosnia-Herzegovina transferred from the UN to the NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR). The IFOR mission was the largest and most complex military operation in Europe since the Second World War. Nearly 50,000 troops from NATO and 17 Non-NATO countries, including Russia, deployed to the region, and Gen. Joulwan's unifying slogan for the force was "One Team, One Mission”.
The participation of so many non-NATO nations required the development of new co-ordination and command and control arrangements, and one of the most difficult ones to negotiate was with Russia, NATO's historic Cold War opponent. After high level diplomacy failed, Gen. Joulwan's personal negotiations with senior Russian officers proved more successful, and in another historic first for NATO, a Russian general became SACEUR's deputy for Russian Forces in IFOR, and a Russian delegation joined the IFOR Co-ordination Centre established at SHAPE.
IFOR quickly separated the opposing factions' armies, secured areas to be transferred from one community to another, and supervised the withdrawal of all forces to zones of separation. It then arranged the movement of large numbers of troops, weapons and equipment to cantonment and storage sites.
In December 1996 IFOR was renamed Stabilisation Force (SFOR) and charged with responsibility for the continued stabilisation of Bosnia Herzegovina. The day before SACEUR Joulwan relinquished command, NATO troops seized their first suspected war criminal and handed him over to the UN for trial. In the new and smaller SFOR there was less emphasis on heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery than in IFOR, because the need for such weapons was now assessed to be much less.
The SHAPE staff also continued work on less visible but very important tasks. The Partnership for Peace programme was launched in 1994 to improve NATO military co-operation with many neutral countries and former Warsaw Pact members, and a Partnership Co-ordination Centre was established at SHAPE.
SHAPE also continued to work on improving NATO-Russian relations. A long term study began in 1994 to look at ways to reorganise ACE for the second time in the 1990s and to better reflect the evolving European security and defence identity. In 1994 the new Combined Joint Task Force Headquarters Concept required such headquarters to be able to conduct operations for NATO or the Western European Union/European Union.
SHAPE and the ACE Reaction Forces Staff (which became the Combined Joint Planning Staff in April 1997) worked on this politically sensitive task. SHAPE also worked on ways to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to implement a Theatre Missile Defence.
As indications increased that NATO would take on new members in the near future, SHAPE also began preparations and planning for the possible addition of new members to Allied Command Europe.