Intelligence and the UN: Lessons From Bosnia-A Canadian Experience

by Captain Daniel Villeneuve, in collaboration with Sergeant Marc-André Lefebvre, Canadian Armed Forces

The use of intelligence in peacekeeping operations has always been a sensitive prospect. Peacekeeping operations have been defined as military operations conducted for the purpose of maintaining and restoring peace other than by the application of force, which is only to be used under extreme circumstances. On the face of it, contingents participating in a U.N. mission are neutral and have no enemy. Therefore, there should be no need for intelligence in such an operation. The reality on the ground, however, is quite different, as recent experiences in the former Yugoslavia have demonstrated. A U.N. mission remains a military operation, and as with any military operation, there is a requirement for intelligence support.
This article summarizes some of the particularities I encountered with respect to the employment of intelligence in a U.N. operation. I served as the intelligence officer for the 3d Battalion, Royal 22d Regiment (a French-language-speaking Canadian infantry battalion), which deployed in Bosnia from 30 April to 30 October 1995.


My battalion formed the lion's share of the battle-group known as CANBAT 2 (Canadian Battalion 2) (CANBAT 1 was in Croatia) and deployed at Visoko, 30 kilometers (km) northwest of Sarajevo, in central Bosnia. The unit, with some 825 members of all ranks, had an area of responsibility (AOR) of around 900 km2. In the AOR, the unit found itself dealing with all three warring factions, since we had observation posts (OP) deployed along the Bosnian Serb side of the confrontation line (the only U.N. unit in Bosnia to do so). Part of the 20-km total exclusion zone surrounding Sarajevo was inside the AOR, and the area was located along some of the main north-south communication routes in central Bosnia.
The mission of the unit was
To specifically accomplish this mission, CANBAT 2 operated a series of OPs on both sides of the confrontation line, as well as a series of check points along the main lines of communication. The unit also patrolled throughout the AOR, maintaining liaison with all three factions. A basic concept I observed in peacekeeping operations is that the longer the warring factions do not fight each other, the more opportunities they have to talk.
The more numerous these opportunities, the more likely a compromise solution becomes. The U.N. forces are there to help the factions maintain the cease-fire and to prevent or resolve disagreements. If this concept is to succeed, a need exists for the warring factions to cooperate, both among each other and with the United Nations. CANBAT 2 started its tour employed in a typical peacekeeping role. Less than a month after their arrival in the theater, however, the situation started to deteriorate. The warring factions were not yet ready to negotiate, still considering the military option to be a better solution to their problems. The first crisis involving the unit was the Bosnian-Serb hostage-taking of U.N. personnel following the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) airstrikes at the end of May 1995. CANBAT 2 had 53 members taken hostage; the last of these were not safely released until 17 June. No sooner had the hostage crisis ended than the unit found itself in the middle of a major Bosnian Muslim-Croat Federation offensive to open Sarajevo. This offensive, which started on 15 June, lasted approximately one month. Although the offensive was a failure, it did cause CANBAT 2 to lose its freedom of movement for approximately 10 days, followed by a slow return to normal by early August. While the AOR was quiet during the last three months, the U.N.-NATO airstrike campaign against the Bosnian Serbs in September kept the unit on its guard, with the potential for renewal of hostilities always present. The air offensive resulted in a ceasefire at the beginning of October, with the Dayton Peace Agreement following by the end of the month.

Intelligence Becomes Military Information

As I discovered in Bosnia, the United Nations tacitly acknowledges that there is an operational requirement for intelligence in support of a military unit deployed on a mission. To reduce the negative impact attached to the word intelligence, however, we used the term "military information" instead. My title in Bosnia, for example, was Military Information Officer; intelligence summaries became military information summaries, and so forth. The terms warring factions or belligerents replaced enemy. Despite these cosmetic changes, the intelligence process remains unchanged. The United Nations does require, however, that collection be done with more discretion, using only overt means.

The CANBAT 2 Military Information Cell

As with any tactical military operation, the role of the intelligence function in a U.N. context is to advise the commander on how the warring factions, the ground situation, and the weather could affect the accomplishment of the mission. During the training phase prior to deployment, the basic concept the battle-group developed for the employment of intelligence to support its mission saw the section given the task of establishing what was the normal state of affairs, if any, in the AOR. The idea was to determine a baseline for the area in terms of the warring factions' deployment, movements, firing incidents, and so on. Once established, all events could then be compared to this baseline to determine if they were a threat to the cease-fire. The rationale behind this was to have as much warning as possible of impending events in order to be proactive instead of reactive. This concept was based on the static nature of the operations both in terms of the non-changing AOR and the reduced level of military action expected when the planners developed the concept. As previously mentioned, the rapid and active evolution of military events during the tour prevented the full application of this concept.
The Military Information Cell had three main tasks. They were