The European Union has taken over peacekeeping activities in Bosnia from NATO's so-called Stabilization Force (SFOR). The new mission, the biggest EU military deployment ever, is seen as a key test for the union's drive to develop the military muscle to back up its diplomatic and economic weight.
The brief ceremony at Camp Butmir in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, marked a seamless transition.
Most of the new force's 7,000 troops were part of the NATO-led peacekeeping operation. They simply had to change their badges and armbands, and paint over their vehicles to become part of what is officially called EUFOR, or European Union Force.
Of the European Union's 25 members, 22 are taking part in the mission, as are non-EU countries, like Canada, Chile, New Zealand and Morocco. About 1,000 U.S. soldiers who belonged to the NATO force will be replaced by a Finnish contingent, although some will stay in Bosnia, as part of an alliance effort to hunt war crimes fugitives.
EUFOR's commander, British Major General David Leakey, says his troops' mission is the same as SFOR's: to help maintain peace and stability in Bosnia.
"We have got to demonstrate that we are robust and that we are going to be and can be muscular in order to be a deterrent force. But, at the same time, we cannot appear as an army of occupation, because, actually, this place is, at the moment, stable. We just have to keep it that way," he said.
EU officials in Brussels say EUFOR will oversee the integration of the armed forces of Bosnia's two separate entities, a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serb Republic. They say the EU mission will also continue NATO's mission of collecting and destroying illegal weapons. And they expect it to get more involved in fighting organized crime and corruption, which one official calls a bigger threat to Bosnia than any prospect of renewed ethnic warfare.
NATO set up SFOR in 1995 to enforce the Dayton peace accords ending the war that tore Bosnia apart in the early 1990s. It was the EU's failure to stop the fighting in its own backyard that spurred it toward developing its own defense instruments.
But EU countries, most of which are also members of NATO, together still spend less than half of the $393 billion the United States does on defense.
Some diplomats in Brussels say the creation of EUFOR has less to do with Bosnia's needs than with the EU's ambition to portray itself as a fledgling military power. They say that, with the country largely stabilized thanks to the NATO mission, the probability of renewed conflict in Bosina-Herzegovina is remote, and that the EU's peacekeeping task could just as easily be fulfilled by a police force.