18 November 2004, Volume
MILITARY COOPERATION OF THE WEST BALKAN STATES
'From The River Vardar [in Macedonia], To Mount Triglav [in Slovenia]'
(from a song about the "brotherhood and unity" in former Yugoslavia)
By Srdjan Kusovac (with contributions from Goran Vezic, Jasna Vukicevic, and Gezim Baxhaku)
High-ranking military representatives of the west Balkan states met for the first time in October, first on the Croatian island of Brijuni, and then on the Sveti Stefan peninsula in Montenegro. Statements were issued after each of the two sessions, saying that the meetings dealt with regional security cooperation.
How do the armies of states that were until recently at war with each other cooperate?
Croatian President Stjepan Mesic explained to RFE/RL on 9 October why the Brijuni meeting was organized as it was:
I met today with the chiefs of staff of the armies of three countries: Albania, Macedonia, and Croatia. Top-level delegations from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro were invited, too, as well as the Americans, who previously helped us conclude the Adriatic-American Charter.
We are now implementing our agreement, meaning that we are now working together, cooperating, and creating an atmosphere of tolerance, aimed at definitely excluding war as a political instrument. But at the same time, we must modernize our armed forces in order to meet all the needs of both our country and collective security in Europe.
The armies of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia and Montenegro are already cooperating, although the general public is not sufficiently informed about it. Under an agreement signed in 1996 in Florence, Italy, representatives of the armed forces of these states carry out regular inspections of each other's troops, facilities, and equipment. Sarajevo-based military analyst Neven Kazazovic told us about it:
There is a regional military center near Zagreb called Rakvijak where representatives from across the region -- from Austria to Greece and Turkey -- meet. Many different projects are being carried out there, aimed at encouraging international military cooperation. There are also contacts within the Partnership for Peace program and NATO.
Karl Gorinsek, a retired officer of the Croatian Army, told RFE/RL that the fact that these armies were at war with each other only 10 years ago is not considered an obstacle to cooperation anymore.
It is true that the wounds from the recent wars have yet to heal. But time is a great healer, and this is why I see no reason not to establish closer contacts under the auspices of the EU and NATO.
In the first phase, all possibilities for cooperation should be discussed. Since all the countries of the region want to join the EU, they will have to accept rules imposed by the EU, whether they like it or not.
Experts agree that the possibilities for cooperation are practically inexhaustible.
Obviously, there are many possible ways to cooperate, starting with maritime defense. There is also a need to take part in international peacekeeping missions, meaning that highly effective joint army contingents might be formed, since none of the states [in question] can afford to conduct such missions on its own. There is also the issue of the fight against terrorism, arms and drugs smuggling, human trafficking, etc.
Zoran Dragisic of the Faculty of Civil Defense in Belgrade:
There are huge possibilities for cooperation.... The most productive cooperation might be in the arms industry, simply because the arms industry of the former Yugoslavia was a unified system. Another form of cooperation might be in intelligence and security, primarily in fighting terrorism, organized crime, and other threats to regional security.
Neven Kazazovic made some additional points:
None of these three countries can achieve absolute strategic security if the other two remain unstable. NATO membership and Euro-Atlantic integration are the first steps from which others must follow.
Would joint military training help these struggling countries save money? The absence of any language barrier makes joint training all the easier.
Indeed, language is no real obstacle, but I think that the three countries must first find the necessary political will. This might take 10 to 15 years. For the time being, these states look to Western training centers. Serbia and Montenegro relies primarily on its own training capacities, since many such facilities from former Yugoslavia are in Serbia. However, these are not wealthy countries, and they will have to look for ways to save money sooner or later.
I even think that other states of the region, such as Romania and Bulgaria, might set up, for instance, a single pilot-training center. The training of combat pilots is very expensive, and none of the countries of the region can afford to do so on its own. It would not be rational, moreover, to set up a training facility for any one small country.
Serbia and Montenegro does not need to train 200 combat pilots a year; it actually needs far fewer than that. The same thing goes for Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia. It would not make sense if each of these countries had its own Air Force Academy, when they could all use a single academy financed and staffed by all the participating countries.
If this seems unrealistic, let us recall that if someone told you some 20 or 30 years ago that the Americans and Russians would have joint military exercises today, or that the French and Germans would have joint army units, no one would have considered it realistic.
All the countries of the region share the same security concerns and financial troubles, and this might lead to a rational approach to the issue of defense and security, which might eventually get them to think about joint training facilities.