2 December 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)
A couple of years ago, there were very serious talks about setting up a regional [military] academy in Sarajevo, where people from the western Balkans would be trained. It was supposed to be under NATO control.
So what happened? Nothing has been done about it.
Nothing. The Peace Support Operation Training Center exists in Butmir near Sarajevo, [but only] for those who are going to join peace support operations. I have no information whether the participants come from [all western Balkan] states, but the center does exist.
Retired General Blagoje Grahovac, who is national security adviser to Ranko Krivokapic, the speaker of the Montenegrin parliament, told RFE/RL that, as far as military training is concerned, he is quite optimistic.
There will be more and more things like that, and soon it will make no difference in which particular academy a Balkan officer was trained, in Croatia, Serbia, Brussels, or Germany. There will be no difference at all, which is very good.
All our experts agree that the production of arms and military equipment is another possible field of military cooperation. However, General Grahovac says that there are some limiting factors.
As far as the defense industry is concerned, it will never be the same again, which is good, since the [former Yugoslav] defense industry was war oriented, whereas in the near future, it will become something completely different. Big defense industry plants will be converted to civilian production, but a defense industry will still exist in the region. If we sincerely want to join NATO, this production will have to meet NATO standards. For me, that is a good thing.
Andreas Ninios, who is a representative of the Greek Association for Atlantic and European Cooperation, thinks that the main obstacles to military and security cooperation in the western Balkans are really political:
The reason for the absence of military cooperation in the region is the [1990s] war and its consequences in the Balkans. The war was bad not only for military reforms, but also for basic liberties, democracy, and prosperity. It affected everything for the worse.
In addition to political obstacles as well as a lack of willingness to implement reforms and cooperate, the region's armies remain bloated by NATO standards. Slobodan Kosovac of the Ministry of Defense of Serbia and Montenegro:
Projects [such as force reduction] require both time and money. There is enough time, but not money. There are no political obstacles [blocking such] projects....
Cooperation will, of course, depend on political agreements and the political situation, because, as you have already said, until recently these states were enemies. Now that they are improving their relations, security and defense cooperation will also reflect the pace of this improvement. And such cooperation can also provide its own impetus to better overall relations in the region.
The Army of Serbia and Montenegro announced in the spring of 2004 that none of its MiG-29 combat airplanes are capable of taking off. Croatian national television announced last week that only two of its MiG-21 combat airplanes are operational. Two years ago, the Czech Republic and Slovakia launched the idea of creating a joint air unit. Our experts agree that the Balkan states are still far from such a possibility. The question is whether they will still have their own separate air forces when they eventually become part of the Partnership for Peace and NATO.
All the states that were created after the dissolution of former Yugoslavia are now in a very uncomfortable position, since none of them is able to finance the huge cost of its military budget. It means that in the future they probably will not have significant air forces, since they cannot even afford to maintain the few planes that they have. The question is whether those states need their own air forces at all, since, according to what they claim, all of them want to get under the NATO umbrella. Some NATO members have respectable air forces, which means that small states that enjoy protection from them do not need to have their own aircraft, except for border and airspace control.
An important condition for the military reforms is that every one of these states must be able to finance its own army. That is one of the most important conditions for joining Partnership for Peace, and eventually NATO. The armies of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia and Montenegro are all undergoing essentially the same far-reaching changes, and sooner or later they will need to compare notes. Maintaining one's own air force is very expensive, and some other smaller countries rely on larger NATO partners instead. For example, Slovenian airspace is protected by Italy.... It will probably make sense for the countries of the western Balkans to keep only those aircraft attached to ground units, such as helicopters.
Another condition for serious cooperation is that the armed forces of these states undergo reforms. All our experts agree on this.
There will be no real military cooperation between these three states without a thorough reform of the three armies. The reform process will unavoidably bring the three armies closer together. The changes must also involve strategic planning, putting an end to the practice of viewing each other as potential enemies. The transformation I am talking about was visible in Bosnia-Herzegovina [in recent years] in the relations between its two entities and their respective armies. Reforms in Bosnia-Herzegovina showed that change can be effective, providing a foundation for future relations.