4 August 2005, Volume 7, Number 21
HOW MUCH DO BALKAN ARMIES (STILL) COST?
A program by RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service broadcasters Srdjan Kusovac and Gezim Baxhaku.
RFE/RL: In 2004, some $1 trillion was spent worldwide on weapons and armies.
In order to understand this huge amount calculated by SIPRI [Stockholm International Peace Research Institute], one of the leading institutions for research on armed forces around the world, let us just say that an average of some $2.3 billion was spent each day on armies worldwide, or that every inhabitant of our planet spent more than $160 a day on armies and defense.
After a decade of wars, military spending is being reduced to a minimum in the former Yugoslav states. The armed forces of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia and Montenegro are making a painful transition from the tradition of the bloated Yugoslav People's Army [JNA] -- whose budget was not subject to public scrutiny -- into small, professional, and efficient armies. During the transformation process that has been going on for years, the military establishments have often clashed with young, modern politicians, like, for instance, Serbian Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic, who has recently even sent financial police to military institutions.
Dinkic: It is irresponsible the way they use enormous resources from the budget out of the taxpayers' wallets. I am sending auditors to the financial department of the army. General [Dragan] Paskas, who is chief of staff of the Army of Serbia and Montenegro, publicly says that the army is in poor financial shape. Well, I say: "It is poor, but why? Because those people are not good at running it." The army would like to keep things unchanged, the way it used to be [in communist times], and they want the citizens to keep footing the bill. I am against it, and this is why I am ready to confront the entire army leadership if necessary. It is not an easy job at all to make a rigid army structure change its old habits.
RFE/RL: We will look at how far the armed forces in the region have gone in reforming, how much money they now spend, and what they plan to do in the future. Out guests are Fran Visnar, military analyst of Zagreb daily "Vjesnik"; Veljko Kadijevic of the Atlantic Movement in Serbia [editor's note: this is not the famous Yugoslav-era general of the same name], and journalist Antonio Prlenda from the Sarajevo daily "Oslobodjenje."
RFE/RL: Is the wider public in Croatia aware of the costs of the armed forces, or, in other words, is the financing of the army transparent?
Visnar: No, the wider public is not aware of it, but the information is available for those who want it. The current Croatian military budget is $599 million. It is slightly more than last year, but far less than what was spent in the1990s, especially in 1995 and 1996, when annual military spending exceeded $1 billion and when Croatia was at the very top of the list for military spending among all the countries of the region.
Therefore, transparency exists, although the Ministry of Defense is quick to add that the budget is too low and that two-thirds of what money they have is spent on salaries.
Although Croatia has made substantial progress in recent years, the structure of military spending is not yet up to NATO requirements. It remains uncertain when and if Croatia will be invited to join the alliance. Another thing that further complicates the situation is the fact that here, as in all the other countries of former Yugoslavia, the armed forces remain an important part of the state structure. They are quick to inflate their claims of what they have achieved and make bigger promises than they can really keep.
RFE/RL: When we compare Croatia with other states in the region, the progress that has been made towards European integration is much greater than anywhere else (except Slovenia). Why has Croatia not yet met the Partnership for Peace requirement of reducing its military costs below 2 percent of the GDP? What keeps preventing it from reaching that goal?
Visnar: Internal political reasons. Whenever cutting military costs is mentioned, Croatian conservative parties, such as traditional rightists like the HSP [Croatian Party of (Historical) Rights], exert pressure on the government to prevent it. At the same time, Croatia is reluctant to fire excess military and civilian staff from its armed forces. This involves quite a large number of people. From its current 21,000 active members, the army is supposed to fire some 8,000-9,000 employees by 2007-08. For the time being, there is no social program whatsoever for them. The situation is the same in Serbia, too.
As far as administration or bureaucracy is concerned, I consider the Ministry of Defense one of the most rigid institutions in Croatia, since when it comes to their internal structures no serious reforms have taken place. This is what NATO experts criticize the most when they come in Croatia. I am not only talking about the structure of the armed forces, in terms of infantry, etc. I am also talking about the civilian part that is trying to survive at any cost and maintains strong ties to those in power in order to preserve its privileges. Similar processes are taking place in other countries of former Yugoslavia, with the exception of Slovenia.
If Croatia did the impossible and created a professional army right now, it would have to spend immediately some $800 million-$900 million. The current foreign debt is higher than that of former Yugoslavia and stands at about $25 billion-$26 billion. It will thus require a solid national consensus to achieve serious military reform....
This, in turn, will depend on Croatia's future membership in NATO, namely whether it will join it or not, and whether it will join alone or with other states, especially with...Albania and Macedonia [with whom it has been linked by NATO since at least 2002]. However, I think that people in Brussels are very pragmatic and will want Serbia and Montenegro -- or those two states separately if they split -- to join as well because of their strategic and geopolitical importance.
SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
Kadijevic: The military budget is proposed by the Ministry of Defense for the joint state's parliament to approve. Serbia provides some 96 percent of the budget, while 4 percent of the finances come from Montenegro. According to my information, Serbia is currently [in 2005] paying some $675 million, and it is well-known for what the money is earmarked. But it remains to be seen whether or not it will be spent as planned and not disappear into some "hole" somewhere....
RFE/RL: What we are talking about here is no longer considered top secret, as it would have been treated some 20 or more years ago.
Kadijevic: Of course; it is not a top secret anymore. Information about the budget and the armed forces goes out to many addresses worldwide. These matters were transparent even in Tito's time. It means that SIPRI in Stockholm and the OSCE in Vienna have always had very precise information about our defense system, from the number of spoons and rifles we have, to the number of planes. It might have been kept secret from the wider public in former Yugoslavia, but it has never really been secret for anyone anywhere who cares to look.