11 August 2005, Volume 7, Number 22
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.
Veljko Kadijevic (of the Atlantic Movement in Serbia): This year, Serbia and Montenegro is supposed to implement...extensive military reforms for units that will be dissolved or reassigned to other tasks, but there is no money budgeted for it. There is no money for development and new equipment. Another huge problem in Serbia and Montenegro is housing. Some 22,500 people lack adequate housing, while some 14,500 members of the army have no housing whatsoever. Once again, there is no money in the 2005 army budget for that purpose.
RFE/RL: Should the reform process somehow be speeded up? Or should it go ahead as planned, no matter how slowly?
Kadijevic: Serbia and Montenegro has everything but money and time. Therefore, those two resources should be used wisely.
What I think we need most...is a political consensus, although it will hardly be easy to achieve. There are, in effect, two separate political and monetary systems in Serbia and Montenegro, which, of course, is reflected in our defense system. The system is a federal institution and thus reflects all the internal tensions of the joint state.
Nor is there a consensus within Serbia itself on the future direction of reforms. I am talking about sacking some 10,000 civilian employees, which is incredibly huge undertaking for a country in transition in this region. According to the finance minister, only 3,500 civilians will still have jobs, out of a total of 20,000 before the reforms started.
Before we continue, we should reach a consensus in order to create social programs and retraining courses for those people. The worst thing that could happen is what some Eastern countries have already experienced: people who don't have adequate social protection turn to organized crime. That would create an additional problem in the country and would take many years to resolve.
RFE/RL: When are the reforms supposed to be finished? Let's talk about both optimistic and pessimistic projections.
Kadijevic: The answer to that question depends on the development of the political situation in Serbia and Montenegro. The leaderships of both Serbia and Montenegro have opted for a professional army. According to the scheme adopted by the Defense Ministry's team -- in which I participated -- professionalization is slated to be completed by 2010.
RFE/RL: The Kosovo Protection Corps [TMK] is financed from Kosovo's budget. The TMK received many donations after 1999, when it was established out of the former Kosovo Liberation Army. This money was spent mainly on equipment and barracks...as determined by UNMIK, as is the case with all other public services in Kosovo. This year more than $17.5 million, or half the amount requested by the TMK, was put aside for organizational activities and salaries, or $3,500 per member of the TMK. "This is far from enough to satisfy the corps' basic needs," said Colonel Shemsi Syla, head of the information office at the TMK Supreme Command.
Syla: We demanded a minimum of $35 million for this year in order to carry out our plans and programs. We were granted only half of that. You can imagine how that will affect our ability to do what we had hoped.
RFE/RL: According to Syla, this inadequate financing for the TMK is causing huge difficulties:
Syla: The amount is far from enough, but we have managed to struggle along with what we have.
RFE/RL: The TMK has 5,000 people, with 3,052 active members and 2,000 active reserve troops.
Insufficient funding means serious problems for the TMK. The main one is low salaries. According to Colonel Syla, a TMK colonel's monthly salary is about $350.
Prlenda (from the Sarajevo daily "Oslobodjenje"): [Soon] after the war, the military budget still accounted for a double-digit percentage of the state budget, which, of course, was unrealistic for a country our size. That still was not enough to maintain our troops, equipment, or state of readiness and training.... Drastic cuts have continued...as the international community seeks to reduce the size of the armed forces in [both parts of] Bosnia-Herzegovina.
On the other hand, we still lack the means to deal with threats to our security, which do not come from the neighbors anymore but from international terrorism and organized crime. We need smaller armed forces with modern equipment, so that we can respond to modern threats, take part in international peacekeeping operations, and thus help build peace in the world.
RFE/RL: How many troops there are in the armed forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina? I am talking about both entities' armies.
Prlenda: There are some 12,000 professionals. One-third of them belong to the Army of the Republika Srpska while the major part belongs to the Army of the [Croat and Muslim] Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The number of recruits varies but is probably about several thousand at any given time. This is a small number, but the Commission for Defense Reform has recommended eliminating them as too expensive. The four-month military service should be reduced to three months, enabling a soldier to get basic training without having to start living like a real soldier. There are many reservists, but this is a force on paper only since there is no money for their training. The question remains as to why one adds ever more recruits to the existing body of reservists if there is no training money.
RFE/RL: Is the organization of the defense system in Bosnia-Herzegovina, i.e. the way it is divided into two entities, actually the main obstacle for a successful transformation of the armed forces, or is it just an administrative problem, while some others are far more serious?
Prlenda: In 2003 the international community should have insisted that the Bosnian Serbs accept the dissolution of separate entity defense ministries. That was during the Orao affair [over arms sales to Iraq], when there were firings and the Serbian hard-liners were on their knees, begging for mercy. That was the right opportunity to dissolve the ministries. I do not understand why the international community failed to do it [see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002 and 17 September 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report, " 25 October, 8 and 29 November 2002].
RFE/RL: How do you see the immediate future of the armed forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina? How soon do you think the goal will be achieved of creating small, mobile armed forces, as planned?
Prlenda: Under international pressure, the legislative framework will be completed this year. It means that the decision will be made. That's what I think.
NATO, America, and the rest of the international community obviously want to do here what would best suit their interests. Since they lack troops for combat operations worldwide, they obviously need soldiers to replace their troops. The easiest way to do it is to count on a professional army. This is one of the reasons why I think they so urgently want to create a professional army here. I think that the commission will recommend a complete dissolution of the current system. Then it will have to be enforced. It will take a couple of years before Bosnia-Herzegovina gets a fully professional army.