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          • Year: 2007
          • Officer Education in Serbia: Balancing Tradition with Modernity*

          • 01. july 2007. Dr Amadeo Watkins, UK Defence Academy, May 2007 This short paper is designed to address key aspects – most of which are well known – regarding military educational reform in Serbia and thus aid any decision making process on this subject.


          There is no doubt that Serbia has lots of history and pride in its officer education system. This paper does not question this statement. To the contrary, it aims to reinforce and build upon it using a realistic approach, taking into account all relevant parameters. It accepts that reform is a process and that in order for Serbia to continue to provide a modern and efficient education model to its officers - one with which it will create a proud and effective officer core - there is a constant need to refresh and re-evaluate achieved standards and methods in this field. Accepting the past and the present introduces one new constant to the debate which has to date been lacking in the overall process: cost-efficiency.


          Before going into the details, it is important to highlight one issue. In its reform processes, Serbia is no different from other countries in the region in the challenges it faces. Many of the problems were and still are common throughout the region and beyond, including reforming military education. As a post-conflict and transition country many legacies prevail and have not been addressed in an appropriate manner over the past 5 or so years. At the strategic level it is the question of the lack of will and capacity as well as the never ending question of resources - the ‘butter or gun’ question. Lower down the scale it relates to the need to address the past with the present - the tradition, the pride and desires against the very limited resources available to dedicate to this task.


          There is no doubt that education of the future generation of officers is of strategic importance to Serbia and its Armed Forces. Military education is the pillar of ongoing military reforms, influencing factors such as morale, recruitment, retention and civil-military relations within a country, the last of which must not be neglected as the military opens up and ceases to be a secretive system within a system. All factors considered, this is the best investment in the future that will ensure a quality Armed Force that will return to its long lost and sought glory.


          In order to address the issue of military education in a satisfactory and cost-efficient manner there is a need to look at the question from a strategic perspective. The need to look at the strategic picture is there for a variety of reasons, from budgetary planning to officer career development, tied in with the need to retrain personnel for new defence diplomacy and foreign policy effects. To date this has not occurred with activities applied primarily on an ad-hoc basis. There is no doubt responsibility for this lay with international but more importantly with domestic actors. 

          For all these reasons current military decision-makers face an enormous challenge, if not for the complexity of the whole issue, then for the importance this area has to the overall reform process. Primary obstacles to date are very clear: lack of political will, lack of sufficient understanding and knowledge on how to approach the subject with a long-term vision in mind and fundamentally resistance to the adoption of a new set of values throughout the system.


          The current documents, such as the SDR, can only serve as an overall guide and do not enter the subject area in sufficient detail to enable guidance to the reform of this specialist and complex area. A more focused study is needed looking at the medium to long term with objectives, challenges and possible solutions presented with a cost-efficient denominator.


          It is important to note that education does not exist to serve its own purpose. Those thinking about this sector need to answer the simple question: why do we have military education - what purpose does it aim to achieve and for whom?


          As already mentioned, military education is an important component in a wider sense. The education provided by the military educational establishments fits into the broader picture of human resources and effects issues such as recruitment and retention. For example, unless the education system provides a quality output it will negatively affect the recruitment of the next generation of officers who will not be interested in a career after which they will have little prospects - especially in an all-volunteer professional military. As previous years have shown the lack of adequate reform has already had severe impact on military recruitment in Serbia with only a handful of applicants applying to the Military Academy. Experience shows that increasing salaries as a way to address this issue is not appropriate and will only damage long-term efforts at building a quality armed force with positive civil-military relations.


          For all these reasons, small countries are ideally served with a civil-military model of education. It offers a very cost-efficient solution to many of the issues mentioned above. It is suggested Serbia also adopts this model on a lessons-learned principle, although the importance of the historical aspect justifies the creation of a 9 month- 1 year Military Academy for new cadets having completed a basic level of academic accredited education. The current transformation of the Police educational system in Serbia is to be noted in this context. Furthermore, the adoption of such a model would provide the basic conditions for contributing to the development of a regional aspect to military education in which other neighbouring countries might consider participating.


          Specifically, military education must be focused on future needs and modern practices and mistakes from the past must be avoided, especially with regards to education for the sake of ‘status’. Focus must be given to security rather than defence, in line with development on the global scene. Euro-Atlantic integration, not only as a strategic policy orientation of the country, but also as a global security factor, must be given space on the curriculum as must English Language training. Overall, focus must be given to a modular concept based on active rather than passive educational models, especially at the higher levels of education. This can only be achieved to a desirable standard if there is a benchmarking-evaluation system with regards the military educational staff.

          Looking at the details of officer education in Serbia the first observation is the size of the current military educational establishment. There is no doubt the current system is over-sized. As such it is not functional and can not meet desired outcomes. When I say functional, I mean it does not provide value for money - it does not serve the Armed Forces, Ministry of Defence and thus the society - of which it is part - effectively and efficiently.


          Looking at this from another perspective an oversized military educational establishment directly affects the educational model being utilised, including educational methodology. In the case of Serbia, it is clear that it has not changed at a pace that corresponds to strategic changes that have occurred both at the global and the regional level, such as the end of the Cold War and the corresponding shrinking in military spending, as well as new security challenges and roles of armed forces. In other words, the very system that should be leading the way forward still very much relies on the outdated model, hence driving the future military backwards.


          The educational system should serve as a centre of excellence in military thinking. Together with an effective research and analytical capacity, based on a versatile and open model, it should help spearhead reforms and thinking in the military and beyond as the country moves towards Euro-Atlantic integration, requiring input from numerous other government bodies. As such the newly revitalised Institute for Strategic Research should be the prime instrument within the system to advance such a process and within a small country  as a whole and in a small country directly help policy decision-making directly if correctly structured and implemented. In support of this argument, there is an urgent need to revitalise international cooperation which is something Serbia is well know for but has somehow lost its way.


          Last but not least is the issue of military-security related publications, which is currently confused and costly, not offering a quality and up to date insight to foster debate and information-sharing at various levels, and last but not least should serve as a link towards the society as a whole.


          Conclusion: The way forward




          I like to take the long term view and conclude that eventually there will no invention of hot water on this nor any other matter related to defence reform, including military education. Many countries have tried and failed in implementing a third way. The question for Serbia is will it learn from these mistakes - including those in the UK - and cut ‘experimentation’ costs. At this practical level, even if one does not accept all the facts presented above, at the level of realpolitik Serbia can simply not maintain the current system for lack of financial resources.


          Tradition needs to be valued but at the same time new and hard decisions need to be made in a timely manner. There is no escape from this reality and political maturity and consensus must support this. The British Armed Forces, more than any in the world, know this very well, with many historic regiments with strong local traditions dating back hundred of years being amalgamated and no longer in existence. Simultaneously, up to date operational experience from various ‘combat’ zones is directly being fed into educational modes bringing valuable experience to the purely academic efforts, ultimately not only  contributing to foreign policy objectives but more importantly saving lives.  


          Serbia is not being asked to do something that nobody has ever done before. Quite the opposite, it is being asked to remember the past and periods of self-initiative with reforms such as SNAGA, DRVAR 1 & 2 and RUDO. Furthermore it is being asked to remember its past role and relations with the West, especially during the 1920-30s and international bodies, such as the UN during the post-1945 period. A strategic vision is also not something new as the passing of the document Strategija oružane borbe dates back to 1973 and again 1983. All this shows there is historical precedent to support ongoing efforts.


          As noted above, any reform of this sector needs to take a strategic long-term perspective. This means it needs not only to look at the three tier model (military academy, staff college and war college), but also how it all fits into the wider human resources dimension. Once a strategic model is developed, various lower level projects that feed into the model can be implemented and developed, either domestically or with external support through bilateral cooperation, including the NATO DRG process and the SEE Clearing House mechanism. Local ownership and local coordination is an important determinant of the success of this exercise.


          The end product should ideally be a “re-branded” military educational model based on the recognition that the military is just another employer competing on the market to attract the very best towards building a bright future and quality armed forces for Serbia.

          *The views expressed in this paper are of the Author alone, and do not necessarily represent the views of the UK Ministry of Defence or any other part of HMG.

        • Tags: officer, education, military, Serbia, reform
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