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          • Year: 2019
          • Military neutral European Serbia between the Republic of Srpska and the Greater Albania

          • What has changed in the interpretation of biggest threats to Serbia's security and answers to them in the new proposed National Security Strategy and Defence Strategy is analysed by BCSP researcher Jelena Pejic Nikic.

        • On August 21st Serbian Government submitted previously unpublished proposals of National Security Strategy and Defence Strategy of Serbiato the Parliament. For more than a year since the prompt public discussion on draft strategies was ended in May 2018 the public was kept in ignorance of how and why the drafts were altered.



          The strategies were drafted behind closed doors since late 2016; the Government ignored two BCSP’s requests for access to information on the entire drafting and revising process. According to the Work Plan of the Government of Serbia for 2019, these strategies should have been adopted in April, and adoption of action plans that implement them is planned for December. The current   National Security Strategy and Defence Strategy were adopted in 2009.


          Military Neutrality and Total Defence - Two Sides of the Same Coin?


          The proposed   National Security Strategy proclaims military neutrality of Serbia and its membership in the European Union as one of the vital national interests in a clear and explicit manner. None of these two were mentioned in the previous strategy, even though the National Assembly proclaimed military neutrality in December 2007 and state officials have since referenced it on occasion. This concept is, however, understood minimally, both in the Assembly’s Resolution and the Strategy Proposal - it equates with military non-alignment, i.e. refusal to accede to any military alliance, but it doesn’t prevent active cooperation with such alliances, either based on interest (NATO) or determination (ODKB). Partnership for Peace is seen as an optimal framework for Serbia’s relations with NATO, while further widening and deepening of cooperation with the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (ODKB) is announced.


          Also new is the implementation and elaboration of the total defence concept, which was only marginally mentioned in the still current Defence Strategy. This concept means engaging all resources available for countering diverse threats. The drafters of new strategies see it as complimentary to military neutrality - if you don’t have allies to help you in need, then you must raise your own capacities. Total defence encompasses both civilian and military defence, is implemented incessantly - in peace, war and states of exception, and by all citizens on diverse fronts.


          The first front of total defence is education, through which patriotism (’rodoljublje’ in Serbian rather implies love for the ethnic group than for the state) and readiness of citizens to defend their country. This is the change that will affect Serbian citizens the most, and it already started, even though the strategies are yet to be adopted. Legislative amendments in spring 2018 enabled introducing defence courses in elementary and high schools, reintroducing military conscription is under consideration, and first obligatory 15-day military trainings for reservists have already been organized.


          Nothing New in the Western Balkans?


          The assessment of security environment has mostly been copied from the strategies in force. The Government claims the reason for adopting new strategies to be the altered security context. However, reading the proposals leads us to the conclusion that it mainly remained the same. While strategies of 2009 could be characterized as moderately optimistic regarding regional security, proposed strategies reflect the trend of aggravating relations in the region. The analysis of differences between the drafts (April 2018) and official strategy proposals (August 2019) suggests that the situation in the region continues to deteriorate.


          Kosovo kept its central position as the source of the greatest security threats - from violating territorial integrity, separatism, armed rebellion, to extremism, terrorism and organized crime. Strategies give a clear and loud response - Serbia will not recognize unilateral secession, it insists on keeping international presence on the territory of its southern province and continues to fight against recognition of Kosovo independence, i.e. for revoking recognitions given so far.


          Compared to the drafts presented last year, published proposals additionally highlight the preservation of the Republic of Srpska as an entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina, in accordance with the Dayton Agreement, and not only as priority of the Serbian foreign policy, but the defence policy as well. Moreover, the proposed Defence Strategy underlines that preservation of Republic of Srpska is ’of special interest for the security and defence of the Republic of Serbia’, without explaining exactly how eventual constitutional changes in B&H could affect the defence of Serbia.


          Furthermore, the proposed   National Security Strategy names ’the Greater Albania’ explicitly as an irredentist project that is no longer only potential, but an actual threat to the stability of the region, while the Defence Strategy (both draft and proposal) warns of ’extremist tendencies to unify territories in the region where they are demographically dominant’.


          Resitting Environmental Awareness


          In comparison with last year’s draft, the proposed   National Security Strategy was complemented with segments that had obviously been neglected, and it was somewhat improved in line with several suggestions from the civil society. Even this came unexpected after the dismissive attitude in the Report on a conducted public discussion published by the Defence Ministry a year ago.


          The greatest change in the text of   National Security Strategy falls within the field of environment protection, which was totally neglected in the draft. Now it found its place among national interests and national policies, and is recognized as endangered on the list of challenges, risks and threats as well. It seems as if the Ministry of Environmental Protection jumped in the revision of the draft only after civil society organizations pointed this lapse out. One of the alarming solutions, now deleted, opened the possibility for revising national nuclear policy, which would have been ecologically tragical and contrary to our European path.


          Principally Biased Without Corruption


          BCSP criticized the drafted changes in the structure of the national security system, with an overemphasized role of the President of the Republic at the expense of the Government and with a negligible role of the control and oversight over the system and within the system. Renaming the communal police into militia is the only thing changed in the meantime in this part of the new   National Security Strategy.


          On the other hand, functioning principles of the system were complemented with professionalism and control and oversight, but not with impartiality and political, ideological and interest neutrality as well. These principles were proclaimed in the strategies of 2009, and the civil society insisted on keeping them in the new ones too, fearing that the interest of Serbia and its citizens could be mistaken with particular interests of individuals and groups on positions of power.


          Narcotism is back on the list of challenges, risks and threats, as in 2009, but corruption is not, now only being mentioned lightly. Widespread, system corruption remains, however, one of the greatest obstacles for fulfilling national interests, and is as such recognized by citizens of Serbia, while the Government has been often criticized for putting insufficient effort in its eradication. This remark of the civil society was dismissed, as we conclude from the official report, because it is (totally unrealistically) expected that this problem will soon be solved.


          Strategy as a Cover for Already Implemented Changes


          The   National Security Strategy is the highest strategic document further operationalized through bills, other strategies (such as the Defence Strategy) and public policies in all areas of social life. For the citizens of Serbia, as well as for the whole international community, it is important for Serbia to have such an official document where supreme national interests are defined, as well as policies that protect them.


          Serbia has been in need of a new strategy for five years now. During the decade after the adoption of strategies still in force the sountry has advanced on its path towards membership in the European Union and initialized the process of normalization of relations with Kosovo, while the crisis in Ukraine leading to tightened East-West relations, so called Arab spring, the rise of ISIS, massive migrant wave coming from Africa and the Middle East, high tech development and climate change have significantly changed the world we live in. By adjusting national policies to the altered circumstances Serbia should also align its position with the EU Global strategy of 2016.


          With the sluggish drafting process behind closed doors, the National Assembly is yet to discuss and adopt the strategies, but solutions they entail are already being implemented. Law amendments in the area of security and defence were adopted between the fall of 2017 and the spring of 2018, and BCSP’s suspicions in regard to their direction were only retroactively corroborated by the new strategies, both with their content and their drafting process. Distinguishable trends point to diminished transparency and democratic civilian control, increased discretion of the top officials in the security sector, as well as a widened scope of power of the sector vis-à-vis the citizens.


          The Strategies Should Be Implemented Under the Public Spotlight


          In order to improve the process, the National Assembly should adopt both strategies after a constructive and critical discussion, and the Government should undertake measures to inform the citizens better about the importance and content of the strategies. The Ministry of Defence should include external experts and interested public in the drafting of action plans, their implementation and monitoring.


          Insufficient attention to the implementation was a major omission in the strategies still in force. Now both strategies request adoption of action plans to be monitored by the Ministry of Defence, as well as reported annually to the Government, the National Security Council and the relevant parliamentary committees. It remains to be seen whether this practice will take roots and be meaningful. It would be good to publish these reports, at least in parts not containing confidential information, enabling the whole interested public to monitor the development of security situation and the dynamics of strategies’ implementation.

        • Tags: national security strategy, defence strategy, security challenges, regional cooperation, Jelena Pejic Nikic
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