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          • Year: 2002
          • Crisis or Turning Point? - Koštunica, Pavković, and Civil-Military Relations in FRY

          • 18. november 2002. - Dr Tim Edmunds Dr Tim Edmunds Kings College London / International Institute for Strategic Studies

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          Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica’s sacking of Army Chief Nebojša Pavković on 24th June 2002 dramatically illustrates key issues of civil-military reform and democratisation in post-Milošević Yugoslavia (FRY), and offers both opportunities and dangers for the country.

          Events of the past week (from 24th June) have brought to a head three important stumbling blocks facing the establishment of democratic, civil control of the military in FRY: first, inertia in the military caused by uncertainty over Pavković’s position; second, flaws in FRY’s institutional and legal mechanisms for civil control of the military; and finally, the way in which civilian politicians have attempted to use the security sector to further their own partisan interests in domestic political power struggles.

          To recap. On 24th June 2002, at a meeting of the Supreme Defence Council (SDC) of Yugoslavia - a body composed of the presidents of Serbia (Milan Milutinović), Montenegro (Milo Djukanović) and FRY (Vojislav Koštunica) that in theory exercises control of the Yugoslav Army (VJ) - Koštunica initiated a move to remove Pavković. He was initially thwarted in this attempt when Milutanović and Djukanović refused to support him unless he also removed other key personnel from the Army top brass including chief of the military security service (KOS) and close ally of Koštunića, General Aco Tomić. Koštunica rejected this and then bypassed the SDC, using a presidential decree to relieve Pavković of his duties and replace him with General Branko Krga. In response, Pavković declared the decision illegal and refused to go. After talks with key generals - and public expressions of support from both the EU and NATO - Koštunica appears to secured the support of the VJ for his move, and left Pavković isolated and in limbo.

          He has not been without his critics, however. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjić - Koštunica’s key opponent in the current power struggle within the DOS coalition which assumed power after the fall of Milošević in October 2000 - critisised Koštunica’s decision to ignore the SDC, while at the same time adding to calls for Pavković’s dismissal. Similarly, whilst welcoming Pavković’s removal, Justice Minister Vladan Batić accused Koštunica of violating the constitution ‘some 70 times’, and called for his resignation. For his part, Pavković has accused Koštunica of abusing his power, and written to both houses of parliament demanding his dismissal.

          Current events are the culmination of months of pressure that have been building on both Koštunica and his Chief of General Staff. Most observers agreed that Pavković had to go. NATO countries have made it clear that they will not do business with Pavković, a stance which has direct ramifications for FRY’s future civil-military reforms, and its prospects of joining NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP). This position is the result of two factors. First, because of Pavković’s close association with the former regime. Pavković was a Milošević appointee, and a Milošević loyalist. Given this background, and the widely held belief that he has benefited personally and financially from his position and connections to Milošević circles, he is viewed by many as both an impediment to a reform and a continuing representation of a politicised ‘old guard’. Second, Pavković’s background as the commander of the VJ’s Third Army - which was responsible for the actions of the Yugoslav military in Kosovo in 1999 - associates him with ethnic cleansing and war crimes, and fatally compromises him in the eyes of the West. Domestically, criticism of Pavković and pressure on Koštunica for his removal have diverted attention away from key issues of military and civil-military reform. Internationally, his continuation in office has blocked FRY’s further cooperation with PfP.

          Whatever the rights and wrongs of Pavković’s critics, it is clear that over the past two years his energy has been directed towards shoring up his own position rather than tackling the problems of the VJ. In doing so, he has surrounded himself with Third Army appointees from his own circles. This, combined with uncertainty over the future constitutional shape of the FRY, has led to inertia within the Army, and an inability to make tough decisions over reform issues. This is despite a recognition from many in the VJ that change is both necessary and urgent.

          Many suggest that Pavković has only lasted as long as he has because of an agreement with Koštunica that guaranteed the Army’s non-intervention in the October 2000 crisis in return for a commitment to protect certain VJ interests - including Pavković’s own position. In this context, the week’s events have been brewing for some time. What is perhaps most significant, however, is the dramatic and contested manner of the dismissal, which points to continuing ambiguities in FRY’s civil-military relationships and domestic political situation.

          In particular, the dismissal of Pavković highlights deep flaws in FRY’s institutional and legal mechanisms for civil control over the VJ. Ultimate responsibility for control of the Army rests with the SDC, a body which, given FRY’s complicated federal-republican relationship, has until now acted as little more than a tool through which the federal president - Koštunica - has exercised his power. Both the Montenegrin and Serbian presidents had declined to participate actively in the SDC - a factor which until this week only strengthened Koštunica’s position in relation to the Army. Their decision to exercise their power has highlighted the problems of the SDC system, and especially the manner in which civil control of the military in FRY can be held hostage to domestic political agendas or to differences of opinion between the federation and the republics. Koštunica’s decision to try and use a presidential decree to sidestep the SDC - the legality of which is unclear and ambiguous - has only complicated the issue further, and illustrates the urgent need for future reform in this area once the current crisis has settled down.

          Additionally, the willingness of civilian politicians to bring the Army - and indeed the security sector more widely - into politics in support of their own partisan interests is clear, and sets a dangerous precedent for the implementation of democratic civil control over the armed forces in FRY. The apparent alliances of Koštunica - as federal president - with the VJ, and Djindjić - as Serbian prime minister - with the Serbian police (MUP) - have long been the subject of speculation amongst observers of domestic politics in the FRY. Most recently, Koštunica has faced accusations of using KOS - under Tomić - to spy on his political opponents. In March 2002 KOS arrested General Momčilo Perišić - a former Chief of General Staff, opponent of Koštunica and current head of the parliamentary defence committee - for spying, a move which some have suggested was ordered directly by Koštunica himself for partisan political reasons1. This week Pavković has added to the accusations by claiming that in June 2001 Koštunića ordered him to use the Army storm the government’s information bureau which he claimed was monitoring himself and the VJ.

          Current events are indicative this situation and appear to be intimately linked to these alliances. In not supporting Koštunica’s long overdue attempt to remove Pavković through the SDC, Milutinović and Djukanović have politically damaged the federal president. They have forced him to resort to the legally ambiguous strategy of using a presidential decree, and provided Pavković with a loophole through which he has contested the decision. Moreover, their demands that other senior military personnel - and particularly Tomić - should also be dismissed illustrate than many believe that the problems in the military leadership run deeper than just Pavković. In turn Koštunica’s refusal to consider wider dismissals shows that he is keen to preserve his allies in the VJ, and that he too is willing to play the military card to support his domestic political interests.

          This weeks’ developments in Belgrade point to both dangers and opportunities for civil-military relations and democratisation in FRY. Significantly, they bring into the open many of the relationships and alliances of Yugoslav civil-military relations that until this week were the subject of little more than (sometimes informed) speculation and supposition. More importantly, the dismissal of Pavković is perhaps the most difficult reform decision the civilian leadership has had to make in relation to the VJ since the fall of Milošević. If it can be implemented smoothly, it will publicly show that the Army is under a form of civilian control - albeit one with a ‘democratic deficit’. It will illustrate that, in the final instance, the VJ will implement the demands of the civil leadership, even if those demands are unpalatable to it. In addition, with the removal of Pavković, an important obstacle to the VJ’s (and Yugoslavia’s) cooperation with the West and with PfP will disappear. However, there may be more negative implications if the crisis escalates in a way that perpetuates the importance of the security sector in domestic political struggles. If this happens, then the implicit suggestion will be that there is a role for security sector institutions in Yugoslav politics - maybe not as independent actors, but certainly as centres of power and influence to be utilised by factions within the civilian political élite. This is not indicative of a working system of democratic control of the military, which is, after all is a prerequisite for membership of PfP.

          There is therefore much to lose - and much to gain - in the current crisis of civil-military relations in FRY. There is every possibility that the dismissal of Pavković will lay the foundations for a necessary programme of modernisation and reform in the VJ, stimulate a serious reform of FRY’s institutional mechanisms and procedures for civilian control of the armed forces, and remove a key obstacle to the country’s membership of PfP. However, in attempting to utilise the military in their own domestic political struggles, Yugoslavia’s politicians risk legitimising the VJ’s central role in politics. In doing so, they are playing a dangerous game that may come back to haunt them in the future.

          Dr Tim Edmunds

          tedmunds@jscs.org


          1 It should also be noted that many observers believe the accusations against Perišić were legitimate, and that KOS was perfectly justified in taking the action it did.

        • Tags: Koštunica, Pavković, Tim Edmunds, FRY, Yugoslavia, army, upreme Defence Council, civil-military relations
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