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    • The New National Security Strategy Strengthens the Role of the President in the Security System

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    • Date: 08 May 2018

      The Draft National Security Strategy of Serbia points to the erosion of democratic civilian control over the security system and further state capture, and the state-centric approach to security threats ignores the needs of citizens, it was highlighted at the event organized by the Belgrade Center for Security Policy (BCSP) as a contribution to the public debate on the Draft National Security Strategy and Draft Defense Strategy on May 8, 2018 in Belgrade.

      Conclusions and recommendations from the expert discussion will be sent to the Ministry of Defense in the process of public discussion on draft strategies, which is open until May 15th.

      BCSP researcher Jelena Pejic pointed to the key changes to the Draft National Security Strategy in relation to the current Strategy.

      "The presented structure of the national security system completely omits the role of control, and there is no room for courts, prosecutors, and independent supervisory authorities. The absence of a paragraph that states that all ministers, as well as all heads of the three security services, submit a report to the National Assembly and to the Government on the state of national security in their fields is symptomatic" Pejic pointed out.

      The new National Security Strategy strengthens the role of the President, and National Security Council, which is the coordinating body, is upgraded,  according to the Strategy, to the management part of the system, where it doesn’t belong, Pejic assessed.

      "The President of Serbia was able to point out certain problems and initiate their resolution, and now it is envisaged that he integrates and directs the functioning of the entire security system, which was the function of the Government. Thus, it becomes apparent how the real-life relocation  of political power is legitimized when it comes to the national security system," Pejic said.

      A significant problem is the removal of the principles of political neutrality, professionalism and impartiality from the Draft Strategy, BCSP researcher emphasized.

      "In response to the global and regional security environment described by the Strategy, the concept of ‘total defense’ is introduced, which is typical for countries that profess military neutrality and cannot expect support from partners in the event of an attack. However, it is not clear what justifies this upheaval in Serbia, nor is  the concept itself clearly defined," Pejic pointed out and criticized the absence of a discussion on the proposed “total defense” concept since it implies greater engagement of all citizens, and potentially the reintroduction of the compulsory military service.

      The National Security System Should Have a Place in the Constitution

      Although the National Security Strategy is not a normative act, it is very important what it says, because for now, it is the only place where the national security system has been defined and described. However, the purposes, principles, and actors of the security system and their coordination should be regulated by a special law, as well as by the Constitution, Pejic concluded.

      "The key connection with the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union (CFSP) is the brightest point, especially in the Defense Strategy, but things are not doing well there either," said program director of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence, Marko Savkovic.

      Speaking about the key changes in both strategic documents, Savkovic stressed that Kosovo generally dictates the content of the strategies, but also that the spirit of the language exudes doubts about the country's ability to cope with the effects of migrant crises and deteriorating relations in the region.

      Goran Tepsic, assistant at the Faculty of Political Sciences and associate of the Center for Peace Studies, added that the drafts of strategic documents continue to present the secession attempt of Kosovo as a basic security risk, which is "repeating the expired narrative," Tepsic said.

      The Strategy introduces regional problems, but does not have a regional approach, as the region is not regarded as a security complex where states depend on one another, he said.

      "The Strategy does not recognize that there are failed states in the region and that they are a constant security problem,” said Tepsic. Stability cannot be built on the basis of personal relations of the state function holders, but the build-up of states has to be worked on, and some are not even close to meeting all the criteria of statehood," Tepsic pointed out.

      Tepsic concluded that "the incoherence of six national interests" stated in the drafts of strategic documents is confusing, as , in his opinion, they are even mutually exclusive.

      National Security Strategy without a Long-Term Perspective

      Igor Novakovic, director of the International and Security Affairs Centre (ISAC fund)said that the Draft National Security Strategy is "a document of the moment, not a vision," and maps the current activities instead of providing a coherent vision of the future.

      "There is insufficient time for the current public debate on the Draft National Security Strategy and the Draft Defense Strategy. Public debate should be preceded by an inclusive approach to consultations in order to bring the Strategy closer to the population and communicate with partners about threats and risks,” emphasized Novakovic.

      "The Strategy is generally consistent with the CFSP, but if the whole text is read, references to European integration do not appear consistently," said Novakovic. In the areas of migration, energy, cybersecurity, the EU is not mentioned at all.

      What Does Military Neutrality Mean for Serbia?

      Novakovic pointed out that military neutrality is being adopted as a concept in drafts of strategic documents, but that Serbia does not have a policy of true neutrality. The opportunity was not used to explain what military neutrality really is, and we remain on the same starting ground as in 2009 when the current  National Security Strategy was adopted.

      The concept of neutrality stated in the drafts of strategic documents allows for participation in the Partnership for Peace and co-operation with the EU, so in practice, it is limited only to non-membership in NATO and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), explained Novakovic. He pointed out that it is interesting that the cooperation with NATO is stated as an interest, while the cooperation with the CSTO is defined as a commitment. It is said that neutrality will remove the possibility of military aggression, but without other steps, it is not a guarantee of protection from external attacks, Novakovic warned.

      Andja Petkovic, project manager at the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS),  criticized the fact that Serbia's military neutrality was declared in 2007 in only one sentence of the Resolution of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia on the Protection of the Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity and Constitutional Order, without a public debate. The concept of military neutrality is sustainable within the framework of the policy that Serbia is currently leading if it is clearly articulated in the Constitution, the Foreign Policy Strategy that needs to be written, as well as other documents, while analyzing Serbia's obligations under the CFSP and including it in the budget plan of the Army, explained Petkovic.

      Neutrality does not mean that there is no absence of threats, especially since EU accession has been recognized as a national interest in the drafts of strategic documents, Petkovic concluded.

      Focus On the Security of the State, Not Citizens

      The Executive Director of the Public Policy Research Center, Tanja Jakobi, emphasized the state-centric approach to security threats in the drafts of strategic documents, believing that the significance of threats affecting the everyday lives of citizens is diminished in this way.

      Jakobi assessed that it was not enough that the document only mentions "subjective citizen security" without a detailed explanation of the method for its establishment. She added that it is good that the concept of security has expanded from military to economic, energy, social and ecological security. However, the threat of poverty is not given much attention, even though it is the cause of emmigration, as well as radicalization. The issue of migration is treated as a security issue, while in the day-to-day context it is seen as humanitarian, concluded Jakobi.

      In the end, Jakobi criticized the omission of the threat of illegal possession of firearms as a major flaw, especially with regard to the abuse of firearms for domestic violence.

      Violation of Constitutional Principles with New Laws in the Field of Security

      The Assistant Secretary-General of the Office of the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection, Slavoljupka Pavlovic, also participated in the expert discussion. She pointed to problematic proposals for changes to the Law on Defense, where certain data within the competency of the Ministry of Defense are completely excluded from the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance. Thus, the constitutional principle of a single legal order is violated, as well as the principles which state that the reached level of human rights protection must not be lowered and that the Army is under democratic and civilian control, Pavlovic warned.

      Consequences of the Implementation of the Strategy in Practice

      Goran Tepsic and Tanja Jakobi said that the content of strategic documents has a low chance of being applied in practice, and Marko Savkovic added that Serbia is not a country whose high policy is determined by strategies and that priorities can change tomorrow. BCSP researcher Jelena Pejic concluded that if the strategic documents come into force in this form, they will lead towards further state capture and the decline of democratic and civilian control.

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