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          • Year: 2005
          • The Condition of and Processes in the Defence System of the Republic of Croatia

          • 17. march 2005. Zlatko Gareljić, Member of Executive Board of the Atlantic Council of Croatia

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          Jeffrey Simon's claim about "the history that tested nations and countries to their very limits", written in the context of the analysis of circumstances and processes in Central European countries at the beginning of the last decade of the last century, is sometimes perceived as a brilliant illustration of what was and is still happening in the Republic of Croatia (RC). The circumstances in which the armed forces of RC (and which required organizing the Croatian defence system and military during an aggression whose intent was to prevent Croatia from acquiring independence and, later, from achieving full sovereignty and territorial integrity) were as a whole a test for the country and its citizens. But the peaceful situation today and the entire security situation in Croatia and the region should not require such efforts and should not constitute such a challenge anymore. Quite the opposite, the impression is that the circumstances and the processes viewed in the context of the entire Croatian internal and external policy and also separately viewed through the conditions in the security system and armed forces represent additional tests and challenges for Croatian citizens and the country.

          Estimates about the catastrophic condition of the defence system, about a military just about to fall apart and armed forces on the boundary of sustainability, were frequently found in the Croatian media and were quite exaggerated. However, it is certain that the defence system and the armed forces of RC as its central element are in serious crisis. In regard to what is important for characterizing the condition and current processes in the system, it is possible to focus on three groups of questions. First, the ones that are at the most apparent and visible level are the personal relationships of the stakeholders. It is a fact that the relationship between the President of RC Stjepan Mesić and the Minister of Defence Berislav Rončević is very poor. The same relationship exists between the Minister of Defence and the Chief of the General Staff of RC general Josip Lucić. For example, something that should have been a daily routine and the matter of daily or weekly schedules - meetings between the Minister and the Chief of the General Staff - was announced as an exceptional event by the media at the end of January. Even though the signals regarding the damaged relationships were being sent out to the public during the entire year of 2004, (for example, at the time the Memorandum of Cooperation with the US military was made public, the Presidential Office seriously objected that the Government of RC and the Ministry of Defence circumvented the President, his Office and the military cabinet from the process of developing the Memorandum, or even earlier when, in his controversial speech at the Anniversary of the Croatian Navy, the Chief of the General Staff of RC criticized the treatment of the military, especially with regard to material and financial aspects) the key point was an episode that happened during the campaign just before the second round of the Presidential election in RC. In the specific pre-election circumstances, then presidential candidate, and at the same time the President of RC and its Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, expressed his suspicion about the legality of the hastily completed contract and the deal for the procurement of military trucks in the amount of 35 million kunas. In response to doubts expressed in such a way, the minister of Defence responded unnecessarily sharply by saying: "I am rejecting all claims from the tragi-comic game play of that presidential candidate". At the same time, all pre-election polls about the electoral body's opinion pointed at the significant advantage of Stjepan Mesić over the other candidate. The Minister's rhetoric did not help the position of the candidate from his party. At the same time, it contributed additional impulses for the worsening of an already poor personal relationship within the system. In addition to the noted key parameters, there is a series of public appearances of the aforementioned persons through which it is easy to substantiate the claim about the crisis in the relationships among the key figures of the defence system, including President Stjepan Mesić's thesis, expressed many times, about the current Minister being unqualified for his duties and tasks. Even though, after the recent dismissal of the Assistant Minister for Defence Policy and the meeting of the National Security Council, the impression was that the argument was settled, it was clear to even a somewhat informed observer that a new reigniting of the dispute was just a matter of eventuality. Therefore, it is more than clear that, in the forthcoming weeks, significant personnel changes within the system are following - the only open question that remains is whether both the Minister and the Chief of the General Staff will be dismissed or just one of them and which way this will be executed.

          Normalization of the relationships among the key stakeholders and ensuring normal communication and cooperation of the persons and officials (from whom it is not only expected, but the cooperation and working together is in their work descriptions), is just a minimal precondition for assessing the seriousness of the situation and for creation of a solution. Even more so because the condition and the processes in the defence system, and this the second group of questions, is very serious, requiring careful analysis and handling. An open and public discussion about the annual report on defence system readiness, human resources policy implementation, and the overall situation in the armed forces of RC in the Parliament of Croatia in October last year has probably been - regardless of some poorly prepared sections of the session documents - the best and the most complete political expression about the defence system so far. The mainstream of the discussion pointed at the real situation in the armed forces. For example, Croatian ground forces' combat equipment and weaponry that are fully functional and ready for use are at the 80% level, whereas in the Air Force and in the Navy the level is 30%. The problems of poor financing of the armed forces and the necessity for long-term planning of military needs were clearly separated. However, instead of using this review of the real condition as an impulse and a motive for reviewing possible solutions and for defining real needs, the key points and the conclusions of the discussion were already forgotten during the debate on financial planning for the military in 2005. The military budget, as well as the items dedicated for the use by the military in the plans of the Ministry of Finance, were set at an amount just over four billion kunas, i.e., at about 1.9% of GDP. This way, last year's mistake was repeated: a simple analysis shows that the planned amount is insufficient for the mere functioning of the system and that, just as it was the case in 2004, the supplemental funding will have to be approved for normal work of the military. Such an approach to estimating, planning and approving of the military needs is poor and detrimental for many reason. First of all, it is detrimental to the image of the Croatian military on real and symbolic levels for this very important institution. Instead of a picture of a rational and prudent handling of public funds, the public is left with an impression, by approving additional funding for military use, that there is excessive spending on the part of the military organization. Further, such an approach is dishonest towards the members of the military. The specifics of the military profession and the organization require certainty in terms of fulfilling the basic material and financial needs of its members, as well as the needs of the military organization as a whole. And finally, such a way of planning is detrimental to the international credibility of Croatia, especially to its relationship with NATO. Namely, in Croatia's Annual National Program for 2004/2005, which is the central document regulating the relations between RC and NATO as a part of MAP, the action plan whose participant is Croatia as a candidate for membership, it is clearly declared that, in the medium term, the Government of Croatia will dedicate between 2% and 2.2% of GDP for defence.

          In the third group there are, possibly, the most important questions, questions of a conceptual and developmental nature. Namely, from the perspective of the first quarter of 2005, it is evident that the realization of the final phase of the Croatian defence system is behind schedule and the preparation of the next stage of the reform and reorganization is late. In order to explain the aforementioned thesis, it may be the best to start with two paradoxes. The first paradox lies in the fact that the existing personal disputes among the key stakeholders within the defence sector do not have their origin and cause in significantly different concepts for development of armed forces and the defence system in RC. The second paradox lies in the fact that the parts of the program of the current Government of RC on security and, in particular, defence issues, although somewhat general, are clear and unambiguous. According to the Government's plan from December 2003, the issues of national security, structure and functioning of the defence system and other mechanisms should occupy a high position on the state policy priority list, whereas a modern military and capable police remain a permanent support to national sovereignty and stability. Furthermore, the program emphasizes the Government's intent to develop the armed forces continuously and underlines, in particular, the necessity for continuing with defence system reform.

          According to the initial plans, and also according to the announcements from the Ministry of Defence, the finalization of the reform and reorganization, planned and realized from 2000 on, was predicted for 2004, while in 2005 a new phase of the reform and a thorough reorganization of the defence system would commence. In the section, for instance, that is dedicated to the headcount in the sector, i.e., the number of military and civil servants, both in the military and in the Ministry; it meant sizing the count down to 27,000 employees. As an illustration of how wide the scope of the work undertaken in 2000 was, the headcount in the defence sector was just over 44,000 in January of that year. According to the data available, the personnel reduction and the reorganization of armed forces according to the solutions accepted in 2002 are completed. Reorganization, however, of the Ministry and personnel reduction in the administration part of the defence system have not been completed nor adjusted yet according to the pertinent decisions from the same year.

          In addition to completing the reform phases initiated, created and mostly realized during the Government of RC's tenure from 2000 to 2003, there are some additional preconditions for opening the new cycle of reforms. In the first place, it means adoption of the strategic defence review which is especially important for the long-term future development of the armed forces. The strategic defence review should provide a clear and realistic review of the overall potential of the armed forces and defence system as a whole, whereas the long-term plan for future development of the armed forces, a document that is in the end discussed and accepted by the Parliament of Croatia, should determine clear frameworks, directions and ways toward armed forces development, inducing planned military expenditures, for the next ten years. Even though the completion and presentation of the strategic defence review were announced for December 2004, the document was not made and presented and it is questionable whether it will be completed in the first half of 2005. The adoption of the long-term plan for development of the armed forces has been vaguely predicted for this year. Serious work on drafting that document has not even started yet. In addition to everything mentioned above, reorganization is impossible to conduct without partial changes of the conceptual documents, the National Security Strategy and Defence Strategy, without appropriate changes and additions of military/defence laws and without adoption of new, i.e., without changes and improvements of a series of currently existing bylaws. According to the solutions in modern parliamentary democracies, the authorities over the military are divided between the parts of the executive, between the President of the Republic and the Government of RC. Therefore, in accordance with the constitutional and legal powers and responsibilities, development and adoption of a series of program, conceptual, legal documents and bylaws requires communication, harmonization and coordination of these parts of the executive branch - the President of the Republic and the Government of RC, in particular, the Ministry of Defence - and, likewise, the participation of the Parliament of Croatia and its bodies in that process. This brings us back, again, to the beginning and the relationships among the stakeholders in the defence sector: if we previously outlined the preconditions for a serious conceptualization and the beginning of the implementation of the next phase of the reforms and reorganization, then resolving the personal problems and ensuring normal cooperation and communication of the key persons in the system is a precondition or a fundamental supposition for moving the process from point zero; or, using the vocabulary of those who depict the situation in the sector in a more dramatic fashion, a supposition to stop the negative trends and open again the perspectives for the development of a defence system and armed forces. Only after that, the questions about the future development of the armed forces, their full professionalization, their size, development of skills and capacities that would be at NATO’s disposal, planning of participation in international peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, with which and what kind of forces, would come up for discussions (and also as a cause of possible arguments because of the differences in standpoints and concepts) - as well as many other open questions important for the development of the defence system and military organization.

          The final paradox lies in the fact that, unlike in the last decade of the last century, especially the second half of that decade, Croatia today possesses a conceptually and legally well rounded and structured national security sector and, within it, the defence system. The fundamental values of the society, national interests and goals, and the means of their protection and achieving are established in conceptual, strategic documents. The responsibilities, tasks, scopes of work and all other questions in the domain of restrictively organized security institutions are stated precisely in the law. Recently, the Law on protection and rescue has been adopted, which includes establishing and operation of a separate agency in charge of organizing and realizing activities of protection and rescue of citizens, material and other property during catastrophic and other significant emergencies.

          Therefore, it is easy to define the conclusion: despite the significant moves and results achieved in preparation and implementation of the reform and reorganization of the defence system and armed forces from 2000 on, the situation in the Croatian defence system is currently characterized by multilayered and serious crisis. The stagnation and the open questions that are not being resolved represent a regression in its own way and, for many reasons, are detrimental for the defence system of the Republic of Croatia and, consequently, for the Croatian state and society. An answer to the question whether such conditions and trends will be continued or instead the changes will follow and the development and reform cycle will be initiated, will be possible to observe in the events expected over the next few weeks. 

        • Tags: reform, military, Defence, region, Croatia, armed forces, Balkan, Security of Western Balkan
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