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          • Year: 2018
          • Strategic State Capture

          • Serbia is getting a new National Security Strategy after almost a decade. It is the supreme strategic document that identifies highest national interests and defines how to pursue and protect them in an altered security environment.

        • The significance of it and the comprehensive approach it embraces imply that the Strategy should embark us on the road into (safe) future, paved with broad social consensus. Instead, what we got is merely a description of the current situation. We were left without a clear answer on key foreign and security policy issues, such as Serbia’s relations with neighbors and great powers. What we did get is an announcement of further widening of the President's role and narrowing of
          the possibilities for democratic civilian
          control of the security apparatus.

          No real debate on how the state and its citizens are protected

          The Draft National Security Strategy of the Republic of Serbia, as well as the Draft Defense Strategy, was published online on April 19th on the website of the Ministry of Defense. In contrast with the recent bright examples from the EU, this was not preceded by a comprehensive consultative process with experts from the academic community and relevant civil society organizations.  On the contrary, they were merely given an opportunity to send their written commentaries (in amendment form) per e-mail in a rather narrow time frame, additionally shortened by the May Day holidays.

          Ministry of Defense did not respond to a couple of expert discussions organized swiftly by the civil society in the meantime. On the other hand, it organized three roundtables in Novi Sad, Nis and Belgrade to be able to claim afterwards that the public debate took place. The event in Belgrade on May 15th (deadline for public discussion) was vivid. The public not only offered suggestions but also asked specific questions and requested clarification on some points. However, although eight members of the interdepartmental Working group that wrote the drafts were present, there was no answer. The only clarification the organizer gave is that the public discussion is not meant to be a dialogue, but rather a hearing: speak your mind, but no questions or answers. It went more smoothly in other cities, where the organizers outnumbered the participants.

          Having in mind that the Working group needed a year and half to write the published drafts, it is only fair to envisage enough time for all interested citizens to take part in the discussion. Especially since these drafts introduce, officially for the first time,  very important concepts like military neutrality and total defense, but without enough detail for the reader to be clear what they mean. Although the then fresh new Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić announced the inclusion of both concepts in the strategic documents in his exposé in 2016, no one bothered to explain them to the citizens, nor to discuss their advantages and costs in the past two years.

          Neutral in relation to whom?

          We've been referring to military neutrality ever since the National Assembly proclaimed it in a resolution of 2007, casually in one sentence; but it wasn't even mentioned in the National Security Strategy adopted later on, in 2009. In the presented drafts military neutrality is sometimes defined as a starting point, sometimes as an interest, but also as means (for deterring armed aggression). This would mean that we are planning to rely on our own resources to defend the state, which implies significantly greater investments in defense and armaments, at the cost of other public expenses. 

          Military neutrality is defined rather negatively, merely as non-accession to military alliances, where NATO was explicitly mentioned. It was quickly added, however, that it will not affect Serbia's commitment to cooperative security, i.e. participation in activities of multilateral organizations where Serbia is a member state, like UN and OSCE, and later also the EU. Military neutrality should not interfere in further improvements of cooperation with NATO, which is seen as an interest of Serbia, whilst cooperation with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), made up of post-Soviet countries, is a security policy commitment. In translation, this could mean that we cooperate with NATO because it pays of, and with Russia because we want to.

          All under military command

          According to the presented drafts, the concept of total defense implies integral engagement of all defense subjects, including civil and military defense, and it is planned, organized and implemented incessantly - in times of peace, state of emergency and war. This means that, alongside security actors and civilian government, business entities and all citizens must prepare for state defense also during peacetime. Older generations surely recall the Yugoslav total people's defense and social self-protection. Similar concepts are implemented in various versions in other countries that also proclaim some kind of military neutrality - Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Finland. Sweden is in the process of developing and implementing this concept as of 2017, and has reintroduced military conscription. Furthermore, in all these countries military conscription is implied. If this issue arises in Serbia, doesn't it deserve a broad public debate, since it affects all the citizens in the most direct way?

          On the contrary, the Law on Military, Labour and Material Obligations has been amended in an emergency procedure, in parallel with the 'public discussion' on draft strategies. The Law introduces 'upbringing, education and gaining skills for the needs of defense' for different categories of persons. This way the strategies which are yet to be adopted, and which insist on 'citizen responsibility', 'the love for the nation' and 'increasing patriotism and willingness to defend the homeland', are already being implemented. The preparations for defense will be organized not only in primary schools and high schools, which will put additional burden on the education system, but is also envisaged for all adult women and men, in a form to be defined by the Government.

          The question is what justifies this turn in Serbia? In Sweden there is a clear reference to the serious threat coming from Russia, whilst our strategies assess the danger of armed aggression as slightly probable.

          What should we be protected against?

          The Draft National Security Strategy enlists twenty challenges, risks and threats, on the spectrum from armed aggression to abuse of scientific achievements. However, corruption and organized crime are not among priorities of security institutions, even though the results of a surveyconducted by Belgrade Centre for Security Policy in 2017 show that the citizens perceive them as the greatest threats. 

          The impression is that Kosovo is the dominant threat and the source of many other threats - terrorism, expansion of organized crime, corruption, human trafficking, illegal trade in narcotics and weapons. The Draft doesn’t say this explicitly, but its accompanying reasoning does. The Draft Strategy supports finding a solution for this issue by further engaging in the dialogue with interim government in Pristina, but the goals is also to block Kosovo’s membership in international organizations. It is rather questionable whether this security policy priority could in fact be implemented in the light of an imminent expectation of signing a comprehensive agreement on normalization of Belgrade-Pristina relations, important aspect of which is Serbia’s guarantee not to block Kosovo’s membership in international organizations.

          Is this strategy in line with our EU perspective?

          European integration and membership in the European Union are defined as one of the six national interests in the Draft National Security Strategy. The strategies are generally in line with the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU and its Global Strategy of 2016, which is seen as the highlight of this document. However, this harmonization with the EU hasn’t been done consistently and evenly for all policy areas. Moreover, there is a mention of reassessing the current policy regarding nuclear energy, which means that nuclear plants could be established in order to reduce energy dependence and decrease the price of electricity. While some EU countries have kept this option, the EU insists on increasing the share of clean energy sources against the risky nuclear plants.

          The President is assuming the tasks of the Government

          The most controversial section of the Draft National Security Strategy is the one that defines the national security system. The importance of this section is even greater since the Constitution and the laws haven’t regulated this system uniformly, although it implements the constitutional powers of the Republic of Serbia - protection of sovereignty and territorial integrity, security and defense, measures for state of exception etc. This system ought to be regulated by a special law - with defined purpose, principles, actors and their coordination, - as it was done in Croatia last year (after it was announced in the Croatian National Security Strategy of 2017). A special law would clearly regulate the division of competences for management, coordination and oversight of the state security apparatus for the long term, and shrink the possibility for its abuse in the interest of political power-holders.

          The Draft modifies the structure of the national security system, as defined in the current Strategy of 2009. The Draft omits the role of control. The system now consists of a managerial and an executive part, where institutions that don't have security powers, but control and oversee their use, are totally exempted. Who exercises democratic civilian control and how is not defined, as if it was not a question of utmost importance in such a delicate area.

          The new national security system architecture leaves no place for judiciary and independent oversight bodies - ombudsman, commissioner for public and personal data, state audit, anti-corruption agency etc. - that have thus far exercised control even over confidential actions of the security institutions in order to determine whether they have obeyed the law. In comparison with the current Strategy, the obligation of the relevant ministers and other state bodies, including the chiefs of all three security services, to report to the National Assembly on the state of national security in their respective domains was also omitted. Even the freshly introduced reporting on the implementation of the Strategy and its action plan does not refer to the Assembly.

          The lack of control is followed by a strengthened role of the President, which was made possible due to the vacuum of legal regulation of the national security system. The President of the Republic not only commands the Army and chairs the meetings of the National Security Council, but is now in charge of directing the whole system. The Strategy in force gives this task to the Government, while the President only points to some problems and issues and initiates their resolving. In this manner, a semi-presidential system is introduced sideways, where the President has the final say in setting priorities of the state security apparatus instead of the Government.

          The functioning principles of the national security system have been complemented and elaborated. However, principles of professionalism, impartiality and political neutrality are left out without any justification. These principles are mentioned in the Constitution and various laws that regulate different parts of the security system. The citizens don’t need a reliable and efficient system if it is being used, at the expense of their rights and freedoms, for pursuing party-political or personal instead of national interests.

          It seems that the Draft Strategy actually formalizes and retroactively unveils the ongoing process of legal erosion of the democratic civilian control over the security sector and further empowerment of the political function holders. Recently adopted amendments on the law on defense, the Army and the Security Information Agency are a part of this process. It would only make sense if the laws follow the adoption of new strategies, which follow the constitutional changes and a broad public debate. The Serbian Government might not now the right order, but is at least consistent: there’s no real dialogue, confusion prevails over a true vision, and the road leads to further state-capture.

          Earlier version of the text was published in Serbian in the weekly magazine NIN on May 17th.

        • Tags: Jelena Pejić, captured state, national security strategy
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