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          • Year: 2019
          • Military Neutrality: No to NATO, We Can Make It on Our Own?

          • Military neutrality of Serbia is understood as a balancing act between NATO and Russia. Draft version of the new Defence Strategy implies what consequences military neutrality strengthening will have on the defence system, budget and citizens. BCSP Researcher Katarina Djokic wrote on this topic.

        • Once National Assembly has adopted draft versions of the new national security and defence strategies, there will be, for the first time in any strategic document of Republic of Serbia, a defined commitment to military neutrality. Even though it plays a role as a mantra in officials’ statements and media reports, neutrality isn’t proclaimed neither in the Constitution, nor in the laws or the current strategies.


          On paper, until this moment, military neutrality could be found only in the Resolution of the National Assembly on protection of sovereignty, territorial integrity and constitutional order of the Republic of Serbia from 2007. In this Resolution “military neutral status of the Republic of Serbia towards effective military alliances” is declared, because of the role NATO had in events which lead up to unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo (2008). However, not a single document has further operationalized what military neutrality - except for the lack of interest for NATO accession - actually means, and the scope of practical cooperation through Partnership for Peace (PfP) has significantly increased in the upcoming years.


          Draft of the new Defence Strategy reflects three main, interlinked changes which are happening under the umbrella of declaration of the neutral status. The first one is decreasing enthusiasm for engaging in building cooperative security in the PfP framework and tendency to balance between NATO and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). Second change is the shift of focus of defence policy from participating in mechanisms of cooperative defence to increased reliance on own forces, which means an increase in expenses for equipping the military. Third change is the promotion of the “Serbian model” of total defence, which is mostly comes down to (repeated) insisting on duties of other state organs, legal entities and citizens in the field of defence.


          New Approach to International Cooperation: More Partners, Less Cooperation


          Defence Strategy from 2009. states that the character and interconnectedness of contemporary security threats impose strengthening of the cooperative approach to matters of defence and security. Commitment to cooperative security dominates, especially through engaging in the PfP programme. Draft of the new Defence Strategy somewhat maintains the commitment to cooperative security, but states different motives for cooperation. Some formulations suggest that states with which Serbia cooperates aren’t partners in responding to common security threats, but rather a threat which should be neutralised through cooperation. Furthermore it is stated that “the continuation of eurointegration processes and improving of the cooperation of the Republic of Serbia with the states from the region, as well as the most influential states of the world, especially in the fields of security and defence, contribute to reducing the possibility of an armed aggression towards the Republic of Serbia”.


          Instead of clear commitment to PfP from 2009, policy of defence cooperation is now turned in different directions. As a defence interest,  “cooperation and partnership with other states and international organisations in the fields of security and defence” is very broadly defined. The most attention is given to cooperation with NATO and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), which is led by the Russian Federation, as well as integration into the European Union (EU). Draft Defence Strategy defines interest for cooperation with NATO primarily in terms of regional security. Firstly, cooperation with NATO should contribute to bilateral relations with the countries of the region which are either members of NATO or candidates for membership. Secondly, Serbia has a special interest in international military mission KFOR, which is under the command of NATO, not to decrease its presence in Kosovo. Decision to cooperate with CSTO is a novelty compared to the strategies from 2009. in which this organisation wasn’t mentioned even once, and neither was military cooperation with Russia. Unlike for NATO, for CSTO it wasn’t specified which benefits are expected from cooperation, besides the fact that it is noted in the Draft National Security Strategy that Serbia expanding its current level of cooperation with this organisation for the purpose of “contribution to global stability and security”.


          The process of European integrations has received much more space compared to the strategies from 2009, which isn’t surprising. In the meantime, Serbia has become a candidate for membership in EU and EU has intensified policy making process in the fields of defence and security, including also the defence industry. One of the new defence interests is “improvement of national security and defence through the process of European integrations, with respect to the specificities of the Republic of Serbia”. This should be, among other ways, realized through participation in EU Battlegroups, engagement in civilian missions of Common Security and Defence Policy and advancement of scientific and military-economic cooperation with EU. It remains unknown how will this commitment be translated “from paper to practice”. Serbia is currently participating in four missions with 22 military personnel and is taking steps towards building civil capacities for peace missions, but for example, there isn’t much publicly available information about participation in European Defence Agency’s (EDA) projects, with which Serbia has an administrative cooperation agreement signed in 2013 and benefits to military scientific research activities or defence industry. Also, the officials of the Ministry of Defence and the Government of the Republic of Serbia have not expressed interest for Serbia to join, as a third party, projects of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO).


          Draft strategies don’t cover matters of the increasingly cold relationship  between NATO/EU and Russia, nor how will Serbia react in the case of conflict escalation.


          Relying on our own forces


          This policy goal requires providing material conditions for maintaining operative capabilities of Serbian Armed Forces. In practice, this should mean further increasing of expenses for defence, especially capital investments in defence, further development of defence industry, as well as filling out war reserve materials and providing conditions for functioning of the economy (and supplying the armed forces) in states of war and emergency.


          Total Defence: Higher Responsibility of Civilians


          Total defence is promoted in draft versions of the new strategies as a way of realising the neutral status. Ministry of Defence has been referring to the model of total defence since the adoption of the Plan of Defence in 2014. Back then, total defence was presented as “integral engagement of subjects of defence and defence potentials”, which is formulated as one of the goals in Draft Defence Strategy for realisation of neutral state status. This approach from Plan of Defence means, for example, duty of all state organs to adopt their own plans of defence (which is required by Law on Defence).


          In Draft Defence Strategy total defence hasn’t been elaborated on. Instead, it has only been stated that it includes military and civil defence. If we take a look at the definition of civil defence, it can be concluded that the main characteristic of introducing total defence is, in practice, putting a greater burden on the civilians when it comes to defence of the country, especially in terms of more intense communications and coordination of other state organs and enterprises with Ministry of Defence, introducing military education in schools and some sort of compulsory military training. Basis for some of these changes has already been built by changing the law in the area of defence. Namely, Law on Defence obliges legal entities to deliver to Ministry of Defence all information “relevant to defence”, even though there is no definition of what information relevant to defence might be. By changing the Law on Military, Labour and Material obligations using the emergency procedure in 2018 an obligation for country defence training was created for basically all citizens. This created a basis for inviting men who haven’t served in the  military to mandatory military training and for introducing military education in high school education. For now, taking total defence measures implies in practice that their purpose is maintaining the capability for waging a conventional war, and furthermore filling out the military reserve. However, draft defence strategy isn’t concerned with planning of defence resources, except for it broadly announces that the size of Serbian Armed Forces will be determined “depending on an estimation of endangerment of the Republic of Serbia, assigned missions and tasks and available resources”.

          Total Defence in International Practice

          Total defence is present in strategic concepts of many states, most notably the neutral ones, or the ones whose policy is not accessing military alliances (Sweden, Finland, Austria), but also in some NATO members (Norway, Baltic states). It can include different elements, from compulsory military service, over strengthening cooperation with the economy for the purpose of securing the supply during war, to psychological defence (recognizing and resisting fake news).



          Neutral status of Serbia has until now been presented to the public as not joining NATO and balancing between NATO and Russia. “The other side of the coin” about which not much is spoken is its cost, or the practical consequences. Just like many other neutral countries, Serbia chose the concept of total defence, which in this case means bigger burden for the civilians in order to contribute to conventional defence, for example through fulfilment of conscription. Having this in mind, reintroducing compulsory military service would not be surprising. Relying on one’s own forces also means further increase of Ministry of Defence’s budget and its maintenance on a relatively high level. This could have consequences on investment in other sectors (eg. education, science, environment protection…), whose successful functioning is, in accordance with the concept of total defence, also meaningful for defence of the country and protection of the citizens’ security. It’s problematic, however, that defence policy if formulated and introduced “through the backdoor”, without involvement of other state organs and the public, without a wider debate about national priorities and without timely information given to citizens about what will certain changes mean for them. In such circumstances, it seems that Ministry of Defence manages to use neutral status as a catchword under which it can impose its own requests, while the regular citizens will feel the strategic changes only when they receive an invitation for some sort of country defence training.


          Translated by BCSP Intern Milos Novkovic.

        • Tags: national security strategy, defence strategy, military neutrality, Serbia and EU, serbia and NATO, military, Serbian Armed Forces, Katarina Djokic
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