AIM: start

SAT, 07 APR 2001 23:52:09 GMT

The Abolishment of Military Service in Croatia

AIM Zagreb, April 5, 2001

As of January 1 next year, Croatia should get a professional army. True, the Croatian authorities still intend to keep the right of drafting recruits in case the number of volunteers for professional forces turns to be insufficient. In that case, the shortage would be covered by the recruitment of young men up to 27 years of age. Nevertheless, it is considered that due to the general insecurity the army would be able to attract a sufficient number of professionals. In these parts working for the army, police or church has traditionally been considered as the safest and best source of income for the widest strata of poor population. According to what the public has learned about the proposed model so far, the Defence Ministry would invite applications for army service each year. After submitting their applications, volunteers would sign a nine-month contract with the Defence Ministry of the Republic of Croatia (MORH) and then be sent to professional military duty. Greater part of the forces would be permanent. The compulsory military service in reserve army formations would still exist and would be applied to all men of legally prescribed age. In all likelihood the Croatian Army would have 45 thousand soldiers, but certainly not more than that, although it is quite possible that it would be smaller. Other details are not known yet.

Last week the Defence Ministry sent to the Prime Minister a bill regulating all issues in this respect. All most important political factors in the country have already agreed with the very idea of professional army: President of the Republic Stipe Mesic, Prime Minister Ivica Racan and Defence Minister Jozo Rados. As usual, the details are the problem. As we heard from well-placed sources, the bill, which the Ministry has sent to the Prime Minister, is not organised, is inconsistent and offers practically unfeasible plan for professionalising military service in Croatia.

"Roughly speaking the text is a mess which, before it can be finally proposed in Parliament, has to be thoroughly revised several times", told us an expert for military affairs. "The text contains several very problematic ideas. First of all, the deadline for the implementation of this idea in practice is unrealistic. A precise estimate of costs has not been elaborated. Second, according to this draft the army would have the right of tapping also the civilians through its intelligence service the explanation being that they can influence the security of the state and armed forces. This is impermissible. On the other hand, the unrealistically short time within which the country should switch to professional army has been probably set under pressures from the outside. Something over six months is not enough time to carry out such comprehensive reform".

"At best, five years are needed for switching to professional army. I do not believe that the Government will succeed to implement this idea, at least not without much troubles", said our source. He added that along with the mentioned difficulties, the professional army costs much more than the army of conscripts. For a professional army a large part of arms and hardware would have to be replaced, military personnel trained and educated, reserve formations adjusted to the new organisation and then all that together harmonised with western standards.

The idea on the professionalisation of the Croatian Army, which came like a bolt from the blue, met with quite an opposition both of the political right, as well as of some circles on the left. "I consider the idea on the abolishment of military service quite absurd because Croatia is still burdened by major problems of economic and social character which would be additionally exacerbated by this transformation. At this moment Croatia simply has not enough potentials for full professionalising of its army in such a short time. Professionalisation would required enormous financial resources which we presently do not have", said Professor Berislav Andrijevic, Ph.D., a lecturer at the course on National Security Economics at the Zagreb Faculty of Economics. According to him, professionalising the army would be much more easier if Croatia was already a member of the NATO. "Until it becomes a member of the western military alliance the Croatian Army should be much stronger than it is even now because we cannot fully rely on the NATO Alliance", was his opinion. "Besides, I think that it is the constitutional right and duty of every citizen to care for his country's sovereignty and territorial integrity which at this moment no one has the right to deny to the Croatian citizens, irrespective of all stories about NATO standards."

According to the Professor, it is risky to abolish the regular formations also because of the unsettled situation in the region: the geo-strategic position of Croatia is "rather delicate" he said adding that "the legal system is not functioning. Bosnia and Herzegovina is not functioning as a state, except on paper, while it is actually occupied by the Republic of Srpska and the Federation. The situation has become even worse with the introduction of the Croatian self-government." According to Andrijevic the risk such a move entails becomes even greater if we add the permanent crisis in Kosovo and Macedonia. "All these are problems which the state leadership has obviously lost sight of when it announced its idea on abolishing the compulsory military service." In his opinion the adoption of such delicate decision should be postponed for some more peaceful times, perhaps when Croatia becomes fully covered by the NATO defence "umbrella". Doctor Andrijevic thought that the professionalisation of the army could be completed in five years time.

Nevertheless, it seems that there will be no discussions on professionalising the army: by the looks of it the decision was made outside Croatia, which means that it is practically irreversible. "This is obviously a plan which the Western military and political structures have set as condition for Croatia", said one collocutor from military structures who wanted to remain anonymous. "The intention is primarily to radically reform the Croatian Army in this way as soon as possible so as to reduce to a minimum the threat of possible military interference in political developments. The Western Alliance wants to stabilise the situation in the region in the shortest possible time and eliminate all possible points of resistance. In that sense a quick and dramatic reform of armed forces would represent an ideal platform for all changes that, in view of the existing conditions, have to be implemented slowly and with much opposition which additionally complicates the already unstable political situation in Croatia. In addition, a part of command structures is still very closely tied to the structures from Herzeg-Bosnia, which also had a bearing on this decision. The West believes that the political risks that these structures might represent for the situation in the country and region at large, would be reduced to a minimum with such, almost revolutionary, reform of the Army. That explains the unexpected urgency of the announced transformation."

There are also those who think that professionalising of the military service could be carried out in a relatively short time, but that is not the only problem. "The professional army costs a lot of money - perhaps not much more than the current upkeep of the existing armed forces. Nevertheless, that will not be cheap. NATO partners will have to participate in this reorganisation. Naturally, the highest price will have to be paid in the course of reorganisation itself. There are certain prerequisites for the establishment of a professional army: commanding personnel will have to be trained, a concept for the new army organisation will have to be elaborated, the necessary weaponry and materiel will have to be procured and infrastructure adjusted. All this can be done in a reasonably short time - year or two at most -but the precise cost of reform is still unknown, as are the sources for its financing. Ideally, the reform could be carried out in less than 12 months. However, the state budget will certainly be exposed to additional pressures", said Juraj Hrzenjak, former judge of the Constitutional Court of Croatia.

Critics of this model also list European examples. For example, France is also introducing professional army. It seems that a part of the draft law has been copied from the French. This wealthy western country has set the beginning of 2002 as the deadline for the transformation of its army, but the French have not envisaged a possibility of drafting ordinary citizens in case of insufficient number of professional volunteers.

Spain did a similar thing. The Italians have passed a similar law already last year, which will come into force only in 2006. Only six countries of Europe currently have professional armies - Luxembourg, Malta, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland. These are all wealthy, developed countries. Not a single country in transition has a professional army model which, incidentally, is not one of preconditions for joining the NATO pact. In other words, Croatia will be the first.

The discussion about professional army in Croatia is continuing. For the time being no one knows what will the final text of the law look like. However, two things are certain. The army will certainly be professional, but there will be no amendments to the Croatian Constitution on account of this change - everything will be done at the level of legal changes. All the rest is subject to debate. Obviously, the law will have to be passed in a rush because there is very little time left if the Government wants to avoid being left with no army.

Boris Raseta