AIM: start

SAT, 25 AUG 2001 20:47:58 GMT

Slovenia and Its Army

Expansion as Business

The Slovenian army's purchase of U.S. all-terrain vehicles has confirmed that NATO's expansion is, first and foremost, good business.

AIM Ljubljana, August 3, 2001

The Defense Ministry decision to purchase 30 U.S. Humvee all-terrain vehicles and other military equipment for the Slovenian army has once more upset the domestic public. It is clear, however, that the move was historic: not only was it made without a public tender and in great haste, but it was clearly motivated by a desire to take another step toward joining NATO. On the other hand, the decision was important because it showed that NATO's expansion is, in fact, big business. The purchase of the Humvees has also offered adherents of Slovenian sovereignty a chance to learn what Slovenian conscripts will be trained for once the country becomes a NATO member.

They won't be defending their homeland from neighboring nations for some time these have not endangered Slovenia -- but will participate in international interventions in distant deserts, swamps, steppes, and tundras. This is because U.S. Humvee are universal vehicles with a single flaw -- their rather bulky chassis prevents them from being used on the narrow, winding roads common in the Balkans, or on the southern slopes of the Alps. Had they been bought solely for use in Slovenia, the purchase would have been, beyond any doubt, a completely pointless investment...

The selection of the Humvee is a final step in the transformation of the Slovenian army, which has been in progress for some time now on instructions from the Pentagon. U.S. generals, for instance, have complained that the Slovenian army is too big and poorly equipped. This is why they suggested that Slovenia should abolish its air force, and forget about tanks, heavy artillery, and other such things. If need be, NATO will take care of that. Pentagon experts, at this point, approve only of specialized infantry units, in addition to mountain, medical, communications and reconnaissance units. All this is in accordance with a new NATO strategy and the growing prevalence of out of area missions, which in the future will be undertaken in accordance with U.N. decisions, and maybe even without them. Since the mid-1990s, and especially after 1999, NATO has been an offensive organization which makes its own rules and determines the conditions and the areas of intervention. The Slovenian army, which developed from Slovenia's Territorial Defense, is simply not trained for such tasks. Hence the idea of "modernization." In order for Slovenia to be able to count on NATO membership, the Slovenian army has to accept all new NATO strategic documents in advance. Thus in the following years the number of troops will be reduced from 74,000 to 34,000, and all important units will be grouped in one brigade, patched together from the 10th Motorized Battalion, 132nd Mountain Battalion, 182nd Infantry Battalion, and a special forces unit.

This is the purpose of the latest purchase of expensive military equipment. Parliament facilitated the matter by adopting, seven years ago, a special law outlining the basics of the Slovenian army's future development, which enabled the state to take out loans for purchasing weapons and military equipment worth 76 billion tolars (DM994 million). Former minister Jelko Kacin was the first to start spending these funds -- for purchasing howitzers and grenade launchers and for (allegedly) pointless modernization of T-55 tanks. He also purchased Bell helicopters and Pilatus aircraft. At the middle of last year, when Janez Jansa again spent a brief term atop the Defense Ministry, the public was informed that most of these funds had been spent long ago. Only DM300 million or so have remain, although the law was to be in effect by 2003. The incumbent defense minister, Anton Grizold, is also purchasing weapons using this money. During the past several months, his ministry purchased a new pontoon bridge, protective masks for 30,000 soldiers, 10 Pandurs (infantry combat vehicles produced under an Austrian license), and, finally, 30 Humvee armored vehicles... Two large transport helicopters have also been bought.

Some analysts claim that not even the purchase of the Humvee (which was possibly meant to gain the favors of the U.S.) will help Slovenia in its efforts to swiftly join NATO, nor will it be the case with the purchase of a Roland missile system (which might have been meant to earn German support). "NATO membership cannot be bought by purchasing weapons systems from certain NATO countries, but by credibility based on the long-term GDP stability necessary to finance these defense systems... and by fulfilling all obligations within the membership action plan..." NATO officials continue to stress whenever Slovenian diplomats visit.

The early history of NATO's expansion still confirms what some have claimed: that enlargement is major business and that the purchase of Western, primarily U.S. military equipment, opens wide the door to membership. There are many examples. In fact, Slovenia itself is an excellent example. Until recently it used to purchase military equipment in Israel, because of which it was criticized and left out of the Alliance. Analyses done by international institutes confirm this. "Central and Eastern European countries such as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovenia, in preparing for NATO's expansion, are purchasing offensive arms, such as F-16 and F-18 aircraft and military helicopters in order to better their chances for admittance in NATO."

"NATO's expansion has turned Central and Eastern Europe into a lucrative military market worth at least US$35 billion..."

"Despite official claims by NATO that weapons purchases will not secure membership in this exclusive club, the aforementioned countries are under pressure to buy these weapons in hopes of thus improving their chances. The paradox is that these countries are not threatened at all... Because of this, selective arming of such countries with modern equipment is destabilizing the region and is in opposition with NATO's declared goals," a study compiled by the Berlin information Center for Transatlantic Security says.

There are numerous concrete examples. When Hungary decided in April 1997 to discard its MiG-23MFs, MiG-21MFs and Suhoi 22M-3s from its fleet, Hungarian Defense Minister Gjorgji Keleti explained this as a measure "to cut costs" because "we are not exposed to any immediate danger." Only several months later Hungary began purchasing new aircraft. McDonald Douglas's F/A-18 and Lockheed Martin's F-16 were the shortlisted candidates... The same year, when Poland decided it was not immediately going to purchase 250 new aircraft and that it would rather wait another five years, it was forced almost the same day to change its decision under pressure from the EU and the U.S.. The Poles' plight did not end there, because the U.S. and British military envoys immediately sent notes of protest to the Polish state security advisor, Marek Siwiec, as soon as they learned that Poland wanted to upgrade its Hussar helicopters in Isreal. A week later, President Kwasniewsky informed the public that the decision to modernize the helicopters "has not yet been made." The explanation was that Israeli missiles "have first to be tested in the harsher, Polish climate." It appears the same story is now being repeated in Slovenia. Some weak protests over the fact that Slovenia is not independent in the area of defense spending from liberal intellectuals show that they have obviously failed to realize that small countries have lost a say in their own national security. Be it as it may, officials in Ljubljana continue to believe that the purchase of U.S. weapons is its best bet for joining NATO.

Igor Mekina