What kind of army for Serbia and Montenegro?
by Milka Tadic-Mijovic
It was General Grahovac who opened the conflict over the future role of the Army of Serbia and Montenegro (VSCG). Since Grahovac is defence adviser to Svetozar Marović, president of Serbia and Montenegro, his statements carry additional weight. He began by contesting the Document on Defence Strategy drafted by the federal ministry of defence and presented at a recent meeting in Belgrade. Next he started a public debate with the military high command and defence minister Boris Tadić.
Grahovac tells Monitor that in his view it is high time to dismantle once and for all a military structure that has been starting wars in the Balkans for the past two hundred years at least. ‘This is a conflict of options. I seek the dismantling of the war machine, while the other option advocates a two-centuries-old concept of military power. The other side seeks, in other words, to retain a system in which the army decides and implements a political strategy, instead of letting civilians decide the nature of the army’, he tells our paper. For the military machine to be dismantled, however, it is necessary to undertake a thorough purge of the army personnel. Grahovac has directly targeted the chief of staff of the VSCG Branko Krga, who in his view should go because he occupied a high position under Milošević. Not only Krga, but also other loyal appointees of the former Serbian president who continue to hold posts on or close to the general staff.
His demand for cadre changes has been sharply rejected by defence minister Boris Tadić, according to whom personnel changes are the prerogative of the federal defence council. Tadić says it would be wrong to start investigating the present and past party-political affiliations of individual generals. He cynically adds: ‘This would not be welcome to General Grahovac either.’
Western military experts have stated on a number of occasions that the VSCG, albeit making small changes, has retained the officer structure formed under Milošević, and that this is likely to hinder reforms. Since 5 October [when Milošević fell], the army has undergone only cosmetic changes. It is a huge and superannuated machine that should be greatly reduced in size. This is what recent advice by NATO officials has actually recommended, if the VSCG is to join the Partnership for Peace.
A number of civilian officials in both Belgrade and Podgorica have warned that a fundamental barrier to military reform is the army’s dark and criminal past, and the unwillingness of the military establishment to face up to its own historical responsibility. No one has provided information on how many currently active officers participated in or led operations in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia. Not even the documents presented by the tribunal in The Hague, which have laid serious charges against individual military leaders, have caused much alarm.
Behind all the hullabaloo about extensive cadre changes, trumpeted by large headlines in the press, lies a far more serious theme: what should be the nature of the VSCG and who should command it. ‘There are those in Belgrade who insist on a unitary structure for the VSCG, centralized decision-making, and that the army be the pivot of defence policy’, says Grahovac, who would like to see the VSCG lose several tens of thousands of men. In addition to reduction of the number of active soldiers, Grahovac insists also on radical reorganization of the army. There has been a particularly negative reaction from the high command to his proposal that the navy be abolished and replaced by a coastguard.
The main pillars of security strategy, says Grahovac, should be civilian protection and civilian defence controlled by the member states, with the army taking third place. The member states should also command the border units. In contrast to Belgrade, Grahovac believes that Serbia and Montenegro should articulate their own defence concepts and define their structures. ‘It is immoral for Montenegro to tell Serbia that it does not need an army’, Radovan Radinović of the Belgrade Centre for Defence and Security Studies wrote in Nedjeljni Telegraf in response to the Podgorica proposal. ‘It is fine for the special adviser to the federal president to insist that in Montenegro they need no more than 3,000 soldiers, since in their view Montenegro faces no threat from any quarter. Serbia, however, can and must reckon with a mass armed rebellion, or with mass armed resistance to any attempt to bring Kosovo into the Serbian state. Serbia must be able to meet this threat with an adequate army’, argues Radinović.
Once again, the spectre of Kosovo is being evoked. Montenegrin separatism too. Radinović blames the Montenegrin government for the federal failure to adopt a national security strategy: ‘Without it we are left with two military concepts in the two states, which is only a step away from giving up the illusion that a union of Serbia and Montenegro is possible.’
Chief of staff Branko Krga has likewise come out publicly in favour of a joint strategy, although this is not envisaged in the Constitutional Charter [establishing the union of Serbia and Montenegro]. Krga has also specified the VSCG’s tasks. Its most important task, in his view, is to prevent military aggression and create an effective defence, followed by the struggle against terrorism and meeting the necessary conditions for joining the Partnership for Peace and other security arrangements. ‘The threat of a global war has receded, but this does not give us the right to conclude that the danger of an outbreak of local armed conflict no longer exists. No country in our area excludes this possibility’, Krga said at a recent round table in Belgrade, stressing that no country in the world has given up having its own army. General Grahovac contests this view:’We cannot exclude possible border incidents, but we can be certain that there will be no external aggression - this should be the key consideration in fashioning the future army.’
The Constitutional Charter does not deal with such fundamental questions relating to the VSCG. Belgrade’s message is clear: it wants a centralized military system, a strong and numerous army, and a single defence strategy. What does Montenegro want? Grahovac apart, Podgorica remains silent on this issue.
At a round table held in Belgrade last summer, General Blagoje Grahovac set out the strategic fundamentals on which the military reform should be based. Here are some extracts from his paper.
An Army of Peace
What should be the basic tasks of the VSCG? 1. Cooperation in defence against risks, challenges and other forms of threat, depending on their ultimate form. It is necessary to stress that the concept should be ‘cooperation in defence’ and not ‘defence from’, since defence is a task that properly belongs to the state and the union, and the latter formula contains a legal possibility for misusing the army, as happened in the previous period. 2. Participation in international peace and humanitarian missions. 3. Tasks associated with the state and military protocol. These three tasks contain all others, such as development, hardware, training, education, etc.
As for the size of the army that SCG needs, let us analyse the worst possible case of a recurrence of war which we assume might happen in Serbia and Montenegro. If we examine this possibility and the related response by the VSCG to an eventual attack, we shall conclude that it is unlikely we would ever need more than 5,000 professional soldiers. A larger number simply could not be deployed. A defence system based on a coefficient of three would thus lead to an operational army of 15,000 professionals.
I know that there are those in our community who, when thinking of the military reform, assume that the army will be needed to solve the Kosovo issue. I believe this to be unrealistic. I am convinced that the issue of Kosovo will never again be solved by military means. All other tales are either politically motivated or derive from deep ignorance of what has been happening in our area. One can preserve and make lasting only what is defended by democratic and economic development, the acquisition of a high degree of human and civic rights - all this by the application of political means alone.
I do not see any good reason against an immediate dissolution of the naval corps and its replacement by a coastguard, whose tasks would be threefold: to monitor the sea and the coast; to approach and arrest those who infringe the given law of the seas, with a possible use of small-calibre weapons; to carry out rescue at sea and along the coast. For this we need fewer than 400 professionals. All other solutions in my view are nothing but attempts to mislead the government and members of the present navy.
Possible isolated incidents apart, I am sure that Serbia and Montenegro will never again be attacked from the air. Even if it were, the existing air-defence system would not be of much use. I stress here the only valid political position, which is that state policy should not be such as to expose the country to risk. There is thus no justification for failing to define the necessary model for the size and organization of our air force and air defence. A stubborn devotion to 24 units, each equivalent to a regimental brigade (including air-force troops), is irresponsible to say the least. I am certain that all the tasks that the future air force and air defence will face can be met with a force of fewer than 1,300 professionals.
I wish to argue strongly for giving up the present concept of the army, with the reserve as its centre of gravity. This concept is outmoded, very expensive, essentially inefficient and creates a militaristic mood among the citizens. The creation of an efficient system of defence from new security risks will have to rely on the police reserve; but the army reserve, I am convinced, will not be needed.
Aleksandar Radić, military analyst, interviewed by Monitor
How do you see General Grahovac’s demand that the army be cleansed of Milošević’s cadres?
There is no doubt that the army should rid itself of the inheritance of its un-glorious past - of having served a bungling regime. The corps of generals and higher officers is full of tainted men who neither accept nor are able to implement the reform. These men rose through the ranks thanks to a system of negative selection: competent people with leadership qualities were replaced in the main by mediocrities totally loyal to the regime. Unfortunately this wrong approach continued after Milošević’s fall, which is why the VSCG has remained under the influence of people who should immediately and unconditionally leave the army. The desire of the member states or some political parties to protect their interests in the army could, however, lead to the retention of cadres who are unsuited to the reform. A purge is both necessary and desirable. The reform should aim also at a generational change, a reduction in the number of higher officers in favour of lower ranks. The pyramid of power has become skewed: the higher tiers are unnaturally heavy in relation to the base.
What about the military budget, the system of financing the army?
The current budget of around half a billion dollars is a heavy burden on the state. This sum, moreover, covers only the army’s subsistence, and even then only if the size of the army is reduced and without any ambitious purchase of new equipment and weapons. The ministry of defence must also tackle corruption and ensure that the budget is used only for servicing the army. The first step towards effective control is to switch to a system of public purchase. For the public to know more about the VSCG’s spending is less damaging than the theft that is covered up by the alleged need to keep military secrets.
The greatest problem in communication between Podgorica and Belgrade is not political but economic in nature. The member states have agreed to cover the cost of military forces and installations on their respective territories, but according to the VSCG general staff Montenegro is lagging behind with its payment. This could become a source of crisis, since in the last instance the army belongs to those who pay it.
These texts have been translated from Monitor (Podgorica), 19 September 2003