2021-10-06 16:48:59 What is Serbia trying to achieve with its military buildup? | Military News
What is Serbia trying to achieve with its military buildup? | Military News
Serbia made headlines in 2019 when it surpassed NATO member Croatia as the Balkan region’s largest military spender, spending $1.14 billion, a 43 percent increase over the previous year.
According to open-source intelligence specialists at Janes Defence Budgets, Serbia’s defense budget nearly doubled from $700 million in 2018 to around $1.5 billion this year.
As the pandemic worsened last year, many Serbs questioned the government’s priorities when it was revealed in November that more money was being spent on weapons than on setting up COVID-19 hospitals.
Meanwhile, displays of military might have become commonplace.
In September, as Serb unity was celebrated as part of a new national holiday, President Aleksandar Vucic declared that the army was “five times stronger” than it had been a few years before, while also announcing increased spending.
Following a military drill in the Sandzak region in June, Vucic stated that the army will be “dramatically increased in the next nine months” and will “always be able to defend our country and people.”
Some in neighboring countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Montenegro, are concerned about Serbia’s motives, particularly in light of Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin’s calls for the formation of a “Serb World.”
Vulin has repeatedly stated in public and to local media that all Serbs must unite politically under Belgrade’s direction, and “with time, to peacefully… unite formally,” implying that they must unite the territories in which they live.
His calls have been slammed by critics as an updated version of the Greater Serbia ideology of the 1990s, which resulted in war and ethnic cleansing in the region.
“The Serb World is indistinguishable from Greater Serbia, or all Serbs in one country,” said Daniel Serwer, one of the negotiators of the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the Bosnian war in 1995.
Reuf Bajrovic, co-chair of the US-Europe Alliance, told Al Jazeera that Vucic is preparing to use military force in Kosovo and Bosnia if international circumstances change in his favor, such as when US troops withdraw from KFOR (the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo) or when Russia – Serbia’s ally – decides to intervene directly in the region.
“Russian-trained mercenaries in Bosnia and Montenegro are an essential component of Serbia’s regional military strategy.” “It’s exactly like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s pre-invasion actions in Georgia and Ukraine,” Bajrovic said.
“Vucic government officials have openly stated that Serbia will use military force in its neighboring countries, including a threat Vucic issued last week against NATO troops in Kosovo,” Bajrovic said.
Last week, as tensions rose along the Serbia-Kosovo border over a dispute over license plates, Vucic gave NATO a 24-hour deadline to respond if violence erupted against Kosovo Serbs.
If they do not, Serbia will “react,” he told NATO Secretary General in a phone call.
“We now have 14 MiG-29s,” Vucic told Western officials on a Serbian talk show. “They thought I was kidding… Is it not legal for Serbia to use its helicopters and planes in central Serbia?”
If Serbia acts militarily against Bosnia or Kosovo, it will have to abandon its EU ambitions, according to Serwer, who adds, “But Vucic appears to have already given up on EU accession.”
“The situation is perilous. NATO must state unequivocally that it will not tolerate Serbia mobilizing forces against its neighbors, as it did last week against Kosovo, which lacks an army.”
According to Janes Defence Budgets, Serbia’s “tensions with the former Serbian province of Kosovo remain the single most important determinant of national security.”
‘Out of the public eye’
Marija Ignjatijevic, researcher at the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, considers the direction of Serbian defense policy to be a “million-dollar question.”
“Most of [Serbia’s] planning and strategic documents are hidden from public view or are non-existent,” she explained, adding that military budget increases are made “ad hoc” in accordance with foreign policy interests.
“In addition, the Serbian Armed Forces and armament are constantly misused in pompous nationally broadcast exercises and parades, followed by tabloid outlet campaigns – not only to consolidate power and gain more votes, but also to score in geostrategic games,” Ignjatijevic said.
According to Andrew MacDonald, lead analyst at Janes Defence Budgets, Serbia’s defense spending will increase to 2.6 percent of GDP in 2021, which is “definitely outside of the country’s norm” and “above average, especially for Europe.”
Vucic’s stance, according to Serwer, is “clear.”
While the Serbian president is unlikely to use military force in Kosovo or Bosnia anytime soon, “he would welcome the opportunity to do so,” Serwer said.
“Serbia is strengthening ties with Russia and China, lowering its European ambitions, and focusing on the ‘Serb World,’ another name for Greater Serbia.”
“The regional military balance is shifting, which has an impact on perceptions everywhere.”