Why does Croatia aspire to join NATO?
NATO membership is in Croatia's national
interest. NATO, and NATO alone, offers my country the highest possible
level of security, defence of the country's independence,
territorial integrity, national and state identity. Here,
it is worth pointing out that ten years ago, the fact
that Croatia was a member of both the United Nations and
the predecessor of the Organisation of Security and Cooperation
in Europe failed to protect us from aggression and war.
In addition, NATO today is the critical security and defence
organisation in the Euro-Atlantic area and together with
Russia and other Partners the basis for peace and security
in the northern hemisphere. NATO membership can also help
speed completion of democratic and economic reform within
Croatia and, in this way, help the country enter the European
Union. The alternative to NATO membership is far from
ideal. It would mean less security, increased defence
expenditure, an absence of allies and greater isolation.
What can Croatia offer the Alliance?
A stable and democratic Croatia can contribute to the stability of its surrounding region and the whole of Southeastern Europe. Geographically, my country links Central Europe and the Mediterranean as well as Western and Southeastern Europe. For NATO, that means improved communications between its centre and its southern wing, as well as direct access by land, sea and air to the three NATO missions in the former Yugoslavia. Croatia can play an important role in the stabilisation and development of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And it can contribute to the control of its unstable eastern borders and the campaign against terrorism. Our meaningful military and non-military experience of war can be useful in the preparation of special units and teams for various military and non-military tasks. I wish especially to stress that Croatia would also bring its many national values and characteristics to NATO.
How has Croatia benefited from the Partnership for Peace?
Croatia joined the Partnership for Peace in May 2000, just over four months after a coalition of democratic parties came to power in elections. This step was recognition by NATO of the democratic changes and progress that had already taken place in Croatia. From that moment, Croatia has benefited from intense political and moral support of members of both NATO and the European Union. My country is preparing and pushing through important constitutional changes, new laws and key reforms to strengthen our system of parliamentary democracy and build a market economy. Croatia entered the World Trade Organisation and began the process of stabilisation and association with the European Union. In February 2001, Croatia opened its mission at NATO and this, combined with the high fulfilment of the Partnership goals, enabled us to move to a phase of intensified dialogue on membership issues in May 2001. Croatia used this phase intensively to pass laws for major defence and military reform. NATO assured itself of Croatia's determination to become a member of the Alliance and her intention to make up for missed opportunities to become a stable, democratic and economically prosperous country. In this way, membership of the Partnership for Peace helped Croatia to be invited into the Membership Action Plan in May of this year. In September, Croatia will present its first annual programme.
What does joining the Membership Action Plan mean for Croatia?
By joining the MAP, Croatia has formally become a candidate for NATO membership. This brings with it many obligations, including annual planning cycles and implementation of numerous goals and tasks in all areas of state and society, not only the defence field. Through the MAP, we intend to reorganise our armed forces. This includes their further professionalisation and modernisation to create the necessary compatibility and interoperability with NATO standards. With the benefit of several annual MAP cycles, Croatia should be able to meet the necessary standards and values for entry into NATO. We are very much hoping that Croatia will be invited to join the Alliance at the next summit after Prague.
What are the key security challenges facing Croatia?
In common with all European countries, Croatia faces general security challenges emanating from the crisis triangle of the Balkans, Middle East and Caucasus and southern Mediterranean, including conflict, the disruption of energy supplies, the development of terrorism and mass migration. Croatia also faces its own special security challenges emanating from its eastern borders. In addition to terrorism, organised crime and mass migration, extremist nationalism and fundamentalism may yet rear their ugly heads. As the Balkans become more stable and democracy begins to take hold, we no longer anticipate a return to war. As a result, terrorism and internal social problems linked to high levels of unemployment and inadequate economic growth are today's greatest security challenges.
What are the obstacles to military reform?
The aim of military reform is to provide for the security needs of a country at an economically acceptable price. The ideal is the creation of small, highly qualified, mobile, technically equipped and capable armed forces ready to deal with a wide range of tasks. To arrive at such a force, it will be necessary to restructure and technically modernise today's armed forces. The greatest obstacle to the rapid implementation of the necessary reforms is the lack of the necessary financial resources. The second problem is the difficulty of laying off some 10,000 employees at a time of high unemployment. This is a difficult moral issue since the individuals in question are in the main those who defended Croatia in war. The way forward is probably in the gradual reduction of the armed forces and foreign financial and technical assistance. Early political opposition to reform has died away following the passing of constitutional changes and a new law about defence and the armed forces.
How confident are you that war crimes were not committed during operations Flash and Storm in 1995?
Human suffering as well as the destruction of property and cultural monuments takes place in every conflict. Only a detailed investigation can determine whether crimes took place and whether particular incidents were war crimes, ordinary crimes or accidents resulting from human or technical error. When unarmed civilians, prisoners of war, the wounded, journalists, medical workers and Red Cross representatives are deliberately killed in war but outside combat, these are clearly war crimes. Where such acts occurred, they must be investigated and those responsible must be prosecuted. That said, most civilians and civilian buildings on the Serb side that were hit during these operations side were hit because civilians and military personnel were together and civilian buildings were being used for military purposes. In these circumstances, the guilty party is the person who placed civilians in what were clear military targets. A characteristic of these and similar operations is the increase in the number of ordinary crimes committed by looters and sometimes by displaced persons returning to their burned-out houses and destroyed villages.
This is difficult to control in battle.
How important are war crimes trials to post-war reconstruction in Southeastern Europe and will Croatia continue cooperating with the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague?
The disintegration of the multinational Yugoslav federation was inevitable. At the time, in the beginning of the 1990s, the proponents of Greater Serbian nationalism decided to use this event to realise the centuries-old dream of creating a Greater Serbia with all Serbs living in one state. This required the annexation to Serbia of a major part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as a third of Croatia. Under the circumstances of the time, such a goal could only have been achieved by war. As a result, in 1991, Serbia and Montenegro, together with the Yugoslav Army, launched both an aggressive war and the most brutal conflict to take place in Europe at the end of the 20th century. However, the project failed. Moreover, the very notion of "Greater Serbia" and with it all other aggressive nationalisms, were defeated in the final stages of the war. The prosecution of war criminals is an important step towards establishing truth and achieving justice. Every victim of every crime has a name and a surname, as does the individual who committed the crime. Collective guilt does not exist. An entire people bears no responsibility for the criminal acts of their ethnic kin. As a result, I believe that with time it will be possible to build better relations between peoples and among the new democracies in the former Yugoslavia on the basis of the recognition of war crimes. Croatia has been working constructively with The Hague Tribunal since the change in regime and intends to maintain this cooperation. Indeed, with the agreement of The Hague Tribunal, Croatia has opened various criminal investigations that may eventually lead to trials in Croatian courts.
What prospects for the Dayton Peace Agreement in Bosnia and Herzegovina and how can Croatia contribute to the peace process?
Croatia is a signatory of the Dayton Peace Agreement and considers itself responsible for its implementation. Since Bosnia and Herzegovina is both our neighbour and a country in which Croats live as a constituent people, Croatia has a vested interest in its development and prosperity. This autumn, it will be seven years since the Dayton Peace Agreement came into force. While there has been progress during this time, we cannot be happy with the time it is taking to build a self-sustaining, stable and democratic country. Recently, the constitutionality of all three peoples throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina was formally recognised. This is a positive step and should help speed the return of displaced and refugees to Republika Srpska. The prospects of the peace agreement are positive since it has ensured both peace and the integrity of the Bosnian state. In the years to come, citizens and democratic institutions, especially Bosnia and Herzegovina's state-level institutions, will have to play an ever-greater role and this should bring a new quality and quicker development of this country and its society. Croatia will continue to help in Bosnia and Herzegovina's reconstruction and development and the return of displaced and refugees. Together with Bosnia and Herzegovina we will work to resolve the many outstanding security issues such as control of our common border and development of air traffic, as well as the battle with terrorism and organised crime. Economic relations should develop to the benefit of both sides. Croatia will lobby for the creation of conditions for the successful Euro-Atlantic integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Having spent much of your career in the Yugoslav People's Army, you know many senior military figures in Belgrade personally. How useful a precedent is Croatia's recent development for that of Serbia and what are the prospects for a closer relationship between Belgrade and NATO?
The defeat of the Greater Serbian programme of Slobodan Milosevic and the Serbian military command led to the recent democratic changes in Serbia. This has significantly stabilised the political and security situation throughout the region. New democratic opportunities are emerging and Serbia and Montenegro have started their journey towards Europe. I am convinced that the recent democratic changes in Croatia contributed to this. Moreover, our bilateral relations with Serbia and Montenegro reflect the growing stability in the region. Today we no longer speak of the normalisation of relations between our countries, but of the development of good neighbourly relations. The prospects for closer cooperation between Belgrade and NATO are only now opening. Belgrade's recent decision to begin preparing for NATO's Partnership for Peace is a first and a meaningful step. Now we have to expect the depoliticisation of the army and the creation of civilian control over the armed forces, in order to fulfil the democratic conditions for entering the Partnership for Peace. Croatia will support Serbia and Montenegro getting into the Partnership for Peace.
Can you envisage a time when Croatia and Serbia work together within a NATO framework? How far is that day away?
I expect that our neighbours Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, that is Serbia and Montenegro, will enter NATO's Partnership for Peace programme at the end of this year or the beginning of next and will, in this way, work together with Croatia in a NATO framework. Croatia will hopefully become a member of NATO in a few years. I am not, however, convinced that Serbia will choose to follow this path.