Updated: 30-Nov-2000 NATO Review

Web edition
Vol. 48 - No. 2
Summer - Autumn 2000
p. 10-12
Kristan J.
Wheaton is a
foreign area
officer for the
US Army
stationed at the
US Embassy in
Zagreb. The
expressed in this
article, however,
are his and do
not reflect the
official position
of any
department or
agency of the US

Cultivating Croatias military

Kristan J. Wheaton describes how NATO countries helped prepare the Croatian military for the transition from authoritarian to democratic rule.

Students of democracy: Croatias military has demonstrated its democratic credentials by staying out of politics.
(Reuters photo - 24Kb)

When Croatian voters rejected the political party that had led Croatia to independence and had been in power for the past decade, the Croatian military did a remarkable thing. Nothing. Despite calls from some right-wing extremists for a coup, Croatias Armed Forces refused to meddle in politics, contributing to a smooth hand-over of power.

While such behaviour is expected in Western democracies, it is not the norm in countries transitioning from authoritarian rule. In fact, the exact opposite is commonly true. Generally speaking, an accommodation with the military is one of the essential pre-conditions for a successful transition, making the Croatian militarys respect for the political process even more remarkable. This significant achievement, however, was not accidental. NATO Allies and the Croatians themselves have devoted substantial resources to professionalising the Croatian military during the past five years.

In 1995, the Croatian military clearly and overwhelmingly supported the late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and his authoritarian party, the Croatian Democratic Union (Hrvatska demokratska zajednica or HDZ). From the average soldiers point of view, there were good reasons for this support. Through its near total control of the media, the HDZ had managed to convince most of the military, indeed much of Croatias population, that the HDZ, and only the HDZ, could efficiently govern the country and effectively represent its interests abroad. At that time, it was nearly unthinkable that, in the event of a crisis, the HDZ would not be able to count on the support of the Croatian military.

By late 1999, the situation had changed dramatically. Falling living standards and a series of economic scandals implicating senior figures in the ruling party bred increasing disillusionment with the HDZs stale diet of nationalism and international isolation. In the wake of Tudjmans death in December 1999, support for the HDZ disintegrated. Its parliamentary representation crashed from 59 per cent of seats to just 29 per cent in January and February 2000 elections. Moreover, the military accepted the election results and began to work with the new, democratically elected president, Stipe Mesic, and the government of new prime minister, Ivica Racan.

The United States was, in late 1995, the first NATO country to organise military cooperation programmes for Croatian soldiers and remains the largest single funder of what the US military refers to as engagement activities. These are programmes designed to promote regional stability and democratisation and, in relation to the former Yugoslavia, to support US efforts to ensure self-sustaining progress from the Dayton process and develop military institutions adapted to democratic civilian control. In 1998, the US Ambassador to Croatia, William Montgomery, drew up a Road Map to Partnership for Peace, which helped focus US programmes in Croatia itself. Furthermore, he made the US defence attach responsible for synchronising the US effort. This step both protected the programmes, through a successful working relationship with Croatian leaders, and multiplied their impact, through careful coordination.

Direct US military training assistance to Croatia grew from $65,000 in 1995 to $500,000 in 2000. This money was provided to Croatia through the congressionally authorised International Military Education and Training (IMET) fund. During this period, the United States trained nearly 200 Croatian military and civilian personnel in the United States and several hundred more at one- and two-week seminars held in Croatia. IMET money also paid for the establishment of three language laboratories, so that the Croatian Military School of Foreign Languages is now capable of producing nearly 150 fluent English speakers annually. The total cost of the IMET programme in Croatia since 1995 has been about $2 million. The Defence Security Cooperation Agency, in collaboration with the US European Command, has also funded two full-time personnel to assist the Croatian military with scheduling and exe-cuting IMET-funded training since 1997.

In addition to IMET-funded activities, the US European Command sponsored a four-person military liaison team in Croatia under the Joint Contact Team Programme (JCTP). The team began operations in 1996 and has to date conducted nearly 300 events designed to present the US Armed Forces as a role model of a capable military under effective civilian control. JCTP events differ from IMET-funded training. JCTP is prohibited from conducting training and must restrict its activities to familiarisation and orientation- type events. Participants are not required to be fluent in English and the events normally last less than a week (as opposed to IMET-funded courses, which normally last several months). That said, JCTP-funded events played an important role in exposing a large number of Croatian military personnel to democratic norms and expectations.

The United States, along with Germany, also supported the Marshall Center in Garmisch, Germany. The Center is designed to support higher security and defence learning for foreign and security policy officials. Croatia has sent more than 40 members of its defence ministry and general staff to the Marshall Center for training since 1995. This effort cost the United States nearly $350,000 in 1999 and 2000 alone.

In addition to the Marshall Center, Germany began offering Croatian officers training in its military schools in 1999. Since then 23 officers have been educated in German military schools and 30 have completed familiarisation or orientation events. The focus of these courses is normally on professional military education including battalion- and company-level courses, as well as slots in the German Command and General Staff College and training for Croatian medical personnel. Germany also provided language training to Croatian officers attending its schools. Staff talks occurred annually at all levels between Croatian and German officers and Germany also conducted some exercises with Croatia in the field of arms control. Total aid, paid out of the defence budget of Germany to Croatia, is approximately $2 million.

The United Kingdom has also supported the Croatian military. Since 1997, when the United Kingdom began working with the Croatian military on arms control (in particular in relation to the Dayton Accords), some 45 Croatian students have been sent to the United Kingdom for English language instruction. In addition, the United Kingdom has sponsored seminars on a broad variety of topics, including the arms-control provisions of Dayton, military law, and the military and the media.

France also provided significant training. Beginning in 1998 with the signing of a bilateral cooperation agreement, the French established a programme which saw 31 officers graduate from schools such as the French War School, 14 in 1998 and 17 in 1999. According to the French Embassy in Zagreb, as many as 20 additional training events are planned for 2000. The French military also provided language training.

In line with previous agreements between Turkey and Croatia, 12 Croatian officers have attended Turkish schools since 1999. According to the Turkish Embassy in Zagreb, all students attended a one-year course in Turkish before attending professional military education training, such as the Armed Forces Military Academy or courses designed for officers who are about to take command of companies and battalions. In addition to training opportunities in Turkey, Croatia sent observers to three exercises in 1999.

Italy also had an active programme of engagement with Croatia prior to the 2000 elections. According to the Italian Embassy in Zagreb, the Italian government secured a series of memorandums of understanding with Croatia designed to improve both the safety of navigation and the response to emergency situations in the Adriatic. Italy has limited its education opportunities to one person at the Italian Naval Academy and to an exchange of observers during national exercises. It is currently the lead nation for implementing the Partnership for Peace with Croatia and expects to increase its activities in 2000.

Other NATO Allies, such as Hungary, Norway, Poland and Spain, have also provided exposure to Western military practice to the Croatian military through direct training and other activities. More importantly, all the NATO countries informally coordinated these activities during the critical 1995-2000 period through regularly scheduled meetings of the NATO attach corps in Zagreb.

Interestingly, between 1995 and 2000, Croatia itself dedicated significant resources to professionalising and modernising its military. For example, Croatia has a policy of funding the travel and living allowances of all students sent abroad. In the case of the United States, this has the effect of tripling the money available for training in the United States. According to the Croatian defence ministry, Croatia will spend more than $2 million in 2000 of its own money supporting training activities abroad, more than 90 per cent of which will be spent in NATO countries.

Since one of the aims of the various foreign training programmes was to emphasise the apolitical role of the armed forces in a democratic country, Croatias expenditure on these programmes effectively undermined the HDZs desire to maintain absolute control over the mil-itary. But in late 1995, when the first, modest US programme began, Croatia had a political need to confirm its relationship with the West and a military need to train the largest number of officers possible. According to the Croatian defence ministry, the military budget at that time was nearly $1.4 billion and the investment of approximately $130,000 was likely viewed as politically prudent.

By the late 1990s, however, the policy of paying for training abroad was clearly working against the HDZ. The Tudjman regime was at odds with the international community on virtually every point, except military-to- military cooperation. Reducing the level of support at that time would have sent an extremely negative political signal. At the same time, the rapid growth of the programmes, coupled with a strict adherence to entrance standards, effectively de-politicised the process of selection of candidates for training.

As a critical mass of trained officers, both commissioned and non-commissioned, began to return from training abroad, NATO officers began to find common ground with an increasing number of their Croatian counterparts. By the end of 1999, every major command, every sector of the general staff, every directorate in the defence ministry had someone who had attended training abroad.

Beginning in 1997, the United States was already able to evaluate the impact of its programmes. Areas were clearly identified where the United States believed it had provided adequate resources for Croatia to move in the direction that it had said it wanted to go. More importantly, Croatia was then held accountable for using those resources efficiently. Not only were officers trained abroad expected to be used in positions commensurate with their new skills, but also systems in transition were expected to move towards Western norms a goal the Croatian defence ministry stated publicly and consistently, but which had been often ignored in practice.

An example of where detailed accountability made a clear difference occurred in late 1998. At that time, the United States was able to tell the defence ministry that it had trained more than 100 Croatians in modern defence resource management techniques. It was clear to both Croatian and US officers that this was more than enough for the defence ministry to produce a more efficient and transparent budget a goal that it had publicly espoused, but which had met with considerable resistance from within. Faced with this accounting as well as significant diplomatic pressure , the hard-liners were forced to acquiesce. Soon after the defence ministry issued its most transparent and detailed budget to date.

With bilateral assistance from NATO Allies and others, the Croatian military was well on its way to changing its mindset into that of a modern, civilian controlled, democratically oriented military by the time of the elections in early 2000. By seeking no role and having no impact on the Croatian elections, the Croatian military has passed its most important test to date.