HomeDOCUMENTSMission Reports2002 - July to December16-18 September 2002 - ZAGREB, CROATIA
16-18 September 2002 - ZAGREB, CROATIA
SUB-COMMITTEE ON CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE OF THE POLITICAL COMMITTEE
This Secretariat Report is presented for information only and does not necessarily represent the official view of the Assembly.
1. Members of the Sub-Committee on Central and Eastern Europe visited Zagreb from 16 to 18 September, 2002. The delegation was led by the Vice-Chairman of the Political Committee, Donald Anderson (United Kingdom), and consisted of parliamentarians from NATO countries and NATO PA associate countries . The eleven-strong group discussed a broad range of issues with Croatia's political leaders from government and parliament. Among the gamut of topics that came up during the meetings were NATO Enlargement and NATO Partnership programmes, as well as regional security issues. Croatia was the last country visited by this Sub-Committee before the Summit of NATO Heads of State and Government in Prague in November 2002. Over the last few years, the Sub-Committee on Central and Eastern Europe has closely followed NATO candidate countries' preparations for membership of the Alliance. To that end, it has visited all the applicant countries except one 1.
2. Government officials and members of the Croatian Parliament, the Sabor, emphasised that Croatia's strategic goal was full integration in Euro-Atlantic structures, most importantly membership of NATO. Ivan Ninić, the Deputy Chairman of the Domestic Policy and National Security Committee, said that in addition to joining NATO and the EU, Croatia was very interested in stepping up co-operation with neighbouring countries. The defence minister, Zeljka Antunovic, argued that regional co-operation had developed positively and rapidly, considering that the region was at war not too long ago. She went on to stress that Croatia wanted to help neighbours to democratise, and supported their eventual NATO membership. Asked by Bert Koenders (Netherlands), Rapporteur of the Sub-Committee, about impediments to regional cooperation, speakers pointed to several pending border issues. These included the general level of trans-border co-operation, which should be improved, the use of the Croatian port of Ploce by Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the issue of the Bay of Piran with Slovenia.
3. With regard to the latter, Viktor Brož, the head of the Croatian delegation to the NATO PA, stressed that Croatia had tried very hard to reach an agreement with Slovenia. He and others described bilateral relations with Slovenia as "very good". According to Sabor member Ivan Ninić, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina formed a "strategic partnership". Speakers particularly referred to the progress in normalisation of bilateral relations with Serbia after the political changes in Belgrade following the removal of Slobodan Milosevic from power. An additional perspective was offered during the discussions at the Institute for International Relations (IMO). Although he agreed that Croatian-Serbian relations had improved significantly, Damir Grubiša suggested that a "reconciliation process" that put a stronger emphasis on refugee return and on prosecution of war criminals was necessary. With regard to the latter, Grubiša called for a change in Croatia's attitude and stronger leadership by the government. Mr Tomcić, the president of the parliament, suggested that the responsibility for somewhat sluggish progress in some areas lay with Croatia's neighbours. As an example he pointed to the Croats of Republika Srpska who had fled to Croatia and whose return he considered "improbable" in the near term. Moreover, as was pointed out by members of the Sabor, Croatia had fulfilled all obligations connected with the return of the refugees. A Croatian member of parliament maintained that approximately 35% of the country's budget was earmarked for reconstruction efforts after the war. Thus far, some 80,000 housing units had already been paid for, he said. He claimed that the Kosovo war had made the economic situation worse for Croatia, as it had cost the country an estimated US $ 2 billion in income.
4. The president, Stjepan Mesić, gave a comprehensive account of the political manoeuvres by the former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic that led to the wars following the break-up of former Yugoslavia. He acknowledged that Franjo Tudjman also bore responsibility for so-called "ethnic cleansing". President Mesić stressed that the return of refugees was very much in the interests of his country, and that Croatia wanted to co-operate fully with the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
5. Responding to an inquiry by Loďc Bouvard (France) about perceived security threats to the country as well as the region at large, Croatian interlocutors generally agreed that there was no direct, immediate threat to their country. Although no armed conflicts existed today, south-eastern Europe's "security crisis was not yet overcome", according to General Petar Stipetić, Chairman of the Armed Forces Chief of Staff. The General and other Croatian interlocutors considered a crisis in neighbouring areas spilling over, leading to mass migration and fostering extremist nationalism, to be the most likely security challenges. In this context General Stipetić and other Croatian speakers reminded the delegation of the outstanding issue of Serbia and Montenegro which was, in their view, "not yet settled". Other potentially dangerous issues identified by the Croatian hosts were the future status of Kosovo or the question of the Albanian minority in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*.
6. Goran Granič, the deputy prime minister, emphasised that the wars following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia created new threats to the region. He said that terrorism was the most important of the new security challenges, and pointed to radical Islamic groups that were active in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Organised crime, especially illegal trafficking in arms and drugs, but also in human beings, posed another serious problem. Similar views were expressed in separate discussions with members of the Domestic Policy and National Security Committee.
7. Francis Bellanger, the French Ambassador, pointed out that Croatia's relationship with NATO had progressed rapidly since 1999, the year Franjo Tudjman, the former president of Croatia, died. In 2000 it joined the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) and NATO's "Partnership for Peace" programme. In the same year it became part of the group of NATO applicant countries, formerly known as the "Vilnius-9". In May 2002, only two years after having joined PfP, NATO invited Croatia to participate in the "Membership Action Plan" (MAP), the key programme to help NATO candidate countries to prepare for membership of the Alliance.
8. Croatian speakers stated that the EU still had "no crisis management capability" and that NATO remained the only viable security organisation in Europe. They unanimously regarded NATO role as essential for maintaining peace and stability in Europe. In the view of Mr Stanicić the region would "explode again" without NATO's presence. Therefore Croatia's NATO aspirations were logical, especially given the continuing instability in the region. Moreover, as Petar Strpic of the IMO stressed, joining the North Atlantic Alliance was also "natural" because historically the country had always been "part of the West". Several speakers reminded the delegation of the country's 200 years as part of the Austrian empire and of the important role of the Catholic church.
9. Mr Stanicić argued that NATO membership would also assist the country's transformation process, as it offered "democratic transparency". In this context he referred to Spain's very positive experience after 1982. The future role of the Alliance also came up briefly during the discussion at the IMO. Whether or not NATO's role had diminished after the September 11 terror attacks, and what its future mission might be, was raised by Croatian academics. Donald Anderson remarked that the Alliance had been extremely adaptable and would continue to play an important role in Euro-Atlantic security. He added that it was important that NATO served as a bridge between Europe and the United States in times when there was no crisis. Asked whether Croatia was prepared to conclude a bilateral agreement with the United States to exempt US peacekeepers from possible prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC), Stanicić and Grubiša said that Croatia had a "wait and see" attitude, i. e. it would wait for a compromise between the United States and the European Union.
10. Relations between NATO and Croatia were described as "very good", and speakers from the General Staff of the Croatian armed forces pointed to the assistance in equipment, as well as training, that Croatian military units received. Interoperability with NATO forces remained a challenge that required continued attention, and in this regard, of the 10 countries that participate in MAP, Croatia was "behind", according to Colonel Dragutin Repinc, even though progress has been made and the delegation had an opportunity to visit Croatia's first unit that was fully ready for NATO-led peace operations. Members of the delegation obtained first-hand impressions of progress achieved in a briefing by Major General Mate Laušić, Head of the Military Police Directorate of the Croatian armed forces and a presentation by a platoon of the 66th Battalion. As Zlatko Tomčić, the president of the Croatian parliament, explained during a meeting with the delegation, Croatia's important geostrategic position and its efforts to help stabilise this region were contributions to NATO.
11. Croatian speakers praised the Membership Action Plan (MAP) as the key programme contributing to membership in the Alliance. As Mr Tomčić emphasised, MAP was not only an instrument of assistance for military preparations; it could also be "helpful in further democratisation of society". Croatian interlocutors said that the MAP process should remain the central mechanism for NATO enlargement after the Prague Summit. Mr Tomčić was optimistic that, after implementation of Croatia's first and second annual programme, the country would be "ready for NATO membership and could join the Alliance in 2006". Commending the Croatian hosts for their continuing efforts and achievements in defence and other reforms, the head of the delegation, Donald Anderson, stressed that it was important to continue and, where necessary, to strengthen the reform process. He also stressed the relevance of Croatia's commitment to human rights and added that the West should encourage regional cooperation between Croatia and its neighbours.
12. Asked what NATO expected from Croatia, the Rapporteur of the Sub-Committee, Bert Koenders, pointed to the goals that aspirant countries were expected to achieve in the political and economic, defence and military, resources and security and legal fields. Putting special emphasis on political goals, Mr Koenders stressed the issues of civilian control of the military and the Copenhagen criteria on minorities. In an exchange with Croatian parliamentarians, Mr Ninić stressed the parliamentary representation of minorities in Croatia, who made up approximately 12% of the population. A Croatian member of Parliament from the opposition stated that minority rights in Croatia were "impeccable". He went on to say that in Croatia minorities had many rights that minorities in other countries would not have.
13. Responding to questions raised by Bert Koenders concerning the acceptance of reforms in the society, Mr Stanicić said that public support for joining NATO was "above 50%" a year ago. According to Viktor Brož, the head of the Croatian delegation to the NATO PA, public support was significantly higher in 2002, reaching approximately 76%. Nevertheless, as Mr Grubiša and Mr Stanicić maintained, the general public was "not really aware what NATO was about" and suggested that the Croatian government devised a "NATO-outreach programme".
14. However, as the president of the Croatian parliament, Zlatko Tomčić, pointed out, the Croatian government adopted a number of bills and strategies in January 2002 that provided the basis of the reform. In early spring of this year, the Sabor, the Croatian parliament, passed new legislation that defined the chain of command and provided for parliamentary control over the armed forces. Laws adopted by the Sabor included the National Security Strategy, the Defence Strategy and Defence Acts and the Law on Service in the Armed Forces.
15. A substantial part of the difficulties in the transformation process geared towards making Croatia's forces NATO-compatible stemmed from the priorities under Franjo Tudjman, according to Damir Grubiča of the IMO. Grubiča argued that in order to establish Croatia as a regional power, the former Croatian President created a strong army, oversized in terms of a country with the population and economic strength of Croatia, a strong internal security apparatus, an elaborate bureaucracy and a business elite of 200 "families". IMO security analysts suggested that although Tudjman had unquestionably been the leading political personality of the Croatian road to independence, his inability, or unwillingness, to tackle important problems postponed the transition of Croatia to a consolidated and stable democracy.
16. In meetings with the minister of defence, Željka Antunović, and the General Staff of the Armed Forces the delegation received a comprehensive overview of Croatia's military reform efforts. Host speakers repeatedly reminded members of the Sub-Committee that Croatia, unlike other NATO applicant countries, was involved in war twice during the 1990s. Croatian speakers accordingly emphasised that adapting existing military structures that developed during the wars in the 1990s to the current security environment was a high priority.
17. Members were informed that the government's defence priorities were to increase capabilities and to adjust the defence expenditures to a level that would be appropriate for the country the size of Croatia. To achieve this and to improve capabilities so that they meet NATO standards, the government plans to modernise equipment, reduce military personnel, and improve education and training, especially of officers and of non-commissioned officers (NCOs).
18. The delegation learned that the 2002 defence budget was approximately US $ 519 million, or 2. 4% of GDP. Of the total defence expenditure, approximately 74% was being spent on personnel costs, 18% on maintenance and only 8% on new investments, according to General Stipetić. Government plans to change the structure of defence spending aimed at lowering expenditure on personnel to 40%, while increasing outlays on maintenance and investments to 30% each. Priorities for investments in defence equipment, which General Stipetić described as "outdated", included communications equipment and new radars for air and sea surveillance.
19. According to the Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Croatia's armed forces decreased from some 250,000 at the end of the 1995 to about 60,000 by 1999. The delegation was informed that the radical reorganisation process that began after 2000 resulted in further streamlining of the country's military. Croatia's armed forces were currently organised in six regional commands comprising 32,300 active personnel, 12,000 conscripts and 5,000 civilian employees, a total of 49,300, with an additional 157,000 reservists. Reorganisation of defence structures in the Croatian Armed Forces would encompass a new military-territorial division, including a reduction in the number of regional commands, or Operational Zone Centres, from six to four, scheduled to include Zagreb, Osijek, Rijeka, and Split or Knin. In addition, there would also be significant reductions in the number of professional brigades, whereby each Operational Zone Centre would have one professional brigade unit allocated to it. Implementation of these measures would result in a reduction in the overall number of personnel of approximately one-third, to a peacetime strength of approximately 33,500 (21,000 active duty personnel, 8,500 conscripts, 4,000 civilians). The delegation was informed that the reserve force would shrink to about 108,000.
20. On a number of occasions, including a reception hosted by Francis Bellanger2, the French Ambassador to the Republic of Croatia, members of the delegation repeatedly praised the progress achieved in a remarkably short time. This was especially noteworthy because Croatia had to undergo two major transformation processes simultaneously, from a socialist to a democratic society and from wartime to peacetime armed forces, as Mr Koenders pointed out. The defence minister informed the delegation during the meetings that failure to implement the necessary reforms more quickly was due to lack of the necessary financial resources. The deputy prime minister, Mr Granic, stressed that Croatia had "lost" the first six years of the 1990s, during which investors invested in other Central and East European countries. In addition, as Mr Grubiša mentioned in a separate meeting, bureaucracy slowed down the reform process. For example, there were 17 assistant ministers of defence but there was, in Mr Grubiša's view, "no political guidance". Other relevant challenges to overcome in the transformation of Croatia's forces from an "active war army to a peace army" were, in the view of General Stipetić, necessary adjustments to the existing structure, as well as changing the mentality (among senior ranks). An important question was how to deal with veterans of the 1990s "homeland war", who formed a large part of the current armed forces. The defence minister informed the delegation that most of these veterans were not trained as professional soldiers, and made Croatia's military forces the "oldest" military in Europe (the average age of Croatian soldiers is currently 34 years, the highest of all armed forces in Europe). The delegation was told by Croatian interlocutors that laying off some 10,000 employees at a time of high unemployment was not only unpopular but was also a difficult moral issue, because the individuals in question were regarded as those who defended Croatia in war. To assist Croatia, NATO decided in the spring of 2002 to support a comprehensive programme set up by the Croatian government to retrain redundant military officers, as part of the defence reforms being introduced in the country. The Croatian Separated Personnel Care and Transition Programme (SPECTRA) aimed to provide support to all groups concerned, whether it was to develop individual transition plans, to train personnel to face the job market or to create sources of pre-identified jobs in the private sector or in other governmental agencies. In addition to changing the reserve system, reforms also aimed at improving soldiers' working and living conditions, putting a particular emphasis on improving military installations housing conscripts.
21. Mr Koenders also inquired about the "legacy of the wars" and whether this part of Croatia's recent history had any impact on the policy-making process, namely the role of the army. With regard to the civilian oversight of the military, progress had been achieved, though Croatian interlocutors added that further efforts were necessary. Host speakers pointed to the legislation adopted by the Sabor, and the increasing number of civilians at the Croatian Ministry of Defence (MoD). Nonetheless Mr Brož explained that the Domestic Policy and National Security Committee was not yet fully equipped to ensure its oversight responsibility. In a separate meeting, Mr Grubiša maintained that the Security Committee had no professional staff except two advisors who were legal experts, but no military policy specialists. Another issue that needed to be addressed, according to Grubiša, was that the President, formally the commander-in-chief of the Croatian military forces, was not involved in budget planning for the defence forces. To deal with a lack of sufficient financing as well as expertise, Mr Ninić, Vice-Chairman of the Domestic Policy and National Security Committee, suggested that the Sabor might draw upon expertise from specialists outside parliament. A slightly more sceptical view was offered by Mladen Staničić of the IMO, who argued that the Croatian public and the political elite were not aware of the importance of civilian control of the military. He also viewed political momentum for reforms as "limited", arguing that the current government coalition was "weak" and policymakers "lacked experience with coalitions".
22. In a brief discussion on domestic security issues, and particularly on the issue of police reform, the situation also improved, according to Rauko Ostojić, the deputy minister of the interior. Members were told that after the passage of legislation the role of the police had significantly changed, and police accountability had greatly improved. Before the reform, oversight over the police had been exercised by the interior minister, while it was now governed by law. Mr Ostojić, the deputy minister, stressed that training was being continuously improved and the number of police officers increased. To assist in its modernisation process and help adjust training of police officers, Germany, as well as other European countries, provided assistance to Croatia. There were 21,000 police officers at present, an increase of 5,000 compared to 1990, with 90% of the budget spent on personnel costs. Today, 74% of the budget is earmarked for personnel costs.
23. Reflecting changed perceptions of the security situation, Croatia formed a border police force in January 2002 that currently numbers 2,200. The deputy interior minister added that the strength of the border police was scheduled to increase to 5,900 within the next five years to meet Schengen border standards. Mr Ostojić added that information exchange with neighbouring countries had greatly improved recently. He described the general domestic security situation as satisfactory, and emphasised that it was on an equal level as West European countries.
24. The visit ended on a positive note and the impression that Croatia, considering that it joined PfP only in May of 2000 and MAP just recently, had made important progress towards adjusting to NATO standards and procedures. Members of the delegation, as well as their Croatian hosts, acknowledged that the reform processes must be continued and that NATO should continue to provide as much assistance as possible.
1 A visit to Albania in 2002 could not take place as planned.
* Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.
2 The French Embassy was acting as NATO contact embassy during the time of the visit.