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Transforming Society – Croatia’s Way to NATO

Ambassador Davor Bozinovic; Head of the Mission of the Republic of Croatia to NATO

In the early 1990’s, Croatia was dreaming to be free in Europe and safe in NATO. Today, with both feet on the ground, she can rightfully claim her place in the Euro-Atlantic community.

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One of the most quoted phrases in NATO enlargement policy says that membership in the Alliance is not only about the armed forces; it is also about society as a whole. Seven years after Croatia embarked on a journey towards membership in NATO, she can confirm how much sense this phrase makes. Only by being a strong and reliable state in its own right can a country be a strong and reliable Ally. In this short article, I will describe how Croatia transformed herself politically and militarily, and I will make a case for Croatia as a member of NATO.

How about individual defence?

After the declaration of independence in 1991, Croatia fought a four-year war to preserve her statehood and territory. The armed forces were built from scratch, military expertise was scarce, weapons were few and Croatia was not part of any defence alliance. The only possible option at that time was to organise a defence on our own. Croatia eventually prevailed, but the cost was immense – the loss of human lives, destroyed economy and weak institutions strained the social fabric and hampered development. Evoking that part of history has modern implications: does Croatia want to stand alone in the face of peril again? No. Croatia wants to deter any aggression before she is forced to fight. Also, she wants to be better prepared to stand her own ground. Finally, Croatia wants to join forces with other states in order to defend our freedom and our common values.

Sharing values

Being a member of the Alliance is about sharing the same values. Ultimately, it is about the society and what citizens believe to be valuable in their everyday life –access to education and health care, political and human rights, freedom of the press and market economy. The Alliance was forged to defend those values and Croatia wanted to be a part of it. But there was a long way to travel.

The War for Independence has left its mark. Just as the economy needed healing, the Croatian society needed something to hold on to. Euro-Atlantic integration was recognised as the way forward. The affiliation with the Euro-Atlantic community carried certain political responsibilities and obligations. When Croatia took the responsibility to reform, NATO took the responsibility to provide advice in that process and guide Croatia to membership status within the framework of the Membership Action Plan (2002). The goals and priorities were set, with NATO providing estimates and expertise on reform related to defence from the sphere of politics, economy, defence, military, security, finance and legislature.

On the political side, the issues which dominated the exchange with NATO were the return of refugees, justice reform and the cooperation with the ICTY. Progress has been made on all three issues: there is now full cooperation with the ICTY is full; the return of refugees is near completion; and justice reform is under way.

Transforming the military and the defence sector

Defence and military reform are by definition areas in which NATO has more expertise. This coincided with military transformation being one of Croatia’s social priorities in the late 90’s. Why social? Well, it is worth mentioning that the Croatian Armed Forces were 180,000 men and women strong in 1995. The estimate was that a force of 16,000 soldiers should be sufficient for a country being a member of NATO. Therefore, Croatia had to think of ways to take care of 164,000 people and their families. It might have been military involved, but the problem was very civilian in nature. And downsizing forces was just the beginning.

In 2002, becoming more involved with NATO in the framework of Partnership for Peace, Croatian Parliament passed two important documents – National Security Strategy and Defence Strategy. Also, the Parliament passed five laws related to defence, setting the conditions for legal compatibility with NATO and transparency of defence policy.

Croatia entered the first cycle of Membership Action Plan with a surplus of military personnel, large reserve forces, territorial structure of defence, dispersed command structure, obsolete weapons and equipment, with no development or procurement plans, and lacking strategic vision. Since then, Croatia has passed two strategic documents which identify the situation in the defence sector, point out to desirable reforms and map the new vision of the Armed Forces – the Strategic Defence Review and the Long-Term Development Plan. Also, she has implemented necessary reforms essential to laying proper foundations for the long term development of the armed forces, particularly through downsizing the Armed Forces and the abolishment of territorial concept of defence.

NATO has paid full attention to defence reforms through a special mechanism for advice under the name of Planning and Review Process. Over the years, the tasks have become more complex and more demanding, related to the capabilities which Allies have set before themselves as well. Today a consensus exists on the future model of defence and the structure of the armed forces, and the process of defence review is considered to be almost completed.

Croatia as a Partner

Joining the Partnership for Peace programme in the year 2000 was an expression of the idea that Croatia belongs to the Euro-Atlantic community. This also marked the first formal participation in Western security structures and raised the expectations for full membership in NATO. Since then, Croatia has made a significant progress in all of the five above-mentioned sectors: politics, economy, defence, military, security, finance and legislature.

Through the mechanisms of partnership, Croatia has been preparing herself to work with NATO and to work within NATO. Necessary arrangements have been made to facilitate communication and cooperation. Today, Croatia has a sizeable Mission to NATO as well as NATO departments within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defence. Almost 200 soldiers participate in ISAF (Afghanistan), the most significant NATO mission to date.

Being a member of the Alliance means being able to work together, support the others and take joint actions. Within the framework of Membership Action Plan, Croatia is cooperating with Albania and Macedonia, tied together with the mentoring of the United States. Members of the Adriatic Three (a colloquial name for this group) value this cooperation as a training for the future membership in NATO. One of the achievements of A3 cooperation is their joint three-nation medical team deployed in Afghanistan. This model of “training for the Alliance” could serve as an example for future aspirant countries.

Acting as a member of the Alliance

Probably the best example of how much Croatia has achieved in the last fifteen years refers to her participation in NATO ISAF mission in Afghanistan. In the early 1990’s, Croatia was consuming security. In Afghanistan she became a security provider.

The evolution of Croatian engagement in Afghanistan clearly demonstrates the effect of NATO mentoring and the reforms which were undertaken. Providing security for reconstruction and development efforts, Croatia has steadily increased the number of troops deployed since it started participating in the operation ISAF in February 2003. The first contingent was a military police platoon, fifty men strong, deployed in Kabul. Less than two years later, civilian elements were sent to Afghanistan as well - one diplomat and two police officers to serve in a Provincial Reconstruction Team. In addition to that, four medical personnel were sent to a joint Albanian, Croatian and Macedonian medical unit. Later on, an additional force protection unit and mobile observation teams were added to the Croatian contingent.

Recognising the importance of Afghan-owned efforts and the need for capacity building, Croatia is also contributing to the priority task of mentoring and training the Afghan National Army. In the second half of 2006, Croatian Operation Mentoring and Liaison Teams were deployed with their ANA units to support critical efforts of ISAF in the south of the country. In addition to training, the Government of Croatia has decided to donate some weapons and ammunition to help equip the Afghan National Army.

The number of almost 200 men and women deployed in three regional commands in Afghanistan makes Croatia the second largest Partner contributor to ISAF operation. In 2008 this number will increase to 300 soldiers deployed, as already decided by the Croatian Parliament.

Regional outreach

Afghanistan is important as a symbol of Croatia’s transition from a security consumer to security provider. Also, participation in ISAF puts Croatia in the context of global security and responsible burden-sharing. However, real security for states like Croatia will always be regional in nature.

Projecting security to the region, Croatia is bilaterally engaged with Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina providing expertise and advice on defence reforms. In the framework of NATO, Croatia is a co-lead nation in a trust fund for Bosnia & Herzegovina, helping to downsize their armed forces, the same way Croatia made the social transition in a post-war period.

Projecting security is not only about defence and the military. It is about economy and politics as well. By becoming a member of CEFTA in 2002 the Republic of Croatia confirmed her readiness to contribute to the enhancement of economic relations between the member countries and political stability in the area of South Eastern Europe. During the chairmanship, Croatia initiated the modernisation and enlargement of CEFTA agreement to include Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Albania and other countries of the region.

In the past 12 months, Croatia chaired SEECP (South-East European Co-operation Process). During that challenging time, foundations for a new regional architecture were laid with the transition of the Stability Pact to the Regional Cooperation Council, reaffirming regional ownership of cooperation in Southeast Europe.

In 2007 Croatia took over the chairmanship of SEEGROUP for the second time. SEEGROUP was established as part of the NATO South East Europe Initiative (SEEI). Its task is to support regional practical co-operation in the area of security and defence, as well as to improve harmonisation and coordination among the regional countries. Before Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina were accepted to Partnership for Peace, SEEGROUP was their only institutionalised interface for communication with NATO member states on a regular basis. Croatia welcomes the increasing interest of Allies for the work of SEEGROUP and will support its further enlargement.

Free in Europe and safe in NATO

This article started with a description of Croatia in war and ended with a description of Croatia contributing to and promoting regional and global security. The road was long and winding, but the results are here. It would be unjust to attribute this transformation to anyone else than to the citizens of Croatia who have carried the burden of reforms. However, it would be equally unjust not to acknowledge the role of organisations such as NATO in that process, because transforming defence meant transforming the very core of society.

In the early 1990’s, Croatia was dreaming to be free in Europe and safe in NATO. Today, with both feet on the ground, she can rightfully claim her place in the Euro-Atlantic community.

Ambassador Davor Bozinovic Head of the Mission of the Republic of Croatia to NATO

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