After the end of the Cold War, among many other processes, there is a specific one going on all around Europe regarding security and defence arrangements. It is the process of reform of security and defence institutions. This process is common for the rich as well as the under-developed European countries, for the old NATO member countries, the former Warsaw pact countries and those that never belonged to any of these political-military organizations, for big and small nations alike.
Although there is a lot of discussion within most of our societies about security and defence reform as such, it is interesting to see that there are different political and professional ideas what “reform” is and what should it encompass. Furthermore, if we take a deeper look, it may be argued that there are at least two different approaches towards reform. One implying that reform is predominantly the final result and it is all that matters, and another arguing that reform is the process, so that only the quality of the process can secure the quality of the final result.
Those who argue that it is just the result that counts, tend to forget, or justify, all the mistakes, changes of direction and waste of time due to the execution of the misconceived plans and programs. And those who emphasize the importance of the process seem to find the shelter in the lengthy process itself for not getting to the objective. How are we going to deal with these tendencies will be one of the first signs of our commitment and clear vision as to what do we want to achieve in the end.
The process itself is the result of at least two important elements. First, the nature and scope of the possible security threats that have dramatically changed not only in the last decade, but also in the last year. Second, almost all European countries, even the most developed ones, simply cannot afford or justify anymore high spending on security and defence institutions sustained during the Cold War. Cuts in security and defence spending for most of them represent an eagerly awaited peace dividend, although the change of the security environment makes the understanding of this term pretty relative.
What is also noticeable, this process is for most of the South East Europe countries (SEE) only a part of the wider reform and transition of their social, economic, legal, cultural and political framework. This fact alone makes it impossible for these countries to focus their attention and scarce resources only on the issue of the reform of security and defence institutions. Although the needs are big, the resources, instruments, capabilities and the widest possible national and institutional support for reform are very weak.
Security and Defence Reform
Having in mind the multitude of problems inherited from the past and the needs arising from the new and changed security threats, there is no hope for any reform succeeding unless it addresses some key issues. It has to address resolutely the organizational, quantitative and qualitative elements influencing the shape and efficiency of the newly established (or already existing but modified) security and defence structures. In order to do so, the political and professional leadership in each and every country have to find a way to answer some tough questions. They have to pursue the most effective organizational transformation, while not obstructing everyday security and defence operations. They have to reduce the number of personnel in parallel with the reduction of worn out and obsolete equipment, while maintaining the existence of a reasonable level of capabilities as an answer to present and foreseen security threats. And, at the same time, they have to find an optimal, politically and publicly acceptable way to pursue modernization of the security and defence institutions.
Although usually considered only from the technical point of view, modernization as a process has to be far reaching. It has to cover all the areas that were so sadly neglected in the last decade(s). The change in the security environment and development of democracy in our countries demand the conceptual modernization of security and defence areas. There are still a lot of questions and disagreements on many important issues. What is actually security? Who has to take part in, and contribute to, decision-making processes connected with security and defence areas? Where is the boundary line between security and defence? How can we recognize “politicisation” of the security and defence structures? What is the real meaning of the professional army, etc?
Although it is clear and widely accepted that the structure, the organization and the institutions of national security and defence systems have to be modernized, as well as procedures of mutual co-operation and co-ordination, it is not really clear how to do it. Partly because this includes a drastic change regarding the ways and habits of doing things learned a long time ago, it is probably one of the most difficult things to do. Our deep-rooted strict hierarchical approach has to be changed and modified in order to enable the spreading of different views, visions and ideas through the structures, with the final aim of finding the best solutions for the benefit of the society, and not of an individual political interest or particular group interests. It is very hard for this to be accepted by the old style security and defence officials and officers, raised and educated in the old ideologically overburdened institutions. It is also very hard for this to be accepted by some of the newly appointed officials and officers who joined security and defence institutions without proper education and experience.
All the key political and professional players in this area have to learn very fast and understand that they don’t hold the key to the eternal wisdom regarding the security and defence issues, and that the best possible outcome can be achieved only through the interaction. And successful interaction is an art.
Personnel “modernization” linked to a clear orientation to the education and training has to lessen the problems connected with downsizing. It is the only possible way to secure at least the same level of capabilities while sharply reducing the numbers. And if pursued effectively and with the clear vision of the final objective, it could result in security and defence institutions better shaped for present and future tasks than yesterday.
Technical modernization pursued through the refurbishment and upgrading of the existing equipment, and acquisition of new one, technologically advanced weapons and support systems so eagerly awaited by professional soldiers, is loosing the battle against the size and structure of military budgets. They are overburdened with the expenditures related to personnel costs. But still military professionals are very often poorly paid and their living standard is on average, at least in some cases, lower than the rest of the society. Having in mind the expectations that the society rightfully place on soldiers, and the fact that, at least in some countries, military professionals take credit and pride for their nation’s independence and freedom, it is more or less clear that the political elite, when faced with the “choice”, spends the scarce military budgets on the soldier’s salaries rather than on new acquisitions. Unfortunately, these two elements are inseparably connected. Unless the government finds an acceptable way of personnel reduction and commits itself to that path, it is not likely that it will find reserve resources to pursue technical modernization of security and defence structures.
Finally, on the one hand, all the above-mentioned changes will influence and determine doctrinal and operational modernization of the security and defence systems. But, on the other hand, it is also true that presumed doctrinal and operational requirements will influence all the above-mentioned changes. To understand this, to detect sometimes very subtle changes in the security and defence arena, and to find the best possible answers to these changes, the institutions have to develop analytical capabilities that will help them in pursuing the most effective steps towards security and defence reform.
All of the above mentioned elements are connected and mutually influenced by the search for a concept of reasonable security for each and every country in the region, and for the SEE as a whole. (If there is such a thing as the security concept for the region as a whole). This is also why harmonizing international security and defence arrangements is “a bridge too far” if the task of harmonizing internal security and defence institutions is not satisfactorily resolved.
Security and the Roles of the Institutions
If the security of a nation is understood as the absence of sudden degradation of the quality of life, or undiminished capacity for free and autonomous decision making by its state institutions, or as the security for all the citizens disregarding their political, ethnical, religious, professional or other differences, then it is understandable that security as a process involves more factors than just the state as such. It means that state institutions will probably play the predominant role in creating and pursuing security and defence policy. But they will have to find a way for the institutions of civil society to influence the decision-making process.
In order to fulfil their roles and achieve their objectives and tasks security and defence institutions have to co-operate in an orderly and predicted way. Nothing is likely to be achieved in this area without proper security and defence structure organization shaped according to the outlines of the specific political system. As we know, the different political systems did not interfere with the membership of European countries in NATO and EU. There is no reason why different security and defence structures of the SEE countries should prevent them form joining these international organizations as long as they follow, reflect, accept and foster certain values common to all democracies, and pursue necessary reforms that will help them to contribute to the security of the region and Europe.
But while judging the shape of the necessary reform and involvement of the state institutions, as well as institutions of civil society, we have to be cautious. One thing is what is written in the laws of every specific country regarding the roles of the institutions. The way it works in everyday practice might be something completely different. We should pay attention to both of these elements in order to get a proper picture and understand the ups and downs of every country’s specific reform.
It is commonly accepted that parliaments pursue civilian democratic oversight of the security and defence structures. The example of the Republic of Croatia’s (RoC) is not different. The Croatian Parliament (Hrvatski sabor) pursues civilian oversight of the Armed forces and Security services (Art. 80., RoC Constitution). But democratic oversight is mentioned in the Constitution too. The trouble with these provisions comes from the fact that the original text in the Croatian language uses two different words with slightly different meanings than their English-speaking counterparts. So they can be understood in a way that the Parliament is tasked to pursue oversight that should actually be pursued by the institutions of the civil society, the NGO’s and associations of citizens. In exercising this oversight, the Parliament should be for them only one of the contact points to help them to fulfil their role.
The President of the Republic on the other hand, among his other authorities, is responsible for the orderly and co-coordinated operations and stability of the state (Art. 93., RoC Constitution). It is also important that, as a result of the Constitutional change in the year 2000, the President has to resign from membership of his political party after election. (Art. 95., RoC Constitution). This provision gives the institution of the President freedom to act as the President of all the citizens and it is especially important when he is dealing with security and defence structures and issues. On the other hand, it is not really clear at this moment how this provision will affect his run up for a second term because it will clearly produce a disadvantage for every existing President because of the lack of political party support and logistics.
Also, as part of the recent Constitutional change, the President and the Government co-operate in creating and pursuing foreign policy (Art. 98., RoC Constitution) and co-operate in directing the operations of the Security services (Art. 102., RoC Constitution). The President together with the Prime Minister appoints the heads of the security (intelligence) services (Art. 102., RoC Constitution).
The Government is responsible to the Parliament (Art. 114., RoC Constitution) and one of its most important tasks is to take care of economic development (Art. 112., RoC Constitution). In the present situation, it can be argued that economic development and living standards become more and more an important national security issue. They shape the satisfaction of the people and their belief in the state institutions. If the institutions fail to deliver this during the course of time, it is not very likely they will get the necessary support to perform other reform processes and important changes in the life of society.
So, as one of the most important results of the above-mentioned Constitutional change, we have a parliamentary system with the Government clearly responsible to the Parliament, but also a very clear and important role of the President in all the matters connected with national security and defence of the nation. It is absolutely clear that such a division of authorities and responsibilities can function only if the most important state institutions work hard towards mutual co-operation and co-ordination. Reform of any security and defence structures is impossible without co-ordinated efforts of all the mentioned institutions.
There is one common, almost universal idea in most of the transitional countries that captures the minds of the politicians and the masses as an answer to many of their economic and budgetary problems. It is the idea of abolishing conscript service and devoting each specific country’s defence structures to completely professional armies. Politicians and masses alike believe conscript service costs too much, represents too big a burden on their budgets, and consequently reduces their possibilities for investments in economy, infrastructure and social expenses.
We witness a lot of misunderstandings regarding this specific issue. First, there is no sign of equity between the abolition of conscript service and the existence of a professional army. Conscripts do not prevent any army for being professional. Professional ethics of the military members does not depend on and is not related to the existence of conscripts in the defence structures. Second, there is a big difference between a soldier on the payroll and a professional soldier, as well as between a professional soldier and a professional army.
It would be enlightening if we could observe the ideas to abolish conscript service in the light of civil-military relations. Have the soldiers been asked by the political structures to present their analysis dealing with this issue? Have the politicians been ready to listen to this advice and these arguments? What was the role of public opinion and how was it shaped? What was the role of security and defence independent scientific institutions? Do politicians really understand what are the consequences, like the fact that conscript service is very easy to abolish but almost impossible to reinstate? Or do they understand another more or less proven fact that armed forces built exclusively by the servicemen/women on the payroll are much more expensive and thus a toy for the rich. Available information, although limited, and accumulated experience teach us that the answers to most of these questions would not be encouraging.
Still, the problem of oversized armies does exist. All countries, sooner or later, will have to find a way to deal with this issue. Some have already started, and some are still trying to find the best approach to deal with the excessive number of soldiers. In order to do so, they have to develop clear and acceptable criteria for reduction, and find the money for the reduction-oriented programs (education, employment programs, etc.). They have to settle all sort of frightening questions like that of special separation pay for those who are willing to leave active service (if the security and defence structures commit themselves to such an approach), resources for the regular retirement pay for retired people, etc. They must also make sure that the living standard of retired personnel is not going to be degraded to an unacceptable level.
The possible way of dealing with the downsizing of the armed forces may be the change of the Labour Force Law and Retirement Law permitting the professional activities of retired military personnel. It would be possible to grant them the right to retain their pensions while still working for employers outside the budgetary financed institutions.
The crucial point in pursuing the downsizing of the security and defence structures is building the national support and consensus regarding the criteria and speed of the downsizing. When agreed, these criteria have to be made clear to everybody and every effort has to be done for these criteria to be applied without any reservations and exceptions (If there are exceptions they have to be defined by the Law). As wide as possible national consent has to be the result of the work, agreement and co-operation of the state institutions. But if these institutions are not likely to co-operate in much less critical fields and issues, then it is not very likely they will be willing to co-operate on such a sensitive issue like this.
Political and Professional Leadership
There are also other issues that will influence the pace and outcome of the reform. For instance, the Croatian Government proposes the appointment and dismissal (Art. 8., Defence Law), the Parliament gives its opinion (Art. 6., Defence Law), while the President at the end of this process appoints and dismisses the Chief of Staff (Art. 7., Defence Law). The President also appoints and dismisses military commanders of the rank of colonel and above (Art. 99., RoC Constitution and Art. 7., Defence Law) after the proposition of the Chief of Staff is approved by the Minister of Defence. He also promotes officers and generals/admirals after the proposal is made by the Minister of Defence (Art. 7., Defence Law). While all these provisions are meant to achieve the balance between the different institutions, if not exercised cautiously they can result in the negative selection of personnel.
But there is one issue that is very likely to stall the operation of defence structures. The new Defence Law made it clear that the Minister of Defence is in the chain of command. It means that the President exercises his commanding authority through the Minister (Art. 100, Defence Law). As a result of the Constitutional provisions making the Government responsible to the Parliament, the President can only give his opinion on the appointment of the Minister (Art. 7., Defence Law), but he cannot appoint or dismiss him. If there is a problem in the chain of command, the President can only ask the Parliament to dismiss the Minister. During the process, until the Parliament reaches decision, the President can exercise command directly through the Chief of Staff. It is obvious that the legislative body, while pursuing a clear intention to put the Minister in the chain of command, at the same time didn’t want to accept the Minister’s responsibility in the role of constitutional owner of the command authority. So the Parliament decided rather to choose the option that will give the President the possibility to misuse his authority rather than to give the President the authority to remove the Minister, although this solution would not change responsibility of the Government as a whole to the Parliament. How this issue is going to influence the reform process we still have to wait to see.
On the other hand, with the President unable to get majority support in the Parliament, partly because, as we said, he has to resign from his party membership after he is elected, and partly because the President can be elected from the ranks of a relatively small party, based on his own personal image and credibility, it is not likely that he can have the Minister removed only because he asks the Parliament to do so. To overcome this obstacle, the President should exercise great restraint in asking the Parliament to remove the Minister, and Parliament should develop an equally great level of political culture and responsibility to understand that the President and Minister can not work together once the President has asked for the Minister’s removal, regardless the fact that the Minister can be, and usually will be, appointed from the ranks of the Parliamentary majority.
As a very likely consequence of the change in the security environment and reduction in the number of men and women involved in the security and defence structure, there is a definite need for investment in human capital. This is also one of the clear security/defence priority tasks. Only the security and defence structures that find a way of permanently educating its personnel according to the needs of the security environment can reasonably hope to be able to fulfil their tasks and ensure a reasonable level of security for the nation.
The roots of the poor educational structure of security and defence personnel lie in the fact that, at the beginning of the recent conflict, Croatia didn’t have indigenous security and defence structures. They had to be established from scratch. Everybody who wanted to take part was more than welcome, disregarding the formal school education, necessary special skills, knowledge of the foreign languages, etc.
Although it is true that in the meantime different educational programs had been started, many objective and subjective elements hampered their success. Very often the main qualifying characteristic for attending the education in foreign institutions was neither the appointments held by the personnel selected, their accomplishments in previous positions, nor the demands that the security and defence structures place before them, but simply the fact that a certain person is proficient in English, German or French. Coupled with this is a strange habit that selected personnel, after the completion of their education program, are misused or forgotten in appointments that sometimes do not have anything in common with their education.
So, it is not surprising to know that, even after 11 years of independence, only a little more than one third of the military personnel fulfil educational criteria for their ranks and positions. Even after the downsizing of the armed forces is complete there will be still a significant number of people in the defence structures without the proper education, knowledge and skills for their duties. It will be a lengthy process to replace all these people with young and educated officers. In the meantime the new and changing security threats, as well as the growing technical, technological, cultural and psychological demands of more modern equipment, will have to be met, at least partly, by personnel not capable of understanding requirements of future times.
Although the data regarding the educational structure of the intelligence services is not so readily available, bits and pieces of information confirm that the situation in this part of the security structure is equally damaging. Added to all these problems, there is an insufficient level of security and defence-related knowledge in the Government, ministries and the Parliament, among the elected representatives and professional staffers or civil servants equally.
What is necessary is to start a fast and decisive crash program agreed by all the security and defence structures and political institutions that will help overcome present educational problems in the security and defence structures and political institutions. Professionals in the General Staff or intelligence services have to act to support the preparation of this program, while ministries in co-operation with the University and other educational institutions have to shape the scope, content and depth of the necessary knowledge for all concerned in the security and defence structures. The Government and the Parliament have to reach agreement on financing this program, and together with the President, they have to develop strong political support for its execution.
Finances & Material resources
Without resources every task aimed at preserving or improving security and defence of the nation is condemned to fail. The security and defence reform relies heavily on redistribution of the available resources. While it is true that at least one of the reform objectives is to make security and defence less expensive for the state and taxpayers, it is almost impossible to foresee when is it really going to be achieved. The reform depends so much on the input of money and other resources, that every nation committed to the reform will probably have first to pour even more resources to the reform, before expecting the positive effects of the reform to prevail, followed by the possibility to reduce security and defence expenses. Either the lack of money or the lack of material resources can have significant repercussions on the outcome of the reform.
In Croatia the Parliament passes the State budget, (Art. 80., RoC Constitution) while the Government drafts and proposes the State budget to the Parliament (Art. 112., RoC Constitution) (the Military budget is part of the State budget and the same is true regarding the intelligence services budgets). The Ministry of Defence runs the finances. It is responsible for the planning, organizing and execution of the finances (Art. 10., Defence Law), while the General Staff participates in Military budget preparations (Art. 11., Defence Law).
More or less the same applies to the planning of acquisition and equipment modernization. The Ministry of Defence plans and organizes the development, acquisition and modernization of the Armed Forces and prepares their long term development plan (Art. 10., Defence Law) for the Government. The General Staff prepares proposals for the development, acquisition and modernization of the Armed Forces (Art. 11., Defence Law) and runs the logistics. At the end of the process the Government proposes (Art. 8., Defence Law) and the Parliament passes the Armed Forces long-term development plan (Art. 6., Defence Law).
Unfortunately, the outcome of the security and defence reform is likely to suffer more tensions because, as a result of the latest Constitutional changes and newly passed laws, the President does not have a say in the preparation of the budget of the security structures. Neither can he influence the Armed Forces long-term development plan although he is Commander in Chief of the Armed forces and bears responsibility for the defence of the country and its territorial integrity. Successful execution of both of these tasks depends strongly on the level of operational capabilities of the Armed Forces. They, in turn, depend even more strongly on the structure of the Military budget and the priorities put in the Armed Forces long-term development plan. This situation might be compared with the position of the chief executive in a big company, who is responsible to the supervisory board for the success of the company, but cannot influence the finances or development of the company.
Setting the Preconditions for Operations
At the end of the day, all the necessary changes the security and defence structures have to endure, all the fuss and mess of the reform, since they have one final rationale. Security and defence structures shaped as they are today cannot answer the requirements of the changed security environment. They cannot do it on a strategic level, they cannot do it on an operational level, and they cannot do it on a tactical level.
While the SEE countries did not have basic strategic documents in the past, especially those developed in a transparent way as a result of the co-ordinated efforts made by all the security and defence institutions, today they are faced with the need to produce them. Even more, their security and defence visions and strategic commitments have to fit in the common strategic reasoning of the democratic World if they want to qualify for membership to NATO, for instance. It is a hard task to produce such documents with most of the soldiers and intelligence officials either trained in a different system, for different kind of tasks, under different set of values or not trained at all.
The usual way of doing things in this area is that the legislative bodies set the legal framework for the development and execution of the strategic documents, and also discuss these documents. The top executive level usually passes these documents and bears responsibility for their application. The Croatian example is little different because basic strategic documents are passed by the Parliament. (Art. 80., RoC Constitution). The future will show whether the Parliament is thereby actually taking the role of the executive branch, and whether this will damage the creation and execution of the security and defence policy, or not.
At the operational level, armed forces and their commanding cadre have been trained for the kind of war that is not likely ever to happen, and absolutely untrained for the military roles and tasks necessary to counter the new security threats. Operational doctrine today is markedly changed from what it was 20 or more years ago. But those who decide upon all these issues were trained and taught their first operational steps 20 or more years ago.
Demands placed on the command, control and communication systems are far bigger than the weak military budgets can afford, and surpass by far the capabilities of the average commander or staff officer. The role of military intelligence in the peacekeeping operations, crisis management, etc. makes it even more complex and unmanageable.
The importance of international military-to-military co-operation is growing at an unprecedented level and the most important tasks for the military and intelligence bodies today are focused on the development of confidence building measures. All these issues have to be taken into account during the operational planning and execution of the operations, unilaterally, bilaterally or multilaterally. Whatever the reform is, it has to deal with all the issues that will build a basis for the successful strategic, operational, doctrinal and tactical change if it is expected to succeed.
Selling the Reform to the Public
Informing the public and creating favourable public opinion and support regarding the necessary security and defence reform is one of the most important tasks of all the institutions involved. But there is more to it. It is not only the general public that counts. The first task of the institutions is to inform and prepare their members regarding the objectives, pace and scope of the reform.
There is sad evidence that public relations offices in the ministries are often understaffed and have under-qualified people. Also, sometimes even the top political decision-makers do not understand the role and importance of public opinion and the media, disregarding their tasks as superficial and unimportant, or just the unavoidable evil.
Had the institutions done their homework, they would have understood that in the matters of the security and defence reform -especially that of downsizing- 25% of the job is doing the necessary analysis and structuring the proper programs, and the remaining 75% is selling these programs to members of the security and defence structures, to politicians and to the public opinion. If they fail in this task it may very well mean they will also fail in their most important task, the reform itself.
Successfully executed security and defence reform can be considered as one of the most important paths towards achieving the goal of political, economic and social transition. In that sense, successful reform will help transitional countries to find their own security identity and bolster their position in the international security arena. It is also one of the most important and contributing factors of national reconstruction, a goal long overdue in many of the nations in SEE.
Building the institutional capabilities and “enforcing” co-operation between them is probably the only way that will, in the long term, secure the creation and execution of a credible security and defence policy. Mutual co-operation of the security structures of the countries in the region (horizontal co-operation between the states) is also probably the only way to build a common approach to the security issues, an approach that will establish the security of the region, from the region and by the region. Only by satisfactorily resolving most of the above-mentioned questions it is possible to create a credible approach to the issues of the integration to NATO and EU.
All the elements of security and defence reform need well-defined co-operation of the civilian and security/military structures. During the process of their resolution, the state of affairs in the area of civil-military relations will be clearly shown. There can be no doubt that civilian control and oversight performed by the executive and legislative branches will have to be executed decisively. But there can be no doubt too that we will have to deal with the fact that soldiers are probably going to have some objections because, rightly or not, they will see their profession threatened. This can be overcome only if both sides understand that civil-military relations are a two-ways street, in which both sides have their rights and their duties. The fact that the soldiers do not argue with the civilians within the boundaries of the established security and defence structures, institutions and procedures cannot be considered as a proof of developed civil-military relations. Civilian decision-makers are at least equally responsible for the quality of these relations as are the soldiers. So, finding well-balanced decision-making transparency and enabling all the subjects in society to present their views on key issues of the national security is the best and indeed the only way forward.
In that sense it would be completely wrong to persist in the already accepted and widespread thesis that civilian control is the key to everything, a statement that is often “proved” with the fact that there was no civilian control over the security and defence institutions in the SEE countries before 1990. As we know, most Party and Politburo members were civilians, so the key issue is democratic control (and oversight) and not just civilian control (and oversight). The process of security and defence sector reform will depend heavily on the existence and quality of the civilian structures and their involvement in the process of that reform. Only their quality and their everyday involvement in security and defence issues and exchanges with the professionals based on knowledge and expertise will guarantee effective democratic control and oversight. Without the quality role of the civilian structures, it is likely to be just another form of the authoritarian relations in society.
Furthermore, as an understandable consequence of the negligible role of the parliaments and the excessive role of the executive in the recent past, an attempt to take over authorities, responsibilities and roles of the executive body might occur on the part of the legislative body. That attempt would be followed by the executive attempting to deal with the specific issues and problems in a semi-legislative way. Great effort on both sides has to be invested in order to understand the demarcation line between the concept of civilian control of the security and defence structures that belongs to the executive, and the concept of the civilian oversight of the same structures that belongs to the legislative body. But while some sort of mutual understanding can be achieved on the theoretical level, on the practical one even greater effort has to be made in order to achieve a satisfactory level of security and defence related knowledge and skills. This will help members of the legislative and executive bodies to build mutual understanding and respect and to deal with security and defence issues with the credibility expected by their nation.
How we deal with all these tendencies will be one of the first signs of our commitment and clear vision of what we want to achieve, and will decisively influence the outcome of our security and defence sector reform.