Serbia's military reforms gain support through defence sector co-operation with the US.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 07/04/14
US Defence Attaché to Serbia Colonel Paul Brotzen (seated left) and Colonel Milan Konjikovac, a Serbian Defence Ministry official from the Department of International Military Co-operation, sign a bilateral plan on March 26th in Belgrade [mod.gov.rs]
Military co-operation with the US is important for the development and modernisation of Serbia's defence system, its international military presence and contribution to international security policy, experts and officials said.
Outlining the co-operation, US Defence Attaché to Serbia Colonel Paul Brotzen and Colonel Milan Konjikovac, a Serbian Defence Ministry official from the Department of International Military Co-operation, signed a bilateral plan on March 26th in Belgrade.
The plan, which will launch October 1st and run through September 2015, focuses on military education training, humanitarian assistance, the State Partnership Programme with the Ohio National Guard and the development of the South Base, a centre for international missions in south Serbia on the administrative line with Kosovo and close to Macedonian border.
Dragan Sormaz, a Serbian Progressive Party MP and member of the parliamentary committee for US-Serbian friendship, said military co-operation with the US allows the Serbian armed forces to learn about recent achievements in military modernisation and will improve Serbia's international reputation.
"That kind of co-operation will improve the capabilities in our army, of each individual as well as of the whole army, which will improve our presence in international military co-operation. Also, where is army modernisation, there is economic progress," Sormaz told SETimes.
He emphasised the role of the US military in innovation implementation for the Serbian military.
"Military reforms are on-going process and we have to follow standards non-stop," Sormaz told SETimes. "The US was, even in the 18th century, the most open region for innovation and it is the reason why it became a global power. They are not scared of new things, as we are here in Europe. This is something we have to learn, how to change, to follow scientific achievements, gain new knowledge and implement inventions. All of this we can do through co-operation with countries that lead this process."
Serbia is also part of the US European Command's State Partnership Programme, which links it to the Ohio National Guard. The programme partners US states with European countries to support the command's security co-operation objectives.
Training exercises are part of the plan, which will launch in October. [AFP]
Defence Minister Nebojsa Rodic said Serbia's participation in the programme also contributes to the promotion of the two countries' bilateral relations.
"The US Defence Ministry and Serbian armed forces' aim is to further promote military co-operation and raise it to an even higher level through the joint engagement of the army and Ohio National Guard medical teams within some of the upcoming military exercises involving medical personnel," he said.
Aleksandar Radic, a military analyst at the Euro-Atlantic Initiative in Belgrade, told SETimes that military co-operation also creates political closeness with the US and other NATO members, and better positions Serbia on the international security scene.
"When you co-operate with a superpower of the modern world, it is beneficial. If we bear in mind that the Serbian army is undergoing modernisation, the direct implementation of this co-operation is a great opportunity for knowledge and experience transfers," Radic said.
Co-operation on the South Base development is another important aspect of the agreement, officials and experts said.
"The financial support that is coming from the US is more intensive and very important when it comes to the South Base, especially because it is located in sensitive security ground for Serbia, close to Presevo and Bujanovac," Radic said.
Boris Viculin, project director at the Atlantic Council of Serbia, said the joint effort to develop the base is one of the most important points of the two countries' military co-operation.
"The US donations of MILES, a laser weapons system used worldwide in training to simulate actual battle, will be used at the South Base Peacekeeping Operations and Pre-Deployment Training Centre to help prepare Serbian units for deployment to global peacekeeping operations and conduct realistic pre-deployment certification. The advantage of this system is saving resources during training because we are not using the real ammo, but at the same time the system has practically the same authenticity," Viculin told SETimes.
US officials agreed.
"Joint efforts on the development of the peacekeeping operation centre at the South Army Base make this co-operation stand out among the 65 state partnership programmes with countries around the world," Ohio National Guard Major General Deborah Ashenhurst said during a meeting with Rodic at the Pentagon in January.
Since participation in international military operations is one of three main aims of the Serbian army, US assistance in this field is seen as crucial.
"It is a very important contribution to our foreign policy since participation in these missions is one of the main aims of the army," Marko Milosevic, a researcher at the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, told SETimes.
Radic said recent praise from Washington regarding Serbia's engagement in peacekeeping missions and joint training helps to answer open questions about NATO membership.
"Relations with the west are developing through bilateral relations, and through our relations with the US. That relationship boosts Serbia's relationship with NATO as well," Radic told SETimes.
What other sectors could benefit from US-Serbian co-operation? Tell us your thoughts.