What a Difference a Year Makes - Comparative reading and analysis of the April 2018 and August 2019 draft versions of the National Security and Defense Strategies

In the new Report, What a Difference a Year Makes, the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies from Belgrade (CEAS) presents a comparative analysis of the draft versions of the new National Security Strategy (NSS) and National Defense Strategy (NDS), which the government of the Republic of Serbia approved on 8th August 2019 and passed on to the National Assembly for consideration, in versions that had undergone public discussion back in the spring of 2018. Bearing in mind all the significant changes of circumstances on global, regional and local level that have happened since spring 2018 on one hand, and some significant nuances in the  new versions of Serbian strategic documents endorsed in late summer 2019 on the other, CEAS calls this report – What a Difference a Day Makes - a tribute to its songwriters in Spanish and English, and especially to Dinah Washington and her legendary album What a diff”rence a day makes!

CEAS is glad that these draft versions of strategic documents have finally entered the parliamentary verification procedure, which was one of the key recommendations in the recently published CEAS report titled Rashomon, regarding Serbian-Chinese relations. Namely, due to the current dynamics of the global, regional and domestic developments, the strategies of national security and defense that are still in force, adopted back in 2009, are evidently outdated. Also, the partners of the Republic of Serbia (RS), both governmental and international organizations need updated relevant strategic documents on the basis of which it will be possible to make forecasts regarding future cooperation and assess the level and quality of partnership with the Republic of Serbia, which has significantly improved its international position thanks to the manner and the volume of participation in multinational operations.

CEAS assumes that final adoption of these strategies will accelerate the opening of Chapter 31 in the negotiations with the EU - Foreign, Security and Defense Policy.

CEAS hopes that all the parties shall responsibly participate in the process of consideration, making necessary amendments and adopting these important documents, as well as other legislative and normative documents that should originate from them, either by the current, or the later National Assembly of RS. A boycott of the upcoming elections would constitute avoidance of these very important civil and governmental duties.

This is especially important if we bear in mind the new geopolitical and regional circumstances and the fact that the documents are being adopted in an extremely difficult period of the ongoing negotiations on new relations between Belgrade and Pristina. The forthcoming assembly session and discussion of the documents will provide an opportunity for confirmation of the intention to improve the general atmosphere and functioning of the Assembly, and give a chance to opposition leaders and other parties to present their views on the drafts and possible amendments. This is an exceptional opportunity for their policies and plans to be heard, apart from those pertaining to the election procedures. For every country it is very important to reach a general consensus regarding foreign policy, security and defense policies, in line with a realistic assessment of the strategic environment and common national interests that are within the realm of the possible.          

CEAS is pleased that the new draft versions of the NSS and NDS, inter alia, include the following:

Protection of environment and resources of the Republic of Serbia is recognized as a national interest (NSS new version); one of the announced elements of the national security policy is a significant increase of the number of citizens trained for defense of the country (NSS new version); professional approach, control and supervision are included among the key principles of functioning of the National Security and Defense Systems (NSS, NDS new versions); the sentence stating - “Russian Federation shall continue to strengthen its political influence and advance its capacities and its position in certain regions and globally” has been omitted (the new version of NDS does not contain this sentence); it is recognized that spreading of false news and disinformation within the concept of hybrid and information warfare may adversely affect the functioning of the defense system elements (NDS new version); KFOR is explicitly named as the guarantor of the Brussels Agreement (NDS new version); it is explicitly stated that the system of defense shall be under democratic and civilian control (NDS new version); Serbian Army is named explicitly as the subject of implementation of the Defense Strategy. 

CEAS suggests that the new strategies should harmonize the phrases that pertain to the level of cooperation of the Republic of Serbia with CSTO, because the new version of NSS mentions the observer status of the RS, which is not mentioned in the new draft of NDS. Also, NSS makes references to expansion and deepening of cooperation, whereas the NDS mentions expansion and deepening of cooperation with CSTO, but there is no mention of the observer status.

As was the case with the detailed normative and contextual analysis of the draft versions of strategic documents from the 2018 Kosovo First, CEAS is aware of and wishes to emphasize the very peculiar circumstances under which these documents are being discussed and adopted, namely, the elements, dynamics and possibility for adoption of a multidimensional compromise agreement for formalization of the relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

Nevertheless, with full understanding of the very complicated situation in which Serbian Government has endorsed the new versions, especially with regard of trying to reach a multidimensional comprehensive agreement with Pristina that would not cause  big concerns and other unwanted actions among Serbs living in Kosovo and elsewhere, CEAS is worried that some of the new elements in these drafts could be interpreted too arbitrarily, leading to misunderstandings and problems at the local, global and, primarily, regional level. This is particularly the case with the sections on protection and preservation of the Serbian people wherever they may live, as a newly introduced national interest, and patterns of protection of the special parallel relations with the Republic of Srpska.

The NSS now, for example, states: „Any threat to the national interests shall be regarded as a threat to security of the Republic of Serbia and Serbian people, wherever they may live, as well as to the Serbian religious, cultural and historical heritage.”

CEAS believes that potential problems that might hinder communication and strengthening of regional cooperation, as well as European integration that has rightfully been included in the national interests, might be caused by provisions of the NDS contained in the section titled ‘Defense Policy’, which explicitly state that the goals of protecting the peace and security in the region and the worldwide, as one of the defense interests of the RS, shall also be realized through “Preservation of the Republic of Srpska within Bosnia and Herzegovina in accordance with the Dayton Accords and improvement of the position of Serbs in the world and in the region.”

Bearing in mind that new provisions have been introduced in Security and Defense Strategies drafts, rather than in the foreign policy one, and that they quite resemble the “compatriots living abroad” concept (the Russian World Concept)  pursued by the Russian Federation, in the period in which many policy makers and commentators raise concerns about security implications of various possible outlooks of the Belgrade - Pristina agreement and Serbia’s defense and security ties with Russia, CEAS  expects them to cause concerns with many regional and Western actors.

Practices show that attempts to misuse or weaponize compatriots living abroad can expose them to be seen as the “fifth column” in their countries of residence. CEAS hopes that this will not be the case with Serbs wherever they live, and that protection of their individual and collective rights by Republic of Serbia will only contribute to the improvement of relations with the countries where they live.

The “little green men” scenario in Crimea also comes to mind. Many parties in the region and the world have their own interests and plans for the future outlook of Belgrade-Pristina agreement (or a failure to reach one).  Similar kind of scenarios to the Crimean one, in all their variations, attempted by state or non-state actors, can be especially dangerous bearing in mind the presence of EUFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina and KFOR in Kosovo. In order to subdue provocations, preempt misunderstanding and avoid incidents that can escalate, CEAS advocates that the Serbian government should comply with all its agreements made with KFOR, EU and UN to the full extent, and maintain the best possible level of communication and cooperation with KFOR.

CEAS truly hopes that, for all reasons enlisted above, the by-laws and other documents passed pursuant to the strategies, starting with action plans for their implementation, will reduce the possibility of arbitrary interpretation or define in more detail the procedures for assessment of threats to stated interests, as well of means for their protection and improvement in order to preserve domestic and regional stability and security. Experiences and good practices and policies of NATO and the EU Member States with similar issues of large number of compatriots living abroad, in particular in the neighboring countries, should be thoroughly examined and considered for implementation.

In other elements that have not been modified, CEAS fully stands behind the assessments and recommendations issued in the Kosovo First report from 2018, which analyzed the overall context of the procedure of adoption and offered a methodological and value-based examination of the content of the new draft of the National Security Strategy of the Republic of Serbia and its harmonization with the existing legislative framework. The Kosovo First report concludes:” In short, it is necessary FIRST to resolve the issue of KOSOVO in order to make way for Serbia to escape its current situation in which the issue of Kosovo is overshadowing all others, hence, KOSOVO FIRST. This situation is not sustainable if Serbia wants to pursue the democratic consolidation of its society and state. A new reality needs to be created in which a democratic SERBIA FIRST will be a viable option”.

CEAS sincerely hopes that a year’ diff’rence will turn out to be the one that after tough negotiation soon delivers a multidimensional comprehensive agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, that will bring Serbia closer to the EU and NATO. But, for that to happen, the political West should say that it is ours too.