Croatia is struggling in its military modernisation efforts to find the right balance between operational requirements and NATO commitments within a slim defence budget; key decisions are still ahead.
Croatia has made substantial efforts to improve its national security posture by pursuing a policy of Euro-Atlantic integration, leading to membership in NATO and the European Union (EU), with adoption of the Euro as currency by 2025. According to the 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS), the main goal of the armed forces is to defend Croatia’s territorial integrity and to contribute to international peacekeeping operations.
However, Croatia’s national security apparatus – military, intelligence, and law enforcement – has been strained by a constantly changing security environment in the Balkans while coping with newer challenges such as illegal migration flows, international organised crime and cyberattacks.
Regional tensions may be fuelled by neighbouring Serbia’s intensified defence modernisation efforts, which are supported by substantial transfers of military hardware from Russia.
Serbia recently received six MiG-29 combat fighters, 30 T-72 tanks and 30 BRDM-2 armoured vehicles. In addition, at the beginning of 2019, Serbia ordered seven Mi-35 and three Mi-17 helicopters. Negotiations are underway regarding the procurement of Buk-M1/M2 and S-300 air defence systems from Russia and drones from China.
Although a large-scale Balkan arms race is considered unlikely, Croatia must watch carefully the progress of the Serbian defence modernisation agenda, specifically remembering William Faulkner’s famous quote that in the Balkans “the past is never dead, it is not even past.”
Consequently, Croatia needs to accelerate its defence modernisation process bearing in mind the changing security environment and limited financial resources for defence procurements.
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