Belgrade’s lagging reform: cause for international concern

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.


For more than a decade Serbia was the driving force behind much of the instability in the Balkans. Following the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic on 5 October 2000, it was hoped that Serbia would promptly reform the external policies of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) that had caused such disruption. To date, these hopes have been substantially disappointed.

Nevertheless, the FRY has set its sights on catching up with its neighbours by integrating into Euro-Atlantic institutions and political processes. In particular, it wants to make significant progress during 2002 towards three major foreign policy goals: accession to the Council of Europe (CoE); membership in NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP); and negotiating a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the European Union (EU).

These objectives confirm the FRY’s welcome re-orientation to a pro-European, trans-Atlantic outlook. Nevertheless, post-Milosevic Yugoslavia still presents significant obstacles to regional stability, openly opposing important policies and standards represented or implemented on the ground by the international community.

Regional instability is exacerbated by the federal authorities’ refusal or inability to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), undermining of international community goals in Bosnia and Kosovo, and reluctance to address Montenegro’s concerns about the federation itself. Looming behind these highly visible policies and practices is a fourth, massive problem: the FRY’s unreconstructed armed forces, which – lacking civilian control or budgetary oversight – influence foreign and domestic politics, block reforms, and oppose accountability for war crimes.

This report examines all but one of these problems. (Belgrade’s relationship with Montenegro will be considered in a future report.) It assesses their impact on regional stability, and identifies them as the consequences of ideological nationalism, rear-guard resistance by Milosevic-era cadres, and institutional inertia.

These are all factors that Serbian reformers want to overcome but cannot without international support. Premature FRY admission to Euro-Atlantic institutions is more likely to weaken the reform camp than to strengthen it. Such significant endorsement of Belgrade’s regional role should be withheld until it has confirmed by deed its commitment to help stabilise the region.

Until then the FRY cannot be viewed as a guarantor of regional peace and stability or a reliable partner in any collective security framework. The international community must hold the FRY to the same high standards for inclusion in intergovernmental structures that have rightly been required of Croatia and Bosnia since 1996. NATO, the CoE, and the EU should raise these problems with their Yugoslav counterparts and require solutions. So, too, the U.S. administration and Congress should face – and act on – the reality that the FRY is not in compliance with the conditions established under the impending 31 March 2002 deadline and there is, therefore, no justification to certify its eligibility for further U.S. donor aid.

To do otherwise would strengthen obstructionist forces inside Serbia, reduce international community leverage over Belgrade, undermine Yugoslavia’s neighbours, and cheapen membership in the international institutions involved.



1. NATO, the European Union (EU), the Council of Europe (CoE) and the United States (U.S.) should harmonise efforts regarding the FRY, resisting any temptation to lower standards to Belgrade’s advantage. Before the FRY is admitted to membership of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) and the CoE, commences negotiating a Stabilisat ion and Association Agreement (SAA), or receives further U.S. assistance, it should be required to demonstrate its willingness to reform by meeting clearly defined conditions in four areas:

(a) civilian control over the armed forces and related military sector reforms;

(b) support for international community policy in Bosnia;

(c) cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY); and

(d) support for international community policy in Kosovo.

2. The U.S. administration should examine the four areas listed above when determining, as required by Congress, whether to certify by 31 March 2002 the FRY’s continued eligibility for American aid. Without significant progress in all four areas, it should not certify.

3. The United Nations should insist that the FRY abide by UNSCR 1244 concerning Kosovo, including by cooperating with the effort to end parallel Serb structures.


4. In relation to reform of the armed forces, the authorities in Belgrade should:

(a) pass new laws on the federal and republic levels to bring the Yugoslav Army (VJ) and the federal and Serbian Ministries of Interior (MUPs) under civilian control, accountable to parliaments;

(b) give the federal, Serbian and Montenegrin parliaments control over the VJ and MUPs budgets, including independent auditing, subpoena power for witnesses and documents, and sufficient staff and resources;

(c) render the VJ subservient to the Ministry of Defence.

(d) depoliticise the VJ and MUP, beginning with the removal of VJ Generals Nebojsa Pavkovic and Vladimir Lazarevic and MUP General Sreten Lukic;

(e) end VJ protection of ICTY indictees such as Ratko Mladic;

(f) reduce the number of Special Forces units;

(g) demilitarise the Serbian MUP;

(h) remove the Unit for Special Operations (JSO) from the MUP and either disband it or place it under VJ control; and

(i) change VJ doctrine to remove any responsibility to intervene in internal political matters.

5. In relation to support for international community policy in Bosnia:

(a) the FRY should ratify the Dayton Peace Accords; stop financing the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS); and remove RS officers and non-commissioned officers from the VJ pay roll;

(b) the federal president should cease using his office to promote his political party’s support for the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) in RS; and

(c) the governing DOS coalition should inform the Serbian public of European, NATO and U.S. Congressional conditions related to Bosnia, especially the RS.

6. In relation to cooperation with the ICTY, the FRY should:

(a) transfer all indictees to The Hague, including active duty and retired VJ and MUP personnel, and current and former state officials; and,

(b) Provide the ICTY access to all pertinent VJ and MUP archives and documents.

7. In relation to support for international community policy in Kosovo, the FRY should:

(a) stop financing parallel security forces such as the Mitrovica “bridge-watchers”;

(b) withdraw VJ, MUP, State Security (DB) and military counterintelligence (KOS) personnel;

(c) stop financing parallel civilian administrative structures;

(d) support the United Nations Mission in Kosovo’s (UNMIK) efforts to create effective administrative structures in the north; and,

(e) release the remaining 78 Albanian political prisoners.

For more in-depth analysis, see the full report on the

ICG website.  

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