Serbia and Croatia are the two biggest powers in the Balkans. However, one looks westwards for its friends and the other tends to look east. The Serbia and Croatia arms race disturbs many because of the fragility with which the region exists, however, neither country is breaking its agreement according to the Dayton Accord. Nonetheless, neither country can allow its neighbour to gain the upper hand in the race for fears of tipping the balance in the highly volatile region.
KJ1: It is highly likely that Serbia and Croatia’s arms race will continue in the next 12 months.
- Serbia and Croatia are continuing a narrative that has been set since 2015 when Croatia asked the US to donate 16 M270 MLRS launchers. In retaliation, Serbia asked Russia for S-300 anti-missile systems. Both deals fell through but it set the narrative for both countries’ foreign policies and as a show of political strength internally. [source]
- For both countries, the emphasis is placed on maintaining level with the other and not allowing one to gain an upper hand. Serbia is a well-known ally of Russia with historic ties, and Serbia uses these ties to inherit weaponry. In order to even the keel, the US supplies various weapons systems to Croatia in a mirroring of the Cold War. [source]
- Both countries spend a healthy budget per year on defence spending. In 2021, Serbia spent $1.4 billion on military spending, while Croatia spent $1.1 billion dollars on 12 used Rafale jet fighters from France. [source]
- Both countries are setting out to modernise their militaries, given that many of their vehicles are from the 1990s wars in the Balkans. In doing so, Croatia is advancing its air power with 2 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for the US. [source]
- On the ground, Croatia has received 89 M2A2 Bradley ODS, along with 1,103 TOW 2A radio frequency missiles, 100 TOW 2B radio frequency missiles, and 500 TOW bunker buster radio frequency missiles, along with fly-to-buy lot acceptance missiles in each case. This deal also includes M257 smoke grenade launchers, ammunition, radios, simulator, special armour, spare and repair parts and support equipment. [source]
- For Serbia, they have received 30 T-72B1MS tanks from Russia alongside BRDM-2MS armoured vehicles of the same amount. They also procured 13 MiG-29s as well as four Mi-35M and three Mi17V-5 helicopters. Alongside this was a shipment of 9M133 Kornet missiles of an undisclosed amount and a Pantsir-S1 air-defence missile gun system. [source]
KJ2: It is highly unlikely that Serbia will solely focus on weapons from Russia in the next 12 months.
- In 2017 Serbia’s largest defence contractor, Yugoimport-SDPR, developed the Šumadija tactical missile, with a range of more than 280km. Indigenous weapons systems like this allow Serbia to only import when necessary. [source]
- However, a hugely important need for Serbia is its air policing capabilities. In the past, it has suffered terribly from a lack of air defence systems. First in World War Two when the Nazis bombed Belgrade and secondly with NATO’s bombing campaign during the war in Kosovo. To remedy this need, Serbia received MiG-29s from Russia and Belarus in 2021, Mi-35 and Mi-17 helicopters and rapid-fire Pantsir S1 anti-air missile systems. [source]
- However, as agreed in 2018, Serbia also bought anti-air missile systems from China. The FK-3, is the export version of the HQ-22 medium- to long-range semi-active radar homing/radio-command guidance air defence system. Along with the FK-3 was four H-200 long-range radar system used for targeting on the FK-3 system. The arrival of these systems coincided with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, symbolising Serbia’s flexibility with its weapons purchasing. [source]
- Serbia also bought helicopters from the French company Airbus. They are also looking at acquiring SPIKE LR2 anti-armour missiles from Israel as well as the further acquisition of six Chinese CH-92A drones along with accompanying technology. These drones would make Serbia the largest drone operator in the Balkans. [source]
KJ3: It is highly unlikely that Croatia and Serbia’s arms race will escalate to war in the next 12 months.
- Although the arms race is destabilising for the region, it does not mean that the two will go head-to-head in testing out their new weapons systems and vehicles. Both countries had out-of-date equipment and technologies that harked back to Yugoslavia. Updating these systems to modern standards and modern warfare’s needs is just a clever move to avoid vulnerability. [source]
- Moreover, buying up weapons for a modernised army looks good. Politicians in the region use the acquisition of weapons as a show of strength. Not only does it show their neighbours that they have something brand new and capable of causing damage but also it shows their own people that this is something to be proud of. [source]
- It is in the international communities’ best interest to maintain peace in the Balkans. Although for Russia it might create a distraction for NATO and the EU, it would be incredibly destabilising for the rest of Europe. China also is attempting to escape its arms embargo and enter the European defence industry. Being the power to rival US military equipment in the region would put China’s weapons into European markets quickly. [source]
- Neither country has broken its Dayton Accord agreement as stipulated in Article IV of Annex 1B. This states that countries must cap the number of systems in specific categories. The categories are battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft and combat helicopters, and both Croatia and Serbia are within the limits. These limits will have been placed so that neither country can take the upper hand against the other and that neither country would amass a military might that could not be checked by the EU or NATO. [source]
Intelligence cut-off date 21 September 2022