How ‘Operation Storm’ Destabilized the Balkans

America’s military and diplomatic relationship with Croatia in the 1990s evolved with little or no public or media attention. This study will focus on illustrating how this relationship developed and will demonstrate that Washington’s move to consolidate a new security architecture in the Balkans was premised on furthering and strengthening America’s strategic presence in Eurasia. Through established predispositions regarding who America viewed as an adversary in this part of Europe, the Clinton Administration facilitated the emergence of a new security architecture by deliberately choosing to view the Serbians as the primary obstacle to Washington’s strategic objectives in the Balkan region. At the end of the Cold War, the establishment in Washington did not initiate a serious strategic review in order to create new forms of cooperation and bilateral security arrangements in this part of the world. Rather, with the end of the Cold War, it looked to the Balkans as a means to consolidate its strategic presence in Eurasia, to give NATO a renewed sense of political and military purpose, and to further the drive towards a unipolar new world order. The implications for European security, NATO, great power relations, and regional stability are enormous, and as Robert Kaplan once argued correctly, "the future of Europe will not be decided by what happened in Maastricht, but rather, by what happens in Macedonia."

Constructing the new security architecture in the Balkans did not happen over night nor was it improvised along the way. In fact, it is the product of serious long term planning by the establishment in Washington; planning which actually predated the implementation that the Clinton Administration undertook once it came into the Oval office. What is surprising, however, is that the United States began its defense cooperation with a regime in Croatia that was intrinsically committed to rehabilitating its fascist past. The Clinton Administration was well aware of the ideological inclinations of the Tudman government, yet this did not preclude it from looking to Croatia as a strategic ally or proxy in this part of Europe. Simplified, the goal of the establishment in Washington with regards to Croatia had several lines of strategic reasoning and continuity. These goals in order of strategic priority were as follows; consolidate America’s political and military presence in Europe, strengthen Croatia’s military while bolstering it’s strategic position in the Balkan region, and lastly, bind them into Washington’s web of existing security arrangements.

Obstacles to Defense Cooperation & The Role of Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI)

The first American military attache was sent to Croatia soon after formal diplomatic relations were established between the two states in August of 1992. However, an impediment to evolving relations between Croatia and Washington was the Tudman government’s involvement in attempting to carve out a Croatian statelet in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This is not to say that Washington was opposed to this eventuality down the road, but for strategic purposes at the time, the immediate concern of the Clinton Administration was to pacify this Croatian goal from becoming a geopolitical reality. This impasse was overcome by Washington’s ability to convince Croatia into supporting the formation of a fragile federation in Bosnia between the Moslems and Croats in March of 1994. Having achieved this objective, one of the necessary conditions was in place for substantive defense cooperation to begin between the United States and Croatia. The Clinton Administration needed Croatian acquiescence on the Bosnian federation in order to further Washington’s strategic objectives and long term interests in the Balkans. These immediate objectives were focussed on safeguarding the survival and sustainability of an independent and unitary Bosnian state. A terminally fragile Bosnian state was a key strategic imperative for Washington because it would continue to provide the raison d’être for America’s and NATO’s presence in the region for generations to come.

Having secured Croatian cooperation, the other immediate obstacle that was overcome was getting Croatia to sign on to a defense cooperation agreement with the newly formed federation between the Bosnian Moslems and Bosnian Croats. This agreement mandated Croatia to support several top-secret American airdrops of military supplies to the Bosnian Moslem Army in order to assist it in combat operations against the Bosnian Serbs. As well, Croatia also had to agree to the establishment of a CIA base on the island of Krk in Croatia, which was used by the United States to deploy the GNAT-750 and Predator unmanned aerial vehicles for reconnaissance operations against the Serbs in Serbian Krajina and Republika Srpska. Armed and readied with stealth technology, the Predator possessed enough aerial capability to cover the entire geographical territory of the former Yugoslavia. Specifically, it enabled the United States to simultaneously utilize the territory of Croatia and Albania in order to deploy these unmanned aerial vehicles for reconnaissance and intelligence purposes against the Serbians.

Although the United States attempted to create the conditions for legally sanctioned defense cooperation with Croatia, Security Council Resolution 713, better know as the UN Arms Embargo, prevented wide ranging cooperation between the two parties. The UN Arms Embargo on the former Yugoslavia theoretically banned the United States and any other state from providing any military assistance to any of the ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia. It also applied to private entities, which meant that no organization outside of government control could provide advice on military planning, intelligence services, advice, strategy, or tactics to any entity in the former Yugoslavia, including Croatia. However, these limitations did not stop Croatian Defense Minister, Gojko Susak, from forwarding a request for military assistance to the then Deputy Defense Secretary, John Deutch, who later went on to become the Director of the CIA. When Susak finally visited Washington seeking military assistance in March of 1994, the limitations of the arms embargo forced Pentagon officials to refer the Croatian Defense Minister to Military Professional Resources Incorporated.

MPRI spokesman and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Ed Soyster, once referred to this organization as the "greatest corporate assemblage of military expertise in the world." MPRI has a core full time staff of 350 individuals and a database of approximately 2000 retired generals, admirals, and other officers from which to draw potential services. One could argue however, that MPRI is nothing more than an extended arm of the Pentagon, conveniently formed to circumvent international law when the American government is limited in seeking to achieve its perceived strategic objectives in various parts of the world. Nevertheless, before MPRI began working with the Croatian government, it first took on a contract in 1994 code named the Drina River Mission to send 45 border monitors to Serbia in order to enforce the economic blockade against the Bosnian and Krajina Serbs. MPRI’s involvement in monitoring Serbia’s border in 1994 became critical to American strategic planning in the Balkans because this organization enabled Washington to indirectly introduce an American military presence into the region.

By referring Defense Minister Susak to MPRI, the Clinton Administration, through one degree of separation, enabled itself to theoretically stay within the provisions of the UN Arms Embargo. Specifically, it enabled the United States to deny that it was providing direct military assistance to Croatia even though American intelligence officers were already directly involved in the Balkan theatre of operations. MPRI’s involvement with Croatia officially started in September of 1994 when Croatian Defense Minister Susak and retired General and Vice President of MPRI, Carl Vuono, signed an agreement at the Croatian Embassy in Washington which came to be known as the Democracy Transition Assistance Program. MPRI personnel arrived in Croatia in November of 1994 and the first Croatian officers to complete the DTAP training program graduated in April of 1995. The success of this program set a precedent, which eventually led to the expansion of MPRI’s involvement into other regions in the Balkans. However, before MPRI could begin working with the Croatian government or any other ethnic group in the region, it was mandated to seek authorization from the US State Department’s Office of Defense Trade Controls. Before this government agency could issue such a license to MPRI, one of the provisions was that MPRI could only provide instruction on leadership skills and on the role of a military in an emerging democracy.

Contrary to the provisions of the licensing agreement, MPRI was instrumental in violating the UN Arms Embargo by assisting Croatia in carrying out Operation Storm in August of 1995. After the Vietnam War, the United States was determined to review and revise the way it would conduct combat operations in the future. Retired General and Vice President of MPRI, Carl Vuono, participated in and commanded a special training center that was responsible for devising a new American military doctrine which came to be known as AirLand Battle 2000. This military doctrine, which was first applied in Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in 1990, was also applied by the Croatian Army at the tactical level in Operation Storm in 1995 against the Krajina Serbs. In fact, two weeks before the Croatian attack, Vuono held top secret meetings on the island of Brioni with Croatian General Varimar Cervenko, who was one of the architects of the Croatian campaign against the Serbian Krajina. However, Cervenko’s plan was never actually realized because the Tudman government decided on implementing General Ante Gotovina’s military plans regarding the Serbian Krajina. More importantly, however, five days before the actual attack was undertaken by Croatia, Vuono held approximately ten meetings with Croatian officers who were to be directly involved in the ethnic cleansing of the Krajina region.

This raises the sensitive issue of MPRIs and the Clinton Administration’s culpability in facilitating the war crimes that were committed by Croatian forces against the civilian population of the Serbian Krajina in Operation Storm. According to the former head of Croatian counterintelligence, Markica Redic, "the Pentagon undertook complete supervision during the Storm action." Moreover, Miro Tudman, son of the late Croatian President and head of Croatia’s equivalent of the CIA, has argued that during Operation Storm "all our (electronic) intelligence in Croatia went online in real time to the National Security Agency in Washington" and "we had a de facto partnership." At the very least, American involvement in Operation Storm raises the issue of war crime indictments against members of MPRI, the Pentagon, CIA, and the NSA, who directly assisted the Croatian attack in August of 1995, which expelled over 200,000 civilians and devastated over 13,000 homes and other structures in the region. Nevertheless, Croatia’s ability to occupy the Serbian Krajina was due more to Belgrade’s decision not to introduce the Yugoslav Army into the conflict, than to Croatia’s military prowess. In retrospect, the fact that Croatia encountered stiff resistance in Petrova Gora from the Krajina Serbs illustrates that if Belgrade had made the conscious decision to defend the Serbian Krajina, the Croatian Army would have been hard pressed to achieve the desired results it had sought in Operation Storm.

Consequently, since 1994, Croatia has continued to pursue an aggressive and unrelenting intelligence operation dedicated towards infiltrating the highest levels of the Yugoslav military and government. The intent of these operations has been targeted at discerning the operational capabilities of the Yugoslav Army and the intentions of the Yugoslav government. Specifically, through intimidation, coercion, and blackmail, Croatia has sought to influence Yugoslav officials by threatening reprisals against any relatives some of them might have still living in Croatia. Croatian intelligence activities against Yugoslavia have been based on the requirements of both the Croatian government and of some western governments who have requested that Croatia’s foreign intelligence service fulfill some of their unmet needs in Yugoslavia. It should be noted that the operational capabilities of Croatia’s intelligence services have been modeled after Germany’s BND intelligence service and that Germany has been instrumental in assisting and guiding the formation of Croatia’s intelligence services both in Croatia and Germany.

Military Professional Resources Incorporated & The Bosnian Connection

MPRI’s involvement with Croatia resulted in pressure from the leadership of the Bosnian Moslems on Washington to initiate a reciprocal form of military assistance to the Bosnian Moslem Army. With the approval of the Clinton Administration and sanctioned by Congress, MPRI began training the Bosnian Moslem Army after the Dayton Accords were established in October of 1995. The Pentagon spent $400,000 on a report in order to establish what type of military aid the Bosnian Moslem Army required. This report created the conditions for the United States to allocate and donate $100 million dollars worth of military equipment to the Bosnian Moslems. The American vessel known as the American Condor delivered the first shipment of American military equipment to the Bosnian Moslems in November of 1996. Specifically, between November 21st and 24th, 1996, the American ship delivered "46, 100 M16A1 assault rifles, 1000 M60 machine guns, 6592 pieces of communication equipment, 732 AN/PRC-126 handheld and 1600 AN/PRC-77 manpack radios, 45 M60A3 battle tanks, 80 M113 APCs, 840 AT-4 light anti-tank weapons and 15 UH-1H light utility helicopters." The United States also financed the local production of ammunition at the Igman factory in Konjic and the production of D-30J howitzers at the Bratstvo factory in Novi Travnik.

In addition to this, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Brunei and the United Arab Emirates also donated $149 million dollars worth of military equipment and financial assistance to the Bosnian Moslem Army. The military equipment shipped from these sponsoring states consisted of "36 M56 105mm light howitzers, 51 Panhard Armored Personnel Carriers, 40 AMX-30 Main Battle Tanks, 12 D-30 120mm howitzers, 12 130mm howitzers, and 18 ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft cannons." In July of 1996, as part of an independent bilateral defense cooperation agreement with Turkey, the Bosnian Moslems also received a shipment of 5.56mm small arms ammunition and light anti-tank rockets from Turkey. The Turkish government also delivered 659 tons of weaponry to the Bosnian Moslems through the Croatian port of Ploce. This cargo of weaponry was delivered to the Bosnian Moslems by the Turkish chartered Ukrainian ship, the Valerian Zorin. Turkey has also participated in training Bosnian officers in Turkey and, with the other sponsoring Islamic states, has also financed MPRIs $140 million training role with the Bosnian Moslems.

MPRI entered the Balkans before the United States military because under international law, neither the American government nor military had a legal mandate at the time to introduce an official American presence into the Balkan theatre of operations. This is not say that the Clinton Administration was not actively planning for such an introduction, because in retrospect, the evidence and indictment is overwhelming in this regard. Moreover, domestic constraints have always weighed heavily on Washington’s decisions to introduce American servicemen into a theatre of operations. The introduction of American forces into a region is often untenable due to the low threshold for casualties among the American people. The domestic political landscape in the United States often dictates that risking the lives of American servicemen is unacceptable even when key strategic concerns are at issue. However, to augment this domestic political constraint, throughout the Cold War, the United States relied heavily on non-government proxies as a means to achieve strategic ends in various parts of the world. Examples of such proxies would be the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan, the Contras in Nicaragua, and more recently, the extremist ethnocentric drug running KLA in Kosovo and Macedonia.

Institutionalized Defense Cooperation: America takes the Lead

On November 29th, 1994, Croatia and the United States formally signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Defense Cooperation, through which a broad range of military cooperation agreements were outlined as the cornerstone for future relations between the two countries. The signing of the agreement was preceded by a visit to Croatia on November 10th, 1994, by then Deputy Secretary of Defense, Joseph Kruzel, who traveled to Zagreb to iron out last minute details surrounding the agreement. The United States facilitated the establishment of the International Military Education and Training Program, the Joint Contact Team Programs through the US European Command, and defense cooperation agreements with Turkey and Israel. The US also turned a blind eye to Iran’s initiatives to ship armaments to the Bosnian Moslems long before the US Senate passed the Dole-Lieberman Bill to lift the arms embargo against Bosnia on July 6th, 1995. According to the deal, Croatia as a point of transit for the arms shipments, received a percentage of the arms deliveries from Iran. More importantly, however, the agreement on defense cooperation would eventually result in frequent meetings of military delegations at the highest coordinating levels between the United States and Croatia.

This level of bilateral engagement is illustrated by the fact that the late Croatian Defense Minister, Gojko Susak, would meet with former Defense Secretary, William Perry, four times in 1996. Moreover, when Gojko Susak fell terminally ill, the US Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, personally sent his own plane to bring the Croatian Defense Minister to the United States for medical treatment. At his funeral in Croatia at the Mirogoj cemetery, former Defense Secretary, William Perry, declared that Gojko Susak "was a visionary in military matters and his legacy will be that one day the Croatian Armed Forces will be valued participants in western security organizations." It is evident that Washington placed a significant amount of emphasis on it’s relationship with Croatia because Croatian government officials like Susak had unlimited access to America’s national security apparatus and decision making circles in Washington. Washington’s investment in Croatia was not minimal and institutionalized forms of defense cooperation have reaffirmed a growing commitment and willingness on both sides to align their national interests towards one another.

It was only after Croatia ethnically cleansed the Serbs of Krajina with the tacit approval of the Clinton Administration in August of 1995 that the United States, as part of its defense cooperation agreement with Croatia, became the first NATO country to formally organize military cooperation programs for Croatia. The United States has not only organized these programs but has led the way in financing Croatia’s military in what officials in Washington refer to as "engagement activities." One of these programs is the congressionally authorized International Military Education and Training Program. In 1996 alone, Croatia received $200,000 in congressionally authorized funds to help further the military education and training of it’s armed forces. Direct American military training assistance to Croatia grew from $65,000 in 1995 to $500,000 in 2000, adding up to about $2 million in this five year period. During this period, the United States has trained over 200 Croatian military and civilian personnel in the United States and several hundred more at scheduled seminars held in Croatia. Funds from this program have also helped facilitate the creation of three English language speaking schools, which has allowed the Croatian Military School of Foreign Languages to produce 150 fluent English speaking individuals annually.

In addition to this, in 1996, the United States European Command opened a liaison office at the Croatian Ministry of Defense. This office was given the responsibility of coordinating the Joint Contact Team Program, which is focussed on furthering bilateral relations between the United States and Croatia. The Joint Contact Team Program differs from the IMET Program because personnel from the US European Command are prohibited from conducting training and must restrict their activities to familiarization and orientation type activities in Croatia. Since 1997, the US European Command has funded two full time personnel to assist the Croatian military with scheduling and executing the congressionally authorized International Military Education and Training Program. To date, the US European Command has conducted over 300 events in Croatia aimed at presenting the US Armed Forces as a ‘role model’ for Croatian military officials.

The Marshall Center in Garmisch, Germany has also been an institution frequented by Croatian military officials due to the support of the United States and Germany. This center is designed to support higher security and defense learning for foreign and security policy officials. Croatia has sent more than 40 members of it’s defense ministry and general staff to the Marshall Center for training since 1995. This training endeavor has cost the United States $350,000 in 1999 and 2000 alone. As well, German support to Croatia in this regard has been significant since it began offering Croatian officers training in its military schools in 1999. To date, 23 Croatian officers have been educated in German Military Schools and 30 more have completed familiarization and orientation activities at these schools. The focus of their studies at German Military Schools has been primarily on professional military education, specifically, battalion and company level courses, as well as time spent in the German Command and General Staff College. Staff talks between German and Croatian officers have occurred annually at all levels and Germany has conducted exercises with Croatia in the field of arms control in line with the Dayton Military Annexes. The total amount of aid allocated to Croatia out of the German defense budget to date has been approximately $2 million.

In an attempt not to be left out, France has also provided significant military training to Croatia’s armed forces. In 1998, after an agreement on bilateral defense cooperation was consummated between France and Croatia, the French established various military programs to assist the Croatian Military. Croatia has seen 31 of it’s officers graduate from schools such as the French War School, with 14 graduating in 1998 and another 17 in 1999. The French have also assisted in providing language training to Croat officers as part of their defense cooperation agreement with Croatia. It should be noted that Croatia has also received assistance from Great Britain in the areas of English language instruction and on arms control in line with the Dayton Military Annexes. However, French and British military cooperation with Croatia is largely symbolic because they are not perceived as active players in the Balkans who can influence policy decisions in Washington or Brussels where the Balkans are concerned.

By the end of 1999, every major command of the Croatian Armed Forces, every sector of the general staff, and every directorate in the defense ministry had someone who had attended military training programs abroad. The move to rapidly accelerate Croatia’s military readiness is linked to Washington’s desire to integrate Croatia into western security institutions and at the same time improve the operational capabilities of the Croatian Army at the tactical and command level. The need to accelerate Croatia’s military readiness has also been complemented by the need to assist Croatia’s ability to upgrade and modernize its existing military hardware. Much of that hardware was acquired from the Germans, consisting mostly of Soviet era East German military equipment. It should be noted that Croatia’s procurement of military hardware was also assisted by Ernst Werner Glatt, who was once the CIA’s point man for military shipments to the Contras in Nicaragua and the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan. However, rather than having Washington supply these upgrades and modernization, the Clinton Administration initially relied on integrating Croatia into it’s existing web of security arrangements.

The Role of Turkey & Israel

On the insistence of the Clinton Administration, Croatia was mandated to undertake a defense cooperation agreement with Turkey. On June 19th, 1996, Franjo Tudman, along with his defense minister Gojko Susak and his foreign Minister Mate Granic, visited Ankara, Turkey, at the invitation of Turkish President Suleyman Demirel. The two states agreed in principle on a broad framework for a defense cooperation agreement, which enabled the Turkish International Cooperation Agency to immediately open a bureau in Croatia’s capital of Zagreb. On August 22nd , 1996, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces, General Cevik Bir, formally signed the agreement with Croatia on military training exercises. This agreement focussed on an exchange of staffs between the two states and on the training of officers at Turkish and Croatian military institutions. Since 1999, Croatia has seen 12 of it’s officers attend Turkish military training schools. This training has involved a one year Turkish language regimentation for Croatian officers before formal professional military education training, such as the armed forces military academy and courses focussed on commanding companies and battalions could begin.

General Bir’s visit to Croatia to sign the agreement on military training was followed by a visit to Ankara on December 3rd, 1996, by the Croatian Air Force commander Major General Josip Vuletic. The Major General had meetings with the Turkish Defense Minister, Turhan Tayan, with the Chief of the Turkish General Staff, General Ismail Hakki Karadayi, and with the commander of the Turkish Air Force, General Ahmet Corekci. Upon receiving the Croatian Air Force commander, General Corekci commented on the Croat commander’s visit to Turkey by stating that "both countries efforts continued to play a key role for peace and stability in the Balkans." In fact, there is an element of truth to this statement because Washington has positioned both of these states to play an important role in the new security architecture as geopolitical pivots in the region. However, Washington has looked to Ankara and Zagreb as important allies in maintaining and consolidating America’s Cold War victory based on the old bipolar security architecture that used to be in place in this part of the world. Consequently, this outlook has impeded Washington’s ability to create a new security regime in this part of the world and it has reinforced the belief that the Serbians are the main obstacle to America’s strategic objectives in the region.

While the agreement with Turkey on defense cooperation focussed on military exchanges and training, it also paved the way for other agreements in the defense industry field. According to Turkey’s defense cooperation agreement with Israel that was established in 1995, Israel is mandated by the agreement to upgrade and standardize any technical requirements that a state such as Croatia would require in the defense industry field. Therefore, through a binding defense cooperation agreement with Turkey, Israel was required to undertake a defense cooperation agreement with Croatia. The scope of this agreement has covered areas such as upgrading and modernizing Croatia’s MIG 21s, T55 tanks, and the joint production of the ‘Tabor’ assault rifle. The MIGs were intended to be refitted in Israel and later modernized at the Aircraft Technology Department in Velika Gorica, Croatia, where Croatian technicians would be trained by their Israeli counterparts. These upgrades typically include multirole air to air and air to ground radios, radars, passive and electronic warfare suites, new head up and head down displays, helmet sights, and the integration of western weaponry. As part of the upgrade program, the Israeli Aerospace Company, Elbit, located in Haifa, Israel, was specifically offering the El/M/2032 lookdown/shootdown pulse doppler radar, manufactured by Israeli Aircraft Industries.

When Croatian Defense Minister, Pavao Miljavac, was asked by an Israeli reporter to comment on the statement of an Israeli opposition deputy in the Knesset that a military agreement with Croatia was "like selling our souls for a hundred million dollars," the defense minister replied that "Israel is a country in which everyone has the right to say what they think, but that for Croatia it is important what the decisionmakers and those who guide policy think." With Israel receiving billions of dollars of aid on a yearly basis from Washington, it is only natural that the Jewish State would be obligated under existing defense cooperation agreements to closely align itself under the American security umbrella. Through its special relationship with Washington and its defense cooperation agreement with Turkey, Israel has been an active participant in assisting Washington to consolidate a new security architecture in the Balkans. Israel’s defense cooperation with Croatia is one of the many obligations that the Jewish State has had to undertake as part of it’s special relationship with Washington. In this regard, Washington has had the unnerving support of Jewish political action committees in Washington and American Jewry in general, as it has tried to construct a new security architecture in the Balkans.

After the fall of the Tudman government in Croatia, the deal to upgrade 20 Croatian MIGs in Israel at $30 million was put on hold because Lockheed Martin, with the permission of the Clinton Administration, offered Croatia American F16 fighter aircraft. The American F16s in question are older versions of the plane that require modernization, but according to the offer, the job of upgrading the aircraft would be done by Lockheed Martin and paid for by the Croatian government. The upgrade of F16 aircraft and the offer to receive them as a form of military assistance from the United States was an ultimatum that Croatia had to accept if it wanted to be admitted into the Partnership for Peace Program. Since paying for the upgrade of the aircraft is a fiscal liability for the current government in Croatia, the United States has responded by allowing payment for the aircraft to be settled through long term defense cooperation. As part of the payment process however, Croatia has had to allow the United States military to use existing airfields in Croatia. This development has essentially reaffirmed America’s firm intention to maintain a long term presence in Croatia, the Balkans, and in Europe, long after the last American military presence is scaled back or pulled out altogether from the European Union and specifically, Germany.

To this end, the United States and Croatia conducted their first joint military exercises on September 25th, 2000, near the Croatian port city of Split and on some islands off the coast of the country. The four day exercise referred to as operation ‘Croatian Phiblex’, consisted of 400 sailors and 200 Marines from the US 6th Fleet, USS Austin and elements of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. This unit was the first American peacekeeping force to move into Serbia’s province of Kosovo after the war with Serbia and Montenegro in 1999. It also became the first American military unit to complete the first ever American and Croatian bilateral amphibious landing exercise on September 29th, 2000. The Chief for the Office of Defense Cooperation for the American Embassy in Croatia, Army Major Richard Liebl, stressed the importance of this exercise by stating that "the only way to be effective in the future of warfare is to build that bilateral exchange among willing nations" because "knowing your allies enhances any country’s ability to operate." Major Kenneth Lassure, a participant in the exercises, qualified the importance of the maneuvers by claiming that "the Marines and sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit and USS Austin have been a part of history here. It excites me. It gets my juices going to know that we are helping a country move in a democratic direction."

In addition to this exercise, Croatia also hosted two more training exercises with the United States in late 2000 and early 2001. These exercises were referred to as Slunj 2000 and Slunj 2001 and it was only by chance that these exercises were held in Croatia. These military exercises were initially scheduled to take place in Israel, but because of the current unrest in the region and for ecological reasons associated with the nature of the live fire exercises, the United States moved the exercise to Croatia at the last moment. The US Sixth fleet and approximately 1500 soldiers from the 26th Marine Expedition Unit participated in the Slunj 2000 exercises. For this particular exercise, the Americans also used the airfield at Udbina in Serbian Krajina, and according to Croatian General Josip Culetic, the Americans raised the issue of stationing a military base in this ethnically cleansed Serbian city. The actual exercises entailed the live firing of heavy ordinance by American forces, which caused outrage among Croatia’s environmental activists. While the exercises were not received favorably by various segments of the Croatian public, the Croatian government and military used these exercises to begin selling the prospect and benefit of permanent American bases in Croatia to the Croatian public.

Bringing It All Together: Strategic Continuity

Limited by the UN Arms embargo, the United States circumvented this obstacle by turning to MPRI in order to lay the groundwork for long term military cooperation with Croatia and eventually with other proxies in the region. MPRI has been invaluable as a mechanism to further strategic priorities for Washington in the Balkans. Specifically, it has enabled the United States to utilize a private organization such as MPRI to further American security policy, while at the same time, limiting the chances for casualties among American military personnel stationed in the region. In addition to this, it has also enabled Washington to utilize MPRI in a cost-effective way to reduce costs associated with training foreign military personnel in the region. In fact, it was Croatia that financed it’s relationship with MPRI, with Washington taking over the majority of fiscal responsibilities once institutionalized forms of defense cooperation took over in late 1995 and early 1996. Thus, outsourcing war became the modus operandi for Washington in the Balkans in the 1990s. In fact, at a closed Defense Intelligence Agency symposium held on June 24th, 1997, on the ‘Privatization of National Security Functions,’ the overwhelming consensus of the participants was that this form of military engagement would only increase in the years to come.

The strategic posture of America and the Clinton Administration towards Croatia has been premised on consolidating America’s political and military presence in Europe, strengthening Croatia’s military, and bolstering its strategic position in the Balkan region. By organizing substantial training and education for Croatia’s armed forces, Washington made the conscious decision to look to Croatia as a pivotal military ally in the western Balkans. Hence, Washington’s moves to hastily integrate Croatia into it’s web of security arrangements with states such as Turkey and Israel and it’s simultaneous moves to accelerate Croatia’s military readiness by offering F16 fighter aircraft as a gift. However, this relationship for Croatia comes at a price, a price where the concept of limited sovereignty will continue to define Croatia’s relationship with America for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, the national security apparatus in Croatia believes that this is an arrangement that is in the country’s long term interests, because in the event of another Balkan conflict, Croatia believes that the full weight of American diplomatic support will be forthcoming in any eventual renewal of hostilities with Serbia.

There is no reason to believe that in the event of another Balkan conflict Croatia would not enjoy this support. As ambassador Richard Gelbard told a Croatian American delegation visiting Capital Hill in March of 1999, "the US needs a pillar of stability in the region and we look to Croatia as that pillar." Ambassador Gelbard also indicated at the time that the Clinton Administration was fully supportive of Croatia’s rights to the Prevlaka region, and he termed it a security issue for the administration and not a territorial one. Ironically, while the Clinton Administration was reassuring one of its new clients in the Balkans, the Croats, at the same time it was preparing for a brutal war of aggression against Serbia in Kosovo. As one analyst has outlined, however, the new security architecture in the Balkans is based on convictions held in Washington that "it looks to Tirana as the capital of the Pentagon in the Balkans and towards Croatia as a bulwark of military strength against Serbia in the north."

The strategic implications of America’s approach to the Balkans in the last decade will continue to raise questions about whether or not the new security architecture in the Balkans can promote long term regional security, stability, and sustainability in this part of Europe. However, the new security architecture is not based on promoting sustainable regional security or on developing a regional consensus among the Balkan states. Rather, it is focussed on consolidating America’s permanent presence in the region whose primary goal is to make the United States the sole arbiter of intrastate relations in this part of Europe at the beginning of the 21st century. America is not lacking compliant states in this part of Europe in its pursuit of this end game in the Balkans. In fact, on more than one occasion, the Clinton administration pursued the law of power as opposed to the power of the law to redraw the political, military, and territorial geography of this part of Europe. It remains to be seen whether the Bush administration will provide strategic continuity in this part of Europe or if it’s policies will differ appreciably from those of their predecessors in the Clinton administration. However, in light of recent developments in Macedonia, one should not be hopeful that the policies of the Bush Administration will deviate substantially from those of their predecessors in the Clinton Administration.

Mirko Dakovic and Boro Miseljic are Senior Fellows for National Security Studies at the Independent Center for Geopolitical Studies JUGOISTOK in Belgrade, Serbia. This article is an excerpt from their forthcoming book The New Security Architecture in the Balkans to be published by the end of this year.