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8. Security sector reform in the Western Balkans



I. Introduction

II. External factors

III. Common challenges in security reforms

IV. Developments in security sector reform in five states

V. Conclusions


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The states of the Western Balkans region (and the province of Kosovo) face greater challenges in security sector reform (SSR) than the other post-Communist states of Central Europe. Recent conflict has left a legacy of material damage, ethnic division and bitterness, and refugee and war crimes issues. The presence of international forces and administrations—still executing many functions of normal state security—means that reform can only be completed hand in hand with re-localization of authority. Transnational ‘new threats’ are rife and national progress is tied up with regional factors to an unusual degree.


North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European Union aid, and the spur of ultimate accession to these institutions, provide the outside world’s main leverage for reform in the Western Balkans. This situation has advantages but also risks making progress in SSR over-dependent on outside support and pressure, and thus insufficiently grounded domestically.


Generic challenges common to the region are police reform (after the inflation and misuse of police forces during recent wars), and the strengthening and professionalization of border controls. Outside donors have also put (perhaps excessively) strong emphasis on anti-terrorism.


Albania is the most underdeveloped state in the region and a major source of human trafficking. Military and police reforms are handicapped by corruption and basic failings in democracy.


Bosnia and Herzegovina faces special challenges in military and intelligence reform because of the degree of control thus far delegated to its ethnically defined ‘entities’. Crucial reforms at the centre are being pushed through by the internationally appointed High Representative with support from NATO and the EU.


Croatia set up new military and security forces on independence and the main task now is to de-politicize them after their civil war experiences. As a credible candidate for NATO membership Croatia is increasingly gearing its defence reforms to standard NATO requirements.

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is doing likewise in the military field, but has problems in creating internal security forces that will be equally representative of and respected by the Albanian ethnic minority.


The State Union of Serbia and Montenegro has been dogged by nationalist influences and made a late start on true defence reform, but is now bidding for Partnership for Peace membership. The current constitutional deal with the province of Montenegro was essentially EU-imposed and remains fragile. The strengthened position of nationalist parties after the latest elections gives cause for concern.


The open question of Kosovo’s ultimate status— which international actors insist can only be reviewed after internal progress—create an extra dimension of instability for the province and the entire region. Serious concerns remain over the safety of the Serb minority there. Although a new-style police force has been created, Kosovar armed forces remain more of a problem than a solution.


Throughout the region, the new reform agenda is an improvement on wartime conditions but the progress made is vulnerable to donor fatigue and is still hampered by imperfect international coordination. The outside world requires more time and patience to ensure that reforms not only give due place to democratic (e.g., parliamentary) institutions, but are achieved with democratic methods and adequate local ownership.



Marina Caparini (Canada) is Senior Fellow at the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), where she coordinates DCAF’s working groups on internal security (police, intelligence and border management) and civil society. Her recent publications include, as editor, Media, Security and Governance (Nomos, 2004) and, as co-editor with Otwin Marenin, Transforming Police in Central and Eastern Europe: Process and Progress (Lit Verlag, 2004). She contributed to the SIPRI Yearbook in 2003.