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Background Briefing on Croatia

Presenter: Senior Defense Official
February 08, 2004
Background Briefing on Croatia

            Briefer: Secretary Rumsfeld's trip to Croatia will the first trip the Secretary has done, he's going to be the first Cabinet official to visit Croatia since 1999 when I believe it was Madeleine Albright who visited.

 

            Q: When did it declare independence from Yugoslavia?

 

            Briefer: 1991. I guess you'd say it's probably around the time that the Kosovo war started. I don't know if it was the beginning of the year -- it was either right before or right after.

 

            Croatia is a member of the Partnership for Peace. It has a membership action plan with NATO. I don't know how many of you might have been along when the Secretary was in Albania this past summer, also a Membership Action Plan country. I know the Deputy stopped in Macedonia and I think the Secretary last year, they're also Membership Action Plan countries.

 

            There are only three of those so-called MAP countries left for invitees in this next round of NATO enlargement.

 

            Q: What were the other two?

 

            Briefer: Macedonia and Albania.

 

            To a certain extent on the political level in particular, Croatia, Macedonia and Albania have been trying to coordinate their efforts to move towards NATO membership. NATO membership is the stated goal of this government. The Croatians had elections in November and a right-of-center government was elected. What this means in foreign policy terms is that the prior government which was a left-of-center government with closer ties, I would say, more emphasis on accession to the European Union as being a top priority. This government has essentially placed NATO membership and EU accession on the same level. So it's a shifting focus. Also it's emphasizing a desire to have closer bilateral relations with the United States. Not just military-to-military relations which have been quite good. We’ve worked with the Croatians on a number of defense reform issues there. And like many other post-communist countries, tried to dramatically downsize their military which has of course socio-economic ramifications and they have an unemployment rate that's reportedly somewhere around 18 percent. That's down from where it was, which was in the low 20s I believe, a couple of years ago.

 

            In addition to defense reform being left out in terms of Croatia's desire to accede to NATO. Their cooperation with the Hague Tribunal is also an issue that's been emphasized. They've had a fairly good record on some of the invitees but there's still one case that the Hague prosecutor is particularly interested in resolving which is General Gatovina. You may have seen it in some of the reports. G-A-T-O-V-I-N-A.

 

            Q: Do you have a first name?

 

            Briefer: I think it's Ante, A-N-T-E.

 

            Q: [inaudible]

 

            Briefer: I don't know the whole case, and it might be something you can ask the embassy about.

 

            Q: Serb atrocities.

 

            Briefer: Yeah, it's atrocities against Serbs but I don't remember what operation it was or where it was.

 

            Q: He's in Croatia, right?

 

            Briefer: I don't know. The government denies it, the news reports in the past say he's been in Bosnia. There was a Le Monde report a couple of weeks ago that he was in France. I do know he's former Foreign Legion. [Laughter] That's the only -- and I just learned that a couple of days ago when I was trying to do a little background thing.

 

            So that's going to be an issue.

 

            I think the Croatians in terms of their Minister of Defense is new to this area. He's a former Mayor of a town in eastern Croatia. The Minister of Foreign Affairs was the Ambassador to the United States during the Tudjman government days. I don't know what the exact years are, but he's very pro-American and very, he's fluent in English so he's someone you can actually -- He'll be giving them both a ride on the airplane so you'll have a chance to meet them.

 

            Q: To Washington?

 

            Briefer: No, from here.

 

            Q: The Foreign Minister and Defense Minister?

 

            Briefer: Foreign Minister and Defense Minister will be riding with us on the airplane, yeah.

 

            Q: Why is he going there?

 

            Briefer: I think he's going there now because, those of you who have traveled with him before, whenever he is at some event or some NATO meeting he tries to see some countries that he hasn't visited or that are active. This is a NATO meeting and Croatia is one of the Membership Action Plan countries that he hasn't visited. He's visited almost every other country, every country I think that's been invited into NATO and then he's visited Albania and Macedonia in the past. He hasn't visited Croatia. It was a good opportunity with a new government in place that desires to have a closer relationship with the United States. We do naval exercises with them, they do have a [inaudible] cooperation, they have an MP unit in Afghanistan since last year, I think they're on their third rotation, they've donated humanitarian assistance, rifles and ammo, to the Afghan National Army. So they've been a good partner as well in the war on terrorism.

 

            The previous government was reticent to get involved in Iraq either OIF or stability operations. That could change. That's something that might be a topic of discussion [inaudible], but some other kinds of units in Iraq.

 

            Q: Is this one of the ten countries we're talking to in addition to the 34 [inaudible]? The Secretary often talks about we're still in conversations with 10 countries about--

 

            Briefer: I'd have to go back to see in what context he placed it in. I think that almost every country, that one doesn't jump to mind. But I think he's had discussions with a lot of countries to contribute to Provincial Reconstruction Teams, [who don’t have] peace-keeping troops.

 

            The partnership with these countries in particular, really focusing on building a peacekeeping capacity. It's a big thing, capacity to participate in stability operations.

 

            I would just say a couple of words on the President. He's been there since 2000. He's a moderate. He's made quite an effort, I would say, to [inaudible] in the area of reconciliation, especially with Serbs. He visited Belgrade not too long ago. So he is trying to build a more public face of Croatia in terms of some of these regional reconciliation issues.

 

            Just as an aside, I met last night with the Minister of Defense of Serbia and Montenegro, and he said he's got pretty good relationships with all his neighbors which I think is something that's a new a welcome feature in terms of regional dynamics.

          

            If you want [inaudible] bring up with Croatia. So FNF and INET were cut off from the American Servicemen's Protection Act that came into effect last year. That of course reduces some of the resources available for structuring their forces.

 

            Q: Is that something [inaudible]?

 

            Briefer: It's possible. Now I know that Croatia, like many other of the EU [inaudible] are under a lot of pressure, some of the EU countries, not to sign an agreement with us even though an agreement is fully consistent with the provisions of the statute because that's why it's called Article 98, because Article 98 says you can reach agreements with non-parties to the ICC.

 

            For them also another factor is that there is some public confusion I don't know to what extent it's because of how it's been presented to the public or whether it's been presented to the public but there is some kind of confusion. There's the Hague Tribunal, and we have to comply with that, and with the ICC, why would you want to have an arrangement with them? So I think we would like to see an Article 98 agreement with Croatia. It facilitates closer cooperation. But it's also going to require some public diplomacy on their part to explain the differences between the two, that we're not a party to the ICC and therefore --

 

            Q: Is Croatia [inaudible]?

 

            Briefer: I think it's a little early to tell. I think our Navy does some exercises there and frankly I really don't know if they would. I think a number of countries asked us about it. I don't, we may get asked are you looking at us or do you have some facilities maybe you'd like to have access or come here more often on a regular basis. That's possible.

 

            Q: So Rumsfeld's message to them will be?

 

            Briefer: We encourage you to move forward with your defense reforms. We know you want to be a member of NATO, we want to help you towards achieving that goal.

 

            Q: And what could you --

 

            Briefer: Thank you for what you've done in the war on terrorism. I think those are basically the messages.

 

            Q: And what have you been told they're going to be saying or seeking from him?

 

            Briefer: I think that, my sense is, and you'll have an opportunity maybe on the airplane to talk to them a bit, but my sense is they're seeking a closer relationship with the United States and the previous government, as I mentioned, emphasized their relations with Germany and France I think to a greater extent and some of the other European countries because they placed EU accession as their top priority. I think given the Prime Minister's experience as Ambassador to Washington, I think he's got some views on having a closer relationship.

 

            Q: Are there other issues [inaudible]? Proliferation [inaudible]?

 

            Briefer: They've actually been supportive on the proliferation front. In fact last year, and I can get you the exact time, I don't have it off the top of my head, the Croatians interdicted some ship, it was called the [inaudible] that was entering, I don't know, it was heading in the direction of the Middle East and it was thought to be going to some state sponsor of terrorism, likely destined for a state sponsor of terrorism. They interdicted it without us asking them to. So they are interested in that.

           

            In fact when I was there last year in February for the first bilateral defense talks with the Croatians, we signed an umbrella agreement that would allow us to work with them on proliferation, WMD, issues and provide them technical efficiencies, an umbrella agreement that you need if you're going to provide technical assistance of equipment to help them with border security and other [inaudible]. So they signed that last year. They're very interested.

 

            Q: Did they find anything on the ship?

 

            Briefer: They found, I forgot what the cargo was. There were definition some munitions of some sort, but I'll have to go back to that. I don't recall it.

 

            Q: What's size of their military? Do you know?

 

            Briefer: Right now they are active duty I think about 43,000 but they have a very large reserve. I've got the exact figure somewhere. But it's kind of a political issue for them, having come out of the war, there's a pretty heavy veterans lobby.

 

            Q: How [inaudible] is the military or the government [inaudible]?

 

            Briefer: I think it's too early to tell. I don't think they have a -- It's too early to see. If there was a pattern before, there was one maybe in the Tudjman government, but not in the last government. In fact the previous Minister of Defense was quite effective, she had been Deputy Prime Minister. She had no military background but she really empathized downsizing. This Minister of Defense doesn't have direct military experience but he's been [inaudible] as a Mayor. We'll just have to see how he's going to work. But their emphasis is on reform.

 

            Q: What's the population?

 

            Briefer: Just under 4.4 million. 4.3 something.

 

            Q: In regards to Article 98, is that a problem in its relations with a lot of these countries in this region?

 

            Briefer: It's a problem in the sense that I think they would like to do it, most of these governments, but they're getting pressure from some EU countries not to sign it, saying if you sign it you're accession to the EU will be in jeopardy. And NATO countries are not covered by the American Services Protection Act. They're not covered. And by [inaudible] at their end, they don't have an issue either. So it's a problem.

 

            Q: Just to go [inaudible] Article 98 basically, it's an agreement under which if a country [inaudible] U.S. servicemembers for war crimes?

 

            Briefer: It's not for war crimes. It basically provides protection against proceedings of the International Criminal Court which are extraterritorial, which actually -- the ICC asserts jurisdiction over non-signatories and non-party members, and it's also extraterritorial. So you could be in a third country and they're part of the ICC and you're not a part of the ICC and they could say okay, there's been a lawsuit filed in another country and we are seeking to implement that. So it's very hard for us to protect our people.

 

            Q: Not just [inaudible], but government officials.

 

            Briefer: Right. Government officials.

 

            Q: [inaudible] hand you over?

 

            Briefer: It provides protections against any kind of proceedings that the ICC would take to undertake. It's mostly political prosecutions.  I'm sure you're read a lot about what happened in Belgium if you didn't write about it yourself.

 

            Q: [inaudible] sensitive issue when [inaudible] former Yugoslavia [inaudible]. We think you should cooperate [inaudible].

 

            Briefer: But I think even the terms of the Hague Tribunal are limited to a particular time, event, and country [inaudible] as opposed to [inaudible].

 

            Q: So we're talking to them about defense reform but right now we're not giving them anything to help them with that?

 

            Briefer: Oh, we do training and exercises with them and we also have when you're a member of the Partnership for Peace there are [inaudible] that can pay for certain kinds of activities as well. Not the kind of equipment that you could get from foreign military financing or international military training and education. It's just not there.

 

            Q: When [inaudible] their country [inaudible] former Yugoslavia [inaudible]?

 

            Briefer: I guess in a way you'd have to kind of talk to the NATO people to see. Each of these countries has several dozen requirements to fulfill. I think they've done well on some. Downsizing has been maybe a little slower than some people would like, but still under the circumstances they went from 44,000 to 33,000 last year. Their professionalization is going well. They're actually ahead in training their NCO Corps, and they're actually bringing in some of their neighbors to help them train them as well. They have a good retention rate for English-language trained officers. They take advantage of educational opportunities.

 

            Q: [inaudible]

 

            Briefer: Yes, that's part of the issue is how to do the [inaudible].

 

            Q: Who are the other NATO countries that [inaudible] helping with the reform process and [inaudible]?

 

            Briefer: I think we were the most active. I think it's also because we have a more generous security assistance program for the most part. So we were the most active largely last year. There were a handful of other NATO countries -- the U.K., the Italians I think have been working with the [European Union] now, to help them. Maybe not financially but would like to help them into NATO. I don't know right off. They've done some things with the Germans and I think even the French have some programs. But nothing on the level of what we do in terms of FMF alignment.

 

            Q: [Inaudible] in terms of some of the other countries, [inaudible]?

 

            Briefer: I think it's, well, the unemployment rate is high, but in terms of when you go there it's more advanced than some of the other countries in Yugoslavia. I wouldn't say it's [inaudible], but if there's a contrast between being in Bosnia and not in Croatia.

 

            Q: Do you believe that NATO [inaudible] party, I forget the name of the Prime Minister.

 

            Briefer: [Sharnada]?

 

            Q: Right. [inaudible]?

 

            Briefer: Time will tell, but they kicked out some of the most extreme, divisive people, so we'll see in terms of policy. I think you, if you're objective you can't have a judgment either way yet. It's a much younger generation, too. It's something that's [inaudible], we're seeing people who are in their mid 40s, early 50s and not what they had in the previous years which was essentially ex-communist party officials who came into power. So we're seeing a generational change. I think it's pretty dramatic and we'll just see if the orientation -- I think they're generally oriented towards the West and I think the previous government was. That's no different. But the internal party [inaudible]. We'll see.

 

            Q: Is there any kind of [inaudible]?

 

            Briefer: Not as big as it was, and they're working on the border issues that they have.

 

            Briefer: There was a [transient] point in the past. A lot of it I think had to do with what was going on in Bosnia and a lot of internationals and a lot of [inaudible] traveled in and out and through there, but I think they've tightened that up.

 

            Anything else?

 

            Q: Thank you.

 

            Q: [inaudible]

 

            Briefer: It's a terrible idea. [inaudible] force in that region?

 

            Q: I know it's not good, but --

 

            Briefer: Why not help it [inaudible]?

 

            Q: Really?

 

            Briefer: The idea [inaudible]. [inaudible] a broad mandate that [inaudible]. [Into the future], over borders, whether or not you're [inaudible]. I don't want to wake up one day 20 years from now and have some anti-American [inaudible] say you were a defense official and [inaudible] we're going to have to pick you up. It's a tricky proceeding. But [inaudible].

 

            Q: But the flip side is can we be able to defend ourselves and be okay in the eyes of the world that we were in something that's bigger than just the U.S. [inaudible]?

 

            Briefer: [inaudible] idea?

 

            Q: I don't know. Has it ever been debated?

 

            Briefer: Yeah, I think a lot of it was deliberated when the decision was made, sure. I don't think [inaudible]. [inaudible]

 

            Q: No, [inaudible].

 

            Briefer: But I think [inaudible].