By the end of last year, the MPs at the National Assembly have been served several draft laws and two strategies in the sphere of defense and security. The greatest attention of the MPs was invoked, quite justifiably, by the National Security Strategy and Defense Strategy, as well as draft bills on military security services and the use of armed forces in multinational operations. These are extremely important documents and their adoption had been long awaited.

Despite certain deficiencies that plague these documents, they will, without doubt, contribute to legal regulation of the security sector and provide at least some type of guidelines for the security policy of Serbia. Nevertheless, overshadowed by far by these important  documents, there is a Law on Amendments and Supplements of the Law on Serbian Armed Forces, which only at the first glance appears to be less important. Among other things, this Law proposes to include Article 14a in the existing Law on Serbian Armed Forces.

Due to far reaching consequences that may occur if this article is adopted, it is quoted here in entirety: “Professional members of the Serbian Armed Forces are not allowed to participate in the activities of the associations aiming to achieve the following goals: reform of the defense system and the Serbian Armed Forces, harmonization of the regulations with the generally accepted standards and regulations of the European Union, development of the defense strategy and the Serbian Armed Forces Doctrine determining the composition, organization, and formation of the Serbian Armed Forces; operational and functional capability, the Serbian Armed Forces’ use and recruiting; readiness and drafting; combat equipment and material; commanding and reporting in the Serbian Armed Forces and the defense system management; participation in the multinational operations and internal relations in the Serbian Armed Forces.”

If I understand Article 14a right, it forbids any contact between the professional members of the Serbian Armed Forces and civil society organizations directly or indirectly dealing with the issues of defense and security, and there are 40 of them in Serbia. This number
is even higher when we ad associations dealing with European integrations having in mind that they, too, are “blacklisted”.

Professional soldiers is forbidden to, e.g. participate in the round tables, expert discussions, and panels organized by these associations. Moreover, they would not be able to publish papers in the scientific magazines and professional publications edited by these associations. Finally, any possible cooperation between the civil society
organizations and the Army, constituting an integral part of the modern democratic civil-military relations, would be precluded at the very beginning.

The criticism of the Article 14a has both legal and political dimension. As for its lack of a legal basis, one must point out that the existing Law on Serbian Armed Forces, in Article 14, has already deprived the professional military personnel of a right to membership in political parties, as well as a right to a strike. These solutions have been adopted with a view to depoliticizing the Army and they stem from the Serbian Constitution itself, which in article 55 sets forth that “members of the army may not be members of political parties”. Nevertheless, the Constitution does not restrict anyone – professional members of the Army inclusive – when it comes to participating in the activities of the citizens’ associations as foreseen by the proposed Article 14a. In addition, this article is also contrary to Article 141 of the Constitution, which says that the “Serbian Armed Forces (are) placed under democratic and civil control”, as well as Article 29 of the Law on Serbian Armed Forces, which sets forth that “democratic and civil control of the Serbian Armed Forces is carried out by the National Assembly, Ombudsman, and other public administration bodies according to their competence, the citizens, and the public”. The question is how can the citizens exercise control over the military, if their associations are forbidden to have contact with the professional members of the army? In addition, if Article 14a is implemented, this will create a paradoxical situation where the military may become members of foreign professional associations (Article 50 of the Law on Serbian Armed Forces), but in turn they are forbidden to participate in any of the activities of the local associations.

Even more important than the lack of its legal basis are the political consequences of this Article. The oversight function of the public and civil society is one of the several pillars of the democratic/civil control of the security sector (in addition to parliamentary control, executive power control, internal control, judicial inquiry, and independent institutions control). The communication between the independent research centers and the public security sector is both achieving a democratic character of the debate on security policy through the inclusion of a large number of stakeholders therein and, as a rule, leading to better quality, smarter policies. It was back in Thucydides’ time, that he perceived that the democracies are much more successful in waging war than autocracies. This is supported by historical statistics showing that the states having democratic systems were winning in as much as 80% of the wars they waged, which is far more than the states having other types of systems.

One of the reasons for such outcome lies in a very simple fact that more people are smarter than fewer people. Finally, the modern military sociology also warns against the perils of alienating professional army from the broader societal values. Isolation of the professional members of the Serbian Armed Forces from the civil society will definitely not help in living up to this challenge, which we must face in the future.

In the nineties, the citizens’ associations were treated by the security sector as “internal enemies”. After the year 2000 their status has been promoted to “inevitable nuisance” – an unpleasant, but still an integral part of the democratic transition and reform of the security sector. Ten years later, instead of celebrating the citizens’ associations being promoted to a “useful resource” for the security sector, the Article 14a brings us back to the starting point. In the last several years, a lot of effort has been put in on both sides, to establish communication channels and sustainable forms of cooperation. Article 14a threatens to undermine this cooperation, or even demolish it by a single blow, by way of outlawing it. The best solution would be to remove the discussed article from the Law. However, if this is not possible at this moment, then the Law better should not be implemented. Although it would be bad to fully implement the article 14a, the worst case scenario would still be selective implementation as a tool for dealing with disobedient parts of civil society.

Peščanik, 8.9.2009.

Previous articleDangerous liaisons: securitization theory and Schmittian legacy
Next articleVojno neutralna Srbija i “nova” evropska bezbednosna arhitektura