Ioannis Michaletos
(RIEAS Junior Analyst and Editor, Southeast Europe at the World Security Foundation)


At this time the Balkans is one of the most heavily armed areas in Europe and it remains one of the crucial regions for geo-strategic analysis, as far as the international balance of power is concerned.

It is a peninsula that is sufficiently close to Russia, the Middle East and Western Europe alike to become important in cases of power shifts like the major one that happened after 1989, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Defense developments in the region are thus of profound interest for everyone involved in forecasting, analysis and policy making. This article considers defense procurement trends in two Balkan countries, Serbia and Bulgaria. The former is in the epicenter because of the ongoing Kosovo status negotiations and the recent break – up with Montenegro, whilst the latter has recently joined the Euro – Atlantic military structure.

Serbia & Montenegro

Years after the wars of the 1990’s in the former Yugoslavia, the country still faces relative geopolitical isolation as far as defense procurements are involved. Since Yugoslav times, there has been no notable change in Serbia’s arsenal. It is more than certain that in the coming years there is going to be a significant reduction in its armed forces, for economic reasons as well as because of NATO aspirations. In fact, according to a report (1), by 2007 compulsory military service will be phased out as Serbia moves towards a fully professional army.
However, there hasn't been much news regarding new procurement, except perhaps for procurement scandal that shook up the Serbian defense ministry last year(2). But Serbia, once a great military producer as the major industrial republic of the former Yugoslavia, may well seek to again manufacture what armaments it can domestically. It is assumed that production capacity has been mended following the heavy damage inflicted by NATO in its 1999 bombing campaign. With its existing defense facilities and factories, Serbia is capable of producing a wide range of ammunitions, electronics, anti-armor and anti-aircraft missiles.
The estimated total size of the army of Serbia is 55,000 personnel (Before the break- up of Montenegro). This includes non-combat units, paramedics, telecommunication, civil and aircraft defense battalions and units of virtual mobilization, usually situated in the countryside.

Of this total, 28,000 soldiers are on constant active duty. The Serbian army has a unique and quite effective mobilization scheme, in which the armed forces are composed of a three-part force designed for quick mobilization in time of need (3). The active units are always on call; they are followed by secondary ones, and finally reserves who keep their weaponry and uniforms at home. In a time of total mobilization, they can all appear in the units to which they were originally assigned at the time of their compulsory military service. This is a non-centralized structure very flexible for small states. Similar systems operate in Switzerland and Cyprus.
However whether this system can survive the expected downsizing and phasing out of compulsory service remains to be seen. In geopolitical terms, the country is a purely continental power, and its main preoccupation is to command a considerable and well organized infantry and army in general. It is highly likely that this role will be severely strained in the future and it is more than certain to expect grumbling from army officials as their role is gradually reduced.
Such reductions will also lessen the country’s traditional geo-strategic capabilities, perhaps the most significant regional trend given the possibility that war with Kosovo Albanians, who are now becoming increasingly well armed, could break out again at some point in the not so distant future. Furthermore, after Montenegro’s break away from Serbia, the result sees Serbia totally landlocked and Montenegro left without any realistic means of defending itself in the case of any potential conflict with its own Albanian secessionist elements. Reducing Serbia’s historic role of military superiority in the Balkans will have far-reaching ramifications for the regional balance of power.


At the time, Bulgaria is mainly preoccupied with the reduction of its armed forces, following the mandates of NATO. After its recent inclusion in the alliance, Bulgaria is projecting that the total cut will reach 50% of its active forces (4). Simultaneously, Western armaments are going to be introduced in order to phase out Bulgaria’s Soviet-era weaponry. This is the first time since the creation of the Bulgarian state in the late 19th century that the country seems to be abandoning the preservation of strong troop numbers, changing its historic role to achieve other strategic goals, namely NATO standards and the forthcoming EU accession.
In May 2004, the government unfolded a plan for the armed forces called "Vision and Development for the Armed Forces -2015-“(5). It ordains the procurements of certain armaments worth 1.5 billion Levas for the period 2005-2007, for ground and air forces as well as new, high-tech electronics systems. The acquisitions show Bulgaria’s strong desire to re-orient its arsenal away from old Soviet-made gear and towards Western production, not surprising in light of Bulgaria’s imminent entry into the EU.
Among the goods were included 12,900 vehicles from the Daimler – Chrysler Group (6), 12 AS-532AL Cougar helicopters and 6 AS 565MB Panther ones from Eurocopter (7). Another 8 C27j Spartan transport planes produced by Alenia Aeronautica (8) are to be ordered, and the Belgian navy will provide 1 Wielingen-class corvette. The electronic systems will be obtained from various producers.
On overall the ongoing process in the military affairs in Serbia, is still in a flux. The preoccupations of the Serbian administration mainly with Kosovo and its relations with the West are hindering any big changes in its current defense structure. At this point it is interesting to note that quite recently it achieved two defense agreements with Greece (9) and USA (10), perhaps a turning point in its current military state of affairs.
Bulgaria now is involved in regrouping its military strength and follows NATO standards in order to align itself with the rest of the member states. That includes the procurement of armaments suitable to the overall needs of the alliance and gradually replenishes its Soviet era arms inventory.  The country’s future direction will be characterized in the defense field by an introduction of lighter forces aiming in achieving greater force projection results with less manpower, in relation to the low birth rate that Bulgaria is facing (11).

Appendix: Breakdown of Military Resources by Country

Serbia (1)

Defense Budget: 0.9 billion euros
Troop Numbers, Army: 55,000
Troop Numbers, Navy: 3,500
Troop Numbers, Air Force: 10,000
Tanks: M84, T-72 & T-64 types- 630
Artillery: M77 & M63 types- 72
Combat Planes: MIG-29, 21 & Orao types- 125
Attack Helicopters: Gazelle type- 65
Frigates: 0
Submarines: SAVA type- 1
SAM’s: 994 total [Strela 1 (113 units), Strela 10 (17 units), Igla 1 (200 units), 2K-12 (6 units), S-75 (8 units), S-125 (8 units), Strela 2M (650 units)]
(1)The exact composition of the Serbian armed forces might differ in the near future after Montenegro’s independence. Changes most certainly would occur in the navy since Serbia does not have any coastline to defend.


Defense Budget: 1.0 billion euros
Troop Numbers, Army: 28,280
Troop Numbers, Navy: 4,400
Troop Numbers, Air Force: 15,600
Tanks: T-72 type- 429
Artillery: BM-21 type- 222
Combat Planes: MIG 29, 23, 21& Su 25k types- 206
Attack Helicopters: Mi-17 type- 24
Frigates: 0
Submarines: 0
SAM’s: 661 total [S-300 (2 units), S-75 (22 units), S-125 (34 units), Strela-10 (20 units), Strela-2 (500 units), 2K-12 (32 units), 2K-11(27), Osa-AK (24 units)]


1)A report by John C. K Daly on  on 28/11/2005
2)A report by Jelena Tusup on  on 20/09/2005

1) –The Serbian Ministry of Defense-
2) –The Bulgarian Ministry of Defense-
3) –Military balance reports and assessments-
4) –The Center for Strategic and International Studies-
5) –The International Institute for Strategic Studies-
6) –The Swedish International Peace Research Institute
7) – Norwegian Institute of International Affairs-
8) – International Security Network-
9) – Portal dedicated in military and security studies

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