Experts Sceptical over Proposals to Use Croatian Army to Guard Boarders

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Differing opinions about government’s decision

Croatian government adopted the proposal to change the laws which would allow Croatian Army to help police forces in guarding the borders with regards to the migration crisis. The government stressed that the army would be used only if conditions worsen and that Croatia would continue to treat migrants humanely. Security experts are sceptical about whether the decision is justified, reports on March 5, 2016.

Igor Tabak, a military and security analyst, says that readiness of the Croatian armed forces in such situations is questionable, unlike in Slovenia which, as part of the KFOR forces in Kosovo, has regularly trained its soldiers to combat mass riots and introduce order. “There have been no recent army exercises in suppression of mass riots, and former Interior Minister Ostojić recently said that Croatia has more than 6,000 border police officers who are specialized for border supervision. In contrast to the Interior Ministry which has a considerably larger budget than the Defence Ministry and whose funds this year will not be cut, the army has not been trained or equipped for rapid response to such security threats”, says Tabak.

He warns that on the one hand the military is being given additional responsibilities, while at the same time its budget is being reduced. Even before this latest legislative changes, it was possible for the army to assist civilian authorities in cases of “immediate threat or when government bodies are prevented from regularly performing their constitutional duties”. Tabak emphasises that military should be used only if all the other resources were to be exhausted. He reiterates that the problem is the lack of money for the army, which is still being used for various purposes like helping in fighting large forest fires and floods, while police has all the necessary resources to solve problems at the border.

Goran Bandov, an expert in international political relations and international public law with a focus on human rights and protection of minorities, believes that the roles of the army and police in western democracies differ significantly and that such demarcation of powers should be further strengthened. “Croatian police forces have been very successful in managing the migration wave, and there were no incidents despite more than half a million migrants who have passed through Croatia. Cooperation with other countries on the Balkan route is very successful, especially since the introduction of the single migration document. Consequently, at this point, I do not see the need for any serious army engagement”, says Bandov who believes that the police should be given further support.

“If the blockade of migrants on the border between Macedonia and Greece continues over a longer period, smugglers will try to steer migrants towards Italy. Other possible route is through Bulgaria and Romania, but that is less likely because migrants and smugglers will try to avoid Bulgarian law enforcement”, continues Bandov. He adds that it is unlike the route might divert to Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, because the area has very poor road connections and is geographically unfavourable due to hilly terrain. “There is a possibility that some of the smugglers might transfer migrants to Montenegro or Croatia by sea, in order to avoid the Italian border controls. However, in that case it would still be only a small number of people. But, if Albania would join Macedonia in closing its border with Greece, then Croatia would no longer be on any migrant route”, concludes Bandov.


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