The Nando Times - YU army officers call for serious cutbacks

By ALEKSANDAR VASOVIC

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (December 24, 1999) - After four unsuccessful wars, the Yugoslav army is in need of massive belt tightening, say some current and past senior officers - including a troop reduction of more than 50 percent.

Problems financing a large military establishment, coupled with the failure of Yugoslavia's air force to defend itself during this year's conflict with NATO over Kosovo, have convinced many Yugoslav officers that the future lies in an armed force made up of rapid reaction units of well-paid and trained professional soldiers rather than thousands of poorly paid conscripts.

"Warfare has changed, and the tools needed," said Gen. Marko Negovanovic, former head of army intelligence.

Once a mighty army of former Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, the Yugoslav military today lacks money, state-of-the-art weaponry and a functioning local defense industry.

And after NATO's 78-day air campaign,the country's generals are preparing for the possible reduction in the size of the army from 120,000 to about 50,000. A high-ranking Yugoslav officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said President Slobodan Milosevic has approved the cutbacks.

Some 65 percent of Yugoslavia's budget for fiscal year 1999 - about $1 billion - goes for defense.

"The nation is exhausted financially and has no energy for new wars," said retired Gen. Zivota Panic, the army's former chief of staff. "The army is the biggest burden on the national budget, and therefore a thorough reorganization is a necessity."

With the price tag of a complete overhaul possibly topping $10 billion, Panic said the military must focus on trying to reconstruct what it has.

Yugoslav generals have concluded that future wars would probably be small- to medium-sized conflicts with enemies attacking by air, rather than huge attacks with tanks and other armored vehicles as was feared during the Cold War.

Under the plan, the majority of the 16,700 airmen would be out of work. The air force's 15 Russian-built MiG-29 fighters were crippled during NATO's bombing campaign, and a number of MiG-21 interceptors are nearing the end of their lifespans.

Meanwhile, the majority of the country's navy vessels could end up in the scrap yard. Maritime forces are weak, with few operational craft.

A continuing debate is whether the army should be rebuilt in order to perform a defensive role against NATO - or to become a future partner of it.

"If we need Europe, we need NATO," Negovanovic said, voicing the opinion of many officers who believe the country's future lies with European integration - something the West is not prepared to offer as long as Milosevic remains in power.

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