A new military buildup in the Balkans
Around the world, countries are spending more on their militaries, a trend that is already evident in the Western Balkans. In 2018, global military expenditure rose to $1.7 trillion, its highest level since the end of the Cold War. At a NATO summit in July, United States President Donald Trump insisted that the alliance should double its military spending target, from 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to 4 percent. The European Union will spend more than 5 billion euros annually on funding defense research and arms acquisition through its new European Defense Fund.
These developments raise concerns about a military buildup in the region, either through hybrid warfare or new deployments and bases.
A quarter-century after countries in the Balkans reduced their military capabilities, many are beginning to reverse course. The trend is fueled by a media frenzy and political parties spewing ethnic hate-speech and pushing nationalist agendas.
Unresolved disputes in the Balkans will offer justification for governments to strengthen their armies and keep democratic institutions weak. Global military powerhouses are already getting involved: Serbia and Republika Srpska (an autonomous, majority-Serb region in Bosnia and Herzegovina) will receive Russian weapons and even bases. NATO also plans to build bases in the region.
NATO vs. Russia
For now, most NATO aspirants from the Western Balkans do not meet the alliance’s two per cent of GDP defense spending goal. Macedonia last hit that target in 2007, when it spent 2.15 per cent of its GDP on defence. In 2018, the figure fell to one per cent. This resulted from a planned reduction in the country’s active military personnel, from about 8,200 to about 6,800.
In 2017, Serbia spent 731 million US dollars on its military, the most in the region, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Albania spent 162 million US dollars, Macedonia 112 million US dollars and Montenegro 74 million US dollars.