Increasing Arms Race in the Western Balkans

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States faced a new challenge after Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Ongoing war caused regional instability while causing global crisis. In that sense, the Balkans stand out in that sense. Because the developments based on Ukraine reminded bloody events in the Balkans in 1990s, while making the insecure environment in the region to be more fragile. It is claimed that Russia will try to shift the focal point from the Ukrainian War, making the region more destabilize by using the problems in the region. In that sense, recent events devastated the regional stability.[1]

It can be said that the countries of the region joined in an arms race immediately. Especially Serbia and Croatia took significant steps on that issue. Even Igor Tabak, a member of the Defence Committee of Parliament of Croatia, defends that increasing armament is not an act of defence,[2] in fact it is somehow a show-off, when the instability was considered, it is possible to observe the crises caused by armament rivalry.

In fact, the armament discussions have started far before the Ukrainian War broke out. As a matter of fact, Croatia strengthen its current defence systems by purchasing rocket system from the United States (US) in 2015, while Serbia tried to strengthen its defence system by approaching towards Russia. According to the data of 2019, Serbia spent 1.14 billion dollars more on defence comparing to previous years. Croatia, on the other hand, spent over 2 billion dollars to the army between 2018 and 2020.[3] In 2020, Serbia left 2% of its total budget to defense spending.[4] At the end of 2021, Croatia purchasing 12 war plane from France caused to claims that Croatia, a member of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and a member of EU, is in an arms race against Serbia. Because Serbia purchased 10 Mig-29 jets from Russia as a “gift” in 2018, and therefore signaled that in future it will strengthen its defence system. Those allegations on arms race issue strengthened more after that step.[5]

In addition to all those developments, Serbia purchasing air defense system from China after Ukrainian War, caused the actor, which is already in the region in terms of economic sense, to be included in defense arena. Besides, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic openly stated that he wanted to purchase an armed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and improve the army inventory, adding a different dimension to these developments.[6]

Moreover, not only Serbia and Croatia, but also North Macedonia, Greece and Bulgaria are increasing their defence spending rapidly.[7]

It can be said that these developments of increasing armament acts of the countries would not cause a crisis; however, when the background of the acts are analyzed, different comments can be made. Because these former members of Yugoslavia declared their independence after bloody conflicts.

Religious and ethnic conflicts were the main drivers of the collapse of Yugoslavia. Especially events in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992-1995 are solid examples of this. It is needed to be clarified that the disputes causing the conflict was not solved after the war, yet just froze the crises. Therefore, it can be said that ethnical and religious disputes are continuing.

In the current tension between Serbia-Kosovo and conflict between the two ethnicities, Serbian Republic and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which create the Bosnia and Herzegovina, this status quo can be seen.[8] That’s why, the steps taken over armament are not innocent. In contrast, creates security dilemma in the regional level. Because armament movements of Serbia and efforts to strengthen its army encourage Milorad Dodik, leader of Serbian Republic to express separationist words. Because the expressions of Dodik[9] regarding that he will establish his own army, increased lately and caused deepening insecurity in Bosnia, such an unstable country. Moreover, when it is considered that President of Serbia wants to purchase UAVs, it can be said that the geopolitical fault line could move.

As a result, Western Balkans, in other words the region which former Republics of Yugoslavia located, does not have stability, prosperity, or peace. Even the steps are taken for stabilizing the region, the increasing nationalist discourse and lack of sincerity between the states of the region aggravates building permanent peace. In addition, the developments such as Ukrainian War increases the fragility in the region. Therefore, the rise of military spending of those countries such as Serbia, Croatia and North Macedonia can be read as a herald of crisis in the future.

[1] Pierre Morcos, “The War in Ukraine: Aftershocks in the Balkans”, CSIS, , (Date of Accession: 23.07.2022).

[2] Across The Balkans: What’s behind the Arms Buildup in the Balkans? (19.04.2022), Youtube, TRT World, (Date of Accession: 23.07.2022).

[3] Boyan Tsonev, “The Balkans: A New Arms Race?”, Ejercitos,, (Date of Accession: 23.07.2022).

[4] Jovana Đurović, “Kinesko naoružanje u Srbiji usred rata u Ukrajini – šta poručuju Peking i Beograd”, Glas Amerike,, (Date of Accession: 23.07.2022).

[5] “Serbia Takes Delivery Of Two Russian MiG-29 Fighter Jets”, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty,, (Date of Accession: 23.07.2022).

[6] “Srbija želi da nabavi naoružane bespilotne letelice – ko su proizvođači i šta je moguće kupiti?”, Tango Six Portal,, (Date of Accession: 23.07.2022).

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Managing the Risks of Instability in the Western Balkans”, Crisis Group,, (Date of Accession: 23.07.2022).

[9] “Bosnian Serb Leader Dodik Says Entity Will Withdraw From Joint Military, Judiciary”, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty,, (Date of Accession: 23.07.2022).

Mustafa Çuhadar, İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi İngiliz Dili ve Edebiyatı Bölümü mezunudur. Lisans döneminde disiplinlerarası çalışmalarına ağırlık veren Çuhadar'ın başlıca çalışma alanları, Balkanlar ve İstihbarat çalışmalarıdır. 2021 yılında Ankara Üniversitesi Türk İnkılap Tarihi Enstitüsü’nde yüksek lisans eğitimine başlayan Çuhadar, halihazırda Bosna Hersek’teki siyasi partileri inceleyen yüksek lisans tezini hazırlamaktadır. Çuhadar, iyi derecede İngilizce, Boşnakça, Hırvatça ve Sırpça ve temel seviyede Almanca bilmektedir.