The safe and law-abiding Balkans

Via the invaluable Osservatorio sui Balcani comes a fascinating report on crime in the Balkans. It’s by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (ONODC), and it offers some surprising conclusions:

[The] Balkans is safer than thought…

With detailed, comprehensive statistics, the report concludes that the Balkans, contrary to widespread opinion, does not have a problem with conventional crime: “South East Europe does not, in fact, suffer from high rates of crime, at least in terms of the range of offences commonly referred to as ‘conventional crime’: murder, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, theft and the like. In fact, most of the region is safer than West Europe in this respect.” The report notes, “This key fact is often omitted from discussions on crime in the region.”

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Economic Interdependence Knits Europe Together (Perhaps)

Well, sort of. I somehow doubt Jean Monnet would have been thinking of this when he came up with the idea of a Europe so closely bound together by trade war would be forever impossible. Rogue Planet reports that the biggest buyer of Bosnian armaments is…Serbia. Bosnia is also the biggest supplier to Serbia. Yes, that’s right; the people who were the targets of the JNA’s artillery in 1993 are selling its current owners the shells to go with it, and the people whose kinsmen were driven out of eastern Slavonia in 1995 by the Bosnian and Croat armies are relying on them for their ammunition.

I’m not sure whether this is a heartening sign of increasing inter-dependence in the Balkans, a merely pragmatic way of bringing in some foreign exchange and taking advantage of the fact both parties have the same knockoff Soviet equipment, or insanity.

As they say, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Given that one of Bosnia’s few assets is a collection of Yugoslav arsenals and a big pile of left-over ammunition, you can hardly blame them for trying to turn them into cash. But Serbia? Right now on the eve of Kosovar independence? Isn’t that a tad risky?

In fact, the weapons may well be safer in Serbia than any of the alternatives. An under-reported story of the times has been the export of large amounts of weaponry from Bosnia-Herzegovina to a wide range of wars around the world. Not only is the Bosnian government keen to sell, it’s also spectacularly corrupt, and its officials are known to have connived at smuggling arms past the EU checkpoints at the ports and airports. One of the biggest arms-smuggling networks, that around Jet Line International and Tomislav Damjanovic, actually got started in the Bosnian war, and they were involved in the notorious incident of the 99 tonnes of armaments bought by US agents in Bosnia for use by the Iraqi army, and flown out by the even more notorious smuggler Viktor Bout, that never arrived in Iraq and remain untraced to this day.

Given that there is not currently a war in the Balkans, and that Serbia is more like a functioning state than, say, Iraq or Somalia – both places that have imported (and possibly re-exported) guns from Bosnia – it’s quite possibly better that the weapons go to Serbia than anywhere they are more likely to be used or to vanish into the black market. This, of course, assumes that the Serbs are not planning to re-sell them, which is quite a large assumption.

A Big Hand for Slovenia!

Liberation operates a clutch of good blogs; as well as AFOE Satin Pajama nominee Jean Quatremer’s Coulisses de Bruxelles, which everyone knows, there’s also an absolutely cracking blog on French and European national security issues.

They point out here that Slovenia, which took over as holder of the EU presidency on the 1st of January, is militarily the tiniest of states, with a total of 7,349 men in arms, one ship, a dozen Pilatus turboprop planes and 4 Cougar helicopters. It’s got to be one of the few good points about the rotating presidency that it is unrivalled in its ability to distribute power on the international stage to states this small and otherwise unknown.

On the other hand, though, as Secret Defense also points out, the EU is still struggling to put together the promised peacekeeping mission to Chad. The problems are essentially that the member states are not forking out to provide enough support helicopters and tactical transport aircraft to support the force in part of the world with essentially no infrastructure. There is not really a shortage of choppers; even Slovenia has four, right? However, they are one of those assets which is always in short supply; national armies are very unwilling to part with them.

The UK, meanwhile, is faced with a highly helivorous commitment in Afghanistan which has led it to buy Merlins from Denmark and Portugal in order to form another Naval helicopter squadron. It’s hard to see a specifically European solution to this; it certainly seems sensible that countries like Slovenia might contribute cash (as they will soon be a net contributor) rather than maintain a micro-air force, but this is always going to be a hard sell. There’s also an argument that dispersing these capabilities among smaller states means they will be more available for EU tasks; Austria isn’t likely to invade Iraq. What say the comments?