Balkan Strategic Studies
December 31, 1992
STRATEGIC POLICY INTERVIEW: COL.-GEN. ZIVOTA PANIC
Yugoslavia Braces For A New Conflict Which Is Being Imposed From Abroad
The Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the new Yugoslavia, Col.-Gen. Zivota Panic, spoke at length with Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy about the threats of a war which is being wished on his country, regardless of any actions his own State could take.
Strategic Policy Editor-in-Chief Gregory Copley and Associate
Publisher Bill Carr met this month with the Chief of the General Staff of the
Armed Forces of Yugoslavia,
Colonel-General Zivota Panic, to pose questions not answered -- or not asked --
in the Western professional and general media about the strategic situation in
the Balkans. What the Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy
discussions with Col.-Gen. Panic and many other senior and junior Yugoslav
officers revealed was not, as has been widely stated in the West, that Yugoslav
and Serb leaders doubted the West's resolve to act in the Balkan crisis. Rather,
there was a general belief that the West would and could act, despite all
credible intelligence which should ensure that there was no just cause for such
action. There was also a recognition that if war was imposed on Yugoslavia
despite all protestations and efforts to avert conflict, then the Yugoslav Armed
Forces would prosecute the national defence on the widest possible canvas.
General Panic, the secession of some of the member republics of the former Yugoslav Federation has meant that there is no clear picture now -- as far as much of the international community is concerned -- as to what comprises the Yugoslav Armed Forces (JNA). Can you give some idea of how the Federal Armed Forces have changed in structure, size, equipment and mission from, say, two years ago?
As you know, the international community has recognised, as independent states, three of the republics of the former SFRY: Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The last contingent of soldiers of the former Yugoslav Peoples' Army who were citizens of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, left Bosnia-Herzegovina on May 19, 1992. There are now no members of the Armed Forces of Yugoslavia whatsoever deployed outside the territory of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which today consists of the republics of Serbia and Montenegro.
In July 1991, formational strength of the former military force [ie: of the old Yugoslavia] was 165,592 soldiers and ground 40,000 officers. The peacetime strength of the Armed Forces of Yugoslavia is now between 100,000 and 120,000, of which half are professionals.
Numerous changes have been made from the old military structure. We have a new defence concept. A qualitative personnel change has been implemented and instead of the four Military Districts, which we formerly had, there are now three Armies [Army Groups with geographic areas of responsibility] and two other, separate services, the Air Force (RV) and Air Defence Force (PVO) [as a single service], and the Navy. The territorial component of the Armed Forces has been abandoned, and the partisan echelon disbanded.
The Armed Forces of Yugoslavia is now composed of Serbian-Montenegran recruits and officers with high combat spirit and power, based on the best of the wartime traditions of these two peoples. So a number of essential conceptual as well as other changes -- personnel, organisation, legal and materiel and technical -- have already been introduced.
The basic task of the Armed Forces of Yugoslavia, then, is the defence of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
To what extent are the Federal Armed Forces still operating outside the new borders now generally accepted, at least for the time being of the Yugoslav Federation (ie: Serbia and Montenegro)?
Not only do they not perform combat operations, but there isn't a single unit or member of the Armed Forces of Yugoslavia outside the borders of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. We have been emphasising this fact for some time now, but the media in the West keeps accusing us of participating in the armed conflict outside our country. It is clear from their reporting that the editors in the West do not wish to accept this fact.
There seems to be confusion as to the operations of the Yugoslav Federal Armed Forces, the forces of the Serbian republic, and the forces of Serbs living in Bosnia. Can you say what connections exist between these three sets of forces, including any joint operational or command structure or operations, and equipment sharing etc.?
The Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been living in that Republic for centuries, and make up more than 30 percent of the population of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They are spread over, and legally own, more than half of the territory of that Republic. [In fact, more than 65 percent -- Ed.]
The Serbian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina have formed their own state -- the Serb Republic -- and their own armed forces in order to resist being forced to leave their land. The military arm of the Serb Republic [not to be confused with the Republic of Serbia in Yugoslavia -- Ed.] is fighting the Muslim and Croatian Armed Forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia does not have any military formations in Bosnia or Herzegovina. So it is incorrect and senseless to speak about Yugoslavia's direct involvement in the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Claims that (Yugoslav) Serbia is responsible for the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina are absolutely groundless. The help provided to the Bosnian Serbs by Yugoslavia is humanitarian, not military.
Neither Serbia, nor the Federal Republic Yugoslavia, are involved in that war. The war is not an act of Serbian aggression, but a complex issue involving competing religions and inter-ethnic and civil armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And the initiator of the conflict was the Croatian and Muslim coalition.
The new Armed Forces of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia have been acquiring massive amounts of defence equipment since the Balkan conflict flared up. These acquisitions violate some international agreements and clearly have been undertaken clandestinely. But how have the Yugoslav Federal Armed Forces been able to get their equipment, ordnance, etc. during this period?
First, let me say that we have irrefutable proof with regard to the preconflict arming of military formations in the former republics of the (then) Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and the many violations of the arms embargo. The evidence has been made available to the relevant international bodies, including the most senior representatives of the European Community (EC) and the United Nations (UN).
Since the Armed Forces of Yugoslavia are not at war, out supply and procurement is done in the usual way from indigenous sources. Priority is given to those parts of the Armed Forces and to the weapons and equipment which are crucial for the defence of sovereignty and integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Is the defence industrial base which was well-known in the former Yugoslavia still functioning? And would you say that you are fairly well self-sufficient in defence materiel?
Yes, conceptually speaking, the existing military industry of Yugoslavia can satisfy the needs of the Yugoslav Armed Forces very quickly. Of course part of the military industrial capacity of the former Yugoslavia remained in the secessionist republics when the SFRY broke up. Some of that capacity has been destroyed; some of it has been rendered useless; but most of the capacity was moved to [within the newborders of the] Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
There are no particular difficulties in terms of skilled labour availability and no technical or technological problems with regard to continuation of production of current military equipment. And despite the current materiel and financial difficulties, as well as the sanctions, new projects for the production of ordnance are in the preparatory phase. One such project is the production of the new domestic tank, others include new missile systems, and so on.
Our people know that freedom is the most expensive commodity. Over the centuries our forefathers have sacrificed their lives for it, and today the people are prepared to defend Yugoslavia and their freedom with all available means.
Yugoslavia was, in the past, known to have conducted considerable research into nuclear, chemical and biological defences and, one would assume, into weapons in the NBC arenas. Can you give some idea of the current situation in Yugoslavia in the areas of defences and of weapons (if any) in the nuclear, biological and chemical arenas?
The former SFRY did not carry out research in the field of the wartime use of nuclear, chemical and biological combat means. All of our efforts were directed toward collective and personal protection in a hostile NBC environment. Yugoslavia's domestic industry, in fact, produces sufficient quantities of detection and protection systems, including equipment and organisations which are used for dealing with the consequences of hostile nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Has the current conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina led you to reconsider the Yugoslav Armed Force's operating rationale, strategies and/or doctrines? Were your forces prepared for such combat conditions?
I should say, firstly, that the defence concept of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia stems from factors which are not affected by the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Our defence system is and Yugoslavia's entire military development is based on the analysis of all significant foreign and internal factors.
It is imperative, of course, that we evaluate the military-political position of the country within the context of the new ratio of forces in the world, on the regional level, and in the immediate neighbourhood. Naturally, the Bosnian experience of the former Yugoslav Army is carefully studied by the military of today's Yugoslavia.
To what extent have the Yugoslav Armed Forces been involved, if at all, in supporting United Nations humanitarian operations in the former Yugoslav republics?
The Armed Forces of Yugoslavia provide all necessary support to the humanitarian convoys which are sent to Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, we can only support [international] aid convoys while they are on Federal territory (ie: Serbia and Montenegro). We shall continue to provide this support into the future.
Have the Yugoslav Armed Forces been put in a position to respond to the build-up of the Albanian Armed Forces on your border in December 1992?
I can assure you that the Armed Forces of Yugoslavia are prepared to respond to armed provocations and any attack, no matter who the potential aggressor may be, including the Albanian Armed Forces. We are fully prepared in all respects for an engagement of this type.
There has been discussion of UN-sponsored military action against Yugoslav territory, Serbia in particular, for alleged Serbian or Yugoslav actions in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Could the Yugoslav Armed Forces respond to such threats? What would you foresee as the consequences of such a conflict?
We believe that the danger of foreign military intervention is still there. We are being subjected to continuous, unjustified pressures which are imposed on all sorts of excuses. But if there is military intervention, then we shall defend our freedom, independence and territorial integrity with all available means.
Our greatest resource is our people and their inexhaustible defence potential. We would certainly inflict unacceptable losses upon any aggressor. Clearly, we do not want a war, but we are prepared to wage it should it be imposed upon us, defending our homeland regardless of the amount of casualties. A potential aggressor would be faced with a million-man army, and the entire potential of the nation, including the millions of Serbs and Montenegrans living abroad.
Those who demand armed attacks on Serbia lack both the knowledge of the truer situation, and good military judgment based on an understanding of the history of warfare in the Balkans. Such people fail to comprehend that the battleground would not, I repeat not, be confined to Serbia and the immediate area around it. We too would have the ability to choose the battleground, and carry the fight by a variety of means wherever necessary.
Can you describe the morale position in the Federal Armed Forces at present? How badly has it been affected by the fact that -- as a multi-ethnic force -- it has been faced with the fact that the territory it was supposed to protect as a unified state is now engaged in internecine conflict?
The morale of members of the JNA is very high. The JNA is now very different to the multi-ethnic Armed Forces of the former SFRY, and now the biggest part of the Armed Forces is made up of Serbs and Montenegrans. And the fighting morale of the JNA is no longer based on the old communist values. Now it is based on patriotism, the very best war traditions of Serbs and Montenegrans, on professionalism and on loyalty to the new state.
Only the positive experiences of the old Yugoslav Army are being taken up by the new JNA.
How has Yugoslavia's current inflation level affected your operational capabilities?
Obviously, the grave economic situation in our state, accompanied by the high rate of inflation, affects our defence capabilities insomuch as the defence budget is eroded in real purchasing power. But we are striving for maximum efficiency and a rational structure with the existing means available to us. The Armed Forces have been reorganised to ensure that inflation does no significantly affect operational deployment.
We are obviously fortunate in that we can draw on maximum civilian support during this crucial time.
To what extent have you detected the presence of foreign mercenary forces as operational cadre, or trainers/advisers, operating in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia and/or Macedonia? Similarly, have there been any really disturbing clandestine inputs of foreign military aid or equipment into those states?
The presence of mercenaries in the armies of the breakaway republics was documented by the former Yugoslav People's Army with many films and video recordings, statements given by captured mercenaries, along with witness testimonies. Evidence was sent to our State bodies, particularly to the State Commission for the investigation of war crimes and genocide. The Commission passed this information to various international organisations, including the UN.
Unfortunately, the new Army of Yugoslavia is not in a position to collect evidence about this, since the war is being waged outside the territory of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
It seems that the involvement of Germany in the Balkan crisis is constantly mentioned in articles in the West. From the historical viewpoint, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and more recently nazi Germany Slovenia and Croatia -- which are primarly of Catholic faith. How do you see things now, in the light of those historic precedents, and the German involvement in the current conflict?
Certain European countries are tyring to achieve domination over the territory of the former SFRY. The strategy of indirect approach has so far employed all the available political, economic and propaganda means short of direct military conflict. We have been exposed for some time now to low intensity conflict doctrine as a component part of this indirect strategy.
At this point I will not comment on the German strategy in Europe. However, Germany's involvement in the destruction of the former SFRY is obvious. I would like to remind you that Germany applied strong pressure on EC member countries to recognise Slovenia as the first independent state in the territory of the former SFRY.
As a follow-up to what you just said, are you worried by the fact that the Secretary-General of NATO is a German [former Defence Minister Manfred Worner] who publicly stated that NATO was ready to intervene against Serbia despite the fact that, on the previous day, such a policy was met with disapproval from the NATO ministers who are supposed to set policy?
Certainly such a statement is cause for concern. The Balkans have had very unpleasant experiences as a result of earlier German expansionism. The Germans, too, have had unpleasant experiences in the Balkans. Of course today German law precludes the deployment of German forces in such areas as the Balkans.
I would say that some people pay insufficient attention to history, or have difficulty remembering it correctly, so at this point I would say that it is at least unbecoming for a German [Manfred Worner] to make such provocative statements.
Personally, I cannot believe that there could be such a level of military dilettantism as to head to a global, or NATO, involvement in a war in the Balkans, particularly in Serbia. The laws of war are known, and such an intervention in Serbia would inevitably lead to an uncontrolled spread of chaos to the rest of Europe. The question is, does NATO want peace or an expansion of the war?
Serbia and Yugoslavia do not want war, but they have forces to defend themselves. The fact that the initiative of the NATO General Secretary was not met with general approval of the Western Allies speaks enough for itself about the illogical statement regarding an intervention against Serbia.
Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic visited Bonn on November 26 in order to explain the Yugoslav position regarding the Balkan conflict, and on December 1 the Berlin daily Neues Deutschland criticised Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel for "missing the opportunity to correct the unilateral policy in relation to the Yugoslav crisis". The newspaper also said that "the open antagonism toward Prime Minister Panic weakens his peace efforts". Do you agree with the criticism and the assessment by the German paper?
I really do not know what would happen in the case of changes in leadership of Yugoslavia under the imperative of the general international pressure. In principle, the Armed Forces are not engaged in such calculations; they conduct their own affairs. I would comment on the position of the German paper in question only as to the assessment of the pressure option and its effects. The policy toward Yugoslavia is tragically one-sided, regardless of the people who hold the key positions in Yugoslavia.
There has been much talk in the Western media of "the Serbian concentration camps", and this produced a profoundly negative effect on world public opinion. Did the Yugoslav Armed Forces have any role with relation to "the concentration camps"? Are there now, or were there before, any camps in Serbia?
Allegations are not the same as facts. If there had been any camps, then such camps existed in the territories which are now controlled by the other two warring parties [ie: Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina]. We have evidence which proves that wretched Serbs were photographed behind the wire fence and that then their photographs were shown to the world with the explanation that they were Muslims in Serbian camps.
I can assure you categorically that there are no camps in Serbia. The Armed Forces of Yugoslavia have nothing to do with "the camp affair". Those are ill-intended allegations the aim of which was to discredit the Yugoslav military.
So what is the truth about "concentration camps" in the territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina? In other words, camps controlled by Bosnian Serbs. Television programmes in Britain and the United States, for example, seemed so real, and the reporters concerned seemed genuinely to believe what they saw.
Well, I've already answered that question, without any intention to find excuses for anybody. We must be worried over the selective -- I would say totalitarian -- model of information which brainwashes the general public by satanising only one side, in this case the Serbian side. Does it seem logical to you that only Serbs are the guilty ones in such a large conflict?
The Jewish humanist and Nobel Prize winner, Eli Wiesel, recently visited Yugoslavia in order to see for himself on the ground the truth about the camps. Was that an attempt by Serbs to improve their image? What places did Mr Wiesel visit in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina?
Mr Wiesel visited those places which he thought were of key importance for his own research. I think he managed to get a more realistic picture about what is going on in the former SFRY. The Serbs did not try to retouch the picture about themselves; they only tried to correct the distressing impression [of them] and to eliminate the institutional hatred which seems to be felt for the whole Serbian people in some quarters.
In this era of mass crimes, where the victims are also Serbs (as well as others), only the Serbs are portrayed as criminals. I hope that Mr Wiesel had sufficient information to see that this is not the case. Actually, he said himself that he had expected the Croats and the Muslims to allow him access to the many camps in which Serbs are kept and massacred. [He was denied access. -- Ed.] It would be good -- desirable -- and most of all necessary and just that the world hear about that, too, and that the world takes a stand on the Croatian and Muslim crimes, which are enormous.
A recent report prepared for the US Congress said that the Bosnian Muslim leader, Mr Izetbegovic, in his Islamic Declaration, claimed that "there can be no peace nor coexistence between the Islamic faith and the non-Islamic faith and non-Islamic institutions. The Islamic movement must and can take over power as soon as it grows stronger morally and in size, and not only in order to destroy the non-Islamic authorities, but also to build the new Ismalic authorities". Under these circumstances, how do you think that peace can be achieved in Bosnia-Herzegovina?
The key points in Mr Izetbegovic's Declaration prove that his national concept is beyond reconciliation with the presence of the non-Islamic people who, incidentally, comprise more than half the total population of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This is the key to the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and not "Serbian aggression" or the "genetic expansionism" of the Serbs. I must repeat that the struggle in Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of survival of the Serbs who have been living there for centuries.
Co-existence is possible, provided that Mr Izetbegovic, with the help of the international community, realises that the extreme essence of his Declaration will not be tolerated.
The same US Congressional report contains evidence of Mr Izetbegovic's ties with fundamentalist Iran and it says that "Mr Izetbegovic made a deal with Tehran which, before any escalation of conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina starts, it is imperative that the sympathy of the West is won. For that reason, the Muslim special forces had carried out terror actions against their own people". Is the JNA familiar with such acts?
Such actions [by the Muslims] are not only known to the JNA, but to you also. The British newspaper, The Independent, published the classified report by UNPROFOR which stated that the massacre at the bread queue -- widely televised in the West -- was ordered by the Muslim top leadership "in order to win sympathy". [The attack was carried out by Muslims, according to the UN, against Muslims, and presented as televised evidence of a "Serbian attack" on Muslims in Sarajevo. -- Ed.]
The UN discovered the true perpetrators of this crime, but, with the exception of the brief mention in such papers as The Independent, the world has overlooked the truth. The graphic television image of the "Serbian attack on the Muslim bread queue" remains with most people.
The killing of the three French soldiers was also hushed up, despite later evidence that it was committed by the Muslims, not the Bosnian Serbs.
Does all of this mean that the West will persist in debasing its reputation by continuing to sympathise with what is in reality a cruel fanaticism on the part of the Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina? And within that context the West threatens to use force against those people, the Serbian population in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who have been forced to defend themselves. Unfortunately that appears to be the case.
General Panic, the Yugoslav Government has so far failed to win the sympathies of the West, as you have noted. Events charged with emotion, such as the claim that "Serbs mortared the bread queue", and that Serbs attacked a burial party with sniper fire, and the murder of US ABC news producer David Caplan, have been largely ignored by the Western media. That silence has clearly contributed to the pressure on those who are to decide on military intervention against Serbia. How do you counter, or resist, such negative publicity?
We have not given up the battle of trying to win the understanding of the West. It has not been a media war, but rather the imposition of political concepts. What was the good of irrefutable evidence in our favour? Either such evidence was not heeded, or it was held back before important -- and, for Serbian people, tragic -- decisions were taken, and then just forgotten.
What more could the Armed Forces of Yugoslavia have done with regard to the staged "mortaring" of the bread queue but offer the analysis of its experts who said that such effects could not have been caused by a mortar round, but by an explosive charge which had been planted earlier on in the Muslim quarter? Please, you tell me what influence could the Armed Forces of Yugoslavia have had on the situation where the official document by UNPROFOR was ignored and kept secret by the international institutions in a most immoral way?
Why did not the truth get coverage in the Western media? It is a question which should be rather put to you than vice versa.
The fact is that journalists and editors hate to go back over a story, and particularly hate to admit that they were used or duped. That is understandable. But the monstrousness of the killing of one's own people -- as the Muslims did to Muslims in Sarajevo -- merely to provide false images to the media should arouse the anger and horror of every journalist and editor.
We have not, as I said, abandoned hope of seeing balanced coverage of the situation. This will be an important factor in seeing balanced policymaking on the Balkans by world' leaders. It is for that reason that those struggling to push the Serbs from their lands in Bosnia and Herzegovina fight so hard to ensure that truth and balanced reporting are the first casualties of this war.
The pen is indeed mightier than the sword, and the television camera mightier than the missile.
Gen. Panic,thank you for your replies to our questions.
|Regional Ethnic Composition of Bosnia and Herzegovina|