The following writing is from a memo I wrote for my target country Croatia, assigned to me in my Politics of Eastern Europe class.
TO: Incoming Ambassador
FROM: Delaney Dixon, State Department
DATE: April 27th, 2018
SUBJECT: Briefing on Croatia
Many frameworks are integral to understanding the politics occurring in Croatia currently. One of the biggest issues the country, and region is facing is that of security issues. For decades, security crisis has defined the stability of countries throughout the world. Since the 1990’s, Croatia has worked to stabilize itself and build a new infrastructure. Joining the EU in 2013 was a turning point for the country; however, it also exposed the country to international security issues. In this memo, I will brief you on the current security issues not only Croatia is facing, but the region as well. I will also provide critical information about the country’s current relationships with the EU, NATO, and neighboring countries.
International and Regional Security Issues
The main international crisis we should be focusing on is the one concerning Russia’s sphere of influence in the Eastern European region. This is a multifaceted problem that can split into more specific categories:
- Geopolitical tensions
- Destabilization campaigns
- Belt of Eastern European instability
The tensions post-Ukraine crisis have the highest level of security risk for Croatia. Western actors and their Russian counterparts have recreated the atmosphere of the Cold War through armed conflict and hybrid warfare in the form of cyber attacks. This tension has not diluted over time and “tensions in relationships are being felt in other regions, including in the Croatian neighborhood” (Pavlic 2017). The EU has been working relentlessly for years to establish a working relationship with Russia; by doing so, stability will be more of a guarantee in the Eastern European area. However, the Ukraine crisis has deeply hindered these efforts. It has allowed Russia to increase its geopolitical territory, which in turn increases instability. Russia also has not been cooperative, unless it benefitted their sphere of influence – Russia seeks only “the development of mutually beneficial economic ties, stronger Russian influence in the Union and preservation of Russian sovereignty” (Barić, 2015). By increasing the EU presence, we are “attacking” the sphere of Russian influence, which will only incite backlash from the actor and heighten geopolitical tensions. If this continues, NATO will have to be involved, which means Croatia will also have to play a role. In 2015, American NATO troops were stationed in different NATO-affiliated Balkan states, but this presence also has the possibility to turn Croatia into a “proxy battleground” (Barić, 2015).
The destabilization campaigns enacted by Russia also pose a security risk. By increasing its sphere of influence, Russia is able to undermine Western influence and cause the region to backslide into USSR-era policies and agendas. The superpower has managed to do this through the support of weak Eastern European states, like Serbia. For example, Russia has invested in Serbian-language media, the energy sector in Serbia and Republika Srpska, and used its UN Security Council position to support Serb positions (NATO 2017). It has also invested in Macedonia and the Republic of Montenegro. All of this pushes the EU and NATO’s influence farther out of the region, which will be severely detrimental if action isn’t taken.
Next, the belt of instability around Eastern Europe is critical to security matters in Croatia. While Croatia has done significantly well for itself, “[its] neighboring countries in the SE Europe continue to experience instability. These countries are characterized by weak institutions, domestic political unrest, numerous ethnic and national issues that remain open, poor economic growth, corruption and unemployment” (“Security Intelligence Agency” 2017). This is all on top of the recovery process that the region has been facing since the 1990’s. Combining these problems with those of geopolitical tensions and the destabilization campaigns present a multifaceted and high-security risk to not only Croatia but the region as a whole.
While Croatia isn’t faced with a multitude of domestic security issues, there is one we need to cover. Over the past few years, Croatia has faced a large amount of corruption within every facet of the government. Some areas that are affected are as follows:
- Judiciary System
- Public Services
- Land and Tax Administration
- Customs Administration
- Public Procurement
This is a large area for corruption to run rampant, but Croatia has been working putting policies in place that will hold those participating accountable. According to the Croatia Corruption Report, “the primary legal framework regulating corruption and bribery is contained in the Criminal Code and the Corporate Criminal Liability Act, which make individuals and companies criminally liable for corrupt practices including active and passive bribery, money laundering and abuse of functions”. However, that has not completely dissipated the presence of corruption, and we should remain cognizant of it as a domestic security issue.
Relations with the EU, NATO, and Surrounding Countries
Through the EU, which Croatia joined in 2013, the country has managed to form strong alliances with other global powers. The two relationships that are most important and prevalent are those between the United States and the United Kingdom. Within the EU itself, Croatia has been very proactive and been apart of significant initiatives, such as NATO’s Partnership for Peace and the Adriatic Charter (“Croatia” 2018).
United States: Croatia has managed to create a very strong relationship with the US. From Croatia’s independence, the US has remained very involved in the strengthening of the country’s infrastructure and a network of allies. Because of this, Croatia has become a stabilizing mentor to other regional actors, and a good example of democratization following the 1990’s. The US also has an “a bilateral investment treaty and investment protection agreement” (“Croatia” 2018).
United Kingdom: During the 1990’s, when Croatia was pushing for independence, the current UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was supportive of the movement. Since then, the UK also supported Croatia’s transition into the EU and NATO (“Croatia–United Kingdom relations” 2018). However, despite excellent relations, Brexit has slightly turned the tide for Croatian and British relations. Britain is one of a few countries in the European region that has participated in the EU-Croatia Accession Treaty, which allows Croats to freely work in the country. Since Britain is still in the process of succeeding, there is an uncertainty of whether that particular treaty will be renewed or not (HINA 2018).
Serbia: For many decades, there has been an ethnic conflict between Serbs and Croats. This clash has continued but hasn’t been nearly as violent as in the past. However, it still is causing tension between the two countries, especially due to Greater Serbian Extremism. Those who participate in GSE still make claims to certain territories in Croatia. Croatia also recognizes Kosovo as an independent country. All of these are problems that still persist between the two countries (“Croatia–Serbia relations” 2018).
Slovenia: The two countries have a generally good relationship; however, tensions have been rising to border disputes. In 2015, Croatia withdrew from the arbitration proceedings concerning a maritime dispute of a “junction” area in the north Adriatic Sea. while the court ruled in favor of Slovenia, Croatia made a statement saying that they would ignore it (“Slovenia wins battle with Croatia over high seas access” 2017).
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Friendly relationship, despite small border disputes.
Montenegro: Excellent relationship.
Pavlic, Vedran. “Croatia’s Intelligence Agency Publishes Report on National Security.” Total Croatia News, 15 Sept. 2017, www.total-croatia-news.com/politics/22014-croatia-a-target-of-cyber-attacks-from-other-countries.
Barić, Robert. “‘Croatia in Contemporary Security Environment – Threats, Challenges and Responses.’” Zagreb, 2015.
Security Intelligence Agency. SOA, 2017, Security Intelligence Agency.
NATO. “Backsliding in the Western Balkans.” NATO Review, 2 Feb. 2017, www.nato.int/docu/review/2017/Also-in-2017/backsliding-western-balkans-kosovo-servia-bosnia/EN/index.htm.
“Croatia Corruption Report.” Business Anti-Corruption Portal, Nov. 2017, www.business-anti-corruption.com/country-profiles/croatia/.
“Croatia.” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, 24 Jan. 2018, www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3166.htm.
“Croatia–United Kingdom Relations.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Apr. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croatia–United_Kingdom_relations
HINA. “Despite Brexit, Croatia Wants Britain to Lift Restrictions for Croatian Workers.” Total Croatia News, 5 Mar. 2018, www.total-croatia-news.com/politics/26403-despite-brexit-croatia-wants-britain-to-lift-restrictions-for-croatian-workers.
“Croatia–Serbia Relations.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Apr. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croatia–Serbia_relations.
“Slovenia Wins Battle with Croatia over High Seas Access.” BBC News, BBC, 29 June 2017, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-40449776.