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16 Jan 2024

Serbia to ramp up military spending in 2024 in standoff with Kosovo

Serbia to ramp up military spending in 2024 in standoff with Kosovo
Courtesy Serbian Presidency
Originally posted on bne IntelliNews

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced on January 14 that the country will make its “largest investment so far” in military equipment in 2024. 

Vucic made the announcement shortly after it was reported that the US will sell Javelin anti-tank missiles worth $75mn to Kosovo. Serbia does not recognise Kosovo, which unilaterally declared its independence from Belgrade in 2008, as an independent state. Recent months have seen several violent incidents between local Serbs in northern Kosovo and Kosovan law enforcers. 

According to Vucic, the new equipment should arrive by the end of 2026, and a new package of financial resources is being prepared for that purpose, a statement from the presidency said. 

Speaking at the Duty Operations Centre of the Military Security Agency, Vucic strongly criticised the buildup of Kosovo’s armed forces, claiming that “they threaten regional security and stability”. 

“The so-called Kosovo security forces, which cannot exist according to the norms of international public law and according to [UN] Resolution 1244 [which provides a framework for the resolution of the conflict in Kosovo] … have a total of 223 armoured vehicles at the moment, together with the so-called Kosovo police,” said Vucic.

"They want to increase to 350 armoured vehicles, they want in 2027 to have 5,500, as they say, professional soldiers in the KBS and another 20,000 in the first reserve. Those are their plans. There are no surprises for us. America is leading it,” he added. 

Vucic claimed that within the region. Pristina has the fastest growing the budget for the army and the police. 

Vucic, meanwhile, also detailed steps taken to build up Serbia’s military capacity, including by equipping its air defence system. 

Serbian Defence Minister Milos Vucevic recently proposed restoring compulsory military service. It is 13 years since Serbia scrapped compulsory military service back in 2011 as part of its efforts to transition towards a more professional armed forces.

The potential sale of Javelins to Kosovo, which still has to be approved by the US State Department, includes 246 missiles. The prime contractors for the Javelin missiles will be the joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Missiles and Defence.

They are intended to strengthen Kosovo's long-term defence capabilities to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity, meeting its national defence requirements, a statement from the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency  said. The agency considers the sale and support of the missiles will not alter the fundamental military balance in the region.

Data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) show a strong increase in Serbian military spending from a low of $710mn in 2016 to as high as $1.4bn in 2022. 

The Balkan Defence Monitor published by the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) showed that Serbia’s defence spending also rose strongly as a share of GDP. As of 2022, it was the only country in the Western Balkans to spend 2% of GDP on defence.

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