The Economist: ‘Serbia’s arms race; defence spending up 70%’

Serbia’s defence spending has increased by about 70 per cent, to $1.4 billion a year over the past six years, writes the London-based Economist, noting that other former Yugoslav republics are concerned that the Serbian army is rising from the ashes.

“Between 2015 and 2021, Serbia’s defence spending jumped by some 70% to $1.4bn a year. Russia and Belarus have given it ten MIG-29 jets. Russia has given it 30 tanks and armoured personnel carriers and sold it an air-defence system. It has bought Chinese armoured drones, Russian helicopters and a French surface-to-air missile system. This month the defence minister announced that Serbia was negotiating to buy transport planes and helicopters from Airbus. Last month came news that it was talking to Israel about anti-tank missiles,” The Economist says.

The Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic justifies increased spending by saying that „a modern state needs a modern army.”

Granted, Serbia spends more in absolute terms than before, but its defence spending as a share of GDP has hovered around 2% since 2005. Compared with Bulgaria, Hungary or Romania, that is “peanuts”, says Mr Vucic. But Serbs were not at war with Bulgaria, Hungary or Romania in the 1990s. They were at war with neighbours that now have smaller military budgets. Serbia outspends Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo and North Macedonia combined. It also outspends Croatia, which is buying French jets to restore its almost non-existent air capacity, the Economist warns.

Vuk Vuksanovic, a researcher at the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, says that the real significance of the country’s re-arming is political rather than military. Showy arms deals impress Mr Vucic’s supporters, who tend to hold the armed forces in high esteem.

“But Serbia is effectively surrounded by NATO countries. With a big alliance shielding its small neighbours, Serbia is highly unlikely to send its soldiers into action in the foreseeable future. Indeed, Serbia has excellent (if discreet) relations with nato, and America trains Serbian troops. Having a strong army means that big powers treat you with respect, says Mr Vuksanovic. And if “God forbid”, the regional status quo were to break down, then “if we can inflict damage on our hypothetical opponents, they will perhaps be more accommodating with us at the negotiating table,” the Economist concludes.

(, Beta, 01.11.2021)



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