- Slovenia’s Defense Policy in a Euro-Atlantic Reality
Prior to Slovenia’s independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Slovenian national interests over the centuries had been pursued within the limited framework of multinational entities: Austria-Hungary until 1918 and the Yugoslav federation to the day of independence. Although the Slovenes managed to maintain their language and cultural identity, in national defense and security matters they enjoyed only limited participation.
In the multinational Yugoslav army, the Slovenes were in a subordinate position. The organizational structure of the Yugoslav state was based on the principle of “fraternity and unity,” and defense forces relied on the numerical superiority of one of the constituent nations. Slovenia’s small size thus afforded limited influence on defense matters. This meant that all Slovenian military units were subordinate to a joint command dominated by more numerous national groups, mainly Serbs. As a result, Slovenes had only two opportunities in their history to take part in warfare aimed to advance their national interests prior to independence. The first occurred in World War I, when Slovenian units under General Rudolf Maister fought against the Germans and managed to liberate a portion of land in the northern part of the present Slovenian state. The second opportunity came during World War II, when Slovenian military units — regarded by many as the first Slovenian national army — fought against Nazi occupiers. These were partisan units and worked closely with Marshall Tito’s National Liberation Army. They held a considerable part of liberated territory and helped organize a peoples’ [End Page 115] government following the surrender of Italy and the eventual withdrawal of the Germans in 1945.
It is not surprising then that Slovenia entered independence and statehood in 1991 entirely without experience in defending itself or a vision of how to do so — widely regarded as a necessary condition of national sovereignty. Though limited, the two historical experiences formed the basis for a policy of self-sufficiency and military neutrality akin to the models of Switzerland and Austria. And even though Slovenia’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Partnership for Peace program neutralized some of the issues that necessitated the policy of self-reliance, it also opened the door to new perspectives in military, economic, and other areas.
My purpose in this essay is to present the core premises and components of Slovenia’s defense policy since independence. The key component of this analysis will be the legal framework put in place by the Slovenian authorities, especially the two Defense Acts (1994 and 2001), which set forth the country’s national defense goals and the means to achieve them. Slovenian national defense policy encompasses both military and civilian defense mechanisms and instruments.
Defense Policy in the NATO Framework
With independence, for the first time in their history Slovenes were no longer in a minority status within a multinational state. Geographically, Slovenia is a small county surrounded by significantly larger and militarily stronger neighbors. In the initial stages of independence, the country was confronted with a realistic military threat from the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army. The numerically smaller Slovene Territorial Defense and police units, however, managed to thwart the threat.1 This experience and the continuing violence connected with Yugoslavia’s disintegration forced Slovenia’s leaders to seek ways to strengthen and modernize the nation’s defense capabilities and think seriously of a national security doctrine.2 [End Page 116]
Despite these developments, Slovenia’s emerging political elite at first experienced difficulties reaching a consensus defining the country’s fundamental national interests. It did not take long, however, for common ground to emerge: that the nation’s defense policy should be based on self-reliance anchored in NATO membership. At the same time, concerted efforts were made to achieve European Union membership. Slovenia’s leaders believed that the Atlantic Alliance not only would offer the highest degree of security for the country but also would allow the exercise of some influence in shaping the regional and even the international security architecture. There appeared no better alternative. Relying on the United Nations’ collective security framework was deemed too unreliable to provide for the security needs of a small country...