March 5, 2011: Serbia has ended military conscription. Starting this year, the Balkan country officially ending its practice of compulsory military service. This was part of an effort to reform its armed forces and bring it more in line with Western European practices. The last conscripts were inducted in December for their six-month term of service. Serbia is currently undertaking a major effort to downsize, modernize, and upgrade the Army. Currently, Serbia has around 40,000 active troops and about 100,000 in the reserves, giving the country a total of 140,000 soldiers. With large-scale warfare in the Balkans having ceased over ten years ago, the Serbians now accept what the rest of Europe has long understood: the threats of the future are likely to be less conventional and more asymmetric.
While Serbia doesn't have any current conventional threats, it still needs a well-trained, modernized ground force to deal with terrorism and insurgency, something that has a long history in the region. Serbia is desperately trying to take an increasingly pro-Western stance and hopes to join the European Union soon. Unfortunately, its membership in the EU, its potential access to modern European military equipment, and its international rehabilitation are being almost single-handedly blocked by one issue: the continuing hunt for Bosnian general Ratko Mladic.
Mladic is one of the last of the major war criminals from the Balkans Wars of the 1990s' still at large, many of the others having either been killed in gangland disputes or arrested. Mladic was the Army Chief of Staff for the Army of the Republika Srpska, created by the Bosnian Serb Parliament in response to Bosnia's secession from Yugoslavia in 1992. By 1994, Mladic was in command of approximately 80,000 Bosnian Serb troops in the war theatre.
Serbia is claiming, with some justification, that it is doing everything it can to try and capture the wanted general. Ski-masked anti-terrorist police have been carrying out searches and an intensive manhunt for the fugitive for a long time. The chief war crimes prosecutor from the United Nations (UN) visited the Serbian capital last week to check on the nation's progress in attempting to locate Mladic and ensure that the Serbians are not hoping that the issue simply goes away (it won't).
Mladic was indicted in 1995 by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The charges stem primarily from Mladic's alleged responsibility for the massacre of 8,000 Bosniaks at Srebrenica, the forced expulsion of 40,000 more from the same area, and his command of Serbian forces during the brutal Siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege in the modern postwar era.
Regardless of whether the Serbians are doing everything they can to catch Mladic or not, having the accused general still at large looks extremely bad for the country's image and Serbia's pro-Western ambitions are at a standstill until the "general comes in from the cold."