Preparing for Peace: Croatia Rethinks National Defense, 2000–2003


In 2000, Croatia’s newly elected reformist government weighed how best to increase civilian oversight of a powerful and entrenched defense establishment. Since the end of a long and bloody war for independence five years earlier, political and military leaders had made little progress in adapting to the realities of peacetime. Franjo Tuđman, the country’s first president, had exercised strong personal control over the military, awarding favored officers high ranks and political offices. Both the Ministry of National Defense and the armed forces were far larger than their new roles required, and their lack of accountability to elected civilian leaders was out of step with modern standards. The ministry operated largely in secret and did little strategic planning. But President Stjepan Mesić, Prime Minister Ivica Račan, and Minister of National Defense Jozo Radoš saw an opportunity for change after Tuđman’s death in 1999. The three knew that significant reforms were necessary to make the defense sector more effective, to diminish its political role, and to secure Croatia’s path toward membership in NATO and the European Union. They also recognized the difficulties inherent in (1) establishing a new culture of transparency and democratic civilian control, (2) slashing the size of the military, and (3) drafting laws that would revamp defense institutions. Despite opposition from the military as well as from veterans and politicians who had benefited from the Tuđman-era political system, the reformers succeeded in creating a less politicized, smaller defense sector led by civilians; and by 2003, the country was on its way toward NATO membership.

Tristan Dreisbach drafted this case based on interviews conducted in Zagreb, Croatia, in December 2015. Case published April 2016.

removing corruption
Focus Area(s)
Critical Tasks
Creating civilian capacity
Reducing corruption
Removing officers from government
Subordination to civilian control
Core Challenge
Capacity (capability traps)
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Tristan Dreisbach