5th Anniversary of the membership of the Republic of Croatia in NATO
The endeavour and the determination demonstrated by the Republic of Croatia towards assuming its portion of responsibility and contributing to collective security have been recognised and rewarded by approving full NATO membership to the country, among the powerful and developed democracies and their Armed Forces, sharing their values and objectives. NATO membership was one of the two foreign policy priorities outlined upon the very establishment of Croatia as independent country.
Three-year integration process
The invitation to begin accession talks with NATO was extended to Croatia on the Bucharest Summit in 2008, which was followed by the deposition of the accession document with the U.S. State Department as depositary of the North Atlantic Treaty in April 2009 by the then Croatian Ambassador to the United States, Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, thus concluding the accession procedure. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Sheffer formally confirmed it the following day at the Strasbourg-Kehl Summit marking the Alliance's 60th anniversary: „I warmly congratulate you on this historic achievement. In becoming NATO members, you share the benefits and responsibilities of collective security”.
It was a completion of one process, but a more challenging and responsible process ensued. Croatia had been preparing for years to join NATO as full member, and although assessed as one of the readiest new members, the true integration and the efforts towards interoperability with the Allied Forces commenced upon the accession itself.
The integration process entailed harmonisation of procedures and activities across the functional and operating areas, security and intelligence, training and education, logistics, command and control and others, and at a broader scale, adoption of doctrinary principles and procedures to optimise interoperability.
The integration process was facilitated by the NATO's Allied Command for Transformation (ACT), through a series of integration conferences and activities aimed at increasing of operational capabilities of the Croatian Armed Forces. The activities were focussed on certification, affirmation and subsequently the affiliation of the declared forces. The first certification of the Croatian Armed Forces declared for NATO-led operation was completed during the Exercise „UDAR 10“, under the monitoring of NATO evaluators. The number of certified Croatian evaluators and the level of implemented obligations gradually grew.
Certification and evaluation of declared forces continued with the Exercises „UDAR 11“ and „UDAR 12“ until late October 2012, when the completion of all evaluations and the overall integration process was declared at the final conference issuing the Declaration on Completion of NATO Integration, signed by the Deputy Commander, General Mieczyslaw Bienek on behalf of the Allied Command of Integration and by the Chief of the General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces, General Drago Lovrić respectively. The readiness attained at the moment of formal accession enabled the Croatian Armed Forces achieve full integration within a short time span of three years.
Participation in joint programmes, projects and initiatives
With the integration process completed, the priority in the co-operation with NATO was focussed on active participation in its various bodies, processes and peace-support operations. Croatia joined the programmes. Projects and initiatives initiated to develop the overall capabilities of the Alliance, such as Smart Defence, the Connected Forces Initiative and a number of others in all domains of operation.
Croatia is currently participating in a few projects, including the Multinational Aviation Training Centre and the Regional Air Defence Approach, and is considering to participate in new ones, where joint efforts could be organised to build the needed capabilities. The initiatives with the partners from the region oriented on participation in the operations, training and education, to name some.
One of such projects, and a priority, is the Croato-Czech Joint Pre-deployment Course for mentors of Afghanistan Air Force. By conducting the projects Croatian Armed Forces gain valuable international experience and increase their interoperability, which speaks of the abilities of their officers.
International peace operations – ISAF and KFOR
International peace operations, in which Croatia had taken part well before the accession, are some of the most visible forms of the spirit of the Alliance and tangible contribution to its interests and objectives. The participation in a series of peace and stabilisation missions have become a Croatian brand. Croatia has been present in ISAF, as the most numerous and demanding mission, since 2003 when it deployed a Military Police Platoon with 50 members to Kabul. Since then the size increased and the structure of the Croatian forces changed, taking on more and more demanding tasks. In addition to the significant forces engaged on training and advising of the Afghan National Security Forces, Croatia has been the Lead Nation of the Military Police School.
The Military Police School, where Croatia assembled the Allied and partner countries of the region was particularly well accepted and often presented as the model to be followed in the operations of the kind.
The HRVCONs have been rotated regularly on the 6-month basis, so that the 23rd one has been employed at present (in the Regional Command Capital.in Kabul and the Regional Command North in Mazar-e-Sharif.
As the Croatian Contingent will downsize proportionately with ISAF, Croatian soldiers will be oriented on the training and mentoring mission.
Another Croatian contribution – the HRVCON to KFOR in Kosovo – has also been highly valued. Croatia entered the Operation in July 2009 and has now its 15th Contingent deployed with two helicopters assigned with transportation of KFOR forces.
Although relatively modest in size, the contribution by Croatia to KFOR is valuable for its familiarity with the regional characteristics, and for the professionalism and responsibility of its soldiers deployed.
Furthermore, Croatia has been highly active with the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of the neighbouring countries, promoting the importance of the integration for the region's stability; in which regard Croatia continues to actively participate in the U.S. Adriatic Charter providing support and assistance to its signatories. As a result, members of the Army of Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania are deployed to Afghanistan attached to the Croatian Contingents.
Over the past five years of its full NATO membership Croatia has proved iteself as credible and reliable Ally, taking the responsibility and the risk as well as the benefit of the collective security and sharing the fundamental view that stability of the international community can only be built by joint efforts and that the security of indididual members and the security of the entire Alliance are the communicating vessels“, which also applies to the stability of the neighbouring countries and the stability in Croatia.