Slovenia stepping up defence spending
Slovenia will step up defence spending to meet the target 2% of GDP by 2030, five years earlier than planned so far, under a resolution passed by the National Assembly on 22 March. Slovenia's defence spending as a share of GDP is among the lowest in NATO.
The resolution, carried by 55 votes to six, sets out a plan for the development of the Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) by 2040, updating on the plans passed by the legislature more than a year ago.
The government says the more ambitions plans for the country's defence capabilities are a result of the changed security landscape in the wake of Russia's invasion on Ukraine.
Addressing the deputies, Defence Ministry State Secretary Damir Črnčec noted that Slovenia had made a commitment to NATO to raise its defence spending to 2% of GDP.
Under the new resolution, this target is to be attained by 2030 at the latest and then spending is to be kept at least at that level until 2040.
Each year at least 20% of the total defence expenditure will be spent on military equipment and armament. In addition, efforts will continue to invest in dual-use equipment and strengthening SAF capabilities that can also be used in support of the civil protection and rescue system.
Defence budget at NATO's tail end
A report released by NATO on 21 March shows that Slovenia allocated 1.26% of GDP for defence last year, which marks only a slight improvement from 1.24% of GDP in 2021 considering the brisk GDP growth last year. At current prices, the figure went up to €734 million from €640 million in 2021.
However, the country exceeded the target of 20% of the defence budget spent on investment in equipment, with the share going up to 21.3% from 15.7% in the year before.
Slovenia invested 3.1% of the defence budget in infrastructure and 22.3% in joint operations. The bulk of the budget, 53.3% was spent on the wages of defence system personnel.
Conditions eased to join army
Apart from moving the defence spending target forward, the resolution also includes plans to almost double the number of SAF members to 10,000. The SAF currently numbers 6,170 members, which also includes non-serving civilians, and a reserve of 760.
To attract more staff, the National Assembly passed amendments to the SAF service act that lowers the required level of education to join the SAF to primary education provided soldiers finish secondary school during service.
Candidates will need to agree to undergo training to obtain a secondary level of education. Chief of the General Staff Major General Robert Glavaš said the candidates would be additionally trained in various military programmes in the course of one year.
The financial implications of the law are estimated at around €65,000 per year to finance the cost of secondary education, assuming that 50 candidates with primary school are recruited in a year.
More complex capabilities
The resolution foresees for Slovenia to build a medium-sized battalion battle group and a medium-sized reconnaissance battalion battle group by 2030, in line with its commitments to NATO.
However, more economical ways will be sought to develop the formations and the capabilities will be developed comprehensively.
The SAF will also develop some more complex capabilities that are not part of the commitments made to NATO but are important for the implementation of Slovenia's national security objectives.
These capabilities include a medium- and short-range air defence system for the protection of national airspace and critical infrastructure on Slovenia's territory, development of helicopter capabilities by strengthening medium transport helicopter capabilities, and the purchase and gradual replacement of light military helicopters.
The only party to vote against the resolution and the changes to the SAF service act was the Left, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, which opposes a fast increase in defence spending.
Apart from the other two coalition parties, support for the resolution was also provided by the opposition party New Slovenia (NSi), one member of the opposition Democrats (SDS) and minority MPs, while one SDS MPs joined the Left in voting against.
The opposition pointed to what they see as many deficiencies in the resolution. Speaking for the SDS, Jožef Lenart expressed concern that the 2% target is not ambitious enough because if the economy starts to cool down, the numbers can quickly decrease.
Matej Tonin, the NSi leader and former defence minister, expressed regret that the possibility of reintroducing mandatory military service, which was entered into the resolution adopted last year, was not kept in the document, nor plans to develop a military higher education institution.
The biggest flaw for the NSi is the concept of parallel development of the two battalion battle groups as it would mean purchasing more than eight-wheeled armoured vehicles at the same time. The party does not think the defence system has sufficient absorption capacity to set up those capabilities.
Miroslav Gregorič from the ruling Freedom Movement complained that the document lacked ambition when it came to funds and the target number of soldiers.
Črnčec told the MPs that the Defence Ministry had called on Slovenian companies to explore the possibility of producing ammunition and MPs from most parties joined the calls for domestic ammunition production. Gregorič would also like to see Slovenia producing military equipment.
The opposition also expressed reservations about changes to the SAF service act. They argued the bill should have done a better job at addressing the issue of staff and their working hours.
Reservations were also expressed by the Social Democrats. They argued it was not clear which educational institutions would train soldiers or how the issue of salaries would be resolved considering that equal jobs will be performed by individuals with different levels of education.