Ljubljana – Marjan Šarec appeared as the candidate for defence minister before the relevant parliamentary committee on Monday, noting that whether Slovenia should have an army was not a dilemma. “We can only talk about how it should look like and how it should be equipped,” he said.
The former prime minister (2018-2020) told the MPs before being endorsed by the Defence Committee in a 9-to-5 vote he would re-introduce the concept of territorial defence, and transfer the power of deploying Slovenian troops abroad to the National Assembly.
As the coalition agreement prioritises updating the concept of defence policy, Šarec, who comes from the quota of the largest coalition party Freedom Movement, intends to revise some key documents that are outdated or inadequate, if appointed minister.
He noted the new technological nature of war, more specifically fighting tactics with the introduction of drones, precision-guided munitions, modern tactical missile systems for anti-tank warfare and air defence.
Strategically, there is the question of how to properly place the forthcoming joint European defence capabilities in the framework of the national defence concept. Šarec sees including the Slovenian defence industry in the concept as a challenge.
According to him, this is the only way to “really develop a competitive and successful defence industry in Slovenia and provide modern jobs and direct and indirect return of funds invested in the defence system.”
As part of NATO, Šarec wants to open a discussion on target capabilities and assess whether the concept of building a medium-sized battalion group and a reconnaissance battalion goes in the right direction.
Answering relevant questions from MPS, he said that the war in Ukraine had shown that new tactics and new aircraft technologies were being used.
The current strategic documents state that, when the system of collective defence fails, all means must be used to liberate the country, including guerrilla tactics, he said, adding that the configuration of Slovenia’s terrain also spoke in favour of this.
At home, Slovenia is facing a discussion and decision on how to secure funds for drones, light anti-tank and air defence systems, research and high-tech production. He would also build on territorial defence and light mobile units.
“This is difficult to achieve with very heavy and expensive 8×8 APCs,” he said, adding that this was one of the reasons why the signed contract for Boxer APCs must be carefully reviewed, and all other contracts for military equipment audited.
He found it hard to answer the question of what the ratios between armour, infantry and modern means of warfare should be, as the army leadership would need to have a say in this. He added that the concept should be a subject of a wider, professional debate.
For peacekeeping operations and missions, the candidate would consider renting protective vehicles that are resistant to mines and ambushes.
Šarec would prioritise equipment that has dual use – for the basic defensive mission and at the same time for protection and rescue. A priority is to increase and modernise the helicopter fleet, which is also involved in protection and rescue missions.
He announced changes to the long-term programme of development and equipment for the Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF), the law on investments in the SAF for 2021-2026, and the defence programme until 2026.
“We are at a point where we need to decide whether to go into a systemic overhaul of the legislation,” Šarec said, noting that the largest challenge was the shortage of military staff, as the average age of employees in the defence system was increasing.
As a solution, he proposed that people up to the age of 35 without secondary education be enabled to join the SAF and get educated on the job so that they could obtain the required education in five years of service in the army.
Regarding defence spending, Šarec said “perhaps it is time for Slovenia to no longer be at the tail end of the [NATO] member states”, while noting that he would advocate for the available money to be spent “on the right things.”
He finds investment in research and development as crucial, and sees the advantage for Slovenia in this, as military technology is a powerful generator of added value.
As for Miha Kordiš of the Left labelling NATO a group of travelling salesmen, Šarec said if this was true, Finland and Sweden would not ask to join the alliance. “This shows that the situation is evolving organically,” he said.
“Of course, NATO is not a flawless organisation, but as an institution of collective security it is indispensable at the moment and we cannot talk about leaving it,” the candidate said.