Croatia has had a systematic and complete whole-of-government approach (WGA) since 2017, when the current National Security Strategy (Republic of Croatia 2017) was issued and the Act on National Security System (Croatian Parliament 2017) was enacted. This kind of approach is fully in line with Croatia’s constitution and includes cooperation between the executive, legislative and judicial branches. What’s more, unlike those of many other EU countries, Croatia’s WGA explicitly includes crisis management and emergency responses at the levels of NATO and/or the European Union in its strategic and legal documents.
There are several specific characteristics of Croatia’s WGA, of which the following are the most important. The first involves the country’s relative youth. As a young democracy and small country, it took Croatia some time to firmly establish a number of governmental mechanisms, including those related to security, which Croatia views holistically as encompassing both the internal and external dimensions. The best (and the integrated) approach to doing so involved producing strategic documents that followed pre-existing European strategies, directives and best practices.
A second factor that contributed to Croatia’s adoption of a holistic WGA has been the degree of (in)security in the surrounding region of South-East Europe. Tragic war circumstances and the war’s convulsions played a major role in the ultimate breakup of the former Yugoslavia and the creation of new independent states since the mid-1990s, a time when this area was one of the key crisis regions in the world. In that period, Croatia faced a grave threat from the so-called ‘Greater- Serbian Aggression’ (AKA the ‘Homeland War’), suffered a large number of human casualties and widespread destruction, and even had to contend with the possibility of no longer existing. To this day, the war and the post-conflict state-building that followed have continued to exert a significant influence on the regional security of Croatia. For example, political objectives have become particularly radicalised at the moment, as the leadership of the Republika Srpska has sharpened its secessionist rhetoric and is flirting with the possibility of a referendum on the secession of the Republika Srpska from Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), leaving the Croats with the prospects of life in a rump state in which Bosniaks would make up an absolute majority of the population and ethnic Croats would be a national minority. The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), the main centre-right party in Croatia and holder of the most seats in its parliament, supported the idea of a ‘third entity’, i.e. a reorganisation of BiH into a confederation of three ethnic states or at least into a federation of three or more ethnic units/territories (Kasapovic 2016: 181).
The third important factor contributing to Croatia’s adoption of this kind of holistic WGA lies in the threat of modern terrorism, especially the international one, which is made even more palpable due to Croatia’s geographical location near troubled countries and on one of the main routes used by organised criminal groups. As noted in the National Security Strategy (Republic of Croatia 2017), several hundred people in the region of South-East Europe joined terrorist organisations active in conflicts in Syria and Iraq and then returned to their home countries, where other individuals have also been indirectly radicalised through terrorist propaganda. Indeed, the Republic of Croatia views modern, extremist-led terrorism – which does not respect national borders or limits on the scale of destruction – as one of the greatest security threats in general, both today and in the foreseeable future, and calls for comprehensive, harmonised national and international responses to it. Furthermore, it is very important to add that, as noted in the National Security Strategy (ibid.: 8), the Croatian neighbourhood “is showing trends of strengthening of intolerance, radicalism and extremism, especially of Islamic radicalism.”