Wings of Change: Why Armed Drones Are Proliferating in Western Balkans

Nevertheless, the genie is out of the bottle. If drones are a satisfactory way for the world's mightiest country to reduce the financial cost and risk of life loss, it is also tempting for demographically challenged Balkan countries to take care of their military requirements at an affordable price, and reduce the risk of losing shrinking manpower.

Balkan countries have observed how others employ drones; Turkey and its Bayraktar TB2 drones stand out. These drones have been used most famously in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war by Azerbaijan against Armenian troops and in the ongoing war in Ukraine by Ukrainian forces against Russia. In February 2023, Serbian Defence Minister Milos Vucevic noted that the Serbian military is analysing the experiences of these two conflicts before assessing drone acquisition.

Absence of effective arms control mechanism

Visitors inspect the EDGE section at the International Defence Exhibition and Conference, IDEX, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 2023. Photo: EPA-EFE/ALI HAIDER

The second reason is the absence of arms control regimes governing UAVs. All countries in the Western Balkans have ratified the legally binding Arms Trade Treaty, ATT, although some of the main drone producers, including the US, Russia, China, Israel and Iran, are still not part of it. The ATT implicitly covers drones but lacks a mechanism for verifying information provided in national reports and enforcing compliance. The United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, UNROCA, which also includes armed drones, has an even worse reporting record, and the Western Balkan states are no exception.

Furthermore, these countries are not part of the Wassenaar Arrangement, WA, a non-binding mechanism for...

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