Yugoslavs eye Soviets through their gunsights
Belgrade — Within a week of attack from outside, Yugoslavia could have up to 1 1/2 million men -- and women -- fighting the invader. Surrender is forbidden, ruled out by law and Constitution.
"Occupied" is an unacceptable word here, one is told. Territory overrun by attacking forces would be regarded as only temporarily "taken," to be made as uncomfortable as possible for the enemy and, sooner or later, to be recovered.
Capitulation, the Constitution says, would be treason.
Such points represent declared policy adopted soon after the Soviet rape of Czechoslovakia in 1968. They are being emphasized here now more than ever as the Yugoslavs contemplate the fate of Afghanistan.
They dismiss speculation that the Russians might now or in the foreseeable future -- especially if the country showed signs of internal instability -- undertake any such military move against Yugoslavia. And the sight of President Tito on television, sitting up, laughing and chatting with his two sons only days after the removal of his left leg, has produced a mood of reassurance and joy here.
But, at the same time, Yugoslavs certainly are looking to all their defenses and seeking, too, to make it quite clear both to those from whom attack might come and to skeptics elsewhere that there should be no doubt about the nation's resolve to defend itself.
The brave words are said with firm confidence. And there are few outside observers here who doubt the Yugoslavs will live up to them, should the need arise.
But what are the weapons behind the words? How strong is Yugoslavia's defense capacity?
Most of the present leaders were steeled in the partisan struggle of World War II. For years after that, they might have thought that in any future conflict a more developed, better-equipped regular army -- with guerrilla warfare playing a secondary role -- would suffice.
The invasion of Czechoslovakia forced considerable rethinking. It made the Yugoslavs still more conscious of the vulnerability of their geostrategic position. It led to development of the "all peoples' defense forces," in which Army and civilian population form an integral whole.This is also the basis of today's much more dynamic defense strategy.
It is ironic for the Russians that for a few years after the war this direct route to the Adriatic -- and the Yugoslav ports -- and thence to the Mediterranean was in their hands; but they lost it by trying to force the Yugoslavs into the classic satellite mold. The Yugoslav-Soviet break came in 1948.
Since then Yugoslavia has firmly established itself as a nonaligned state with steadily increasing economic potential, which remains strong despite the current grave difficulties amid world recession, and impressive defense capabilities.
Its Army, Navy (purely for coastal defense), and Air Force total nearly 270, 000. The Army's "GIs" are young conscripts doing their 15 months of national service; the officers, from noncommissioned officers to the top, are professionals.
These forces are well trained, disciplined to a relatively high degree, well equipped, and of undoubted loyalty, especially in any case of pressure from the Soviets.
Yugoslavia has developed its native arms industries rapidly in recent years. These now can provide possibly 80 percent of the country's own requirements, as well as arms for export sales (to nonaligned and developing countries), which are said to cover 72 percent of Yugoslavia's necessary purchases abroad.
Such purchases are mainly for the bigger hardware, aircraft, missiles. Jet engines are bought from countries like Britain and France. But much more is bought from Russia, particularly tanks and planes, though in neither case do the Soviets sell Yugoslavia their latest.
(At least one of Russia's East European allies gets its biggest, best tanks; several have aircraft later than the MIG-21, which is the spearhead of the Yugoslavs' Air Force.)
The Army's role, however, is not to fight a frontal battle, which it knows it could not hope to win against a massive armored thrust across the north Yugoslav flatland.
Its task would be to fall back as slowly as possible, taking a maximum toll of the enemy, to the proven partisan country of the mountainous south.
That might be only a week, but it would provide time enough for the "all peoples' defense forces" to mobilize, the men to their fighting units and the women and children to the auxiliary defense services in which each and every one of them now is being exhorted more zealously than ever to train and prepare themselves for any contingency.
From many talks this past week with people in official and ordinary branches of life, one gets the impression that the serious illness of their prestigious leader and the menacing new clouds in the international sky have combined to make them willing enough.
And, if all this should ultimately prove to be the scenario?
"An Army which is less well equipped," said one Western military attache of several years experience here, "but determined to fight is better in the end than one with more advanced weapons but less determination.
"There's no doubt about the determination and the will to resist here."
And the enemy's task of "pacifying" the territory he has taken?
"That," said the colonel, "was a task the Germans couldn't manage. For a modern army, however, the possibilities for antipartisan war would be easier.
"But, having seen the terrain, if I was a Soviet commander moving into one of those mountain valleys with tanks and with my helicopters up, I would still feel unhappy."