Former Yugoslavia flag

Former Yugoslavia


Last Updated: November, 2015

On June 17, 1925, Yugoslavia signed the Geneva Protocol banning the use of chemical weapons. [1] This treaty, which Yugoslavia ratified on April 12, 1929, also included prohibitions on the use of bacteriological warfare. Yugoslavia ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWTC) on October 25, 1973. [2] Following the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 the various successor states independently acceded to the Convention: Slovenia on April 7, 1992, Croatia on April 28, 1993, Bosnia Herzegovina on August 15, 1994, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on December 24, 1996. Although a chemical warfare (CW) program was publicly revealed in 1993, no allegations of biological warfare related research or production activity have been leveled at Yugoslavia. As far as is publicly known, Yugoslavia and its successor states have fully adhered to the biological warfare provisions of both treaties.

As was typical of modern military forces, the Yugoslavian Army (VJ—Vojska Jugoslavije) established, and its successor, the Serbian Army (VS - Vojska Srbije) maintained, a branch (ABHO - atomsko-biolosko-hemijske odbrane) responsible for detecting and defending against the consequences of biological warfare and other WMD attacks. [3] As part of a wider set of military reforms in the mid-2000s the importance of NBC defense was downgraded. This resulted in the ABHO's elimination and the re-designation of the 246th NBC Defense Battalion as a general purpose service directly under the Land Forces Command. [4] The NBC (Nuclear Biological Chemical) Defense Training Center in the town of Krusevac was re-assigned to the Training Command. [5] The other Yugoslavian successor states maintain NBC Defense capabilities and participate in NATO training exercises and operations to varying degrees. [6]

The Serbian Army is provided with a full range of individual and collective protective equipment intended to enable its continued operations in the event of a biological attack, much of it based on Soviet designs, some of it of local manufacture. Most of the other Yugoslavian successor states are similarly equipped. The Trayal Corporation based in Krusevac produces NBC protective equipment for individuals including masks, filter cartridges, gloves, and protective suits. It also produces filter equipment for military vehicles. [7]

The Military Medical Academy (VMA - Vojnomedicinska akademija) located in Belgrade, which in the past was associated with the Yugoslavian CW program, maintained a Department of Biological Warfare Defense within the Institute for Epidemiology into the early 2000s. This department is no longer listed on the VMA website and may have been disbanded. [8] There are no indications of research into offensive BW applications.

Diseases endemic to the former Yugoslavia's territory include anthrax, which produces sporadic outbreaks in herd animals; Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever concentrated in Kosovo; cholera; tularemia, which produced a small epidemic in the period 1998 to 2000; and typhus. [9]  In August 1967 there was an outbreak of a hemorrhagic fever in Belgrade, Yugoslavia and in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany. The causative agent was identified as an RNA filovirus and given the name Marburg. These cases were tracked to infected monkeys imported from Africa, and there were no subsequent cases. In March and April 1972, Yugoslavia successfully contained Europe's last outbreak of smallpox. [10] Although it is conceivable that samples of these disease agents might have been retained by Yugoslavian medical authorities for future use by military programs engaged in defensive or offensive research there is no evidence pointing to such a development.

On the basis of available information it appears extremely unlikely that Yugoslavia or any of its successor states have pursued the development of an offensive biological warfare program. Neither the prolonged hostilities of the 1990s nor the removal of the Milosevic regime in 2000 produced any revelations in this area. As is the case with all countries capable of undertaking basic research into microorganisms and the production of pharmaceuticals and vaccines, there is a latent capability that would allow a biological weapons program to be initiated in the event that a political decision was made to do so.

[1] High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Protocol, SIPRI, accessed October 6, 2009,
[2] "Status of the Convention," Organization for the Prohibition of Biological Weapons (OPBW),
[3] 246. Bataljon ABHO, accessed October 7, 2009,
[4] LTC Ivan Lazarevic, "The CBRN Country that came in from the Cold," CBRNe World, Winter 2008, p. 16.
[5] LTC Ivan Lazarevic, "The CBRN Country that came in from the Cold," CBRNe World, Winter 2008, p. 16.
[6] As an example Slovenia maintains the 18th Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) Protection Battalion which has participated in several rotations of the NATO Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defence Battalion. Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defence Battalion: The Alliance's multinational CBRN defence capability, NATO website, accessed September 30, 2009,; Annual Report of the Ministry of Defense for 2005 (Republic of Slovenia Ministry of Defence: Ljubljana,2006), p. 9-10,
[7] "Protective Devices," Trayal Corporation, October 7, 2009,
[8] Website of the Military Medical Academy Epidemiology Institute (in Serbian), October 8, 2009, Note that the English version of the MMA website make no reference to the Epidemiology Institute.
[9] Branislav Lako, Elizabeta Ristanovic, Miroslav Spasic, Radivoje Prodanovic, Roman Djuric, "The First Epidemy of Tularemia in FR Yugoslavia," ASA Newsletter, Issue No. 86, October 26, 2001, p. 19-21,
[10] Jonathan B. Tucker, Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001), pp. 86-89.

Get the Facts on Former Yugoslavia
  • Intermittently pursued a nuclear weapons program from the 1940s to 1987
  • Produced significant quantities of blister and nerve agents before the 1990s
  • Cooperated with Iraq in the production of short-range rockets and ballistic missiles prior to Operation Desert Storm

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2017.