New Serbia, New NATO – OpEd


By Ambassador Lawrence Rossin

NATO’s new Strategic Concept, which has replaced the Concept adopted in Washington in 1999, is a very forward-looking charter for NATO’s work. In Europe today, regional armed conflict is very unlikely; however, we are now faced with transnational threats, such as international terrorism, cyber-attacks and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which respect no borders and the consequences of which can be global in scope. The new Strategic Concept positions NATO to address these, drawing on both our civil and our military strengths. The new Strategic Concept gives NATO three main priorities for work over the next years – first, to make itself more effective by investing in modern capabilities to meet modern needs; second, to ensure that it engages more actively and deeply with the wider world and, third, it tasks NATO to streamline our structures to make them better able to respond to threats quickly, effectively and economically.

In my presentation today, I am going to touch mainly on three matters:

  • first, highlights from NATO’s Lisbon Summit two weeks ago;
  • then, the development and – should Serbia want it – the possible way forward in Serbia’s relationship with NATO;
  • and finally, NATO’s engagement in Kosovo through KFOR.

The Lisbon Summit and the New Strategic Concept

First, the Lisbon Summit, NATO’s new Strategic Concept and NATO’s stress on building a range of global partnerships.

It is not an exaggeration to say, as did our Secretary General Rasmussen at its end, that the Lisbon Summit was historic for NATO. A number of key decisions were taken in a series of meetings that included, firstly, Allies themselves; then, Allies and partners engaged in Afghanistan including President Karzai, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and European Union leaders; and finally, NATO’s leaders along with Russian President Medvedev in the NATO-Russia Council.

Framing their entire deliberation, NATO’s heads of state and government first adopted a new Strategic Concept for the Alliance.  This document replaces the Concept adopted in Washington in 1999.  As the concrete further decisions taken by NATO’s leaders at the Summit underscore, it is a very forward-looking charter for NATO’s work.  In Europe today, even regional armed conflict is very unlikely. Rather, we all face mainly transnational threats. International terrorism, cyber-attacks and WMD proliferation are challenges which respect no borders and the consequences of which can be global in scope.  The new Strategic Concept positions NATO to address these, drawing on both our civil and our military strengths.

The new Strategic Concept gives NATO three main priorities for our work over the next years:

  • First – To make ourselves more effective by investing in modern capabilities to meet modern needs. While NATO is maintaining a focus on the traditional essential military assets, we are also re-orienting ourselves towards combating challenges like terrorism, cyber-attacks and other future security challenges. This also means greater engagement on a comprehensive approach complementing military instruments with civilian efforts, which brings me to the second priority, which is –
  • To ensure we engage more actively and deeply with the wider world. The challenges NATO faces do not threaten only NATO’s interests.  Already, the Alliance has forged important partnerships with non-NATO countries and international organizations.  NATO’s operations in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan are supported by a wide range of non-NATO countries.  We work in close coordination with multinational counter-piracy efforts off the Horn of Africa. And we pursue our structured partnership mechanisms – the Partnership for Peace and Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, in which Serbia participates, as well as structures with Mediterranean and Persian Gulf states. The new Strategic Concept gives more weight to NATO’s partnerships. This also means greater engagement with Russia. President Medvedev and his NATO counterparts had constructive discussions in Lisbon on Afghanistan and shared security threats, as well cooperation in addressing them. This new partnership emphasis can have positive implications for our relationships with partners like Serbia.
  • Third, the Strategic Concept tasks us to streamline our structures to make them better able to respond to threats quickly, effectively and economically.

The new Strategic Concept is designed to frame NATO’s activities for years.  Already at Lisbon, our leaders made several decisions to launch efforts within that framework:

  1. To expand, as a core element of NATO’s collective defence task, our current Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence system. It is currently designed to protect NATO-deployed forces; now it will be enhanced to protect NATO’s European populations and territory as well.
  2. To develop by March political guidance for continuing transformation of NATO’s defence capabilities and forces, and military implementation of the new Strategic Concept.
  3. To develop by June a substantial cyber-defence policy for NATO, and an Action Plan for its implementation.
  4. To strengthen NATO’s Comprehensive Approach Action Plan by April, so that NATO can work more closely with partners who can deliver civilian effect in complex conflict situations, as well as to create NATO’s own civilian stabilization and reconstruction capability. That is primarily the fruit of experience in Afghanistan, where military victory alone is impossible.
  5. And on Afghanistan, our leaders and those of our ISAF partners decided, along with President Karzai, to commence transition from ISAF to Afghan lead responsibility, in early 2011, with an agreed target for transition to be underway country-wide by the end of 2014; as well as to enter into an Enduring Partnership even beyond the end of ISAF combat operations.

Finally, on Partnerships, perhaps the element of the Lisbon decisions most immediately relevant to Serbia and to this conference. NATO’s partnerships enhance Euro-Atlantic and wider international security and stability and reinforce shared values.  They provide frameworks for political, security and defence dialogue and regional cooperation and are essential to the success of NATO’s operations. Through them, we can share expertise, support broader reform, assist our partners in developing their own capabilities, and prepare interested nations for membership in NATO. They are of mutual value in addressing together the transnational challenges already mentioned.

Therefore at Lisbon it was agreed to strengthen the work of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), of both of which Serbia is an active member, as the essential framework for substantive political dialogue and practical cooperation.  PfP, EAPC and NATO’s other Partnership formats have evolved a lot but it was agreed that they, like NATO itself, would benefit from a focused reform effort.  Several specific areas for such reform were identified and will be discussed internally and with NATO’s partners in the lead-up to the April meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Berlin.

Western Balkans and NATO; NATO-Serbia Partnership

Now, in that context of strengthening NATO’s Partnerships, I will turn to the Western Balkans region, and Serbia, specifically.

Stability and security in the Western Balkans are crucial to Euro-Atlantic security. Most nations in the region have already joined NATO, or have expressed a desire to do so:

  • Albania, Croatia and Slovenia are NATO members;
  • the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will be a member as soon as the so-called “name issue” is resolved;
  • Montenegro is in the Membership Action Plan framework and actively implementing it;
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina also is in the MAP framework and its implementation will begin as soon as all immovable defence properties identified as necessary for future defence purposes have been officially registered as the state property of Bosnia and Herzegovina, for use by the country’s Ministry of Defence;
  • And Serbia is a member of the Partnership for Peace.

NATO wants to have fruitful relations with every nation in this region. The door to membership remains open to all who adhere to the shared values and specific requirements of NATO membership, but it is up to each country in the first instance to determine what its relations with NATO will be.

In the specific case of Serbia, NATO seeks to deepen our bilateral relationship. Serbia and NATO have increased cooperation on issues like defence reform and civil emergency planning in recent years, and we believe there is more we can do in our bilateral relationship that will benefit both of us.

Practically, NATO’s cooperation with Serbia in the Partnership for Peace has mostly focused on the enhancement of military interoperability of the Serbian Armed Forces with NATO member states, to be able to participate in international peace support operations.  That cooperation can enable Serbia to contribute to NATO-led operations.  It equally enhances Serbia’s capacity to contribute to international peacekeeping led by the United Nations or European Union.  Of course, NATO welcomes Serbian peacekeeping engagement in any framework.

The first set of 19 Partnership Goals and planning targets were agreed between Serbia and NATO in April 2009. In May this year that set of Goals was significantly expanded.  NATO and Serbia established the NATO-Serbia Defence Reform Group to support defence reform and assist in implementation of Partnership Goals. This Defence Reform Group has six sectoral working groups.  Plenary meetings are co-chaired by Serbia and NATO and take place every four months – the last Plenary was held a month ago here in Belgrade.

We at NATO are pleased that Serbia established a diplomatic mission to NATO this year, headed by my friend Ambassador Branko Milinković. We were glad when a Serbian Armed Forces representation was added to the diplomatic mission in September.

All these things are good, and we could suggest more. But NATO’s leaders have said it often:  it is up to Serbia to set the pace of developing this relationship.

  • If Serbia decides its future lies in ever-deepening Partnership with NATO, it will find a ready partner in our 28 nations.
  • If it does not want to deepen the Partnership, that will be OK with NATO too, although we would be disappointed at lost mutual opportunities.
  • If Serbia decides it might want NATO membership like its neighbours, it will find the Membership Action Plan door open.
  • If Serbia decides it prefers not to enter NATO, that is fine too – nobody is ever required to become a NATO member, and good relations do not depend on that.  NATO and its nations have very close and fruitful interaction with all the countries in Europe that have not joined NATO for whatever reasons, in the PfP and not least in operations.  The same should be the case with a Serbia outside NATO, if that is the course you choose.

What is important for NATO will be to maintain at all times with Serbia, regardless of the framework, a strong political dialogue and good practical cooperation to address common security challenges, based on mutual respect.

KFOR’S Mission and Evolution

As to KFOR, military contacts between NATO and the Serbian Armed Forces continue impeccably in the context of the Joint Implementation Commission.  Let me turn now to NATO’s operation in Kosovo.

As you know, Resolution 1244 in June 1999 established the parameters for the end to the conflict in Kosovo and for international engagement there.  The Security Council directed the deployment in Kosovo of an international security presence.  The North Atlantic Council decided that KFOR would assume the role of that international security presence.  KFOR has acted in that role since 1999.  Resolution 1244 set out tasks for the international security presence in its paragraph 9.  Of those, many have been completed or overtaken by events.  The main tasks that remain for KFOR are to maintain a safe and secure environment, conduct border monitoring duties as required, and ensure the protection and freedom of movement of itself, the international civil presence, and other international organizations.

For eleven and a half years, KFOR has fulfilled all its tasks, with few missteps. It has been adequately resourced by NATO and non-NATO contributing nations throughout. It has frequently adapted and downsized in response to generally improving security conditions in Kosovo itself, as well as the evolution of other elements of the situation in Kosovo that provide the context for KFOR’s activities. Reflecting on KFOR’s good performance, it has consistently received high marks from all population groups in Kosovo itself and from regional actors including Serbia.

KFOR’s mission as determined by the North Atlantic Council within the parameters of Resolution 1244 has been unchanged by dramatic political developments over the years, in particular since late 2006. NATO supported the efforts of the UN Special Envoy, President Ahtisaari, and subsequently those of the European Union-Russian-US troika of negotiators that sought to finish President Ahtisaari’s work. KFOR helped maintain safety and stability on the ground, ensuring that the negotiations could proceed without disruption. This KFOR role, performed impartially, continued uninterrupted when the troika reported to the UN Secretary General its inability to broker an agreement on Kosovo’s status, followed by the declaration of Kosovo’s independence. KFOR continues to this day to perform that impartial role, and it will continue to do so.

It is important to understand that NATO has member states that recognize Kosovo’s independence and others that do not, but that NATO as an Organization takes no view at all on Kosovo’s juridical status.  As an inter governmental organization, NATO does not recognize states, nor not recognize them; that is a prerogative of nations. As our previous Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer said, “NATO is not in the recognition business.”  That means NATO and KFOR are not “status-neutral” – just impartial in the way KFOR performs its tasks.

At the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, NATO agreed that NATO and KFOR would, within KFOR’s operational tasks, continue to work with all actors in Kosovo to support stability, democracy and multi-ethnicity.  Additionally, it was announced that NATO stood ready to play its part in the implementation of future security arrangements.  In June 2008, NATO agreed to assist in the dissolution with dignity of the Kosovo Protection Corps and the standing-up of the Kosovo Security Force and the civilian structure to oversee the KSF. The first task was completed.  The second and third tasks are now implemented by NATO and KFOR in close coordination and consultation with the relevant local and international institutions.

These NATO policies remain in force, and contribute to maintaining a safe and secure environment in Kosovo for all people.

KFOR Deterrent Presence and Unfixing

More recently, in June 2009 NATO’s nations decided to adjust KFOR’s force posture gradually, to what is called a “deterrent presence”. What that means is that, when appropriate, according to the evolution of events and in a phased manner with periodic North Atlantic Council revalidations, NATO is reducing the number of KFOR forces over time to a smaller, more flexible force – one that remains fully able to perform all KFOR tasks.

The first stage in KFOR’s adaptation, the so-called “Gate 1”, was attained in January 2010.  KFOR reduced to just over 10,000 troops.

After gauging the situation in Kosovo for several months, the North Atlantic Council in October approved SACEUR’s (Supreme Allied Commander for Europe) recommendation to move to the so-called “Gate 2” of the move to Deterrent Posture.  This move, to be accomplished over approximately 4 months, will significantly consolidate the deployment of KFOR geographically, to focus on areas where security problems sometimes flare up or where risks are evident.

This move reflects NATO’s positive assessment of the security situation in Kosovo over a sustained period of time, as well as of the demonstrated growing capability of the Kosovo Police, backed by EULEX and with KFOR as the third security provider, to deal with challenges to public safety and order.

SACEUR, our Secretary General and NATO’s nations all approach this downsizing of KFOR with an abundance of caution. The Alliance’s commitment to Kosovo and to the maintenance of a safe and secure environment remains firm.


Let me now conclude.

I have sought in these remarks to give you a succinct overview of the historic decisions taken by NATO’s heads of state and government at the Lisbon Summit. These both speak to one theme of this conference and also can frame consideration of the implications for the development of the NATO-Serbia relationship within the Partnerships framework we will be working to enhance post-Lisbon.

I have dwelt a bit on KFOR’s tasks and its evolution both to convey the latest developments and to underscore a point I think is sometimes not clear here.  That is that NATO’s role in Kosovo serves stability and security for all people in Kosovo, and therefore for the entire region, impartially and without reference to juridical or political considerations outside NATO’s remit.  Therefore, NATO’s operation in Kosovo should be no impediment to developing our partnership.  To the extent it is cited by some as a roadblock, there may be misunderstanding of what KFOR and NATO do, and do not do, in Kosovo, or why.

The new Strategic Concept places partnerships at the centre of NATO’s program for the coming years. The Alliance will be working this year to shape the way forward with Partners, and working with them as we do that.  Lisbon has given us the flexibility to build on what is already being done to create a partnership which will best suit Serbia’s needs as well as our own. As I have said, we see significant potential for deepening NATO’s relationship with Serbia, provided that is what Serbia, its government and its people desire.  From the perspective both of our Secretary-General Rasmussen and of the NATO nations, Serbia has great potential to be a contributor to stability and security, not just in this region but in the entire Euro-Atlantic area, and there is great interest in their part in building our partnership.

Ambassador Lawrence Rossin is NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Operations.

The publication, ‘New Serbia, new NATO – future vision for the 21st Century’, was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Fund for Open Society.

This publication is published as part of TransConflict Serbia’s project, ‘Facilitating Serbia’s Contribution to NATO’s New Strategic Concept’.


TransConflict was established in response to the challenges facing intra- and inter-ethnic relations in the Western Balkans. It is TransConflict’s assertion that the successful transformation of conflict requires a multi-dimensional approach that engages with and aims at transforming the very interests, relationships, discourses and structures that underpin and fuel outbreaks of low- and high-intensity violence.

3 thoughts on “New Serbia, New NATO – OpEd

  • June 10, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Serbia and its citizens have said many many times that in NO circumstances Serbia will become the member of NATO. The people of Serbia will not serve as military guard to any of aggressive, geo-political interests of USA and its satellites. Especially after what NATO has done to Serbia and to its people: destroyed the country, divided its sovereign territory and mounting incredible propaganda. Mr. Rossin keep your thoughts for yourself while we’re keeping NATO out of Serbia. For ever!

  • June 10, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Serbia did not attack any NATO country, therefore, the bombing of Serbia was illegal, so too was the violation of the NATO Treaty, the Helsinki Final Act, the Geneva Conventions and the UN Charter. Maybe NATO believes that it is above the law but it certainly demonstrates that NATO can defecate on any treaty it wishes.

    If Serbia is so important to the future of NATO I suggest that the Ambassador put his money where his mouth is… therefore, those NATO countries who bombed the hell out of Serbia doing over $60 Billion in damage begin by compensating Serbia for the repair of their country. Sadly we know that less than $2 billion has been forthcoming. You are a bit short Mr. Ambassador!

    NATO may need Serbia, but Serbia certainly does not need NATO who proved to have no conscience in the ethnic cleansing of over 1.2 million Serbs, (twice the combined number of Croat, Muslim and Albania victims) of this ugly process. NATO can and will be strong if equal justice begins to mean something and that equal human rights is given to the Serbs who seem, 12 years after brutal NATO bombing, to still suffer the slings and arrows of collective guilt perpetrated by a number of NATO leaders.

    Peace and stability will only be achieved in Europe when “Equal Justice Under The Law” as etched over the doorway of the U.S. Supreme Court is a shared value, not the current standard of justice as exemplified by that hideous Kangaroo Court in The Hague where microphones are disconnected when Serbs speak or when witnesses are allowed to give testimony behind screens or worse, in hoods like the Klu Klux Klan. Hardly European or American values as expressed by this ambassador.

    U.N. Resolution 1244 clearly guaranteed that Kosovo would remain sovereign Serbian territory… how convenient for the Ambassador to look the other way pretending to be impartial. Just as NATO looked the other way during the past 10 years as 153 ancient Serbian churches were destroyed and the vast majority of Serbs were cleansed from Kosovo as 17,000 NATO troops also looked the other way. I was not surprised after the capture of Gen. Mladic that new demands have been placed on Serbia. What NATO guarantees to Serbia is that the goal post will continue to be moved until the Serbian territory left will be Kalemegdan Park.

    The writer is author of 6 books on Balkan history including his 1992 book, Kosovo and his current book, SERBIA: Faces & Places.

    • June 11, 2011 at 7:24 am

      Larry you must be joking. In Kosovo you were screwing around with the Serbians making their lives miserable while you were the PDSRSG till you were kicked out, and now you’re trying to sell NATO. From the latest headlines it looks like NATO is losing steam with most countries just paying lip service to it.

      The comment by Dorich hits the nail on the head about the untold suffering that NATO has wreaked upon the Serbian people. You know the only way that NATO would stand a chance would be for it undo the damage it has done; support Kosovo as part of Serbia, Republika Srpska’s right to self-determination and a an autonomous Krajna region in Croatia. Most importantly, an apology saying “Sorry Serbia, we supported the wrong side for the past 15 years.” Once NATO does that it may be welcome to begin discussions of Serbia joining NATO.


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