TransConflict Serbia, as part of its project ‘Facilitating Serbia’s Contribution to NATO’s New Strategic Concept’, organized a panel discussion in Belgrade on Monday 28th March to discuss key security developments since the adoption of NATO’s new Strategic Concept at the Lisbon summit in November 2010.
TransConflict Serbia’s project officer for security, Vladimir Ninković, opened the proceedings by emphasising that the topic of the panel is of relevance to Serbia “because all member and partner countries were asked to give their opinions and suggestions for NATO’s new Strategic Concept.” TransConflict Serbia’s aim, as Ninković stressed, is “not to take a pro- or contra attitude towards NATO, but to open a rational dialogue about Serbia’s relations with it.”
Ninković pointed out that since the Lisbon summit, “many security crises have emerged – some of which are of high intensity. It started with the Domodedovo terrorist attack in January, continued with uprisings in the Arab world and culminated with Libya’s civil war in which NATO is now directly involved. All these crises are happening close to Europe, which is the region of primary interest for NATO.”
Jiří Kalashnikov, from the Czech Embassy in Belgrade (NATO’s contact point Embassy for Serbia), stressed that whilst relations between NATO and the Serbian Army and Ministry of Defence are currently very good, no concrete activities have been undertaken with the objective of securing Serbia’s full membership in the Alliance. According to Kalashnikov, however, Serbia has a lot of potential to additionally improve its existing partnership with NATO, highlighting the group for defence sector reform, “Serbia – NATO”, as one positive example. Kalashnikov concluded that since the Lisbon summit, NATO has been working actively towards developing partnerships with those states that are not full members of NATO, and primarily with Russia.
Marina Raguš, an independent researcher and advisor at the Institute for Research on the Suffering of Serbs in the Twentieth century, is of the opinion that any form of future cooperation between Serbia and NATO should be viewed through the prism of NATO’s intervention in 1999 – conducted without the authorisation of the UN Security Council – and the repercussions of this intervention for the Serbian people.
Jelena Petrović, a PhD candidate at the Department of War Studies at King’s College University in London, argued that ”Serbia, as a militarily neutral country and a member of the Partnership for Peace programme, is practically a passive member which does not utilise benefits of that partnership.” Petrović explained that this passive membership can be seen in Serbia’s limited participation in peace-keeping missions with UN mandates only, and added that a different path for Serbia to pursue would be to start using all the benefits and advantages of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme, which would “open a number of opportunities for Serbian military forces in many different areas”. Petrović closed by saying that should Serbia – as a state deciding between military neutrality and NATO membership – opt for the latter, the present moment would be most favourable since NATO, due to the current economic crisis, would not impose too ambitious nor demanding pre-conditions.
The final speaker, Nenad Radičević, political analyst and deputy editor of Politika’s foreign affairs desk, commented on a perceived change in the approach of most ambassadors in Serbia, with most no longer mentioning membership in NATO as a precondition for membership of the EU, but instead actively encouraging Serbia to co-operate more with the EU. Radičević also discussed the present situation in Libya and Russia’s influence over Serbia.