Serbia joins with NATO to target surplus munitions
Officials in Serbia are working with NATO to help rid the country of excess munitions in order to increase the safety and security of the state.
According to the Serbian Defence Ministry, there are more than 4,000 tonnes of surplus munitions in the country. About 2,000 tonnes will be placed into safe storage in the first phase of the project, reducing the risk of proliferation or that the aging ammunition could explode.
In December 2006, Serbia joined NATO's Partnership for Peace programme and is co-operating with the alliance on several projects, including strengthening Serbia's capacity to safely store and dispose of surplus munitions.
An October 2006 explosion at a military warehouse near the central Serbian town of Paracin sounded the alarm, exposing the need for disposal of outdated munitions. There were no casualties in the explosion, but the military warehouse was destroyed and the town sustained enormous material damage.
"Security and stability in the Western Balkans is a high priority for the UK, after the history of the last two decades. So it was natural for our ministry of defence to respond positively to Serbia's request to NATO for assistance in removing its surplus ammunition stockpile," Mariot Leslie, the UK's permanent representative to NATO, said.
Serbian Defence Ministry representatives said the cost of the first phase of the project is 3.7 million euros, of which Serbia is providing 450,000 euros.
NATO's assistance on the project is not only financial. The alliance will manage and supervise the process. Serbia has also requested help from NATO to improve the capacity of the facility for the demilitarisation of outdated weapons in Kragujevac, central Serbia.
"The Technical Overhaul Bureau Kragujevac, as the sole authorised institution in the ministry of defence and the Serbian Armed Forces for the disassembly of munitions, is fully prepared for the start of the process. The funds are expected to be gathered by the end of 2013, and the project implementation is to start in January 2014," the Serbian Defence Ministry told SETimes.
The country's co-operation with NATO raises the issue of Belgrade's relationship with the alliance. In December 2007, Serbia declared military neutrality, saying that it will not become a member of any existing military alliance.
Alexandra Lasandova from the Slovakia Embassy, which is the NATO contact embassy for Serbia, told SETimes that relations between Belgrade and NATO can be described as "pragmatic, practical, mutually beneficial and positive."
She added that co-operation between the Serbian Defence Ministry and NATO generates concrete results.
"We can speak particularly about achievements in the field of reforms and fighting corruption in the armed forces through a NATO Building Integrity Initiative," she said.
Serbian Assistant Defence Minister Miroslav Jovanovic told the Belgrade media that Serbia is not striving for NATO membership, but that military neutrality does not prevent it from co-operating through the Partnership for Peace programme.
Lasandova agreed that future relations between Serbia and NATO predominantly hinge on Belgrade's decisions.
"It will be very important to finalise the text of the first Individual Partnership Action Plan that is currently with the Serbian side. Once finalised, it would upgrade the co-operation from a purely military level to a political level. This programme will allow Serbia to co-operate more effectively and will allow NATO to launch more projects of mutual interest as well as to provide more effective assistance in Serbia's reforms," she said.
However, according to data provided by pollster Ipsos Strategic Marketing in July, just 13 percent of citizens support Serbia's accession to NATO.
Predrag Simic, a professor at the Belgrade Faculty of Political Sciences, told SETimes that membership in NATO would be beneficial for Belgrade.
"NATO and the EU are two parts of the same whole -- the Trans-Atlantic community, with the EU being an organisation for good, and NATO for bad weather," Simic said.
Military analyst Aleksandar Radic said Serbia's geostrategic position is deteriorating due to its not joining NATO, especially since Croatia and Albania became members.
Croatia aims to become a leader in the region and is gradually making that happen, whereas Serbia is in a way remaining a prisoner of history," Radic said.
NATO's doors are always open to Serbia, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in an interview with the Belgrade media.
"NATO's position is such that our doors are open, provided, of course, that the countries interested in joining meet the conditions and criteria. Serbia knows what it has to do -- it has to do its homework, carry out all the necessary reforms at home. Our doors do not open automatically, one must show good will. The short answer for Serbia is we're ready when you are," Rasmussen said.