Is Serbia nevertheless sliding towards NATO*

Politika, 12.11.2013.


The „Partnership Tour“ through Serbian cities is only one of the activities through which the Alliance is trying to change the public mood, as only 17 per cent of citizens supports joining this alliance.

A group of leftist activists raided yesterday the opening of the student NATO Summit which gathered 130 students from more than 50 countries in Belgrade this week. Several young men who spread a banner with the message “We do not forget, we do not forgive, no to NATO” and features of the political organization NKKPJ-SKOJ, accused the conference organizers for the propagation of killing children. A raging debate followed, during which, as Tanjug reports, messages such as “NATO killers out of Serbia” and “It will not pass, NATO gangsters”, were shouted out.

The student NATO Summit is being held shortly after the “Partnership Tour” swept Serbia, during which representatives of the Atlantic Council and the Slovak Embassy, the country that is a “contact-embassy” between Serbia and NATO this year, using the experiences of Slovakia, pointed to the benefits of Serbia joining this alliance, to citizens of Kragujevac, Niš, Novi Sad and Belgrade.

If not for yesterday’s intrusion of left-wingers into the NATO Summit, it would, as the majority of the Alliance activities, pass, more or less, unnoticed. Activities of the NATO Public Diplomacy Division in Serbia generally take place below the Serbian media radars. Only here and there appears a statement that unsettles spirits and imposes the question of whether Serbia is sliding towards NATO, despite the fact that the vast majority of its citizens oppose this. Research, in fact, shows that joining this alliance has the support of only 13 to 17 per cent of Serbian citizens.

This very question was raised after a recent statement by Daniel Server, a known Albanian lobbyist and analyst from Washington, who said that Serbia could change its attitudes towards NATO in the next few years. Serbia, he says, is not ready for such a step now, but still, he says, a “little birdie” told him that it will not be more than a few years before this taboo is demolished. If assessed only based on public statements of politicians in power in the recent years, the Serbian citizens should not look to find this “birdie” among their ranks.

The Serbian Parliament adopted in 2007 a Declaration on Military Neutrality of Serbia that no one from the from the ruling coalitions in the past years, at least publicly, brought into question. However, as you should always read between the lines, opponents to Serbia’s NATO membership wondered, after a recent statement by Prime Minister Ivica Dačić, whether something has changed in relations to this alliance. Let us remind that Dačić, when recently asked on the chances of Belgrade starting to consider NATO membership, replied that he is confident that Serbia will, in the near future, be surrounded by Alliance Member States.

“I am sure that there will be pressure on Serbia to become part of NATO. I am sure that this might be in our interest, but I am also sure that we will not bring such a decision”, stated Dačić.

For Aleksandar Mitić, President of the Center for Strategic Alternatives (CSA) and former Tanjug Correspondent from NATO Headquarters in Brussels, there is no dilemma on whether the former state leaders worked secretly, but actively, on bringing Serbia closer to NATO.

“The current national leadership is also not “squeamish” regarding Serbia’s NATO membership. Thus, continuity undoubtedly exists. I would say that it is not that the Serbian Government does not want, but that it dares not to bring a decision on further approximation to NATO, because 8 out of 10 citizens opposes Serbia’s NATO membership. Therefore, further approximation to NATO can only happen secretly, out of the public eye, step by step, through a technocratic process which the public cannot follow nor understand”, said Mitić.

The two things, he says, which NATO must do in order to adjoin Serbia - is to win over the Government and public opinion.

“As far as winning the Government over goes, after the Brussels Agreement and the following blackmails, NATO Member States know that it is the right moment for pressuring the government. They will certainly attempt to pull Serbia as deep as possible into NATO technical issue such as standardization, cooperation through EU missions and political pressures. The Government also shows that it does not have a problem with placing individuals openly lobbying for Serbia’s NATO membership into senior position. Such is the case with Tanja Miščević, Dragan Šutanovac’s Assistant and main architect in linking the issues of EU and NATO in the Ministry of Defense, who was recently appointed Serbia’s Chief Negotiator with the EU. How then to even try to explain the case of Franco Frattini who has for months now been lobbying for Serbia’s NATO membership and is a candidate for the position of NATO Secretary-General, and who is appointed as an Adviser to the state which declared military neutrality. Will his role be one to “convert” the key individuals in government in the direction of NATO integration”, asks Mitić.

As for public opinion, he explains, a key interests of NATO lobbyists is to have emotions expelled from the heads of Serbian citizens, to neutralize discussions on NATO and to devaluate all of our experiences. And to portray the process of NATO membership as inevitable, which is nonsense because in Europe military neutral countries include the northernmost Finland as well as the westernmost Ireland, the easternmost Ukraine and Moldova, as well as the southernmost Cyprus and Malta, and the most central Austria and Switzerland.

Nothing the in Serbia there are very few people who publicly advocate Serbia’s NATO membership, the Director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies, Jelena Milić, sees membership in this alliance as its chance to become part of the political community of stable, democratic and humane countries in which human rights are respected.

“We forget that NATO is a regional organization. From a geopolitical and military aspect there is an absolute logic for Serbia to consider NATO membership as geographically it belongs to this region. Having in mind Serbia’s size and the size of economic, natural and migratory challenges and threats, as well as those caused by human catastrophes it is evident that Serbia on its own lacks the resources to defend against all of them”, concludes Milić.

When it comes the mentioned moral argument for non-entrée into NATO, because it concerns an alliance which bombed Serbia, our interviewee believes that this poses as a reason for Serbia to join as soon as possible, and then to consider all the causes of the bombing together with other members, as “some among these were extremely legitimate”; as well as the consequences of the bombing, the issue of collateral damage and the issues of possible compensation for the damage.

She also says that NATO is committed to having the UN adopt a doctrine on responsibility for intervention in cases of mass violations of humanitarian law, genocide and other crimes. In certain cases, she says, there had to be an intervention, but this should be done only with the consent of the UN.

“The perception of Serbia is that NATO “shoots” around the world. But only the interventions in Kosovo, Afghanistan, east Bosnia and Libya took place without UN approval. In order to persuade the UN, and primarily the Security Council, you must first persuade China and Russia, who are less sensitive to mass crimes. Contrary to the general impression that their governments merely wait to pull the trigger, NATO Member States have a very active public opinion. In their countries, there needs to be a campaign in order to react”, says Milić, without denying that there were abuses, as was the case with the arguments put forward by the British Prime Minister to his public in order to justify intervention in Iraq.

When it comes to the future of Kosovo, if Serbia was to approach this military alliance, NATO is far more open on this matter than the EU. While the proponents of Serbian EU integration are far more discreet, and from their statements it cannot always be clearly concluded whether Belgrade’s recognition of Kosovo will be the last condition for Serbia to join this community of nations, NATO lobbyists bluntly state that recognition of Kosovo’s independence is a requirement for joining the Alliance.

As the Director of the Slovak Institute for Security and Defense Studies Ivo Samson stated in Niš during the “Partnership Tour”, Serbia would, on the road to NATO, have to “pay the price” which would encompass recognition of borders with neighbors and the recognition of Kosovo. Milić agrees with this. The question of Belgrade’s membership, as she sees it, due to the unpleasant experience with Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, will not be considered before the relationship between Serbia and Kosovo is formalized. Regardless of this, relations with NATO will be raised to a higher level because Serbia submitted an action plan for implementing Individual Partnership Plan which will, says Milić, most likely be adopted in Brussels early next year and which will raise Serbia’s membership in the Partnership for Peace to the highest possible level.
What are students learning about
The goal of the student NATO Summit held in Belgrade under the title “SIM NATO 2013”, as the organizers from the NGO for International Dialogue and Cooperation AFIKAD, previously announced, is the simulation of the work and organization of NATO. Students will debate on current international political issues such as the problems of North Korea and Iran, on NATO’s role in Syria, Egypt, in Kosovo, North Korea’s nuclear program…

WikiLeaks: Serbia cannot remain outside of NATO forever
That what is publicly proclaimed is not always the same as what is said to foreign counterparts within four walls is proven by some WikiLeaks dispatches. Thus, a top-secret document numbered "VZCZCXRO7590" which the U.S. Embassy sent to Hillary Clinton on February 5, 2010, states that Jovan Ratković, Foreign Policy Advisor to former Serbian President Boris Tadić, conveyed to the Ambassador Mary Warlick the personal conviction of President Tadić that Serbia will not be able to remain outside of NATO forever, and that the support of the Serbian people of the Partnership for Peace and NATO membership is “surprisingly high”. He emphasized, apparently, that Serbia is taking steps towards increasing cooperation with the organization and that it sent a Serbian Ambassador to NATO Headquarters.

*CEAS translation of the original article