Serbia, NATO work to enhance co-operation, regional benefits

Author: Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade
SETimes.com, 24.9.2012

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Serbia stands to gain from its relationship with NATO, the chief of the Alliance's Military Liaison Office in Belgrade told SETimes.
By fostering its relationship with NATO, Belgrade could benefit in more than a military sense, Brigadier General Ornello Baron, the chief of NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade, told SETimes in an exclusive interview.

"NATO is not only a military organisation. We are, for example, assisting the ministry of defense and the Serbian government to deal with anti-corruption, we are helping in hazard prevention and science, NATO members provide significant donations and grants to Serbia," Baron told SETimes.
Regional safety, financial support, effective military reform according to NATO standards and faster EU accession are also benefits the country could reap.
He said that NATO is improving Serbia's security, and is helping the country to develop a flexible, modern, and sustainable defense system, based on NATO countries' experience.
Although Serbia's ongoing decision is to be military neutral, Serbia is an active member of the Alliance's Partnership for Peace programme. Serbia troops are participating in UN and EU peacekeeping operations by using NATO mechanisms available to partnership countries.
The general said that the current co-operation is in line with the agreed partnership goals, which range from defense planning and personnel management to air operation training, cyber defense and medical support.
The so-called Defense Reform Group has intensified its activities in the past two years and, a special team from Brussels comes quarterly to check the state of reforms.
"My office is actively engaged in fulfilling the military goals set in the Planning and Review Process document, with the primary focus on achieving interoperability of the Serbian Armed Forces with NATO forces," he told SETimes.
About 30 officers from NATO countries are coming to Serbia to provide evaluation and feedback on Serbian units.
"In this way, more than 400 Serbian soldiers will be NATO-certified by 2014, and will be able to take part in any international mission."
As for the Kosovo issue, NATO remains committed to is guaranteeing safety to all the people living there.
"Over the past 13 years, KFOR has helped to turn Kosovo into a largely stable multi-ethnic environment, in spite of the recent clashes in the north," he told SETimes. "In co-operation with international actors based in Kosovo, KFOR will continue ensuring the freedom of movement for all communities, protecting religious heritage, and creating conditions for political agreements between Belgrade and Pristina."
Baron said that he had the pleasure of meeting President Tomislav Nikolic and other senior officials at the ministry of defense. He expressed his hope that the relationship with them will grow in order to help develop NATO-Serbia co-operation in the future.
Even though NATO MLO's primary task is to support NATO and EU missions in the Balkans by acting as the first link with the ministry of defense on a daily basis, according to Baron, they are going to keep working on all mentioned activities, as well.
Baron said the way to enhance the relationship is for the country to help people see that NATO is tied to the region's security.
"People don't see a link between the Alliance and their individual security, although NATO is dealing with the most pressing security threats that spread across borders. Serbia is also affected by these security risks, and no country in today's world can cope with them independently -- co-operation in information sharing and partnerships are required to protect our populations and territories from diversified threats. This also affects ordinary Serbian citizens that can therefore live and prosper in a more secure environment," Baron said
Jelena Milic, executive director of the Belgrade Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies, agreed.
"Serbia has to join NATO -- not only as a military partner and for collective defence -- but also as a political partner of other liberal democracies and social democracies, which is necessary in order to resist numerous challenges of 21st century," Milic told SETimes.
This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.