Overview of the Fifth #BelgradeNATOWeek

16 November 2017

The fifth “jubilee” of the international conference, “Belgrade NATO Week” gathered more than 150 participants and high level speakers, including Tacan Ildem – Ambassador, NATO, Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy; Branimir Filipović – Ambassador, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia, Acting Assistant Foreign Minister for Security Policy; Benjamin Hodges – Commanding General U.S. Army Europe; Alessandro Minuto Rizzo – NATO Defense College Foundation Chair, former Deputy Secretary General NATO; Milan Mojsilović – General Major, Acting Deputy Minister of Defense Policy, Ministry of Defense of Serbia; Kristi Raik – The Finnish institute of International Affairs, coauthor, “A New Era of EU-NATO Cooperation”; Jelena Milić – Director of Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies, coauthor and editor, “BASIC INSTINCT – The Case for More NATO in The Western Balkans”; Stefano Stefanini – Nonresident Senior Fellow of the Brent Scowcroft Center for International Security, Atlantic Council USA; Giampaolo Di Paola – former Chair of the NATO Military Committee, former Minister of Defence of Italy, co-author, “GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation  Initiative”; and Robert Pszczel – Senior Officer for Russia and the Western Balkans, NATO Public Diplomacy Division.


Jelena Milić, Director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS), opened the annual security conference. “From the beginning, our goal has been to timely and objectively inform the public in Serbia and the region about NATO and the possibilities for cooperation between Serbia, as a militarily neutral country, and NATO.” Serbia’s membership in the European Union and memebership in NATO are, "two chairs on which Serbia should sit," added Milić.

This year, the conference’s theme also included expanded opportunities for cooperation with the European Union. On this topic, Milić noted that the EU could help Serbia with the accession process as well as increase Serbia’s capacity to resist growing Russian influence if it devoted additional attention to opening Chapter 31, which relates to the foreign, security, and defense policy.



Acting Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and Head of the Sector for Security Policy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Branimir Filipović, said that Serbia’s strategic orientation towards EU membership is clearly defined. “Serbia belongs in the family of European nations,” he stated. Filipović noted that Serbia actively participates in activities to support the security of the EU.


Futhermore, Filipović said that Serbia’s military neutrality does not present an obstacle to improving its cooperation with NATO, saying, “neutrality does not mean isolation and is not an obstacle to a more active role in the field of security. Although the past can not be forgotten, it is necessary to work on establishing communication and a common future.”

Filipović also highlighted the role of the Kosovo Force (KFOR) in protecting Serbian civilians and Serbian cultural heritage. “It is important that the KFOR Mission does not reduce its presence in Kosovo,” he said.


In light of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić’s recent visit to NATO headquarters, Tacan Ildem, Assistant Secretary General of NATO for Public Diplomacy, said that Serbia and NATO continue to strengthen their relationship to the benefit of both parties, adding that mutual trust is a prerequisite for beneficial partnership. “NATO and Serbia are facing common security challenges and therefore this partnership significantly contributes to peace and security, both in Serbia and the region.”

According to Ildem, public awareness is quite important. “Sometimes we may approach certain questions with emotions rather than knowing the real facts. Sometimes those sentiments could emanate from different reasons, such as the past, but it should not be an obstacle to us trying to understand what NATO stands for, what we mean in our cooperative engagement with partners, and how this cooperation could serve in contributing to security and stability in the Western Balkans.”

“The key element of our cooperation is mutual respect. NATO and Serbia today are close,” Ildem stated.


Ambassador of the United States to Serbia, Kyle Scott, emphasized that the door to NATO membership is open, but membership is not obligatory. “Serbia is the one that needs to determine the level of cooperation. The benefits of cooperation for Serbia are undeniable,” he added.

Benjamin Hodges, Commanding General of U.S. Army Europe, said that the security and stability of the Western Balkans directly correlates to that of the United States. Hodges believes that Serbia’s membership in the EU is important for Serbia’s further progress, and pledged U.S. support. “We will do everything in our power to support Serbia’s EU path,” he said.

“Stability in Europe is strategic for us because it affects security in the United States. Our alliance is a defensive allience, and the most sucesful aliance in the history of the world because of its defensive nature. Thankfully leadership from indespencable aliaes like Germany has also helped to improve the relationship between NATO and the European Union,”he added.


Counselor Minister Mateja Norčić Štamcar, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, emphasized the importance of ensuring peace in Serbia. She highlighted the ways in which Serbia already contributes to that goal, in particular by participating to missions related to common security and defense policy.

“Serbia is currently participating in four EU missions with 35 members, making it the greatest contributor to such missions in the region,” said Štamcar.

Following opening remarks, the first panel, “NATO and the EU in the New Strategic Environment,” addressed emerging securtiy challenges.

Ildem noted that cooperation between the EU and NATO is vital, especially when it comes to the fight against terrorism and strengthening cyber security.

“NATO is not able to fight terrorism on its own. We need other partners such as the UN and the EU,” he stated.

He also pointed out that NATO is in a continuous process of adaptation in order to respond to developing challenges, including threats from Russia.

“Russia must respect the international order. It missed an opportunity to demonstrate that it respects peace and stability,”  he explained.


Giampaolo Di Paola, former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, said he believes that today’s security environment is completely different from that of ten years ago. He also noted his concern regarding Russian nonobservance of international rules and norms.

“We need to strengthen our forces in order to prevent something bad from happening. We need to adapt to new circumstances and challenges,” he said.

Di Paola added, “in this process of transformation and adaptation, the EU should play an important role.” In his opinion, the EU has already taken steps in this direction.

The second panel, “NATO and the EU,” focused more heavily on mutual cooperation between the EU and NATO and opportunities for improvement.


Kristi Raik from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs said that she welcomes the signing of the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which incentivizes defense cooperation among EU member states, and hopes that this initiative will strengthen both NATO and the EU.

“Cooperation between the EU and NATO has improved, in many cases due to EU initiative. Such progress is a good thing,” Raik said. She added that many goals have yet to be met, and PESCO may provide the necessary groundwork for further development.

The Director of the Foundation of the NATO Defense College,  Alessandro Minuto-Rizzo, stated that in assessing areas for cooperation, it is necessary to remember the fundamental differences bewteen NATO and the EU. NATO is an international alliance between countries, while the EU is a supranational political project.

Tacan Ildem also pointed out that NATO and the EU have fully committed themselves to strengthening cooperation. They have jointly agreed upon a rich list of 42 areas for partnership. In addition, the EU’s own Global Strategy states that, “when it comes to the collective defence, NATO remains the primary framework.”

Ildem added that NATO conducts exercises in cooperation with the EU, particularly in relation to cross-border threats, such as cybersecurity. “We are doing our best to bring our experts together to help us all be better off,” he said.

Goran Svilanović, Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council, highlighted the importance of keeping a realisitc perspective when discussing NATO in Serbia. “According to the Balkan Barometer, approximately 30% of people say that the accession of Serbia to the EU is bad, while about 26% say it is good. The rest are undecided.”

In terms of security, Svilanović noted that many of the threats previously discussed are not unique to the Western Balkans and do not originate in migration routes that run through the region.

17 November 2017


The second day of the Belgrade NATO Week can be summaried in the conclusion drawn in the panel, “NATO and the Western Balkans”: the European Union and NATO are two sides of the same coin. They share Western values and the process of integration into one cannot be separated from integration into the other.

Tanya L. Domi, Adjunct Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, moderated this panel. She explained that U.S. withdrawal from the Western Balkans has created a vacuum, allowing the growth of Russian “soft power.”

“Therefore, the role of NATO and the EU in the Western Balkans is of great importance for the future and the region’s further development,” Domi said.

Robert Pszczel, Senior Official for Russia and the Western Balkans in NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division, said that positive developments in one country have an impact on neighboring countries.

“When we talk about integration, we want it to be for the benefit of all, meaning that no one is left on the side,” Pszczel explained. An example of positive cooperation is KFOR, which is respected by and beneficial to all ethnic groups.

Pszczel emphasized that cooperation with NATO members has many advantages, as each of the 29 states can offer expertise in different domains.

Jelena Milić, Director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies, stated that Montenegro’s membership in NATO is one of the best things to occur in the Western Balkans as of late.

EU member states’ lack of interest in enlargement is discouraging.

“These days, in the public, but what is even more worrying, from the opposition parties, we hear more and more often that the U.S. and Russia are two sides of the same coin and that the EU is the only option for Serbia – it should be noted that Euro-Atlantic integration cannot be separated just like that.”, Milić said.

Savo Kentera, President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro explained that Montenegro’s recent NATO membership has created conditions that will lead to sustainable investments, a better economy, and better lives for its citizens.

“We used NATO to achieve a larger goal: turning to Western values,” he said.

As for the NATO membership of other countries in the region, Kentera said that he anticipates Macedonia will be the next to join the club. Serbia, he stated, will not be a neutral state in the future.

Vesko Garčević, Professor at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University and former Director General of the General Directorate for NATO and Security Policy of Montenegro, believes that the processes of Euro-Atlantic integration should not be taken for granted.

“If there were any right candidates there would be no problems with the enlargement of the Union,” he said. In addition, there is a need for dialogue in the Western Balkans, among both NATO member states and non-member states, about regional foreign policy priorities and strategic goals.

“NATO and the EU are two sides of the same coin and they can not be separated from one another,” he said.

The following panel, “NATO and Serbia,” focused on the benefits of cooperation and dialogue.


Acting Assistant Minister for Security Policy at the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Branimir Filipović, said that Serbia’s adoption of an Individual Parternship Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO corresponded with a higher level of cooperation, which has continued to intensify since 1999.

“Cooperation with NATO is based on the common interest of promoting peace and security, both globally and regionally,” Filipović said.

He added that an important aspect of that cooperation is tied to KFOR. Serbia expects that KFOR will not reduce its presence in Kosovo in the near future.

Milan Mojsilović, Major General and Acting Assistant Minister for Defense Policy, agreed, adding that security is the common goal that puts Serbia in a position to cooperate with KFOR on both sides of the administrative line.

Mojsilović highlighted that cooperation with NATO is important because Serbia is not only a participant, but actively expresses its interests.

Pszczel seconded this, saying that Serbia both derives security benefits by joint projects with NATO,  and contributes to security through its own activities. He added that NATO needs Serbia, including as a pillar of regional security.

Director of the Office of National Security and Classified Information Protection, Goran Matić, said that Serbia, by applying for EU membership, also applies for the exchange of information with all members states. In matters of digitization, data protection, and cyber security, Matić believes that Estonia should serve as a model for Serbia.

Jelena Milić referred to Chapter 31 of the accession process, which is, she believes, is of great importance for Serbia. In light of requirements in this chapter, Serbia should revise its strategic documents to meet the needs of the new geopolitical environment. In particularly these should reflect its declaratively expressed ambition to become an EU member.

The final panel of Belgrade NATO Week was hosted by the International Republican Institute’s Beacon Project. The panel, titled “The Fourth Estate in the Balkans: Advantages and Disadvantages,” addressed media as an intengral component of a functioning democracy.


Zoran Sekulić, Editor in Chief and Director of FoNet, said that Serbian media does not work in the public interest, but rather represents the interests of the ruling party.
“I think that, in addition to internal factors, the international community plays a role in influencing media in Serbia,” Sekulić said. Program Director of metamorphosis.org.mk, Filip Stojanovski, and Editor in Chief and Vice President of Radio Free Europe, Nenad Pejić, agreed with these statements.

Ana Petruševa, a journalist for the Balkans Investigative Reporting Network, added that the extent of the governments’ investment in media companies is important when analyzing their neutrality.

Belgrade NATO week was supported by the NATO Public Diplomacy Division and the US Embassy in Serbia.

Coinciding with #BelgradeNATOWeek was the USA-Serbia joint exercise #DoubleEagle2017, in which U.S. service members and the Serbian Armed Forces conducted an airborne insertion exercise and exchanged jump wings. See more at https://www.dvidshub.net/news/255818/joint-exercise-double-eagle-wraps-up-serbia