Overview of the IV #BelgradeNATOWeek

The Fourth Belgrade NATO Week was officially opened with a two day international conference, held on November 28 and 29 in “Aeroklub”, Uzun Mirkova 4, Belgrade. 

Over a hundred participants took part in the conference, including representatives of the state, diplomatic core, NATO, NGOs, youth from the Faculty of Political science, political parties and a considerable number of media representatives, which showed great interest in the relationship between Serbia and NATO.

Keynote speakers were: Jelena Milić, Director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies; Slobodan Joksimović, Brigadier General and Head of the Strategic Planning Department at the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Serbia; Kyle Scott, US Ambassador in Belgrade; Stefano Stefanini, Podesta group, International Affairs, Defense, Diplomatic Relations adviser, Former ambassador and permanent representative of Italy to NATO and diplomatic advisor to the former Italian President Giorgio Napolitano; Michael Davenport, Ambassador to the EU Delegation to the Republic of Serbia and Dominik P. Jankowski Head of the OSCE and Eastern Security Unit of Security Policy Department from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; HE Arne Sannes Bjornstad, Royal Norwegian Ambassador in Belgrade and Mr. Vesko Garčević, professor at Boston University Pardee School and former Montenegro Government national coordinator for NATO; Mr. Nikola Samardžić, professor and president of New Balkans Institute; Mr. Walter Slocombe, the Director of Atlantic council; Mr. Mark Simakovsky, Atlantic Council non-resident senior fellow; Mr. Robert Pszczel, acting director of NATO Information Office in Moscow, Mr. Fayez Risheg, Director of the Centre for Development Cooperation from Zagreb and Ms. Veronika Víchová, analyst at Kremlin Watch Program from European Values Think-Tank, Czech Republic; Jelena Krstić and Nemanja Stjepanović from the Humanitarian Law Center and Dr Emir Suljagić from the Civic Alliance, political party from Bosnia and Herzegovina; Dr. Goran Matić, Acting Director of the Government of Serbia Office of the National Security Council and Classified Information Protection and Mr. Peter Susko, Deputy Ambassador of Slovakia-NATO Contact Point Embassy to Serbia.

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Jelena Milić opened the event by stressing out that Belgrade NATO Week is a regular annual program organized by CEAS with the support of NATO Public Diplomacy Division and, since last year, with the support of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. She pointed out that the program has been originally designed to gather young members of all political parties in Serbia, and has been realized in series of lectures and visits to State institutions dealing with questions of Serbia’s cooperation with NATO, National Assembly bodies and other relevant organizations, and also thanked the representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of Defense for organizing exceptionally well rated lectures for our participants for every Belgrade NATO Week so far as well as the Embassy of Slovakia in Serbia, being a NATO Contact Point Embassy in Serbia, and NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade for their previous support in the realization of this program.

In her speech, she pointed out that since Serbia agreed the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO in January 2015, thus achieving the highest level of cooperation that a country that is not a candidate for NATO membership can establish with NATO, CEAS have decided to expand the program to open assemblies such as the two-day international conference, and that the objective of the assembly is to put forth facts and justified arguments that contribute to the information debate concerning the events in the Trans-Atlantic world, in NATO and EU, the cooperation of NATO and EU as well as the implications of the said trends on the events in the region, primarily on the relations between NATO and Serbia.

Milić noted that 2016 has been very dynamic. She stressed that CEAS finds NATO Warsaw Summit conclusions and their implications insufficiently discussed by the Serbian public, especially related to Cyberspace that has been recognized as the fourth domain of warfare.  In this context, CEAS and partners have recently published the Technology Safety Guide, with the support of OSCE Mission to Serbia.

„During 2016, EU has adopted the Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy which mentions the importance of strengthening cooperation with NATO. Having in mind that Serbia is in the process of accession to EU, we believe the NATO and EU plans for strengthening mutual cooperation are to be of utmost importance for the domestic public.

The said documents explicitly express the negative attitudes of both organizations toward the current policy of Kremlin due to the illegal annexation of Crimea and the presence of Russia in the Eastern Ukraine conflicts, and the propagation of disinformation and undermining of democratic processes. These topics, as well as the defense methods shall be further discussed during this conference” – said Milić and expressed concerns about the “open door” policy of Serbian government to Kremlin influences and propaganda that uses democratic practices and principles, like civil society work rights and independent media, only to undermine and disrespect the said rights in Russia, explaining that unlike Serbia, most of the political West representatives are increasing their efforts to prevent propagation of disinformation and other illegitimate activities of Kremlin.

Jelena Milić reminded those present that CEAS published report “Eyes Wide Shut” on the increasing Russian influence in Serbia in May 2016. „We are carefully observing the ways in which the official Kremlin propaganda is actively interfering with the democratic decision processes of Serbia as a sovereign country. Let us not forget, Montenegro is neither Iraq under Saddam Hussein nor Libya under Gaddafi, but a country far advanced in negotiating EU membership. Regardless, Sputnjik continues to criminalize and intimidate the political management, at the same time circulating series of other disinformation into Montenegrin public space.

Having all this in mind, as well as the increasing proof of the involvement of Russian elements in the attempt of destabilization of Montenegro after the elections, CEAS believes that Montenegro not only struggles for NATO membership, but actually fights for the preservation of its sovereignty and independence against the subversive influence of Kremlin. It would be beneficial if the pro-European citizens of Montenegro with an undefined or negative attitude towards NATO membership understood that NATO membership in the current geopolitical situation ensures an unobstructed continuance of integration into EU“- she also said that CEAS is particularly concerned about the fact that the members of parliament from the ruling party of Prime Minister Vucić as well as his coalition partner Nenad Popović, a spokesman for a close collaboration with Putin’s Russia, joined the disinformation campaign on the events in Montenegro. With great media coverage, Popović insists that the Serbian majority in Montenegro is ethnically the most endangered in Europe, while his followers even raise the question of racism.

Milić raised up several issues: „Why does the state broadcasting network, without any denials or questions for the officials, insist that it is an “insult” to the NATO bombing victims to quote numbers resulting from an extensive project of determining human casualties during the conflicts in Kosovo? Data of Humanitarian Right Center that speak of 800 victims, both civilians and non-civilians, have been gathered by means of inspection of several relevant sources. No one ever disputed the methodology and expertise of their analyses. At the same time, the state of Serbia, for officially unknown reasons, never managed or wanted to make a list of human casualties.“

CEAS Director concluded her introductory speech with stating the importance of continuation of implementation of transitional justice mechanisms and the elements of the safety system reforms.

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Brigadier General and Head of the Strategic Planning Department at the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Serbia Slobodan Joksimović, expressed his admiration to the more extensive and more comprehensive agenda of the conference, as well as an impressive list of participants.

He noted that the meetings between Serbian government and officials of NATO are at political level frequent, as evidenced by the recent visit of the Prime Minister to the headquarters of NATO. Joksimović referred to the cooperation between Serbia and NATO through the Individual partnership action plan (IPAP) „In this year MOD continued participation of our ministry in the IPAP mechanism, now under the leading role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Recently on the occasion of the completion of the first cycle of our involvement in the IPAP, at the headquarters of NATO, the assesment of IPAP of Serbia with NATO was adopted and it was  stresses out that ministries made good progress in all priority areas, except in the area of public diplomacy.“

Brigadier General also stated that there is a good cooperation with KFOR, which is the only guarantor of security in Kosovo and Metohija.

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Kyle Scott, US Ambassador in Belgrade said that in order to talk about Serbia’s relationship with NATO today we need to first understand what it is we are talking about. He stated that we need to separate fact from fiction, that the fact is that Serbia has made it clear that it is not pursuing NATO membership, NATO as an organization and NATO member countries respect Serbia’s position, Serbia is a NATO partner does not mean NATO is pressuring Serbia to join NATO or that there is any obligation for Serbia to participate in NATO operations., and concluded that in fact, when it comes to NATO, Serbia decides what activities it wants to take part in.

Saying this he also added that partnership with NATO does not prevent Serbia from working closely with other, non-NATO countries and is a sovereign country and there is nothing in Serbia’s partnership arrangements such as the IPAP, PfP, Status of Forces Agreement, or any other document or agreement that tells Serbia who it can and cannot work with.

While stressing out the scope of cooperation of Serbia and NATO Ambassador Scott mentioned few activities such as  NATO Trust Fund project in Kragujevac, two-year project that will destroy up to 2,000 tons of dangerous and unusable ammunition that pose a security risk to the people of Serbia or the Fourth NATO Trust Fund project that completed its mission to help more than 6,000 former members of the Serbian Armed Forces transition into civilian employment, and  it did so with vocational training, support services, career counseling, as well as grants and loans to start and expand small and medium sized businesses.

He added that as Prime Minister Vučić and other government officials frequently say, Serbs in Kosovo put their trust in KFOR to act as the guarantor of a safe and secure environment in Kosovo and to ensure the freedom of movement, and one of the results are almost every day patrols on the Administrative Boundary Line of the Serbian Armed Forces and KFOR forces.

The introductory speeches and the opening ceremony were followed by the second panel: “NATO-EU Relationship after the Warsaw Summit”. The panel was focused on NATO-EU Relationship after the Warsaw Summit, key decisions of the Warsaw Summit and Countering Russian propaganda.

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Mr. Stefano Stefanini opened the first panel stating that he first want to focus on the NATO-EU relationship, and that NATO Summit was a good Summit and it achieved probably more than it meets the eye. It gave a clear cut response to Russia both in terms deterrence and in terms of being open to dialog.

Mr. Stefano stressed that NATO is a defensive alliance that protects its member states from threats wherever they might come, and that includes non-conventional threats- the main one being the cyber Defence. The two things that have happened to affect the NATO-EU relationship are Brexit and election of Donald Trump as a USA President- said Stefano.

He explained it with the fact that Brexit changes the dynamics with NATO. The UK role in NATO and in general is to make EU acceptable to the Americans and vice versa. As far as Donald Trump being elected he said that he see it as possible sea change because for the first time we have US President who is not committed to European integration and openly supported Brexit. Mr. Stafanini stressed that EU and NATO both are pillars of Trans-Atlantic relationship and there would not be EU without receiving constant support from Washington.

He concluded with the answer on question where does this situation leave Serbia- “There is still hangover in Serbia regarding NATO because of the 1999, that was 17 years ago, and in 1962 after world war two, Germany and Italy were strong allies of the allies who have defeated them, so my blunt advice to my Serbian friends would be to get over it. That does not mean that Serbia should seek NATO membership, but has to look at NATO with different eyes. “

Second panelist was Mr. Michael Davenport, said that there is great significance in the Warsaw declaration. He pointed out that the reason of why the Declaration was significant, and that part of the answer lies in the nature of the two organizations.

 “NATO as an organization for its members and soon to be members provided the bedrock in defense and security for last decades, we are often forgetting that the 22 member states of NATO are also members of the EU. NATO is also important for the states that are not yet a part of NATO, and whish not to become member states. If you look at the six member states that are part of the EU and not of NATO they are either PfP or aspiring to be part of PfP and see NATO important for their security. We shouldn’t forget that actions from Berlin plus transferred into some actions as for example Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia operations or continuing operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, so EU and NATO did form the basis to a good deal of practical cooperation.

Over the last two years they had grown in bot NATO HQ and the European council and in external action service- there is growing perception of more needed to be done. The Warsaw Declaration didn’t come out of the blue it was really hard preparatory work that included respective sets of member states. It is clearer than ever before that neither organization is actually capable of dealing successfully with broad range of security challenges separately, and that why the new framework was required. “Mr. Davenport concluded his exposure with stressing out that Declaration is not just set of principles and ideas, rather it is also about following it up with concrete actions.

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Third panelist, Mr. Dominik said that as a member of the Eastern flank he find these topics interesting and important. He also stated that it is important to bring different topics at the table and to see different perspectives on many issues, including Russia. “Russia should not be an Elephant in the room and it is an Elephant in the room from time to time obviously, but we should not avoid honest and open discussion.”

Regarding the topic of EU-NATO Relations after the Summit he said that the outcomes of the Summit are consolidating West and they are consolidating West in a situation when we see direct threats to the security of the Alliance and its member states, and those threats are coming from both East and South- which is important to underline. Discussing the Russia and the view of Poland he noted that Poland want to see a Russia that is willing to cooperate in a genuine manner, especially because our history tells us that if this is not the case than Poland and the Region are in very difficult situation. Dominik recalled the Missile System set in Kaliningrad and stated that they can easily reach Warsaw, which would not be a problem if Russia is a friend. NATO Summit helped the Eastern flank to understand that Russia is not only threat to them, it is also a threat to Southern members, especially if you remember what happened in November 2015 when Turks shut down the Russian plane which violated the air space of Turkey.

Dominik concluded with expressing the concern about the Hybrid threats, especially in Ukraine, but also in member states, future member states such as Montenegro as well as NATO partners like Western Balkans countries and added that we all must cooperate and work together in order to be able to anticipate threats and defend from it.

The third panel opened the discussion on the key decisions of the Warsaw Summit and their implications for the Region of Western Balkans.

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HE Arne stressed out the importance of not going back to the “business as usual” and that the world started to be bipolar again. Russia is using all the means to be a superpower again, he said, and for the last two decades NATO tried to build partnership with Russia. “When Russia in 2014 annexed the Ukrainian territory NATO suspended all the cooperation with Russia. Russia has to respect the international law but also to respect neighboring countries. It is obvious that the Russia’s neighboring countries are nervous because they feel threatened. No one can gain in this kind of build tension, nor Russia or NATO, nor the EU. ”

Mr. Bjornstad pointed out that we should not mix migrant and refugees with terrorists and it is also important thing for the Region because of the Balkan route and migration that is affecting Balkan countries. He added that it is really hard to fight cyber attacks and similar threats because even when you know where those threats are coming from, it is hard to provide clear evidence sustainable at court, and that was, by his opinion is what happened in Montenegro with the cue attempt. As a conclusion he expressed his worry for the disinformation campaign in Regions media, and how easy it is to manipulate people with spinning the news, especially when you can amplify the prejudices and anger among people.

Mr. Vesko Garčević focused his speech in current on goings in the Europe and the world and how is that influencing Balkans. He said that as mentioned at the panel before, priorities for the Western community right now is Russia with the emphasis on deterrence and defense from different kind of threats. That context should be understood by aspiring member states and we should work accordingly- he said. He added that the “open door policy” for Russia in Balkans is indeed important because it can severely affect Balkans further EU and NATO integration.

Final panel at the first day of the International conference was about the USA elections and their impact of the Trans-Atlantic partnership. CEAS had prominent panelist from the Atlantic Council of USA.

Mr. Slocombe stated that there is virtually unprecedented uncertainty about the new president, his policies and his team especially in internal and international affairs. He later spoke about possible outcomes of the elections on the US, but also on the current straightening of the far right movements across the Europe.

Mr. Simakovsy agreed with stated by Mr. Slocomb and expressed his wish to hear thoughts of people from the Balkan states on this topic. He said that by the election outcome it is obvious that there is a lot of skepticism among the American citizens on partnerships and alliances in the form as they are now, and that there is strong anti-NATO sentiment.

Day two

Second day of the International conference was marked by panels on Trans-Atlantic relation with Russia, Who is projecting what in Western Balkans and Serbian-NATO relationship.

Mr. Robert Pszczel opened the panel with pointing out that regarding Russia things have improved dramatically, first because Russia is doing a lot of things even do its trying to do them in a covert way, but they are so obvious, for example when they claim that they do not have troops in Ukraine and they give medals to that same troops in Ukraine.

He later added that Russian intentions are so obvious and that their disinformation campaign to hide their activities in Ukraine is failing to do so. When it comes to the essential analysis of the actions NATO and EU share the same view and that sets the platform for building the policies, Mr. Pszczel said. He pointed out that NATO is the organization that make decisions by consensus and that everyone should be on board. He concluded with the though that NATO has strong principles and they are always going to be on the first place, NATO is not isolating Russia, Russia is isolating itself.

Ms. Veronica talked about her work in Kremlin Watch monitor and tried to explain how that is their way of contributing countering disinformation on daily basis.

Second panel tackled the issue of who is projecting what in Western Balkans.

The panelists successfully expressed their views on Transitional justice in Serbia, problems of the implementation of the mechanisms of Transitional justice in Region and connection between the convicted and suspected war criminals that are till this day in high ranks of the state armies, that are closely connected with the Russian structures in Serbia and the region.

Final panel of the International Conference dealt with the Serbian-NATO relationship.

Closed sessions for participants

After the two day international conference last three days had its focus to provide to youth participants useful information and facts about Serbia’s cooperation with NATO and intensified Russian influence in Serbia.

Unlike previous years, during the implementation of this project we created broader  group of 27 young politicians, students from the faculty of Social Sciences and young activists from NGO sector willing to improve their knowledge, skills and contacts related to Serbian foreign affairs, security and defense cooperation and integration process and to enable them to multiply this knowledge among their party’s peers and in public, thus engaging into CEAS’ planned long term project objective –an educated pool of rising future leaders and decision-makers equipped with enough knowledge to be able to make rational, fact-based decisions independently and in the public interest, not falling for manipulation and propaganda. This was achieved through a series of lectures, debates and institutional visits including the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Parliament, and Office of the Council on National Security and Classified Information Protection.

The idea of this program was to have young, formally politically engaged citizens of Serbia multiply the knowledge and skills they will acquire through participation in the program, in their respective parties, the local community and the media.

On the 30th of November 2016, 27 participants of the program visited Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia, and they were hosted by Branislav Pekić, V.D. Head of NATO and Partnership for Peace Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia. The participants expressed high remarks within evaluation poll, and they were satisfied with the debate, received information and content and comprehensiveness of lecture, especially regarding the information about formal cooperation of Serbia and NATO, IPAP and extent of this cooperation.

They also had time and were encouraged to ask questions and participate in the debate.  In the afternoon of the same day, participants had the lecture by Sanja Dašić, from the Office of the Council on National Security and Classified Information Protection of the Republic of Serbia. She delivered a presentation of the Office, explained the competence, responsibilities and the importance of the Office, as well as importance of careful handling the classified date, after which all participants participated in an open discussion. The visit also received high grades in later opinion poll, regarding the amount of new information and answers to questions posed.

 After that, they had encounter with the NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade, led by Brigadier General Cesare Marinelli, Chief NATO MLO. General Marinelli gave useful information to the participants, regarding the role of NATO Military Liaison Office in Serbia, and further explained the amount and quality of formal cooperation of Serbian Government with NATO, regarding the IPAP and other forms of cooperation. He also referred to the issue of what NATO is and how it operates, as the topics spreader further into considering the challenges that NATO is faced with within the organization itself as well as in its regional and global environment, what is happening with the EU Common Security and Defense Policy, what are its transformative capabilities in terms of security sector reform, what is the dynamic of relations between NATO and EU CSDP, what sort of debates are being led in NATO and EU Member States on the missions in which these two organizations take or do not take part in, the future of these organizations, what are NATO relations like with countries such as Russia and China, what are NATO’s strategic goals, how are these realized, what is happening with NATO’s enlargement policy and how it works.

On the 1st of December 2016th, participants visited the National Parliament of the Republic of Serbia, and they were hosted by Dragan Šormaz, SNS MP, member of the Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. They debated about the role of the Delegation, and cooperation between Serbia and NATO. High grades were also given by participants, regarding this visit, in the field of amount of information and questions posed. The emphasis was on Serbia’s adoption of the Law on Ratification of the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the NATO Support and Procurement Organization (NSPO) on Logistic Support Cooperation in February 2016. On the same day, participants visited the Atlantic Council of Serbia, hosted by Vlade Radulović, Executive director of the Atlantic Council of Serbia. This lecture was about the fact that Serbian citizens have the right to be better informed on developments in the region, on NATO, and on Serbia’s relations with NATO. Attention was paid to the question of how to facilitate a more effective dynamic in relations with the Alliance in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in Serbia’s relations with Kosovo, through Partnership for Peace mechanisms. Other topic of this lecture was Serbian relationship with Russia (myths versus facts). Participants were highly involved in the debate.

On the same day, there was a presentation of the policy brief, done by Partners for Democratic Change, an organization that did an important research on the topic of relationship between transparency and privacy in the context of information on public office holders. Presentation was held by Uroš Mišljenović and Ana Toskić, and they presented them with thorough analysis on the topic. CEAS perceived this topic to be useful for the participants as they are possibly to be the decision makers in the future, so we wanted to point out the responsibility of that position.

Final day of the closed sessions of The Fourth Belgrade NATO Week, 2nd of December 2016th, included a CEAS workshop, summarizing received information, with presentation of CEAS work and future plans. Presentation was given by Anđa Petković, CEAS Senior Project Coordinator, and Dragan Stoiljković, CEAS Project Manager. The workshop included information about CEAS’s overall goal in running various Serbia-NATO projects in order to achieve higher level of fact-driven public perception on Serbian current affairs, regional and global affairs related to defense and security and public debate on Serbia-NATO relations in particular, that would contribute to a better understanding among Serbian citizens of the potential benefits of a country joining NATO. The information contained updates on the Serbia’s IPAP progress; its foreign policy standing in terms of EU integration, NATO cooperation and military neutrality; NATO-related developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro; as well as Russian influence in Serbia and the region. CEAS team members also emphasized findings that show that citizens lack elementary knowledge about all of these actors (NATO, EU), which significantly affects their positions and preferences towards those organizations.

The Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) from Belgrade held the Fourth Belgrade NATO Week, with support by the NATO Public Diplomacy Division and Rockefeller Brothers Fund, from November 28 to December 2, 2016.