15.12.2014, SETimes, NATO co-operation is crucial for Serbia, region

SETimes, By Ivana Jovanovic, 15.12.2014.


Since 2006, when Serbia became a member of the NATO Partnership for Peace Programme, the country has been participating in numerous activities under the Alliance, and co-operation has continuously improved.

While Serbia remains militarily neutral, aligning neither with NATO nor with Russia, Belgrade officials say collaboration with the Alliance plays an important role in military reforms. The Partnership for Peace Programme (PFP) was instituted in 1994 to allow nations that are not members of NATO to build relationships with the Alliance by choosing their own priorities for co-operation.

"There are numerous mechanisms of co-operation within the PFP frame which give us huge space for concrete projects of co-operation and for strengthening of mutual trust," the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a written statement for SETimes.

According to the ministry, the partnership contributes to improving Serbia's international position and reputation, and gives the country a chance to co-operate with NATO members and partners on areas of interest.

"The defence system and security sector reforms are the central elements of co-operation," the ministry said.

Jelena Milic, the director at the Belgrade-based Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies, said co-operation with NATO is crucial for the reform of security sector.

"Serbia needs co-operation with NATO even if it wants to remain military neutral, because it needs support for its security sector reform which implies strengthening of democratic control. Without this, there will be no further democratisation of the country," Milic told SETimes.

As part of the current co-operation, Serbia holds regular dialogue with the Alliance. [AFP]

She said, however, that the co-operation has to be improved, especially in light of the crisis in Ukraine and the on-going advances of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

"In the 21st century, it is not possible for a small country to individually ensure adequate security to their citizens and their state with all of the global threats and challenges. The crisis in Ukraine shows that reality," Milic said.

Milic emphasised that NATO co-operation has a regional component that improves co-operation between the west Balkans countries, which is crucial for their EU integration processes.

"Participation within the PFP and EU membership are not mutually conditioned but are compatible, as NATO and the EU have close value systems, standards and procedures," the foreign affairs ministry said.

"As part of Individual Partnership Action Plan [IPAP], Serbia holds regular dialogue with the Alliance on four issues: political, security, military and defence. Administrative questions of public diplomacy and scientific co-operation and planning for emergency situations is also discussed," the ministry said.

In order to improve co-operation with the Alliance, Serbia plans to finalise procedures for adopting the IPAP, which will put political dialogue at a higher level.

"It is expected that co-operation with NATO will intensify during Serbia's chairmanship of the OSCE in 2015," the ministry said.

Serbia is not the only country in the region that is improving its co-operation with the Alliance.

Montenegro has conducted a series of defence reforms, which are reflected in the adoption and implementation of its Strategic Defence Review.

"The defence reforms were very successful, which is evidenced by the conclusions of the recent NATO summit in Wales, where the Allies decided to open intensified and focused dialogue so that they could send the invitation for Montenegro's membership in NATO by the end of 2015," the Montenegro Ministry of Defence told SETimes in a written statement.

Montenegro will continue with defence sector reforms with a view toward achieving the standards for full membership in NATO, officials said.

Special emphasis will be placed on the further implementation of the Strategic Defence Review, and completing the reorganisation of the army.
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Macedonia also partners with NATO on security reforms and regularly consults with the Alliance Advisory Team at the Macedonia Ministry of Defence.

"One of the priorities is the development of the military academy and the ability to connect and exchange cadets with renowned European and US educational institutions. Part of our development plan is the modernisation of the army and the long-term development plan for the defence sector," Macedonia's Ministry of Defence told SETimes.