NATO and the Western Balkans


KforThe best approach to understand the importance of this region for the Atlantic Alliance is to examine the final declaration released at the end of the last NATO Summit, held in Chicago on 20 May 2012. Out of the 65 paragraphs of that document, 8 of them are dealing with issues concerning the Balkans, which means more than 10% of the whole document. This is very much, keeping in mind that the Balkans, in terms of operations, are not anymore the first priority for the Alliance, which is highly involved in Afghanistan.

The first paragraph in which the Balkans are named is para. 12, which states:

“The Alliance continues to be fully committed to the stability and security of the strategically important Balkans region. We reiterate our full support for KFOR, which continues to act carefully, firmly and impartially in accordance with its United Nations mandate set out in United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1244. KFOR will continue to support the development of a peaceful, stable, and multi-ethnic Kosovo. KFOR will also continue to contribute to the maintenance of freedom of movement and ensuring a safe and secure environment for all people in Kosovo, in cooperation with all relevant actors, including the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) and the EU Special Representative, as agreed, and the Kosovo authorities. We will maintain KFOR’s robust and credible capability to carry out its mission. We remain committed to moving towards a smaller, more flexible, deterrent presence, only once the security situation allows. We welcome the progress made in developing the Kosovo Security Force, under NATO’s supervision and commend it for its readiness and capability to implement its security tasks and responsibilities. We will continue to look for opportunities to develop NATO’s ongoing role with the Kosovo Security Force”.

The time of the broad and demanding employment in Bosnia is over, the responsibility has been given to the EU and currently the NATO’s engagement is limited to Kosovo, where the Alliance is planning to reduce, up to zero, its forces within few years.

The next paragraph concerning the Balkans is para. 25 regarding the enlargement characterized, as usual, by the “open door policy”: Balkans are not directly named, but it is well-known that the first candidates are Balkanic countries. This paragraph states that:

“In accordance with Article 10 of the Washington Treaty, NATO’s door will remain open to all European democracies which share the values of our Alliance, which are willing and able to assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership, which are in a position to further the principles of the Treaty, and whose inclusion can contribute to security in the North Atlantic area. Based on these considerations, we will keep the progress of each of the partners that aspire to join the Alliance under active review, judging each on its own merits. We reaffirm our strong commitment to the Euro-Atlantic integration of the partners that aspire to join the Alliance in accordance with previous decisions taken at the Bucharest, Strasbourg-Kehl, and Lisbon Summits. We welcome progress made by these four partners and encourage them to continue to implement the necessary decisions and reforms to advance their Euro-Atlantic aspirations. For our part, we will continue to offer political and practical support to partners that aspire to join the Alliance. NATO’s enlargement has contributed substantially to the security of Allies; the prospect of further enlargement and the spirit of cooperative security continue to advance stability in Europe more broadly”.

At this point the document becomes less generic and keeps separately considering the candidate countries, starting with Macedonia at para. 26.

“We reiterate the agreement at our 2008 Bucharest Summit, as we did at subsequent Summits, to extend an invitation to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to join the Alliance as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue has been reached within the framework of the UN, and strongly urge intensified efforts towards that end. An early solution, and subsequent membership, will contribute to security and stability in the region. We encourage the negotiations to be pursued without further delay and expect them to be concluded as soon as possible. We welcome, and continue to support, the ongoing reform efforts in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and encourage continued implementation. We also encourage its efforts to further build a multi-ethnic society. We appreciate the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s substantial contributions to our operations, as well as its active role in regional cooperation activities. We value the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s long-standing commitment to the NATO accession process”.

This means that the admission of Macedonia remains hostage of Greece and of the sensitivity of Athens about the name “Macedonia”, still considered as an intrusion in its own history and as a territorial claim. In the meantime, we will continue to read in all official NATO documents the famous footnote “Turkey recognizes the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name”, which is an episode of the Greek-Turkish rivalry. We have to admit that the term “former Yugoslav” is at least strange: after the disappearance of Yugoslavia and the disappearance of the name “Yugoslavia” from the constitution of any state in the region (including Serbia itself) Macedonia remains the only country unwillingly bearing that name. With all the due respect for the Greek sensitivity, it would be like calling Italy “Former Fascist Kingdom of Italy” or “Former Roman Empire of Italy”.

The next candidate country to be taken into consideration is Montenegro at para. 27:

“We welcome the significant progress that Montenegro has made towards NATO membership and its contribution to security in the Western Balkans region and beyond, including through its active role in regional cooperation activities and its participation in ISAF. We also welcome the increasing public support for NATO membership in Montenegro, and will continue to assist this process. Montenegro’s active engagement in the MAP process demonstrates firm commitment to join the Alliance. Montenegro has successfully implemented significant political, economic and defence reforms, and we encourage it to continue on that path so it can draw even closer to the Alliance. We will keep Montenegro’s progress towards membership under active review”.

The next country to be considered is Bosnia-Herzegovina at para. 28:

“We continue to fully support the membership aspirations of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We welcome the significant progress that has been made in recent months, including the establishment of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Council of Ministers, and the political agreement reached on 9 March 2012 on the registration of immovable defence property as state property. These developments are a sign of the political will in Bosnia and Herzegovina to move the reform process forward, and we encourage all political actors in the country to continue to work constructively to further implement the reforms necessary for its Euro-Atlantic integration. The political agreement on defence and state properties is an important step towards fulfillment of the condition set by NATO Foreign Ministers in Tallinn in April 2010 for full participation in the MAP process. We welcome the initial steps taken regarding implementation, and we urge the political leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina to further their efforts to work constructively to implement the agreement without delay in order to start its first MAP cycle as soon as possible. The Alliance will continue to follow progress in implementation and will provide assistance to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s reform efforts. We appreciate Bosnia and Herzegovina’s contribution to NATO-led operations and commend its constructive role in regional and international security”.

In the last three paragraphs the Operation Iraqi Freedom is not named, since it was an international operation led by a coalition of the willing, but in my position of former Deputy Commander of the Multinational Corps in Iraq, I have seen Bosnian and Macedonian forces employed there and I can state and confirm that they are excellent soldiers.

Now the document considers specifically Western Balkans at para. 32:

“In the strategically important Western Balkans region, democratic values, regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations are important for lasting peace and stability. We are encouraged by the progress being made, including in regional cooperation formats, and will continue to actively support Euro-Atlantic aspirations in this region. Together, Allies and partners of the region actively contribute to the maintenance of regional and international peace, including through regional cooperation formats”.

From the NATO perspective the reason of the term “Western” is very simple and it is a matter of regional geography:

– the problem of Southern Balkans was solved in 1952 with the contemporary admission of both Greece and Turkey, a very wise move of the Alliance. In fact, if there are two countries with reciprocal problems, it is advisable to have both inside or both outside the same International Organization. From this point of view NATO has been more wise than EU, which up to now has preferred having one of them inside (Greece) and the other one outside (Turkey),

– the problem of Northern Balkans never existed, because Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary are an island of stability, let alone the fact that Slovenia and Croatia kindly refuse to be named “Balkanic”,

– the problem of Eastern Balkans has been solved by the inclusion in the Alliance of Romania and Bulgaria,

– the only remaining area to be fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic structures belong to the Western part of the region.

At this point comes a paragraph, the 33rd, specifically devoted to Serbia:

“We continue to support Serbia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. We welcome Serbia’s progress in building a stronger partnership with NATO and encourage Belgrade to continue on this path. NATO stands ready to continue to deepen political dialogue and practical cooperation with Serbia. We will continue assisting Serbia’s reform efforts, and encourage further work”.

The wording is prudent, as you can see, because Serbia, so far, has not expressed an interest in NATO membership, due mainly to bitter memories of the NATO/Yugoslavia war in 1999, but it participates in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.

Para. 34 is dealing with both Serbia and Kosovo:

“We call upon Serbia to support further efforts towards the consolidation of peace and stability in Kosovo. We urge all parties concerned to cooperate fully with KFOR and EULEX in the execution of their respective mandates for which unconditional freedom of movement is necessary. We urge Belgrade and Pristina to take full advantage of the opportunities offered to promote peace, security, and stability in the region, in particular by the European Union-facilitated dialogue. We welcome progress made in the European Union-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, including the Agreement on Regional Cooperation and the IBM technical protocol. Dialogue between them and Euro-Atlantic integration of the region are key for a sustained improvement in security and stability in the Western Balkans. We call on both parties to implement fully existing agreements, and to move forward on all outstanding issues, including on the conclusion of additional agreements on telecommunications and electricity. We welcome progress achieved and encourage further efforts aimed at consolidating the rule of law, and other reform efforts, in Kosovo”.

The international community has for a long time avoided the decision about the final status of Kosovo, inventing the formula “Standard before status”, but in February 2008 Kosovo unilaterally declared itself independent. Today 85 countries recognize Kosovo independence. Since 85 countries represent almost 50% of the states belonging to the UN General Assembly, this situation is completely different from the situation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are recognized by only four entities (one of them is Hamas). This has to be taken into account.

Serbia has refused to recognize Kosovo as sovereign and independent but has agreed to discuss practical issues with the Pristina authorities, in talks led by the EU and supported by the US and this is an encouraging signal.

The main reason why Belgrade doesn’t want to lose Pristina is that Kosovo i Metohija is considered as the “historical cradle” of Serbia. This is an highly sensitive issue, but we must also admit that from the historical and political points of view this is controversial and debatable. There are dozens of examples of “unsustainable” historical cradles:

– the historical cradle of the Vatican is Jerusalem, but the Vatican cannot claim its sovereignty over Jerusalem,

– the same applies to Australia, whose historical cradle is Britain,

– the historical cradle of Argentina is Spain,

– the historical cradle of Romania is Rom, but nobody in Bucharest claims the sovereignty of Romania over Italy,

– that of Brazil is Portugal,

– and the historical cradle of USA is much more difficult to be defined: England for the majority, Spain for a strong minority, Africa for somebody else, let alone Asia, Israel, Italy or Ireland.

Concluding, NATO is not alone in defining the future asset of the Western Balkans. Other International Organizations like UN, EU, OSCE or the Council of Europe are deeply engaged. The EU, for example, is leading Operation “Althea” in Bosnia-Herzegovina and EULEX in Kosovo. Obstacles to an effective European action are:

– the financial crisis,

– the European beaurocracy,

– the fact that the EU has not yet achieved the capability of speaking with a single voice and the European External Action Service is far from well functioning.

Also some countries not belonging to the region but with different relations with it play fundamental roles, first of all the USA:

– currently no threat/risk comes to US security from the Balkans,

– within KFOR, only 13% of the troops are American,

– the US operational priorities are elsewhere (namely in Asia and in the Pacific),

– USA is shifting the responsibility of the Balkan security to the Europeans (EU is responsible in Bosnia and Herzegovina, UN is responsible in the talks Greece/Macedonia, OSCE in Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia).

The role of Russia has not to be underestimated. While the role of the USA is decreasing, the role of Russia is increasing. Just to do an example, Russia has recently signed bilateral agreements with Serbia and Macedonia in the field of the fight against drugs and it is trying to conclude similar agreements with Montenegro and Albania. The purpose is to counter the flow of drug coming from Afghanistan to Europe through Kosovo. Another field in which Moscow plays a fundamental role is energy, and this is very well-known to Belgrade.

Also the role of Turkey is of increasing importance in the Western Balkans. Turkey is present in many countries and the diplomatic, commercial and financial relations with Ankara are growing.

Concluding, the stability and prosperity of the Western Balkans will be provided more by the International Organizations than by the countries.

The integration is under way: all concerned countries already belong to UN, OSCE and the Council of Europe. NATO will be the next Organization to include all Western Balkan countries while European Union will be probably the last one, but at the end of this process there will be security and prosperity for everybody and the national borders will have less importance than in the past.

When the external borders of the European Union will be the only significant borders of the Old Continent, the former internal borders will become meaningless.

At that point will become meaningless also the sentence which has been the main obstacle to peace in the Balkans during the last decades: “Why should I be a minority in your country when you could be a minority in my country?”.

A way of thinking like this will never solve the problems of the Western Balkans, rather it will make the situation worse.

The situation lies, in my personal opinion, in another famous sentence: “You cannot solve a problem using the same mentality you had when you created the problem” (Albert Einstein). Since the problem was created by nationalism and by the opposite nationalisms, the solution is multilateralism.

Today the importance of the national states is progressively decreasing, while the importance of the International Organizations is steadily increasing. The synergy represented by the actions of several International Organizations will certainly contribute to the stability of the region, and NATO will be part of the solution.

Address at the NATO Study Tour, organized by the Italian Atlantic Committee in cooperation with the Atlantic Council of Serbia, 4-8 June, 2012.

Related link:
Italy and the Western Balkans
by V. Adm. Ferdinando Sanfelice di Monteforte