NATO and Serbia – black and white world

Should we want to talk about these unpleasant and painful topics, let’s be professional and responsible enough to present all the facts.

By Mirjana Kosic

Even though the number of recent articles touching upon the still contentious issue of the current, as well as future, relations of Serbia with NATO indicates that the time has finally come to talk about these issues openly and without prevarication, the very discourse remains disappointingly limited and suggestive – aimed at reducing the complexity of the topic to a bipolar perspective of supporters and opponents, advocates of sincere intentions or cunning lies, instead of prompting the political elite to respond to the legitimate demands, concerns and insecurities of their own people.
By claiming that Serbia is – without the knowledge of the public – furtively brought into the corridors of NATO, one does not achieve much; except to additionally impassion an already poorly informed Serbian public. Equating one system with the imperialism and capitalist hegemony of the great powers – those that oppress the weak and use them solely for their own goals – is evocative of the past discourse of Serbia’s state television, RTS, and one of the darkest periods of Serbian history; when differences of opinion were punished and free thought persecuted.

It cannot happen that one morning Serbia simply wakes up as a member of NATO. That was not the case with any of the countries that had aspired to NATO membership, despite their vocal enthusiasm, since they all still had to implement significant reforms of their respective security systems and satisfy the given criteria.  Although it can rightly be said that those standards are often double, and at times multiple and arbitrary, especially when it comes to Serbia, is this not a good enough sign that it is high time that Serbia opted for a choice that would enable it to again find itself amongst those who define and make decisions, rather than to remain a passive recipient destined to react to situations.

The decision on military neutrality has not ensued from any logical course of events, as often explained, given that the National Assembly adopted a resolution on neutrality in 2007 for one single reason – a complete lack of a defined and coordinated foreign and security policy. With the decision on military neutrality, the authorities granted themselves sufficient room for manoeuvre and for postponing their political and personal responsibilities. The current Government indeed deserves the most severe criticism for its confusing, and at times even contradictory, politics which guides not only the national, but also the international, public towards misleading conclusions.

An arbitrary interpretation of the concept of neutrality, particularly in terms of an all too ready comparison with traditionally neutral countries such as Austria, Ireland, Switzerland and Sweden, is an insufficient basis for Serbia to aspire towards the same goal. Each of these countries has a completely different concept of neutrality; defined and determined on the basis of their special circumstances, interests and respective experiences. There is no unique model of neutrality which would satisfy the specific criteria of all countries, thus it is wrong to equate the apparent neutrality of Serbia with any of these cases.

In addition, the proclaimed military neutrality of Serbia is only valid in the context of Serbia. In order for any country to be militarily neutral, its decision on, and the subsequent declaration of, neutrality has to be accepted and recognised by other countries and/or international organizations. If Serbia ultimately opts for neutrality, it will have to go through the process of recognition vigorously, consistently and with far more self-conviction. In that case, Serbia would also have to drastically reduce its military industry, whose overall contribution to the Serbian economy is immense, and provide alternative jobs for its current military personnel. In that case, the money would not be wasted on an adventure of joining the Alliance and the purchase of expensive weapons, but could instead be spent on modernizing infrastructure, building schools and hospitals, and creating more humane and noble environment. But at what cost?

The future decision on security is very serious and deserves an equally serious approach. Even if Serbia has no territorial or any other claims towards its neighbouring countries, nor the other way round, it is still necessary to develop and define its defence policy and priorities. Security, in any case, is costly and it would be more useful to compare the cost of security provided independently with security guaranteed under the auspices of a joint defence system. Often mentioned is the price which Croatia will have to pay for joining the Alliance now and by 2011. However, what is not mentioned anywhere is the analysis of the Croatian Ministry of Defence, the results of which demonstrate that joining NATO is a cheaper option than a decision on military neutrality would be. Accession to NATO implies the transformation of the military into a professional army which, though much smaller, is better equipped and more responsive to contemporary security challenges -and needs. The reason that the transformation is done in-line with NATO standards is only because those standards are currently the best, particularly when it concerns army management, functionality and expenditure. The fact that Russia – itself a member of the Partnership for Peace Programme – is currently implementing reform of its armed forces in accordance with NATO standards is an indicator good enough.

It is, therefore, entirely inappropriate to complain about the unfairness of a world divided into the powerful ones and those who are not, whilst at the same time knowingly and willingly accepting the role of the helpless and oppressed. Common sense and everyday experiences demonstrate that there are many more shades of ‘grey’ between the black and white picture of good and evil. Instrumentally reducing the language used into terms that both infantilise and antagonise Serbia’s already limited public opinion is both superficial and irresponsible when dealing with such a serious subject; without a constructive contribution to the open debate that is quite clearly more than necessary for the Serbian public. Should we want to talk about these unpleasant and painful topics, let’s be professional and responsible to present all the facts, even those that do not necessarily contribute to the approach that we advocate ourselves.

This article originally appeared in Politika on Tuesday 15th December and is available on-line at – http://www.politika.rs/rubrike/ostali-komentari/NATO-i-Srbija-crno-beli-svet.lt.html

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