The Partnership for Peace Programme – Opportunities for Serbia?

TransConflict Serbia, in conjunction with the Youth Dialogue Programme, held its second workshop in Fruska Gora on November 14-15th, entitled ‘The Partnership for Peace Programme – Opportunities for Serbia?’. The event was again generously supported by Jagello 2000 – Association for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, the foremost Czech actor in the field of communication strategies concerning membership of NATO and security policy in general.

The workshop was opened by Ms. Mirjana Kosić, executive director of TransConflict Serbia, and Mr. Vanja Milanović, a project manager with the Youth Dialogue Programme. Ms. Kosić emphasised how “the decision to focus on this topic at this particular time was not solely based on the originally defined programme of thematic areas, but instead rather imposed itself as a topic which needs to explained and expounded upon if we are to better understand Serbia’s official stance towards, and political decisions relating to, NATO”.

Ms. Kosić went on to explain how “the Partnership for Peace Programme, in addition to other partnership programmes, is a certain bridge between those countries that, for a variety of different reasons, chose not to be full member states of NATO, yet are aware of the potential benefits attained through intensified cooperation and communication with NATO”. In addition, Mr. Milanović, emphasized the importance of continuous dialogue with and amongst young professionals on issues related to Euro-Atlantic integration.

In the first session, entitled ‘Introducing the Partnership for Peace Programme’, Dr. Zoran Dragišić, a lecturer at the Faculty of Security Studies in Belgrade, provided an overview of the PfP Programme’s history and gradual evolution, including the initial premise for its establishment in 1994. Dr. Dragišić then discussed Serbia’s level of participation in the Programme – defining it as a step towards full accession into NATO, which for Dr. Dragišić is primarily a political and security, rather than a military, institution; underpinned by “a common strategic system of values” – as well as other contentious issues concerning Serbia’s relations with NATO, particularly its indecisive state-level policies, disorientated selection of priorities and the complete absence of a strategic approach towards national security.

Dr. Dragišić also explored the issue of military neutrality; describing it as an international legal category that requires bilateral and multilateral recognition, but which is a term that is inconsistently used in Serbia. Dr. Dragišić is of the firm opinion that one cannot be militarily neutral yet strive towards future membership of NATO. Should Serbia want to be recognised as a militarily neutral state, it would have to drastically reduce the capacity of its military industry, particularly in terms of arms exports, which would ultimately have a detrimental impact on the Serbian economy.

Mr. Caoimhín Ó Coigligh from the Embassy of Ireland in Athens, Greece, then provided a variety of insights into Irish experiences of, and perspectives on, the PfP programme, which Ireland joined in 1999 following an exhaustive process of consultation and deliberation. Given Ireland’s historic militarily neutrality, Mr. Ó Coigligh made the important point that the PfP programme is not viewed as a bridge into, or path towards, membership of NATO, but as a voluntary and beneficial partnership that complements Ireland’s traditional foreign policy objectives (such as the protection of human rights and arms control measures) and facilitates the sharing of experiences, knowledge and best practice. Ireland’s PfP priorities include co-operation in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, search and rescue missions, and environmental and maritime matters. Such exchanges and greater inter-operability have, in particular, benefitted Ireland’s peacekeeping forces, who are involved in UN-mandated missions overseas (including Kfor), and the country’s crisis management and response capabilities. Mr. Ó Coigligh also emphasized how Ireland’s military neutrality is particular to its own unique history and geopolitical position, and is therefore quite distinct from that of Finland, Sweden, Austria and Switzerland.In the third session, entitled ‘Serbia in the Partnership for Peace Programme’, Mr. Danijel Šunter, executive director of the Euro-Atlantic Initiative in Belgrade, analysed Serbia’s evolving relationship with NATO. From extremely close ties during the Cold War, relations have only warmed since the overthrow of Milošević in 2002, including the signing of the Framework Document of the Partnership for Peace Programme by President Tadić on December 14th 2006. Joint patrols by Serbia and KFOR troops in the ‘buffer zone’ between Serbia and the administrative boundary line with Kosovo provides an excellent example of co-operation between Serbia and NATO at a technical level. In addition, Mr. Šunter specified how Serbia had benefited from the NATO Trust Fund, particularly for the destruction of anti-personnel land-mines and surplus stockpiles of arms and munitions, whilst the PRISMA programme, which aims to support and retrain redundant military and civilian personnel in the Serbian Ministry of Defence and Army in order to assist their reintegration into civilian life, is “one of the most successful projects of its kind in Eastern Europe”. Through the Defence Reform Group, meanwhile, NATO experts regularly meet with their Serbian counterparts in order to assist with ongoing defence and security sector reforms.

Despite dramatically reforming its armed forces in a short period of time, however, Kosovo’s declaration of independence and the resulting internal political struggles have meant that Serbia has acted passively with respect to the the PfP Programme. To demonstrate the stance of Serbia’s various political parties on the issues of the PfP Programme, military reforms and NATO membership, Mr. Šunter showed the participants one in a series of TV programmes, produced by the Euro-Atlantic Initiative, which are currently being aired on RTS.

In the final session of the day, Mr. Filip Ejdus, of the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade, spoke on the topic of a ‘Neutral Serbia – Between NATO and a New European Security Architecture’ (to download Mr. Ejdus’s presentatation, please click here), which provided a detailed overview of the various overlapping organizations that contribute to pan-European security co-operation. Mr. Ejdus speculated that President Medvedev’s recent proposal had been intentionally ambiguous, avoiding filling-in the project with details in order to provoke a discussion around such questions at a time when NATO is developing its new Strategic Concept. With this in mind, the participants were split into two groups and asked to formulate arguments for and against the development of a new European security architecture; an exercise that provoked lively discussion about the plethora of new security challenges and dilemmas facing Serbia, in particular, and Europe at large.

In the evening session, the participants watched a documentary produced by the Centre for Civil-Military Relations, entitled ‘Should Serbia be Militarily Neutral?’, in which leading Serbian experts and decision-makers provide answers to a range of questions deriving from the National Assembly’s adoption of the decision on military neutrality in December 2007; including whether it is possible or not to stay military neutral and enter EU? What is the price of military neutrality? And what does Serbia gain and lose by it?

The second day commenced with a discussion about the ‘Experiences of the Czech Republic in the Partnership for Peace Programme’, by Mr. Jiří Juřík of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Belgrade (to download Mr. Juřík’s presentatation, please click here). When the Czech Republic first joined the PfP Programme in 1994, this move was conceived as “a policy of delay” by newly-independent states eager to align themselves with NATO. Mr. Juřík, however, outlined a range of important lessons – concerning the political, institutional, legislative and defence spheres, plus resource (economic and human), security of information and public support issues – that facilitated the Czech Republic’s accession towards NATO. Mr. Juřík, himself a military officer in the former Czechoslovakia (which was a member of the Warsaw Pact), spoke about the personal and institutional challenges of adjusting to a new system of military values, perspectives and alliances.
Mr. Conrad Turner, Head of Public Affairs at the Embassy of the United States in Belgrade, then provided a range of insights into, and perspectives on, the philosophy and principles underpinning the decision-making process within NATO. Mr. Turner emphasized that NATO is not an autonomous organization with its own forces, but is instead the sum of its respective parts (i.e. its 28 member states). Consensus is, therefore, a central functioning principle; one that requires each country to understand and respect the positions and security concerns of others. “Members consult with each others constantly, both in formal and informal fora”, explained Mr. Turner, stressing the importance of listening, not just talking, and allowing oneself to be influenced. Mr. Turner spoke about the importance of a pro-active approach, comprised of human interaction, mutual respect and understanding, and explained how “active involvement in NATO, primarily through training and operations, builds respect and influence in the decision-making process”. Minority rule, however, is excluded, primarily because of the decisiveness it causes and its potential to undermine a country’s commitment to implement NATO decisions. In describing “communication, compromise and cooperation” as the key elements necessary for NATO’s successful functioning, Mr. Turner provided a more objective portrayal of NATO as a democratic institution defined by the careful and often painstaking elaboration of a common purpose.

In the third session, Mr. Vladimir Ninković, a project officer with TransConflict Serbia, followed up on the first workshop’s focus on ‘Risk Communication’ and ‘Risk Perception and Assessment’ by discussing the question of ‘Establishing and Enhancing Trust and Credibility’ (to download the presentation, please click here). Mr. Ninković underlined how wrong, misleading or withheld information erodes trust – which is founded upon technical competence and a general trustworthiness dimension, encompassing care for the public interest – and credibility. For successful risk communication, therefore, it is necessary to accept and involve the public as a partner, appreciate the public’s specific concerns, be honest and open, work with other credible sources and to meet the needs of the media. Mr. Ninković’s presentation was followed by a lengthy discussion on how to communicate more effectively the benefits of the PfP Programme to various sectors of Serbian society.

Closing Statement

In their closing remarks, Ms. Mirjana Kosić and Mr. Vanja Milanović, both thanked the speakers and participants for their excellent contributions, along with Jagello 2000 for their generous support to this series of workshops. Ms. Kosić invited the participants to assume a pro-active and engaged approach to discussing the issues currently occupying both the political agenda and public sphere, and, by referring to the experiences of some of the former socialist countries in transition, reminded the participants that “change is always possible, no matter how difficult or slow the process may be”.

For a selection of photographs from the workshop, please click here.

To view the workshop agenda, please click here.