Exclusive interview with Predrag Bošković, Minister of Defence of Montenegro.
Eurpean Western Balkans: Montenegro has made substantial progress toward NATO membership and it is expected that this process will be finished by the end of this year. What else is expected from Montenegro in order to become a full member of NATO?
Predrag Bošković: Since the restoration of statehood, Montenegro has been strongly dedicated to its Euro-Atlantic goal. This has been noted by the Allies, and praises have come from all NATO members. As the result of successfully conducted reforms, Montenegro received an invitation, after which the Accession Protocol was signed, followed by the ratification of the Protocol by national parliaments of allied countries. Ratification of the rest of the member states is expected soon, after which the Parliament of Montenegro will do the same.
It is important to mention that, right after signing the Protocol, representatives of Montenegro were able to participate in the work of all NATO bodies, and in this way Montenegro has commenced presence at various committees, from regular meetings at ministerial level, to meetings at the highest level, like the Summit in Warsaw.
The main requirement for full membership in the Alliance is to fulfil the required standards in the field of rule of law, implementation of the defence sector reform as well as security sector reforms and strengthening the public support. In the past decade, Montenegro worked very hard to fulfil these requirements. By joining NATO, Montenegro is committed to respect the essential values of the Alliance and fulfils the obligations that apply to all members.
Among other things, these commitments include the harmonisation and integration of national defence system into the NATO system, the contribution of personnel in the NATO command structure, participation in NATO-led missions and operations, as well as financial allocations.
For this purpose, the national plan of integration of the Armed Forces of Montenegro has been developed and, in accordance with advice from Brussels, is being reworked and improved. It stipulates sending a certain number of Montenegrin soldiers to work in NATO commands. However, this does not represent a novelty, given that the Montenegrin representatives filled positions within the NATO command structure before and programs conceived for partners – “Partner staff elements”.
Also, one should bear in mind the participation of members of the Armed Forces of Montenegro in NATO missions, as well as the fact that members of the Armed Forces of Montenegro are present in the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan since 2010, firstly as ISAF, and later as Resolute support.
In order to contribute to the establishment and preservation of peace around the world, so far more than 20% of members of the Armed Forces of Montenegro participated in NATO missions. In addition, Montenegro will continue to provide its full contribution to regional security and stability in the Western Balkans.
Integration plan provides the most rational and best solutions for Montenegro, but also for NATO, in a variety of issues: from communications systems to protection of airspace. Finally, in terms of financial allocations, Montenegro’s readiness to respond to this task is reflected in the budget plan for 2017, by which some funds are allocated for joint NATO budget. Furthermore, by 2024 it is predicted that Montenegro will contribute 2% of GDP for defence.
EWB: In your opinion, what are the biggest benefits for Montenegro from membership in NATO?
PB: Benefits of becoming a member of NATO for Montenegro are multiple. By joining NATO, our country becomes a part of the largest system of collective security. This means that under the principle of absolute solidarity, possible endangerment of security of Montenegro will no longer be our matter only, but a matter of another 28 countries, with the most organised political and democratic structure.
Being part of this family in which, as you know, all decisions are taken unanimously, certainly represents a significant opportunity on geopolitical plan – to equally participate in the process of creating a global security policy. Montenegro’s membership in NATO will additionally strengthen the stability in the Western Balkans. The past events are reminding us how important it is that all countries in the region make a full contribution to the preservation of peace.
With its foreign policy commitment, but also with achievements, efforts and consistency in implementing reforms, Montenegro gained increased international importance and strengthened its diplomatic position. Appreciating the geopolitical position of our country, by becoming NATO member, Montenegro will become a guarantor and factor of security in the Western Balkans, which further attracts international attention.
Montenegro is aware that it is not able to adequately respond to unconventional security challenges, such as modern terrorism in all its forms alone, which is why its commitment to NATO membership is a logical choice.
Looking at the economic aspect, all parameters show that the integration in a collective security system in every way is more efficient and more profitable decision than for the country to maintain a neutral status. When Montenegro becomes NATO member, we will become part of a much larger market, which is a prerequisite for more versatile placement of Montenegrin products abroad.
Membership in NATO is a guarantee of security, which allows the other Member States to further understand our economic, industrial and touristic capacities. Therefore, it is realistic to expect that, by joining NATO, Montenegro will become an interesting destination for tourism and investments.
Bearing in mind current regional, but also global security developments, I firmly believe that joining the Alliance is the best guarantee of national security and peace, as well as the preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Montenegro. Also, the system of collective security guarantees basic preconditions of more dynamic socio-economic development, with a significant contribution to improving regional stability.
So, there are many reasons that, immediately after the restoration of independence, NATO membership is defined as a foreign policy priority of Montenegro. I think the benefits of this decision are already visible and will become especially evident when we become a full member of NATO.
EWB: What are, in your opinion, the most important security challenges that Montenegro and the Western Balkans are facing altogether?
PB: The issue of security challenges in the whole region, and therefore Montenegro, requires a comprehensive approach. Historically speaking, the interests of the great powers have always collided in the Western Balkans.
Since certain political elites are having the ideas of national divisions, which divided this region, the Western Balkans, unfortunately, continues to be a “seismic” area, subjected to conflicts. In addition, some powers are trying to implement the policy of creating tensions.
Montenegro has resisted numerous pressures and interests of different political groups and managed to maintain its direction and good bilateral relations with everyone. Our country’s institutional strength, guided by democratic principles, adequately responded to a variety of interference in its national interests and commitments, but also on attempts of destabilisation and collapse of the system, which could also be qualified as a security challenge.
Also, we cannot ignore the contemporary security challenges, such as the last great wave of refugees coming from countries affected by war, or unpredictable terrorist attacks and cyber terrorism. All this requires as I pointed out, collective response.
With the democratic and civil progress of countries in the region, as well as constructive political dialogue, I also believe in the support of the international community in order to strengthen peace and security in this part of Europe. A stable, integrated and prosperous region of the Western Balkans is of great importance for the European Union as well, which advocated a policy of “open doors” for all countries in the region.
I remind you that, it was pointed out from more diplomatic addresses that Montenegro is a country that is a positive example of how to maintain good neighbourly relations.
EWB: How would you rate cooperation of your Ministry with the ministries of defence of the countries in the region?
PB: As for the region, trust was built and I am confident that the challenges, whatever they may be, can be controlled. The region can and knows how to cooperate, which has been proved not only through exercise and joint activities in regional initiatives but also through participation in peacekeeping missions. Only the stability in the Western Balkans could provide us with new opportunities and chances in achieving our European and Euro-Atlantic agenda.
Montenegro will do, as it was before, everything in order that the dialogue becomes the basic foundation of our political action and preserving peace and stability becomes a permanent perspective. Regional cooperation in the defense sector is an essential need of each country, not only to reduce or completely eliminate the risk of armed conflicts, but also for joint action on the threats and challenges which are a characteristic of the modern world, such as terrorism, cyber attacks, organized crime, refugee crises, natural and man-made disasters, instability of energy etc.
In that way, Montenegro is fully committed to the intention of being a reliable partner in all initiatives which are aimed at pooling capacities in the spirit of NATO “smart defence” concept and the EU “pooling and sharing” concept. Bearing in mind the fact that none of the countries in the region has enough human nor material resources for independent response to contemporary security challenges and threats, by cooperation and joint use of resources and active participation in regional projects we strive to strengthen national capacities in the defence system.
In the context of security challenges, I believe that the continuation of the European and Euro-Atlantic perspective and regional cooperation is the best model for progress and prosperity for the countries in the region. Accordingly, in the first half of this year, we are planning meetings with all the ministers of the region in order to intensify and recognise the priority joint projects.
Nikola Burazer, EWB Executive Editor
This article has been produced with the support of the Balkan Trust for Democracy. The content of this article and the opinions expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the portal European Western Balkans and in no way reflect the views and opinions of the Balkan Trust for Democracy nor the German Marshall Fund of the United States.