Interview with Branimir Filipović, Acting Assistant for Security Policy of the Foreign Minister of Serbia, in which we have discussed the foreign policy of Serbia, its cooperation with NATO and the upcoming revision of the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP).

European Western Balkans: Military neutrality of Serbia is currently defined in the Parliamentary Resolution from 2007 which is not legally binding. Could we expect to see a clearer definition of military neutrality through Constitutional change or through the adoption of a new foreign policy strategy?

Branimir Filipović: The aforementioned resolution of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia on the protection of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and constitutional order of the Republic of Serbia represents a political and legal basis for our policy of military neutrality, as it was adopted by the representative body and it has not been changed so far.

At the same time, I would like to emphasize that the policy of military neutrality, or in other words, the absence of Serbia’s intention to approach the existing military alliances, as it is foreseen in the Resolution of the Republic of Serbia, has been present as official policy by several Serbian governments, which are, according to the Constitution, responsible for determining and managing domestic and foreign policy.

Experts have diverse opinions regarding the extent to which the resolution is legally binding and at the same time in academic discussions, there are certain differences in understanding the terminology regarding the concept of neutrality.

However, I believe that the most important thing is that it is an undisputed fact that the policy of military neutrality is an integral part of Serbia’s current foreign policy, that it was clearly expressed in the programs of government, as well as the fact that our high-level officials on several occasions have confirmed in their statements that this policy is being implemented and that Serbia remains committed to its path.

Nevertheless, on the international scene, foreign partners have clearly pointed out that such Serbian policy is respected and that it is not an obstacle for a mutual cooperation.

Regarding the question whether it is planned to define military neutrality through the change of the Constitution, I cannot answer, since this is a political issue and it depends on the political determination – which constitutional norms will be changed or added to the existing ones. The issue of military neutrality does not have to be a purely constitutional category, as it is shown by the examples of other countries.

When it comes to the strategy of foreign policy, I would like to point out that the formal document with this title has not been adopted, but that it does not mean that the foreign policy strategy has not been established through other documents, such as the National Security Strategy, other strategic documents, but also other acts that determine and guide foreign and defence policy.

In many countries, it is common practice to define foreign policy priorities as well as the strategy of foreign policy through its National Security Strategy, as its integral part. Currently, we are considering the reform of these strategic documents.

EWB: It is often discussed the need to adopt a new strategy in order to better define the foreign policy goals and the Serbia’s position. Do you think that this is something that is necessary at this moment for Serbia?

BF: As I said, in the existing strategic documents, such as the National Security Strategy, foreign policy objectives are defined, and these goals are also defined in the programs for determining and conducting foreign policy, which was presented at the beginning of the mandate by the previous governments. Also, through the legislative activity of the National Assembly, referring to the procedures for the ratification of international treaties, foreign policy position is also expressed, as well as through the other acts of the executive authority.

I think that at this moment the foreign policy goals are clearly defined, as well as the way of foreign policy action. In formal terms, we do not have a foreign policy strategy as a document with such a name, but it exists in material terms through all the acts I have already mentioned.

In this sense, the current path of the foreign policy of Serbia is in the function of achieving the main foreign policy goals, ensuring the protection of the vital interests of the Republic of Serbia and positioning Serbia internationally as a responsible and predictable partner in international cooperation in various fields.

Lately, there has been a strengthening of the foreign policy position of Serbia, which is certainly one of the clear indicators of the purposeful foreign policy activity in the region, but also in Europe and globally. By adopting the new strategic documents in the area of national security and defence, foreign policy priorities will certainly take their place.

EWB: At the Fifth Belgrade NATO Week, you announced that a new IPAP agreement with NATO is being prepared. Do you expect and to what extent the revision of the agreement? In other words, will the priorities of cooperation between Serbia and NATO be changed?

BF: To be more precise, I would like to point out that the IPAP (Individual Partnership Action Plan) is not an international agreement, not only when it comes to Serbia, but also when it comes to similar documents with other partner countries. The IPAP, as its name implies, is only the Action Plan, a list of activities that the two parties will implement over a specific period of time, which is formed regarding the priorities of the partner country, in this case, Serbia.

Such a document is adopted by a certain procedure by the qualified authorities of the partner country and the North Atlantic Council, and it presents the expression of political will, in which way and especially in which areas the partnership will be achieved. In the same way as the Partnership for Peace is based on the principles of voluntarity, transparency and flexibility, with the principles of comprehensiveness and self-determination – which means that a partner country chooses the activities and programs for which it has a special interest in accordance with its objectives – the IPAP also contains these principles, as the formal highest partnership mechanism for a partner country which has no intention to join the Alliance.

Of course, each IPAP in a specific period of time is a document with a specific content through which is defined partnership cooperation, so that the intensity and areas of this cooperation can vary depending on the priorities of the partner country at that time.

Preparation of new IPAP is in progress. The first IPAP was adopted for the period of 2015-2016, with a subsequent agreement with the NATO Secretariat that its implementation is continued by the end of 2017. The draft of the new IPAP has already been prepared, the responsible institutions have submitted their proposals, so now it is being informally harmonized with NATO. After that, we expect the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the North Atlantic Council to formally adopt this document, as it was the case with the first IPAP cycle.

We do not expect essential changes to the existing IPAP. The existing four chapters will remain, which means that the priorities of partnership cooperation between Serbia and NATO will not be changed. Of course, the activities and goals that have already been achieved will not be included in the new IPAP and it will be supplemented with some novelties, for example, in the field of defence, as well as cooperation within the Science for Peace and Security Program, cyber defence and others, which is the result of our assessment of the areas in which cooperation can be further intensified. Of course, this document also respects the Serbia’s policy of military neutrality.

EWB: Are there areas of cooperation between Serbia and NATO in the framework of the current IPAP agreement that you see as high-quality cooperation and for which the Serbian public does not know much about?

BF: When mentioning the cooperation between Serbia and NATO through the Partnership for Peace program, most media and the majority of the public think that this is a military cooperation. However, this cooperation is much broader and incorporates the scope of non-military or civilian cooperation.

Here, I primarily think on Serbia’s participation in the Science for Peace and Security program, through which more than 20 projects have been accomplished so far, which was especially pointed out by the Prime Minister Ana Brnabić at the recently held Belgrade Security Forum.

I recall her words that this gives additional impetus to the economic development of Serbia, because, among other things, scientists from Serbia get the needed conditions to stay in their country and work on scientific projects. At the same time, through these projects, their work is being recognised internationally and they get other opportunities for their scientific work.

At the same time, in the field of military cooperation many of the goals have been fulfilled, but I would like to emphasize that this cooperation has been ongoing since 2007 and that the building integrity programs are important, as well as programs regarding the reform of security and defence sector, achieving interoperability, which is significant for our participation in international missions and operations, trust funds and others.

Also, I would like to mention cooperation in the field of emergency situations (as part of the non-military cooperation) in which NATO and Serbia have a common benefit. The proof of the quality of such cooperation is the fact that in 2018 Serbia will for the first time host a field simulation exercise for emergency situations in a joint cooperation with the NATO Euro-Atlantic Center for Disaster Response (EADRCC). Serbia has successfully participated in similar exercises held in Montenegro in 2016 and in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2017.

An extremely important part of the cooperation that is being completed which is not a specific program in a particular field – is a political dialogue at the highest level, but also at other levels. In previous two years the dialogue has been institutionalised, since the visit of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to Belgrade in 2015, through a visit of a former Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić to the NATO Headquarters in November 2016 and to the recent visit of the President of the Republic Aleksandar Vučić to the NATO headquarters in November 2017, in addition to the highest-level meeting on the sidelines of numerous international meetings, but also meeting at other levels.

Developed political dialogue, which is important for Serbia so that we can present our foreign policy priorities in the best way to the officials and in the NATO forums, represents a good basis for the development of concrete cooperation. Simultaneously, concrete cooperation in different fields contributes to the intensive and successful political dialogue.

To all of this, I would add a very significant aspect of cooperation which is related to Kosovo and Metohija, where the KFOR mission is under the mandate of the United Nations. The mandate of this mission is determined by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and Serbia is co-operating in accordance with that resolution and the Military Technical (Kumanovo) agreement.

EWB: Which areas within the IPAP have not met expectations and what are the barriers to their fulfilment?

BF: IPAP implementation analysis, carried out in 2016, showed that out of a total of 215 planned activities, only 3% was not implemented within the envisaged deadline. When it comes to other activities, most of them are accomplished, and they are part of the activities which realisation is successful, but these are long-term processes and goals which due to its nature could not have been completed in the previous period. Some of the goals were not realized, due to numerous factors. (for example, South Stream). The results are more than encouraging, because, when it comes to the experience of other countries, we expected that the percentage of unrealized activities will be higher than the 3%.

The implementation of the IPAP has been very positively assessed by the NATO Secretariat and the member states, pointing out that it has been recognised as a remarkable progress in developing the partnership relations between Serbia and NATO.

However, the area of public diplomacy is identified as “the weakest link” with the assessment that additional engagement by Serbia and NATO is needed in order to better inform the public about the scope of mutual cooperation. In this context, we have prepared a draft of the Strategic Guidelines for informing the public on the process of cooperation between Serbia and NATO through the Partnership for Peace program that will soon be submitted for adoption to the Government of Serbia.

When it comes to the public diplomacy regarding the relation of the Republic of Serbia towards NATO, our side has a clear determination to present to the public in the objective, timely and clear manner what is the essence of Serbia’s cooperation with NATO, through PfP, what are the results of this cooperation and what is our interest in this cooperation. So, it is not about promoting NATO, because that is not our task, nor NATO is expecting that from us, but it is about one responsible activity where the important sphere of foreign policy will be presented in the best possible way to the public, and the main criteria of such presentation will be the truth and the facts.

We are all aware that the burdens of the past are still present, above all is the bombing of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia by certain NATO countries without the authorization of the UN Security Council, based on the decision made by NATO, but we are also aware of the fact that most of the NATO countries recognized the unilaterally declared independence of Kosovo and Metohija. It is important to mention that this was not done by all members of the Alliance, and it ensures the status neutrality of NATO when it comes to Kosovo and Metohija.