On sidelines of a Round Table Discussion with the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Steering Committee, that took place in Brussels on November 29, European Western Balkans spoke with Julian Lindley-French, Senior Fellow of the Institute of Statecraft, Director of Europa Analytica and Distinguished Visiting Research Fellow of National Defense University.

European Western Balkans: The genesis of NATO is the Soviet threat to Europe following World War II. Today, what is the aim of NATO and why would it be interested in the Balkan’s region?

Julian Lindley-French: I believe in the words of President George W. Bush that refers to Europe as whole and free and a Europe of peace. The mission of the Alliance has not changed, its keys elements are stabilization and defence of Europe. The Western Balkans, to my mind, is connected to the stability of South-East Europe and NATO and the EU together have a role to promote the stability in that region.

EWB: How the NATO enlargement programme would influence the overall stability of the region?

JLF: I believe in the future enlargement if the countries in the Western Balkans still wish to be part of NATO, and of course it would be great to have a constructive relationship with Serbia. NATO and the EU play a role to achieve that. The key word here is a partnership. In a complex Europe, you cannot achieve your goals without partnership. We need partnerships with countries and regions across the Continent. The mission of NATO is to stabilize Europe and the Western Balkans are part of that mission.

EWB: How might Russia respond to any further expansion of NATO in the region?

JLF: We would love to have a real dialogue with Russia. There is not an anti-Russia sentiment in NATO. Some time ago, I spoke with a Russian colleague and there was a kind of belief in some racist anti-Slavic feeling inside certain Western countries, but there is not. Right now, it is simply very hard to have that dialogue with Russia. Fifty years ago, there was a defence on one side but the dialogue on the other side. We had to push for peace in Europe for a long period, we just have to keep pushing for dialogue with Russia and to hope that Russia feels less threatened.

A dialogue could help to restore a sense of stability which is it in everyone interest, there is no benefit from having this kind of tension. On one hand, you have countries in Eastern Europe that have their right to choose and this is a fundamental principle. At the same time, Russia feels not threatened but uneasy about it. The trouble with this kind of debate it is looking for black or white when it is always grey. It is always shades of grey between what a country wants, what a country offers, and what Russia wants and what Russia will get. This is why dialogue it is very important because it is there that you can find reassurances, mechanisms and stability.

EWB: In 2016, in one of your article, you said that “Montenegro’s accession to NATO must become a showcase for the future adaption of the Alliance to challenges, risks, and threats near and far”. Now, after 5 months of being a NATO member do you think that Montenegro is embracing this role?

JLF: Yes. Montenegro is facing challenges but also because of those challenges Montenegro is a hope and an example for other countries to be part of the EU family and of the NATO family. Ultimately, that is what stability and security are. There is a wrong idea of a Western and Central European block added to the history of the Balkans as a reason why they cannot be members of NATO or of the EU, but that must be rejected. Anybody who is prepared to live by the rule of law, democracy and fundamental human rights should have the right to try to become a member of the EU and NATO.

EWB: In the scenario of enlargement for the Western Balkans would NATO integrate the army of the countries that would be new members into NATO’s Allied Forces, would it train local forces, or would it use its own forces and weapons?

JLF: If a country is a member of NATO of course NATO forces would defend it. As part of NATO, each country forces must reach NATO standards. NATO helps countries of different cultures and different militaries work together within a common and a collective structure. When you have military working together and talking to each other that is when you lower misunderstandings, that is how you build down tensions. That is why I would love to see an agreement between NATO countries and Russia, for example on exercises, on moving troops and to be more transparent again. That would be fantastic.


Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States