Montenegro’s membership in NATO could change the way Serbians view the alliance, says Janusz Bugajski.
According to this senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), this is possible “if Montenegro becomes more successful and attracts more investments.”
“The NATO membership itself is another stepping stone towards EU membership – I think all those things serve as a potential example to Serbian citizens. I personally do not buy this idea that Serbia wants to be neutral, because remember, Yugoslavia under Tito was non-aligned, was neutral. But sooner or later, you have to choose. You are not Switzerland – you are not a rich country with a specific niche. Serbia is a country which will be surrounded by NATO countries and it will fall behind in its military reform, in its modernization programs, if it does not become a part of NATO,” he told the European Western Balkans website, and added:
“I cannot imagine any Serbian officer wanting to be more closely aligned with the Russian military – a lot of it is obsolete, and the funding now is really going to go down, you are going to see real problems in Russia – rather than to be a part of the most modern military organization in the world. It does not make sense to me. You want to be part of the best, not second best. It is obviously a political decision in Serbia and it will take longer. In other countries in the region, I think, it will have a quicker process, and Serbia is going to be a challenge.”
Bugajski, who was one of the speakers at the 2BS Forum in Budva, Montenegro, commented on that country being seen as “a game changer” and on the consequences of Montenegro’s membership in NATO for itself and for the region:
“After eight years of hiatus, finally NATO has brought in a new member. Remember, there was no new member since the Bucharest Summit in 2008. This is actually an opportunity for NATO to regain momentum in terms of its mission. And remember, its mission is to bring in all European countries that fulfil the requirements for common defense, that are democracies, that have settled borders, that have conducted military reforms, that have civil-military relations accorded to NATO stipulations, and many other requirements, and Montenegro has met those.”
Asked whether it was possible for Western Balkan countries to join the EU member without accession to NATO, the American analyst replied:
“Yes, it is possible, and it depends on the EU. Serbia could be an example of entering the EU before entering NATO. Then the question for Serbia will, of course, be Kosovo. Kosovo wants to be a member of both. And if Kosovo builds its military, I think they are going to invest a lot of resources in trying to become a NATO member, as soon as they are allowed to. That is going to create a problem in a way for Serbia because Serbia may even have Kosovo in NATO, and it will be outside the Alliance.”
As for “the Russian influence in the Balkans” and “the consequences of Russian meddling in the interior matters of all the countries of the Western Balkans,” Bugajski advised “looking at the big picture.”
“I think it goes beyond meddling. I keep hearing the Russians are ‘meddling’. I think it is more than meddling. The Russians are using this region to undermine, eventually to dismantle the West, to prevent further NATO enlargement, to prevent further EU enlargement, to create rifts within European – NATO countries on how to deal with these questions here, possibly at some point they may want to restart a war – maybe in Bosnia, maybe in Macedonia, maybe over between Kosovo and Serbia – in order to distract NATO attention, in order to inject themselves as mediators,” he said.
“It is like the guy with the matches – sets fire to a house and then comes in as the fireman. In the Russian tradition is to start conflicts and then inject itself as a mediator, which enhances its role in the region. For all these reasons and the fact that the region is being neglected by the EU, it is not yet integrated into NATO, it gives more opportunity for Russia to pursue its strategy vis-a-vis the West. I call it “Europe’s soft underbelly”, in other words, where they can really punch and create problems for the alliance and for the West.”