KENTERA, PRESIDENT OF THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL OF MONTENEGRO, SPOKE ABOUT OBSTACLES ON MONTENEGRO’S PATH TOWARDS NATO
On June 5th Montenegro officially became the 29th member of Atlantic Alliance, affirming its commitment to promote democratic values and contribute to international stability and peace. Dr. Savo Kentera, the President of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro spoke about obstacles on Montenegro’s path towards NATO, pivotal role this small country has in the field of Euro-Atlantic integrations and how indispensable NATO and EU are for the stability of Balkans.
Can you briefly explain when the Atlantic Council of Montenegro was founded and what is the idea it advocates?
Atlantic Council of Montenegro was founded in October 2006, although the idea being advocated by it dates back from 2004. But since the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro existed at the time and the rules of the Atlantic Treaty Association (ATA) dictate that in one state can exist only one council (which was based in Belgrade – at the time), there was no possibility of founding it in Montenegro too. Instead, the Center for International Relations was founded, which was nonetheless the forerunner of the Atlantic Council, since it has been dealing with all the issues the Council deals with nowadays. Following the restoration of independence, the conditions necessary for its establishment were created and in December of the same year we were accepted as a member of the ATA. It was not easy to form a Council which was supposed to advocate the accession of Montenegro to NATO, given the fact that the country was bombed by the same organization just a few years back. Certainly, there was a lot of scepticism regarding the very need of Council’s existence, however, thanks to a great deal of dedication and persistence we managed to create a credible organization which ten years later managed to achieve its goal.
When did the process of Montenegro’s integration to NATO start and what were the main obstacles along the way?
The first Euro-Atlantic integrations of Montenegro related conference, organized back in 2006, was attended by twenty people only. Those were mostly individuals who really believed in the idea, and a rather small number of people from the “establishment”. The plan consisted of visiting all municipalities and doing a so-called “door to door campaign” in order to inform citizens about all the advantages and potential disadvantages the membership in NATO entails. Until that point, everything Montenegrin citizens knew about NATO was the bombing episode from 1999 and that was it. Those beginnings are perhaps best illustrated by the visits we’ve had in the north of the country where the population was strongly against the membership. The U.S. Ambassador at the time and some generals of the U.S. Army who participated in bombing operations accompanied us during the visits, as well as people from the region (Croatia, Slovenia, Serb Republic, even Serbia). During the first period, discussions were very tense. The conference halls were filled with people who were against or still did not have a clear position on NATO but the number of those who opposed definitely prevailed. Nevertheless, we decided to tell our side of the story and see how people would react. The bright side of those discussions was reflected in the fact that at the end of those meetings the very harshest opponents would have approached us and shook our hands, saying that we were always welcome to talk to them in such a way: openly, honestly and without any attempts to hide what really happened during 1999. We committed to presenting things as they were allowing people to decide what was in their best interest. After numerous years and campaigns throughout Montenegro, the situation has changed significantly. I’m not saying that we have managed to change the opinion of all those people, but we did encourage them to think about what it is that they need to do for their own country, themselves and descendants. Should the decisions be based on emotions or rational thinking? Today, ten years later, I can affirm that we have succeeded and that we have brought the idea closer to people. One part is still opposed and always shall remain, although it is not an unusual epiphany considering that even in NATO member states and the greatest democracies that percentage exists (it is a quite common thing for democracies, everybody is entitled to freedom of opinion but must comply with the facts at the same time). I expect further increase of the number of supporters, once Montenegro becomes a full-fledged member of NATO. There is this typical behavior that has been characteristic for our people throughout the history - we are a nation that loves winners and always will bow before winners only. When you take a look at the year just before the 2006 referendum, the percentage of those who supported independence was extremely low. Today that percentage is remarkably higher than at the referendum for the simple reason that people accepted fact they live in an independent Montenegro. I claim that within a year or two the same will happen with the membership in NATO and that people will comprehend all the benefits it may bring.
What are the benefits of joining the Alliance? How will accession into NATO affect the processes of democratization and consolidation of rule of law in the country?
Security is certainly one of the biggest advantages considering the fact that as a state we are unable to defend ourselves on our own. This applies not only to Montenegro but to much bigger countries as well, because the threats nowadays are much different than back in the 20th century. The key solution for our country is attracting foreign, sustainable investments and healthy capital from the West which is essential for running the economy and production. It is necessary for these investors to realize that Montenegro is a safe and stable country, that the region is stable and that they can protect their rights before the state institutions. This is exactly what membership in NATO will partially bring. I say partially, because there is another step missing to achieve that goal ie. membership in the EU. The fact is that these two processes are complementary and with the fulfilment of conditions required for NATO membership approximately 80% for EU reforms are already carried out, with the remaining 20% of the technical-administrative matters because of the complicated process of entry. I honestly expect that, after joining NATO, we start working on quality, not quantity of reforms implemented in the field of rule of law, respect for human rights, protection of other states and individuals, court justice. This is of course an ongoing process, and Montenegrin citizens should not expect that tourism growth and investments will happen during the following year, but I am confident that within three to five years Montenegro will be able see all the effects of NATO membership, and come even more closer to the EU.
What are disadvantages of NATO?
In my opinion, NATO’s biggest disadvantage is a rather complex bureaucracy that is the inability to make incredibly important decisions in a short period of time. We have witnessed such a thing many times throughout history – NATO was unable to react as quickly as necessary precisely due to slow bureaucratic procedures. Since all NATO decisions are made by consensus certain things move slowly. That is not a good thing, and in my opinion in this regard NATO needs to change. I think that introducing 2/3 supermajority vote for certain matters could significantly increase its efficiency. The Alliance cannot hesitate, especially not in a situation of crisis. Neither can NATO allow any country to challenge the membership of other country in the Alliance (in case it meets all the necessary requirements for accession) because of their unresolved bilateral issues. I consider these to be NATO’s biggest flaws and believe the reforms are needed in order to increase its efficiency.
Is it possible to draw an analogy between Montenegro and Ukraine on the issue of Russian influence in the country and the region?
I often hear the assumption that Russia is bothered by the NATO enlargement towards the East because that way the Alliance expands to the Russian national borders – and Montenegro is often mentioned in this context. Such a thing does not make much sense since Montenegro is not confined with Russia and neither is in the East. In this regard, the parallel with Ukraine cannot be withdrawn. The only parallel which can be drawn is that one part of the Montenegrin citizens are living in a myth of fraternal relations with Russia and Russian people, and that it prevails in a certain way in Ukraine as well because of their historical ties. And that’s the only similarity, everything else is a huge difference. Neither the expansion of NATO with Montenegro represents a threat to Russia nor, in that way, NATO arrives to Russia’s national borders – unless Russia considers her borders to be here and therefore we have endangered it by accessing NATO. Russia must realize that NATO advocates the “open door policy” and that non-member countries should not and must not interfere or affect integration processes. Montenegro is actually a true example of NATO and the United States’ demonstration on how there should never come to an interference of third countries. Russia challenged our path towards NATO on many occasions by conducting various public and secret activities, but fortunately did not succeed in doing so. Once again, through history Montenegro came into limelight of great powers, and not because of its excessive importance but because of the question of prevalence of interests in the region. NATO won and Russia must understand it is about time to stop interfering and let countries aspiring to NATO membership choose their own path.
How Serbia’s military neutrality affects the role Montenegro has in the region, especially concerning Euro-Atlantic integrations?
Based on reports of EU’s senior officials and the state of affairs, Montenegro is the leader in the region when it comes to EU integration and generally as a country aspiring to some betterment. Nowadays it is no longer possible to remain neutral in the traditional sense and even proponents of military neutrality are aware that it is not a sustainable category. Especially in the case of Serbia where it is impossible to fulfil three main prerequisites of neutrality: historical (neutrality is impossible if we take into account the turbulent past of this region), geographical location (Serbia is at the crossroads of the Balkans and its position is too important to remain neutral), and finally, the international community must perceive the country as a neutral which in Serbia’s case is not likely to happen. Is it appropriate to talk about military neutrality if Serbian Army conducts 98% of its military exercises jointly with Americans and by NATO standards? Is it military neutrality if you participate in certain missions? I cannot agree with that approach, as the matter of fact I consider it as being an automatic classification and choosing sides. I believe that this concept is unsustainable and that Serbia will soon have to choose, just like Montenegro did not so long ago. Declaratively speaking, Montenegro’s path towards NATO membership started in 2006, but it was two or three years ago that we started to make real steps in order to meet the necessary criteria for the accession. The same destiny awaits Serbia as well, because eventually the political elite will decide to break and announce to its citizens what’s in their best interests, and there will come the time when they will finally have to decide between the two sides. A great battle will take place because of that matter and whose interests will prevail eventually, considering that Russia will definitely try to prevent this from happening. Montenegro, though, is an example that it is possible to cope with the pressure only if there is a strong political will.
How will the further NATO enlargement influence the geopolitical future of the Balkans?
NATO must not stop its enlargement policy with Montenegro it would not be good either for NATO or for global trends. The Alliance must prove that the “open-door policy” is still in force ie. it is not something only written on paper. As long as all the non-NATO member countries are still not within the Alliance, it will be impossible to talk about the stability of the Balkans. We should work on helping other countries to meet the conditions for NATO membership, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is a ticking time bomb, and it’s only a matter of time until it comes to new riots in that country. Then, there are Macedonia, where the situation is even worse, Kosovo, and even Serbia. It will not be easy because all of these countries are in a completely different situation than Montenegro, but that does not mean we should give up on these countries. The biggest mistake would be if EU and the USA quit the Balkans once again. The fact is that Europe and the USA are once again returning to the region which was completely neglected and forgotten. As soon as they left we ran into problems almost arriving to the point of no return. Solution lies in us, but we cannot make it work on our own.