Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is my second visit to Montenegro as NATO Secretary General. And I am delighted to be back. It is a time full of promise. For you. For this beautiful country. And for all the countries of the Western Balkans. And NATO can help you to fulfil that promise.
From its very beginning over sixty years ago, NATO has been determined to help create a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. Over the past two decades, we have made great progress towards that goal. Freedom, democracy and prosperity have spread throughout our continent.
The Western Balkans have made great progress too. But the region is yet to reach its full potential. Our vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace will not be complete until all the countries of this region are stable and secure.
We want to see the whole of this region sharing in the stability and the well-being of the Euro-Atlantic community of nations. We want to see you benefiting from it. We want to see you contributing to it. And we want to help you to get there.
For almost 20 years, the Alliance has been the guarantor of Balkans’ security. From its peacekeeping operation in Bosnia in the 1990s to its stabilising role in Kosovo more recently -- NATO has been instrumental in moving this entire region away from bloodshed and ethnic strife, towards a safer and brighter future.
We have done that with more than just our military presence. Our Partnership for Peace programme has had a major impact. It has helped to engage our partner countries in political dialogue. And it has allowed us to assist our partners with difficult reform challenges, especially defence reform.
We have also kept the door to NATO open for all countries which share our values. And which are willing and able to assume the responsibilities and obligations of NATO membership.
Three countries from your region have already walked through that door. First Slovenia. Then Albania and Croatia. Today, they are all secure in a family of shared values. And they are all making valuable contributions to keep our family secure.
We fully understand that not every country in the region has aspirations for NATO membership. That is their own sovereign decision. And we respect it. But even those that do not wish to join can still draw many benefits from talking and working with the Alliance.
Every individual wants to live in freedom, peace and harmony. In a modern, democratic and tolerant society. A society full of opportunity, in which they can fulfil their aspirations. In which their children can grow up happy and safe. And make their own dreams come true.
All the people of this region deserve such a future. And it is well within reach. To make it a reality, political leaders must demonstrate vision and courage. They must stay on the path of reform. They must stop pursuing narrow, nationalistic and party-political interests. And they must focus on the common ground and the common good.
So my message to all the political leaders, of all the countries in this region, is clear. You are responsible for breaking with the past, and focusing on the future. For taking your countries forward. And into Europe and the Euro-Atlantic community of nations.
If you make the right choice, NATO will stand with you. We will help you to reform and to modernise your countries. We will keep open the door to NATO membership. And if you are interested in walking through that door, we will help you to do that.
The choice is yours. NATO will not impose itself, or any particular course of action. But if you miss the opportunity to bring progress and prosperity to your people, to your country, and to your region – that will be your legacy. Not only for history, but also for your own children.
I send this message, in particular, to the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina. NATO has invited your country to our Membership Action Plan, or MAP, to help it prepare for a possible invitation to join the Alliance.
We did so because we want to see Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of our Euro-Atlantic community. Because it was a unanimous decision by the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina to apply for participation in the MAP. And because we want to help the political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina to reform their country.
We made clear one condition for taking part in our Membership Action Plan: That all immovable defence properties are registered as state property, for use by the country’s defence ministry.
Today, Bosnia and Herzegovina has one army and one Ministry of Defence. And it is making a valuable contribution to our effort to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. That is a great achievement for a nation that was torn up by war itself not very long ago. We commend you for that.
I call on all the political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina now to make further progress. To demonstrate vision, leadership, and the ability to compromise. And to continue on the path of political and economic reform.
A solution to the property issue would demonstrate that Bosnia and Herzegovina functions like one state. That is capable to interact with NATO and fulfil its commitments within the Membership Action Plan.
The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina deserve to live in peace and prosperity. In a harmonious and democratic society. A society that is fully part of our Euro-Atlantic community.
Montenegro has set an excellent example. It is a full and active participant in our Membership Action Plan. And it has come a lot closer to the Euro-Atlantic community, and to NATO, in a very short time.
Montenegro’s political leaders have made good progress in introducing the necessary reforms. You have made Montenegro a constructive regional player. And a contributor to security beyond its borders.
I commend Montenegro’s political leaders for that courage and determination. And I encourage you to continue your efforts. It is of utmost importance to ensure that the Montenegrin security agencies and defence sector meet NATO requirements. And that further efforts are made to fight corruption and organized crime. That will bring Montenegro even closer to meeting its Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia¹ has known for more than three years that we will extend an invitation to start accession negotiations with NATO as soon as there is a mutually acceptable solution to the issue over its name.
There were parliamentary elections earlier this month. I sincerely hope there will now be a new focus on the future, rather than the distant past. New momentum in implementing the reforms that are needed. But also new momentum in fostering the political and public support to successfully resolve the name issue. And to join the Alliance.
In Kosovo, the NATO-led KFOR stabilisation force continues to support a stable, peaceful and multi-ethnic environment. I am encouraged that the Kosovo Security Force and Police are increasingly capable of implementing their security tasks.
I hope Pristina will show that same sense of responsibility and maturity in its dialogue with Belgrade, and in making further reforms. The fight against corruption and organised crime is a key priority. And so is the integration of all communities. The more serious the Kosovo authorities are about strengthening democracy and the rule of law, the more seriously the international community will take their Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
Last, but not least, Serbia. Serbia is a pivotal country in the region. For centuries, it has been a major influence on Europe’s history and culture. Recently, it has had a difficult relationship with its Balkan neighbours. And also with the international community more generally, including with NATO.
Today, let me send a very clear message to the Serbian people: I recognise that you may have mixed feelings about NATO because of what happened in the nineties. But NATO has never had a quarrel with the Serbian people. We responded to the atrocities committed by Serbia’s autocratic regime. That regime was brought down many years ago, by the brave people of Serbia.
Now is the time for all of us to turn a new page. To look to the future, rather than the past. The whole Western Balkans region is moving forward. Towards its rightful place in Europe. And towards the Euro-Atlantic community of nations. And I think it is vital for Serbia to move in that direction as well.
I think Serbia’s future lies in peaceful cooperation with its neighbours and with the European Union and NATO. We do not expect that Serbia will recognise Kosovo in the near future. But we expect both Belgrade and Pristina to take a constructive approach in their dialogue. And to find concrete, durable solutions that will improve not just their own security, but that of the entire region.
NATO has its eyes firmly on the future. We have offered Serbia our hand of friendship. And we have made good progress these past few years in developing a sound basis for partnership and cooperation.
It is now up to Serbia to decide if it wants to move forward in its relationship with NATO, and how fast. It has every right to choose its own path, just like all its Balkan neighbours. But I am convinced that a trusting, cooperative partnership with the Alliance is important for Serbia. For the whole region. As well as for NATO.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
NATO’s vision for the Western Balkans region is clear: Euro-Atlantic integration is the best guarantee for peace, progress and prosperity.
NATO is here to help. To advise and to assist its partners in the region. And to embrace those countries that wish to move from partnership to membership.
But further change must come, first and foremost, from within the region. It is up to political leaders across the Western Balkans to demonstrate the courage and determination to create a better future -- for their own nations, and for the entire region.
The Western Balkans may have had a troubled history. I sincerely believe that they can turn into a shining example of cultural and religious diversity, and peaceful co-existence. Right at the heart of Europe and the Euro-Atlantic community of nations. So let us seize that opportunity today.