by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to university students in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
It’s great to be here and General Wilz thank you for that kind welcome and thank you also for the leadership that you show and the very important job you do by heading the NATO headquarters here in Sarajevo. And for me it’s always good to be back in Sarajevo. The first time I was in Sarajevo was back in 1964, then I was a child and my father was a diplomat in the former Yugoslavia and we travelled around and I remember very well that we visited Sarajevo many times. And it’s also nice to be back in Sarajevo to see the snow and to see the mountains; it reminds me a bit about my own country Norway where we also have a lot of snow and mountains. I will give an introduction, say some words about the partnership and the cooperation we are developing between NATO and Bosnia-Herzegovina and then afterwards I’m more than happy to answer your questions.
December last year marked the 21st anniversary of the Dayton Peace Agreement. That agreement ended four years of war and it lifted the siege of this beautiful city which led to death and suffering for so many people. In the two decades since much has changed. The city and the country have been rebuilt; there is democracy and visa-free travel within the EU Schengen zone. All of this required a huge degree of political cooperation and effort by all the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina and by the political parties.
And the leadership which this required from the political leaders in Bosnia-Herzegovina has been of great importance for transforming Bosnia-Herzegovina. And of course this has been done by the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina, by the politicians and the leadership in Bosnia-Herzegovina but NATO has been an important part of this transformation. NATO helped to end the war and it helped to cement the peace, supporting the creation of new unified institutions. This is the core of NATO’s partnership with Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of the most significant achievements has been the creation of the Joint Armed Forces. At the end of the war there were more than 400,000 troops bitterly divided between three armies at war with each other. Today there is a single professional army of around 10,000 soldiers and 5,000 reservists under a unified chain of command. This is a truly remarkable achievement. It shows what is possible when difficult issues are tackled with ambition and a spirit of consensus. It is a model that others can learn from. The defence review adopted last year will further modernize the Joint Armed Forces. Yesterday the implementation plan was adopted, this is real progress and it shows real commitment. Of course there are many challenges still to be faced but this country has come a very long way. NATO’s partnership with Bosnia-Herzegovina is fundamentally about improving the everyday lives of the people of this country. It is about peace and stability, it is about making sure that women play their full role in society; it is about fighting corruption, ensuring that defence institutions are under democratic control, use resources appropriately and are transparent and accountable. It is also about strengthening your ability to respond to natural disasters. That is why in 2014 NATO answered Bosnia’s call for help during the devastating floods. Since then we have been working to strengthen our ability to deal with natural disasters and this September Bosnia will host a major NATO civil emergency exercise in Tuzla, one of the area’s most affected by the floods. But our partnership is a two way street. Bosnia and Herzegovina now makes an important contribution to international security. Bosnia is part of NATO’s ongoing support to Afghanistan with 55 people currently on duty with our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. I’ve just met and thanked some of those who have served in Afghanistan from Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has also played a role in UN peacekeeping missions in Cyprus, Congo, Liberia and South Sudan. And Bosnia-Herzegovina has also started the process of applying for full membership in the NATO alliance. Membership is not easy to achieve, it lies at the end of a long path of reform but Bosnia is moving forward. The defence review is an important step. Bosnia now needs to deliver for the benefit of all its people and its security. This includes the registration of defence properties, placing them under the control of the state. I urge all parties to work together with unity of purpose for the benefit of all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Compromise can be difficult but it’s also vital if the citizens of this country are to have the bright future they so much deserve. NATO will support you all the way but the future is in your own hands and with unity, determination and – yes - compromise great things can be achieved.
For so long the history of our continent, Europe, was dominated by violence and mistrust. Even my own country Norway and our Scandinavian neighbours Sweden and Denmark where at war for centuries. We used to fight each other, now we are the best friends. We learned to overcome the past, we moved forward, it can be done. The Western Balkans … the Western Balkans region is also moving forward. This year we expect to welcome Montenegro as the 29th member of the NATO alliance. Croatia and Slovenia are now members of NATO and of the European Union. The same is possible here. The future of Bosnia and Herzegovina is important to NATO. Our histories are closely entwined, NATO intervention brought peace to Bosnia but it also transformed NATO. It was the first time that NATO had conducted an operation beyond its borders. The NATO led missions marked a historic shift in the very nature of the alliance. From focusing purely on defending NATO allies to projecting stability beyond our own borders, building up the forces and strengthening the institutions of our partners. Working with the UN, the EU and the OSCE this is what we have done in the region. This is what we have done in Afghanistan and this is what we are doing in North Africa and in the Middle East.
We live in uncertain times with challenges from a more assertive Russia, from turmoil in the Middle East and from terrorism in our own countries. That terrorist threat has been felt in Bosnia. There have been attacks and in recent years hundreds of men and women have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIL and to join Al-Qaeda. None of today’s challenges can be dealt with by any country standing alone; but by standing together in common cause through the NATO alliance I believe there is no challenge that we cannot overcome.
NATO wants a united Bosnia and Herzegovina to succeed. We want you to take your rightful place as a member of the Euro-Atlantic community and we will support you on the path in any way that we can. This is about more than meeting common standards and technical arrangements. It is about joining a community of nations dedicated to democracy, human rights, the rule of law and to each other. A community that has spread greater peace and prosperity across our continent than ever before. Joining the Euro-Atlantic community requires responsible leadership and that leadership has to come from you and your political leaders while fully respecting your democratic institutions and your constitution. Everyone needs to come together in a spirit of unity and mutual respect to do what needs to be done. For a confident and thriving Bosnia and Herzegovina it’s not only good for you, it is good for the whole of the Western Balkans and for all of Europe.
So thank you so much for being here and thank you so much for being interested in how we can strengthen the partnership between Bosnia-Herzegovina and NATO. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Thank you all for coming out today. What we will do is we will take the first three questions and the Secretary General will respond to those together and then we’ll do the next three until you’re out of questions or we’re out of time. So could I have hands from anyone who wants to ask a question?
Q: Thank you very much. It’s an honour to be here and it’s an honour to have you here. My name is Arian Branch (sp?), I’m currently fourth year of political science and international relations at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology and my question actually relates to NATO and the Russian relations currently. I believe we are all here familiar with the current tensions in the Baltic region and the amassing of troops from both sides. My question is what is the current state of the dialogue between NATO and the Russian Federation and are there current talks on reducing the tensions in the regions? And also a sub-question, do you believe that the recent elections of Donald Trump in the United States will also affect these relations? Thank you very much.
Q: Thank you. Now over to my question. You mentioned the situation here in Bosnia, the political situation, how do you think, regard, I mean regarding the inconveniences of the sites in Bosnia regarding political agreements here? So we know that there’s a diverse society, a diverse political situation here and not all parts are agreeing on potential NATO membership. What is the stance of NATO regarding this and how will you attack this problem? Thank you very much.
Q: Thank you. Good evening your excellency. My name is Sara and my question is very short. Do you think that our government is capable to handle NATO as powerful an institution it is?
JENS STOLTENBERG: First the Baltic region and the dialogue with Russia. Yes we have dialogue with Russia and NATO has very strongly conveyed the message that we don’t try to isolate Russia, we don’t seek confrontation with Russia, we don’t want a new cold war. We actually are striving for a more constructive and cooperative relationship with Russia because Russia is our biggest neighbour and we have to, and we need to find ways to live together with Russia in peace. And therefore after we saw Russia being responsible for aggressive actions against a neighbour, Ukraine, illegally annexing Crimea, we meant it was necessary to react and to respond and we have responded by strengthening our collective defence especially in the Baltic region, so Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and Poland, and by doing so we are sending a very clear signal that NATO is there to defend all allies and that NATO is delivering deterrence and sending a clear signal that an attack on one ally would trigger a response from the whole alliance. But what we have done with increased military presence in the eastern part of the alliance is defensive, it’s proportionate and it’s a measured response to the Russian behaviour because we don’t want to escalate the situation, actually we want to try to de-escalate the tensions. And one way of doing that is to keep the channels for political dialogue open with Russia. We meet … I met with Foreign Minister Lavrov, we have had three meetings last year in something we call the NATO Russia Council where NATO meets Russia. And we are working on how we can strengthen dialogue with Russia because we strongly believe that we have to talk, especially when times are difficult as they are now.
So and … then you asked me about the new president, President Trump. I have spoken to President Trump and he conveyed a very clear message about U.S. remaining committed to NATO, to the strong transatlantic bond. That has also been the message both from the new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and from the new Secretary of Defense James Mattis. So the message from the new U.S. President and from his security team is that the United States will remain committed to NATO and to transatlantic cooperation. And let me just add that I’m absolutely certain that that will be the case. Partly because they say so but partly because it is in the interest of the United States to have strong transatlantic bonds. Strong NATO is of course good for Europe but it’s also good for the United States. Two world wars and the Cold War have taught us all that peace and stability in Europe is also important for the United States. So I believe … I’m certain that the United States will remain committed to NATO.
Then the political situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Well I have met representatives from different parties, from the parliament, from the three members of the presidency, the government and of course there are different views. That’s part of democracy, that different parties have different opinions about different issues. But first of all they have all conveyed regardless of which party they represent, they have conveyed a strong interest in building the partnership with NATO. They are grateful for what we have done to modernize, to help modernize the army, the Joint Armed Forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They know that 20 years ago they had three armies fighting each other and thousands of people were killed, now they have one unified army under unified control. I’m not saying that NATO did that … that we did it but we helped them being able to establish this unified multi-ethnic army they have today. And they’re all, at least all parties and all the representatives I met, and I met many today, they expressed gratitude for NATO helping to do so. They also all expressed that they would like to activate the membership action plan and the membership action plan is a framework for strengthening NATO cooperation with Bosnia-Herzegovina and it is a tool to later on become member if Bosnia-Herzegovina wants. Some expressed that they are in favour of membership action plan and membership, others expressed that they are in favour of membership action plan but they have not yet decided whether they will recommend membership. Well that’s fine for me. They decide. We have never, never forced any country in the world to become member of NATO. If they don’t want to become member, that’s up to them to decide. So me, I as Secretary General of NATO I will never try to intervene in a domestic debate in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Some of NATO’s best friends are not members of NATO. Sweden and Finland, they are neighbours of NATO and neighbours of Norway and they are not member of NATO but they work together with NATO in almost all the areas and in many different ways but they are not aiming at membership. So yes if … Bosnia-Herzegovina has declared that they want to join but it’s up to Bosnia-Herzegovina to decide after they have passed or after being able to activate the membership action plan whether they really, really want to join. That’s not for me to try to influence them, they have to ask for membership and then we’ll sit down and see if they meet the standards and the requirements for becoming a member.
Then Sara you asked me whether Bosnia-Herzegovina was, as you say, strong enough to handle NATO and the answer is yes. Bosnia-Herzegovina has handled NATO for 20 years and Bosnia-Herzegovina is able to handle NATO more and more. Meaning that Bosnia-Herzegovina is working with NATO, Bosnia-Herzegovina participated in exercises with NATO, Bosnia-Herzegovina sent troops to Afghanistan together with NATO, Bosnia-Herzegovina are implementing reforms together with NATO. So Bosnia-Herzegovina is working with NATO and NATO is an alliance of, you know United States, very big allies, then you have United Kingdom, France, but you also have smaller countries and I’m coming from a relatively small member state, Norway. The nice thing with NATO is that it’s around the table all have the same vote and the same possibility to influence. Montenegro which is a small country in the Western Balkans will soon become member and I’m actually certain that Montenegro manage to be as part of the NATO family and Bosnia has proven already that they are … they have the integrity, they have the strength, they have the commitment to manage to work together with NATO either as a partner, as today, or as a member in the future if that’s the outcome of the decision of Bosnia-Herzegovina and NATO.
That was three short questions and one long answer.
MODERATOR: We’ll try again. Maybe [inaudible], gentleman stand up.
Q: Thank you very much for recognising me. My name is Monticello Moosh (sp?) and I’m a Georgetown University School of Foreign Service graduate. And first of all welcome your excellency to Sarajevo, it is really great to see you participating in this event to exchange opinions and learn more about the country that is soon … ought to become a member of NATO. Furthermore I commend your timing of this event due to the social political events that took place recently. Now moving on to the question, how would you rate the relations between NATO and other multilateral organizations? And what are the ways to enhance or foster that kind of relationship? And lastly on behalf of the organizing board of the Sarajevo Model UN I would love to, we would love to invite you to be our guest honour, or honoured guest, to participate in our conference because we will have NATO as one of the committees that will be offered to participants to engage. Thank you very much.
Q: Honourable Mr. Stoltenberg. First of all thank you for being here. My name is Andrea [inaudible] and I am a high school student. So I’m fully aware as a part of a generation born after the recent conflicts in our region that security, peace and stability is the only prospective for us, however we see the NATO benefits in the respect of aforementioned are not fully understood clear and visible. I’m asking you how do you see your role in overcoming the misunderstandings or fears of Bosnia-Herzegovina joining and becoming a full member of NATO having in mind that the public has a negative perception and disrespect including the Republic of Serbia who sees itself as a military neutral country? Thank you.
Q: My question is what does NATO stand to gain from membership from Bosnia, strategically speaking? Very short.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much. First on NATO’s relationship to other multinational organizations. Well we are very much in favour of working with other multinational organizations because NATO is the answer to many problems but NATO is not the only answer to all problems. And there are many issues and many challenges in the world which NATO is not able to solve. But working together with others we are able to address a much wider range of issues and challenges. So we for instance work together with the UN and we help the UN to train peacekeeping forces, we help them with improving their capabilities, we assist and help them in some of their peacekeeping operations and missions. Because I think the UN plays a very important role in promoting peace and stability in many places in the world. We work with African Union, we work with different other organizations but perhaps the organization that we have the closest relationship with is the European Union. Partly because we share much of the same geography, we share many of the same members, 22 EU members are also NATO members and more than 90 % of the population living in the European Union, they live in a NATO country. So NATO is critical for the defence of the European Union and EU members. And we also see that there are new threats and new challenges which are a combination of military threats and civilian challenges like hybrid warfare, cyber and that kind of threats and challenges and there we really need to work together with the European Union to address and to respond to those challenges in the best possible way. So we have stepped up, we have improved our cooperation with the European Union and I signed a declaration with President Tusk and President Juncker in July in Warsaw and we are now working on how we, as, in many different areas are strengthening our cooperation. We have increased our presence in the Mediterranean, we work together in the Aegean Sea and we are addressing a lot of common challenges together. So yes we work together with other international organizations and I think that’s an important part of what NATO has to do.
Then as far I understood you invited me to a conference and I would very much like to go but I have to see if I have time. And therefore I cannot promise. So but you have to speak to my staff and then we’ll see whether that will be possible and my staff is sitting there, so.
So that’s … but as I said it’s nice to be back in Sarajevo.
Then, then NATO and misunderstandings in Bosnia-Herzegovina, what I can do. Well what I can do is to tell people in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the journalists in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the media in Bosnia-Herzegovina what NATO stands for. And in a way it’s up to people of Bosnia-Herzegovina to decide and to make their judgments. Again I think it’s an extremely important thing to understand that what I can do is to explain what NATO does, what NATO stands for, what our aim is but not to intervene in domestic discussions in Bosnia-Herzegovina. You know I think in all, in all NATO countries there have always been some parties, some groups which have been against NATO. I even know a party in my own country that has been against NATO and people can change their minds and so on sometimes. So, so that, the fact that there are different opinions about NATO in Bosnia-Herzegovina it’s okay for me and that’s the case also in all other NATO members today. You will always find some groups, some politicians who are opposing NATO, that’s part of being a democratic society. So then what can I do? Well I can tell and I can explain that NATO is a defensive alliance, NATO is an alliance which is built on a very, so simple idea, that we are stronger together than we are alone and that we stand together in defending each other. Meaning that an attack on one will be regarded as an attack on all of us. And this is the principle of the three musketeers, one for all and all for one and that has been very successful for almost 70 years. Because we have been able to prevent conflict, prevent any attack on any NATO allies, ally, since we were founded in 1949. And for Norway being a small country bordering Russia it has been extremely important for our security that we have been part of a military alliance. Security, peace, stability is of course extremely important in itself, so everyone that have witnessed war, have heard anything about war understand how important it is to prevent war. And the reason why NATO is strong is not to provoke a war but is to prevent the war. But peace and security and we have seen that for many countries is also the basis for economic prosperity and growth. So I think that what Bosnia-Herzegovina can gain is the same as many other countries in Europe has, have gained by joining NATO and that is peace, security, stability and thereby creating the foundation for economic prosperity and growth.
Then what is in it for NATO was the last question. Well if our neighbours are stable then we are secure. So when we are working with partners as Bosnia of course we do that because we think it is important to have peace and stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina for the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina but we also very much believe that if our neighbourhood is stable then we are also more secure. And the reason why we have also seen the success of the enlargement of NATO over, since the end of the Cold War, is that that has been, the enlargement of NATO and the European Union has been the way to move towards a Europe whole, free and at peace. So as long as Bosnia-Herzegovina meets the NATO standards, fighting corruption, transparency, strong democratic institutions, a modern well organized armed forces, a strong democracy, then of course if Bosnia-Herzegovina decides to join NATO it will benefit Bosnia-Herzegovina and it will also benefit NATO. But again it’s up to Bosnia-Herzegovina to modernize, to implement the reforms, to meet the NATO standards, to have strong democratic institutions and then for them to decide whether they really want to become member and then for the 28 NATO allies to decide whether they are accepted as a member.
Q: Thank you for the recognition. My name is [Inaudible] and I’m a senior year student of high school. My question regards internal relations again. You have answered some similar questions but specifically in 2008 when Ukraine was plotting to join NATO, Russia, Russia decided to intervene by threatening with military action and now in 2014 Russia has illegally annexed Crimea. In Bosnia-Herzegovina there is a similar situation however it is not with an external country it is within the country itself. What would NATO do to prevent a potential candidate member; a potential candidate of NATO from illegal military action within the country if illegal military action is, is done by the other side?
Q: Hello. Thank you for recognizing me. So democracy seems to be such a repeated word here, so and you also mentioned Crimea, so there was a referendum there and like we do choose democracy so I would like to ask, like about the inconsistency in NATO policy regarding democracy where democracy of one people is more important than the democracy of other peoples. Wouldn’t it be more peaceful to regard all democracies equally? Thank you.
Q: Thank you for considering me. My question is if you were to decide what do you consider as the major success as well as the major failure of NATO since its existence? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: First the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Well what NATO does is that we are … first of all the situation inside Bosnia-Herzegovina has to be handled by Bosnia-Herzegovina. And, and the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina is in the hands of the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina. We cannot solve all the problems for Bosnia-Herzegovina. What … and we will respect the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina. But what we can do is that we can help support, assist Bosnia-Herzegovina in creating strong democratic institutions, in strengthening and modernizing their armed forces, their security services and fighting corruption, becoming accountable, transparent in everything Bosnia-Herzegovina does. And I really believe that by doing so and you have already achieved a lot you are increasing your resilience to counter and to withstand efforts to try to undermine the sovereignty and the integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. So the best way to counter any attempt to undermine the right of Bosnia-Herzegovina to decide through democratic processes which path you choose, whether to join NATO, not join NATO or do whatever you want, is to strengthen the democracy in all ways of Bosnia-Herzegovina. And again we cannot do that for you but we can help you and the European Union can help you, different NATO allies are assisting in helping you and NATO as an alliance are helping you, especially when it comes to modernizing and reforming your armed forces, which is key. Because armed forces and the democratic control, transparent, accountable, not corrupt, is one of the most important tools you have to be able to defend your integrity, your sovereignty and your democratic institutions. So I cannot solve your problems, NATO cannot fix everything but we can help you, enabling you to fix the problems or solve the problems and the challenges of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Then on Crimea. We don’t recognise and it’s hardly any country in the world that recognizes the referendum in Crimea which took place after Russia has used violence and force against Crimea. So that is a referendum which is not recognized as a truly democratic referendum and there is no doubt that it was used force, military force against Crimea and it has also been admitted by Russian leaders that they used force against Crimea to illegally annex Crimea. And let me also add that, I think it was back in 92, it was signed in Budapest, agreement or declaration where all the parties agreed to respect the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Crimea because Crimea was a big nuclear power, they abolished all their nuclear weapons, but as a kind of part of that agreement was to not violate or to fully respect the borders of … the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine and that was violated when Russia annexed Crimea, violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The major failure, first of all I don’t think we are, we have made any major failures and if we had made any one I would not tell you. so, no but you know NATO is an alliance of 28 democracies so of course it’s part of being democracies that sometimes you are not able to make decisions, sometimes things take too long time, sometimes we agree or disagree. So but this multitude or this multifaceted as I say decision making process of NATO is, means of course that we sometimes make decisions which are not the best ones but it’s a result of democratic processes. And therefore I think it’s very hard to point at one decision which was a major failure and we have been able to be the most successful alliance in history because we have been able to deliver our core, on our core task and that is to keep all our members safe and to maintain the peace in our part of the world, which is not a small achievement. So yes of course we have made some mistakes but we have been able to deliver on the main task to keep all the members, the 28 members and close to 1 billion people in the member states safe since we were established close to 70 years ago.
Q: Good day. In case of Russian invasion on Eastern Europe will NATO be able to defend it? Thank you.
Q: Okay first of all thank you for giving the honour to ask you this question. So what are the aims and goals of NATO set in the near future to be achieved in the Balkan region? And thus in which ways does NATO plan to support the development of [inaudible] Bosnian society and its army?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I didn’t get the last question, sorry?
Q: So the whole question or just last part?
JENS STOLTENBERG: No the last part of the first question.
Q: So how does NATO plan to incorporate with Bosnia to develop its army and its society? Thank you.
Q: Thank you. I wanted to ask you a question concerning the recent events in Banja Luka on the 9th of January. Do you think that because of what happened there’s a risk that the Joint Forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina could split up again into three ethnic armies?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you. NATO is able to defend all allies and we are not only able to defend all allies but we are the strongest military alliance in the world and we are the most successful alliance in history. And the reason why we are the most successful alliance in history is that we have been able to change and adapt. When the world is changing NATO is changing. And we have to remember that for 40 years NATO was focused on only one thing and that was to provide collective defence in Europe against the Soviet Union, to provide deterrence. Then after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War we went out of area as we say, we helped to end ethnic wars in the Western Balkans, in Bosnia, in Kosovo and then we went on fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, fighting piracy off the Horn of Africa and also protecting civilians in Libya. So NATO has now for 25 years been focused on operations, missions out of area, out of Europe, at least out of NATO territory in Europe. But now we see a more assertive Russia, so now we have to … [inaudible] change again by focusing more on collective defence in Europe at the same time as we continue to fight terrorism beyond our own borders. So now we have to do two things at the same time. And NATO has been able to adapt, we continue to adapt and we must continue to change. And one of, one part of that adaptation is that we are now strengthening our military presence in the eastern part of the alliance, in the two Baltic countries and Poland and we are also increasing the readiness of our forces so they can reinforce rapidly if needed. Having said all that I would like to underline that we don’t see an imminent threat against any NATO ally. And we are continuing to work, we will continue to work for a better relationship with Russia. And I say that because we would like to de-escalate not escalate the tensions and the confrontation in Europe. But we have to make sure that there is no doubt that NATO is able to defend all allies and by doing so we prevent conflict because if all adversaries, all potential adversaries know that NATO will defend all allies then they will never attack us and then there will never be a conflict. And that’s the main reason for having a strong NATO, it’s not to provoke a conflict but it’s to prevent a conflict and that’s exactly what we are doing.
Then our ambitions and plans for the Western Balkans. Well first of all I think that the Western Balkans as you know better than I is not one, it’s not one thing. In the Western Balkans you have countries like Croatia and Slovenia being members of NATO and the European Union. Then you have Albania which is a member of NATO but not EU and then you have Montenegro which soon will become a member of NATO. And then you have for instance Bosnia-Herzegovina which is striving for EU membership and also striving for NATO membership. So there are, and then you have Serbia which is at least striving for EU membership, but not for NATO membership. Well I respect the different decisions of the different countries in the Western Balkan region because they are sovereign states. So again we will never, never, never try to force any country to join NATO if they don’t want to join NATO. So when NATO approaches the Western Balkans we approach a region where NATO has played a very important role for at least two decades, where some countries have joined NATO, some are in the process of trying to join NATO, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and some don’t want to join NATO. But we are working with all of them. Serbia is a partner of NATO, we work with Serbia respecting of course that Serbia is not aiming for NATO membership but Serbia is a partner, we work with them and everything we do, be it in Kosovo with our presence there, the military presence in Kosovo, or a partnership with Serbia or our partnership with Bosnia, is aiming at trying to preserve the peace, de-escalate tensions and strengthen democratic institutions in this region of the world. We do it in different ways because we speak about different countries. So that’s our aim.
Then when it comes to Bosnia-Herzegovina well our aim is to continue to help you moving forward on the path you have moved the last two decades. And of course there are problems, there are reasons to be concerned, there are setbacks and disappointments but if you compare Bosnia-Herzegovina today with Bosnia-Herzegovina 20 years ago it is an enormous difference. You have achieved a lot, you have been able to end a war, you have been able to build a unified Joint Armed Forces and you have economic growth and you are striving to strengthen your democratic institutions and political life. So, our aim is to continue to help you moving forward on that path.
Then, let me add one more thing. And I’m aware that there have been many, that there has been wars and that there are history in the Western Balkans and conflict between different ethnic groups and some of this is something which still lives among people in the Western Balkans. But this kind of animosity, this kind of confrontation and history is possible to overcome. And sometimes I use my own region of Europe, the Nordic region, as an example because for centuries Norwegians used to fight with Swedes in many wars and we were together with Denmark fighting enormous amount of wars with the Swedes. But now we live in absolute friendship with Sweden. So when Swedes and Norwegians can become friends then I think all people all over the world can become friends. So I really believe that the past, the history which has created so much many problems in this part of Europe is possible to overcome, we have done it in other parts of Europe before.
Then Banya Luka, there is an investigation going on related to what happened there so I will not comment on the investigation. I think it’s important to get the outcome and the results of the investigation. But I’m absolutely confident that the Joint Armed Forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina will remain united, will stay strong and will continue to develop as united, modern, accountable armed forces. And that’s for many reasons but one of the reasons is of course the determination of the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the leadership, but also the support which NATO is providing with the staff and the people here at the NATO headquarters in Sarajevo.
Thank you so much.