Belgrade Security Forum panel discussion
''NATO-Serbia Partnership Contributing to Western Balkans Security'' with NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller and Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic
MAJA PISCEVIC (Senior Fellow, East-West Institute): Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, friends of Belgrade Security Forum, good morning one more time, and welcome. Welcome to the special event today, NATO-Serbia Partnership Contributing to Western Balkan Security, long title for a complex issue.
My name is Maja Piscevic. I am a Senior Fellow at the EastWest Institute, and I'm also a Representative of EastWest Institute for the Balkans.
EastWest Institute is a global, international think tank with 37 years of track record in trust building, conflict resolution and prevention. Our headquarters is in New York, and we have offices in Brussels; Moscow; San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; and now in Belgrade.
It is my real honour and distinct pleasure to be here today, and I want to thank Sonja Licht for this opportunity. And I'm really grateful for the opportunity to be a host to two amazing women with very different backgrounds but also something in common that I will disclose to you in a moment. But let me first introduce them.
Her Excellency Ana Brnabic has been the Prime Minister of Serbia since June of this year. Born in Belgrade in 1975 – it's beautiful when you can still talk about your birth date – she obtained an MBA from Hull University, United Kingdom, and has more than ten years of experience working with international organizations, foreign investors, local governmental organizations, and with the Serbian public sector.
In August 2016, she was nominated Minister of Public Administration and Local Self-government, and held the position until the election as the Prime Minister. She's the President of the Serbian Government's Council for Innovative Entrepreneurship and Information Technologies, as well as of the Serbian Council for National Minorities, and is the Vice President of the Serbian Council for Public Administration Reform.
She is a member of the group New Leaders for Europe as part of the World Economic Forum. During her business career, Brnabic also worked with consultancies on programs financed by the US AID, US Agency for International Development, in Serbia. In 2006 she helped establish the National Alliance for Local Economic Development, commonly known here as NALED.
Your Excellency, please come to the stage.
Rose Gottemoeller is the Deputy Secretary General of NATO since October of 2016. Before that, she served as the Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security at the US Department of State. Gottemoeller was the Chief US Negotiator of the new strategic arms reduction treaty, New Start, with the Russian Federation.
Prior to her work at the Department of State, Gottemoeller was a Senior Associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She served as the Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center from 2006 to 2008. And I hear that she speaks fluent Russian.
Before that, she served as US Deputy Undersecretary of Energy and Defense, Nuclear Non-proliferation, and, prior to that, as Assistant Secretary and Director for Non-proliferation and National Security at the US Department of Energy.
Gottemoeller served for three years as Deputy Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. She also served on the National Security Council as Director for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia Affairs. She received a BS from Georgetown University and an MA from George Washington University. What a career.
Mrs. Gottemoeller, please join us.
So welcome to you both. And before we move from soft themes to hard themes, let me just disclose what is it that you two have in common. Ladies and gentlemen, these two ladies are the first women in their respective positions. And I want to really praise them for that.
Prime Minister, at your age, was it hard? I mean, breaking the glass ceiling?
ANA BRNABIC (Prime Minister of Serbia): I think this position is hard at any age, so it was hard and it's still hard.
MAJA PISCEVIC: Ms. Gottemoeller, how about you? So many times.
ROSE GOTTEMOELLER (Deputy Secretary General of NATO): Well, I like to say that one can get used to anything, and I'm used to bashing my head against that glass ceiling, so I'm used to it. I'll put it that way.
MAJA PISCEVIC: OK, thank you. OK, time to move on then.
Serbia, whose sovereign choice has been a military neutrality, has come a long way in its relationship with NATO. Serbia joined the Partnership for Peace in 2006, and since then the cooperation and dialogue have grown. In January 2015, Serbia agreed to the implementation of an individual partnership action plan outlining even increased cooperation in the coming years.
A lot has been said and written on Alliance's past relations with Serbia; also a great deal of speculation remains with regard to Serbia's military neutrality. Both issues have developed and, over the years, cooperation have gone up and down, occasionally bringing the relations under serious strain.
However, today there’re but a few actors as aware and as sensitive to this country's key positions the way that NATO is.
So Mr. Prime Minister – Mrs. Prime Minister, let me start with you. In the joint press conference in NATO headquarters in Brussels in 2016 with, at that time, Prime Minister Vucic, Secretary General Stoltenberg said that Serbia is, quote, “an exporter of stability for the region.” Do you agree with that statement? And if you do, tell us, how does Serbia contribute to general regional security in the western Balkans and the stabilization of the region?
ANA BRNABIC: Thank you, Maja. It's a pleasure to be here, and thank you, Sonja, for inviting me to speak at this important event. I just returned, as you probably know, from my first official visit was to Brussels. And I wanted to purposefully make my first official visit to Brussels to send a clear signal that Serbia's strategic focus, our main goal, is European integration.
Now, for me, and I've said it clearly here; I've said it clearly in Brussels: there is no successful European integration or successful sustainable economic development of Serbia without regional stability.
Serbia is the biggest country in the region. It's still a small market. And still, if we have any instability in the region, Serbia, with all of its investment in the past three years into macroeconomic stability, fiscal consolidation, will be considered as somewhat instable. So we won't be able to reap the benefits of our macroeconomic stability and the fiscal consolidation measures that were obviously implemented successfully.
So our kind of… one of the top five priorities is regional stability and regional cooperation. I think Serbia was sending all the right signals in the past three years of being tolerant, being flexible, and we keep working towards having a more stable, more connected region. And I think that all that EU has invested into regional stability through the Berlin process, and Serbia's participation in the Berlin process has – is – has been of an instrumental importance in that.
So I think that Serbia is an exporter of regional stability. I think there are three key pillars on which – I like this kind of analytical thinking, so I sometimes, probably I'm boring to people with my, you know, one, two, three, you know.
But the three key pillars to regional stability, certainly connectivity agenda, so these are all the infrastructure projects, and for Serbia the two main infrastructure projects are obviously the so-called Highway of Peace – Niš, Merdare, Pristina, Tirana, Durrës – and the second one is the gas interconnector – Niš-Dimitrovgrad – which will enable more of energy diversity for Serbia, and therefore more energy stability.
And second pillar is economic agenda and the implementation – full implementation – of the Action Plan for Regional Economic Area that we adopted in Trieste.
The third thing, also extremely important, RYCO, the Regional Youth Cooperation Office, and the Action Plan for Regional Youth Cooperation, because that is basically what needs to take us forward instead of looking at the past.
MAJA PISCEVIC: Thank you. I'd like also your comment – now let's see how it's said – Deputy Secretary General, DSG. I'd like also the same comment from you about the statement that Serbia is an exporter of stability. I know that you agree with this statement by your boss. But give us your interpretation of it and how you see the role of Serbia as an exporter of stability for the region.
ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Yes. Clearly the Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, has excellent ties here in Serbia. He's looking very much forward to welcoming the President, Vucic, to the headquarters in the coming period in mid-November. So their continuing work together I think has been very important for your security and also for the security of the entire community of NATO allies and partners.
But I would say, beyond Sec-Gen Stoltenberg, there's a high degree of regard in NATO headquarters on both the civilian side and the military side for the professionalism of the Serbian Armed Forces.
And so it's in that, I would say, more wonky kind of military professional sense that I would like to say we see a great deal of potential for partnership with Serbia going forward – understanding of course that Serbia is committed to neutrality, and we have no argument with that.
It's a very clear principle of how NATO operates to say that countries have the right to choose their own security relationships. And we have many, many partners who are also strong security providers. I'm thinking of Sweden and Finland, with whom we work very, very closely.
And so I think that there are ways to think about our future as partners, NATO and Serbia, to even expand opportunit—
—out in the field from things like algae, which I had no idea that that was possible, but then I'm no energy scientist.
In any event, I just wanted to say that there are many aspects to how… I very much welcome the Prime Minister's comments about the wider field of economic development and where that will lead Serbia in the future. But there are many aspects of NATO's cooperation with Serbia that I think help to build regional stability, but also help to build the profile of Serbia as a net provider of security and stability on an international basis.
MAJA PISCEVIC: Prime Minister, what is the status, in your opinion, of Serbia-NATO relations today? And more specifically, what are the benefits of the implementation of the Individual Partnership Action Program since it was launched?
ANA BRNABIC: Serbia has excellent cooperation with NATO, and we do truly appreciate NATO's understanding of our committed military neutrality. And I spoke about this in Podgorica also when I met Vice President Pence.
And you know, in the same way, we understand that countries in the region want to join NATO. We equally appreciate the fact that both NATO and the countries in the region understand fully our intent to remain military neutral.
However, we do have fantastic cooperation with NATO, and you know, through the Partnership for Peace program, we have adopted an Individual Partnership Action Plan. We have a number of joint military activities together.
And you know, when I was in my statement in the discussion in the Foreign Affairs Committee in Brussels just the day before yesterday, you know, I said that the, you know, percep—
— truly military neutral through our military activities. And in 2016 – I will state the numbers here because I bet most of the people don't know the numbers – in 2016, Serbian army has participated in 16 multinational military activities or exercises, of which nine bilateral with the US army, two with Russia, two with other countries from the Balkan regions, two with NATO through the Partnership for Peace, and one with Hungary.
In 2017 to date our Serbian army has participated in as much as 13 military activities with NATO or its members, of which seven with the United States, while two with the Russian Federation, which are the numbers that show that we are committed to all the parties. And I think the perception that we are, you know, only close with Russia is just a matter of just that. It's the matter of perception and not the matter of fact.
Also, one important thing, and I will end with this, not to take too much of the time, is what's important to also state –
– seventh country, number seven country in Europe, in terms of our participation in the both EU and UN peacekeeping missions. We have 344 members of the Serbian Armed Forces participating in six UN and four EU missions. So first in the region, and number seven in Europe in the peacekeeping missions. And we take pride in this.
MAJA PISCEVIC: We will talk more about the perceptions and the so-called Russian influence in just a moment, but I wanted to hear from you, DSG, how would you de—
ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: I think that it's very welcome to have opportunities to exercise and train together. The Prime Minister mentioned ways that we have been exercising and training together, both as NATO but among NATO allies and Serbia.
There are other ways I think we should be thinking about developing our relationship, though, again to serve the broader interests of Serbia's development.
One area that I think is especially promising is in the area of cyber defence. And I very much welcome, again, that we have this opportunity right now. We are looking at our new Individual Partnership Action Plan for the coming year to look at how we could work together more to tackle the problems of cyber security –
– is especially interesting the Prime Minister – I know we've had a couple of conversations on this matter, but here is an area where we could really, I think, deepen our cooperation and look for ways even to, so to say, stress test Serbia's ability to be secure and safe in the context of cyber security.
Exercising and training in this area I think is also very, very important, and can have some important benefits for Serbia.
So the gist of my answer is to say yes, it's important that we have opportunities to exercise and train out in the field. Military forces, that's how you develop military capability and capacity.
But I also – you'll hear a theme that I'm going to keep emphasizing today –is that we recognize at NATO headquarters, and although we are a military alliance, there are broad interests that Serbia has in economic development, the overall health of society, areas where I think that NATO, despite the fact that we are a defensive alliance and our focus obviously is on military defence, we can have some broader benefits for Serbia. And I think that's important, that we should be looking for ways to accomplish that.
I'd just like to raise one more example because it's so fresh in my mind. We've just completed an emergency assistance exercise in Bosnia and Herzegovina week before last, and the Serbian team there was absolutely great.
People get surprised and say NATO does emergency response, emergency assistance? Well, it's looking at problems that have been endemic in this part of the world, as elsewhere these days: forest fires. I know in the western Balkans an enormous set of problems from forest fires this summer. I have a son living in San Francisco. I'm watching the forest fires in California right now.
We've got general problems emanating from climate change, and we really have to look at ways we can tackle them together. One is to have effective emergency responders.
People get surprised. They say NATO works on those kinds of problems? But I want to say yes, we do. It may not be our prime task, our prime objective. We are a defensive military alliance. But we do look for ways to help develop capabilities and capacity that can serve your broader interests as well.
MAJA PISCEVIC: And that is very important to talk about more perhaps than we do at this point when we talk about NATO, talking about perceptions.
Prime Minister, which are, in your view, the main security challenges, if any, in the region for Serbia?
ANA BRNABIC: Well, I think, in my view, there are two. Obviously one is the security challenge that comes from Kosovo and Metohija. And the problem there is that Kosovo and Metohija became a prime source of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, and that Kosovo has the highest per capita number of foreign fighters from Europe joining ISIS, with over 300 reported up to December 2016.
I think that's our, you know, common problem, one of these common challenges that we should be facing together. So that is certainly something that is worrying.
The other one, as Rose has already said, is I think cyber security and cyber defence. That is something that will be an increasingly present challenge for Serbia.
And as you said, you know, I am, as everyone knows, very pro e-government because for me – and I think that's the matter of national importance – because I think for, you know, for our citizens, you know, the time has come that, you know, in the 21st century, we can't have papers, you know, and pushing papers back and forth with public administration.
This is also, to me, an answer for the efficiency, for the citizen-centric approach of public administration in the government, and also for fight against corruption.
But as we prepare for more e-government, we are now working on registries, important registries, and very, very sensitive registries: citizen registry, registry of addresses, and so on and so forth, meta registers, register of all the databases that we have so that we can connect them in order to provide more efficient services to our citizens and our businesses.
But for this, you really have to be very careful about how this data is used, who is this data available –
– to talk about cyber security and cyber defence. And I think these are the two challenges, very different challenges but equally important challenges nevertheless, for us.
MAJA PISCEVIC: DSG, always important and interesting to hear same: NATO perspective of main security threats in the region of the western Balkans, please.
ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: The Prime Minister already mentioned the threat of terrorism. And as far as NATO is concerned, the threat of terrorism, it's one of our 360 degree challenges, as we say. We don't look at terrorism as only being a problem for the south of our Alliance, but it could strike European capitals at any time in any way.
Now, clearly, for European countries dealing with terrorism domestically, inside borders, that's a matter for law enforcement. But NATO is trying to look for ways to tackle this problem by, for example, by participating in Afghanistan and helping to build capacity there, train, advise, and assist to be able to defeat extremist forces in Afghanistan; the same in Iraq these days. And by the way, we are very, very glad that Serbia is now working with us on the training of Iraqi military medical specialists.
These kind of things are, as we think about it, they are getting at the fundamental fight against terrorism and being really present out in the field, where we have to tackle problems such as the defeat of ISIS.
And so this is going to be a continuing priority for the Alliance, and I think clearly it affects the Balkans as well, and it is something that we have to continue as NATO in this 360 degree way to work intensely with our allies and our partners on tackling.
But the other main point I wanted to raise, in my view, as a threat to stability in this region is corruption. Corruption, again, is something that strikes at the heart of a nation's ability to advance, to develop, to be healthy economically, to tackle important problems that, if they are not tackled, will affect the health, the ability to have jobs, the prosperity of future generations.
And so the fight against corruption, again, this is something that every government in the region I know is wrestling with. I know the Belgrade government is wrestling with this problem. And for many of our NATO allies, they must tackle these problems as well.
How does NATO try to help with this problem? What we try to do is institution building and capacity building to help… coming in, working with defence ministries, for example, to help them understand how to do fair contracting so that, you know, bribe taking is something that everyone's alert to and is aware of what's necessary to have a proper contract drawn up.
Again, it sound – I like to call it – these are bread-and-butter projects. This is an English expression, bread-and-butter projects, but I think about them as being very pragmatic and very focused on developing the internal capacity so that countries are able to fight corruption from within.
Because it is corruption, in my view, that is one of the biggest threats down the road to the health and prosperity of countries all over the world, but here in the Balkans as well. And that means the future health of your young people: their ability to find jobs, and their ability to have a good life for themselves.
MAJA PISCEVIC: Prime Minister, given your economic agenda and the importance of your portfolio that you place on the regional cooperation, how do you see, how do you look at the fact that four countries in the region – Slovenia, Croatia, Albania as the first of them, and now Montenegro – are members of NATO, and there are two aspiring countries obviously, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia? Does that affect the quality of regional cooperation? And please let us know in a positive or a negative way alike.
ANA BRNABIC: Yes. As I said, I mean, we fully respect their wish to join NATO. And that in no way changes our position on joining NATO, nor do we see that as any kind of threat to, you know, to our territorial integrity, sovereignty, or foreign policy.
So as long as Serbia is as it is today, as I said, really, truly, by NATO and other countries, in the same way as they respect our position on this issue, we obviously have no problem.
You know, in terms of economic development and cooperation, that can only foster these things, again, as I said. And what was especially interesting to me, and really, you know, I, by preparing for these kind of panels and meetings, you know, I get a lot of information that is not really shared publicly, I think, enough for us to understand, you know, from our partnership with NATO through Partnership for Peace and through IPAP, you know, we have fantastic cooperation, but in different ways, which I think should be promoted.
And one thing that I did not know, which is extremely important and very beneficial for Serbia, is this program Science for Peace and Security. You know, do you know how meaningful and important this is for Serbia? You know, we have… and here I have a list of projects that are ongoing or recently completed, and I think these are very important also not just for science, for research and development. These are the projects that we would not be able to invest in or have a significant know-how or, for example, equipment or technology to work on these.
And they are very important for our economic development, for our future sustainable, dynamic economic development. We have here projects that involve Institute of Physics from the University of Belgrade; Faculty of Electronic Engineering from the University of Nis; Faculty of Mechanical Engineering from University of Belgrade again; Faculty of Physical Chemistry, University of Novi Sad.
These are the projects will enable us two things which are of key importance for Serbia in terms of economic development, to go back. One is the transfer of know-how, extremely important for us. And through this transfer of know-how, they will enable us for these people to remain in Serbia.
So the last of a brain drain, which is a huge problem for us, but through these projects they can realize themselves as scientists in Serbia to work on cutting-edge technologies.
And secondly, this will enable us, step by step, to go through investment-driven economy, where we are today, to innovation-driven economy, where we want to be.
And so this is kind of cooperation with NATO that I would like all of us in Serbia to promote more. Because I think it's important, and not many people know about it.
MAJA PISCEVIC: I love how you talk with passion about regional cooperation always. The only other thing that you talk of as passionately about is e-government.
You said in one interview that it's fantastic that Montenegro has joined NATO. Why is it important for NATO that one relatively small country with small army becomes the member of the Alliance?
ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Well, first of all, we are truly delighted that… and it is fantastic that Montenegro is now our newest member of NATO. I was so happy when their flag went up at NATO headquarters this summer. It was thrilling to be there and thrilling to watch.
It doesn't matter how large an army is. It is whether a country has a skilled armed forces and can contribute to NATO operations and missions, and is willing to participate in our joint objectives, really, to provide for peace and security in the NATO region.
And so I think, you know, we see Montenegro as participating in providing for the peace and security of Europe as a whole, and certainly here in the western Balkans.
So you know, it's a funny question to ask. We have countries in NATO that are enormous. My own country, the United States of America, is enormous. And then historically we've had very small countries in NATO by comparison.
Where our headquarters are today, Belgium, is not a large country by comparison, even in Europe. But they have always been welcome at the NATO table, as long as they share NATO's goals and objectives and they share a regard for the importance of peace and stability in the NATO region.
So I think it's an odd question, quite honestly. There were some questions of that kind asked coming from various directions. Well, why Montenegro, you know? Well, they are committed to providing for peace and security in this region and beyond. And I think that that is important.
And they have the capacity and capability to do so. Because you don't come into NATO just by asking; you have to fulfil certain very important requirements. And again, I was talking a moment ago about having reform, progress, and be well established in your defence institutions and elsewhere in your government institutions.
So it's a high bar to join NATO. Countries have to do a lot of work to do so. But once they are inside, we welcome and embrace them as providing for all of us benefits of peace and security.
MAJA PISCEVIC: Thank you. There has been a lot of talk about the Russian influence in the western Balkans, but actually not only in western Balkans but in Europe, and I think in United States these days as well.
For instance, there is the issue of Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Centre, but there's also talk about Russian soft power, most notably in the area of the media.
So Prime Minister, what is the position of the Serbian government with regard to this matter? And how do you view the relationship with Russia in the context of the Serbia's proclaimed military neutrality?
ANA BRNABIC: Well, as I said, I gave you the numbers that clearly show that we're committed to military neutrality and that perceptions are in fact perceptions and not facts. And I would again like to call on all of us to not just talk about perceptions but facts.
And you know, for Serbia's relationship with Russia, I think Serbia has been very open and honest about that relationship. Obviously that's one of the key points of discussion when I go to Brussels or when we have meetings here in Belgrade or anywhere else when you talk about foreign policy and Serbia's EU integration.
Now, Russia is a big friend of Serbia. And we have obviously, you know, we have traditional cultural-religious ties with Russia. We also have an important economic ties with Russia. We have a free trade agreement signed with Russia. Russia's our important trading partner. But Russia is a partner to many, many countries that are EU members – trading partner, economic partner, you know. They're extremely important energy partner to the European Union.
And so in that respect, as long as we're open and honest about this, as long as we can show numbers for our military neutrality, I think, you know, there are no obstacles to this partnership and this friendship continuing in terms of, you know, in terms of our strategic road to the European Union.
MAJA PISCEVIC: DSG, very directly, does NATO see Serbian-Russian relationship and Russian influence as a threat to security in the region of the western Balkans?
ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Well, look. There is clearly great concern among NATO allies about the security challenges that Russia has posed. We have embarked in recent years, again, in focusing on common defence because of the Russian seizure of Crimea in 2014 and continued destabilization of the Donbas, eastern sections of Ukraine.
We see pressure against NATO countries of various kinds. You mentioned on the more, quote-unquote, soft side, in terms of information campaigns. But also, we've just watched the end of the Zapad '17 exercise, which I don't want to, you know, I don't want to whip out of proportion. The Russians regularly exercise in that way. Last year it was in the Caucuses; this year it was Zapad; next year it will be Vostok.
So we recognize, and every country has the right to exercise its military forces, as Serbia does, I'm sure, every week of the year.
But it's important to ensure that, when a country is building up its military forces, training and exercising, that it is done in a way that is predictable and transparent to surrounding countries so that they don't take the wrong message from training and exercising that's going on.
So I just want to say that Russia does send often the wrong messages with some of its training and exercising, messages of a lack of transparency and a lack of predictability that does make its neighbours more anxious, including NATO allies who are neighbours of Russia.
So I think we have to be alert and we have to be alive to the issues that Russia can pose in terms of deterrence and defence for the NATO Alliance.
But I also want to stress one thing. That is, we are also committed to dialogue with Russia, and we would welcome more areas of cooperation with Russia, again in our mutual interest. Nobody engages in a partnership or in cooperation, you know, because it's being forced to. It has to be in our mutual interest to do so.
So for example, we see a great value in working with Russia on ensuring that incidents at sea or in the air around NATO airspace do not spiral out of control. There's some very practical ways we want to be working increasingly with Russia to develop better stability, security, and mutual predictability for all in the region, and that includes Russia itself.
So again, I wanted to underscore the message that, from our point of view, this is not a zero-sum game. Security is a general matter. Stability is a general matter. Predictability is a general matter. We all have an interest in that. Nobody wants to see crisis. Nobody wants to see, God forbid, conflict.
So I think that's the way we think about this issue. I think my remarks pertain as well here in the Balkans as they do up, you know, in the northeast of Europe, where we have our Baltic allies who are neighbouring Russia. We all have a general interest in these matters.
MAJA PISCEVIC: Thank you very much. We don't have much time left, but I just have to ask this one question at the end, and first start with you, Rose. It's about NATO campaign or, as people call it here, the bombing of Serbia in '99.
As a result of this, the majority of Serbs, according to recent polls, 84 percent would vote against joining NATO if the referendum was today.
In his press conference with Prime Minister Vucic at that time, Secretary General said, I quote, we remember the past but look to the future. How do you relate to this in the context of our history?
ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Well, again, you would very much expect me to agree with my boss, Jens Stoltenberg. But I do want to again underscore his words. We remember the past, but we look to the future. And I also want to underscore other words he has said here in Belgrade and expression of regret for the loss of civilian life in 1999. It is something that we regret very much.
I have just been looking at the statistics nowadays for Afghanistan and seeing an uptick in civilian casualties in Afghanistan. A lot more IEDs, a lot more… it's very, very sad but a lot more suicide bombers there. Civilian casualties.
And so the loss of even one human being, military or civilian, is a tragedy. But civilian loss of life must be a concern for the NATO Alliance. So we do regret what happened in 1999.
But I do want to say we need to look to the future and continue to build up our partnership and cooperation, continue to think about the future as Serbia sees it, what's most important for Serbia in building the health of your nation, both in defence and security terms, which is NATO's prime… that's our area of interest, but also in ways that NATO can help on the broader front and all the many issues that the Prime Minister outlined today in terms of economic health and development as well. Are there ways in which NATO, even in a small way, can contribute to those larger efforts? And we would like to be present to do so.
MAJA PISCEVIC: Thank you. Prime Minister, the last question for you. You must be aware of this data about the support, or the lack of it, for NATO at this point in Serbia. And despite the increased cooperation and obvious benefits for Serbia, still tabloid media often criticizes the Alliance, and actually, some politicians do as well.
How much do you think this affects the quality of our relationship? And for instance, do you think that government should talk more about the actual level of cooperation and benefits as we did today?
ANA BRNABIC: Yes, I think the numbers are obviously understandable. It's a very emotional issue. You know, it's impossible to forget. And you know, it will remain something that will, to be perfectly honest, burden our relationship for years and years to come.
On the other hand, you know, looking at the future, and I think we really— it's not just a cliché, you know—we really have to start looking at the future, especially in this region, is, you know, we need to start talking about issues that we talked about today, you know, other ways of cooperation, other areas of cooperation, and how they benefit—and truly, truly benefit—Serbian society and the region.
You know, I think that we are going in the right direction. You know, I would like to send a message full of optimism today, and especially after my two days in Brussels, where again we had, as I said, very good meetings and very good reception for the efforts that were done, not by the Serbian government in the past three years, but by all of us, by, you know, everyone participating in the Serbian society, be it critical towards the government or supportive of the government.
I mean, that's the successes and the results that we are achieving are our common successes. And so, in that terms, I… and finally, I'd like to mention two things.
Firstly, also, you know, Kosovo and Metohija, very emotional issue. But we have fantastic partnership with NATO there, with KFOR. I mean, thanks to our cooperation, the cooperation with the Serbian army and KFOR, we have the stability in Kosovo and Metohija, and Serbs and other non-Albanians feel safer and feel more secure thanks to KFOR.
So that's something that we should know, we should talk about, and we should appreciate it together.
But also, you know, through a very difficult period of migration crisis, still ongoing, Serbia has shown that it can be a very reliable partner, very stable partner, you know, sometimes more stable and more reliable than many EU member countries.
You know, we had people, migrants and refugees, coming into Serbia from EU going into the EU, you know, more than one million people. Our joint forces of military and police have prevented more than 20,000 people, illegal immigrants, from entering Serbia, therefore protecting EU, from entering into the EU.
You know, we've shown throughout the migration crisis that we respect the most basic European values, the human rights, this humanity, the empathy, you know. We had negative examples, you know, of, you know, ridiculous hatred, but the overall message was very positive.
So these are the things that I think we should focus on in the future, and we should celebrate our mutual successes. I think we should focus more on positive things.
MAJA PISCEVIC: Thank you so much. And I think we managed to end up on a positive note. We have just surpassed the time a little bit, and I apologize to Sonja. Please don't criticize me.
Thank you so much for the fascinating discussion, and I hope there will be more opportunities for this in the future.
Please join me in thanking my panellists.