Panel Discussion

with with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of the Republic of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucić at the Belgrade Security Forum: Leadership for a Secure Region

  • 08 Oct. 2018 -
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  • Last updated: 10 Oct. 2018 13:21

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of the Republic of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic participate in a Special Event of the Belgrade Security Forum: Leadership for a Secure Region

Ms. Sonja Licht: Mr Secretary General Mr President -  ladies and gentlemen, I have the great pleasure to greet Mr Jens Stoltenberg and Mr Aleksandar Vucić, in fact, at the very special event, which we did especially then but it is also special because we are opening the Belgrade Security Forum more than a week earlier than the real forum is going to happen. So, of course, we manage to confuse a lot of media with when want  what are we doing  - well, this is a special event of the Belgrade Security Forum and we are using the opportunity that the Secretory General is visiting Serbia and to have this conversation with the two of them in order to in fact enhance the basic idea that the Belgrade Security Forum was founded eight years ago – seven years ago this is the eighth forum. It is an annual event and it is devoted to one basic idea, to make Serbia and the region part of a general debate about major issues related to security and international relations and in the same time to bring that debate home. We want to be part of a global conversation because we are part of that world. That’s the basic idea about what the Belgrade Security Forum is all about. We are nourishing dialogue, we are nourishing different views to meet at this podium and today we are very, very happy as I have already said that we will have a conversation between the two of you. We all know that the relationship with NATO and Serbia is a complex one, it has difficult episodes with some difficult events but in the same time we have a longstanding cooperation now and it is developing by day, this is why you are here, and I think that this cooperation, this conversation is extremely important – Belgrade Security Forum is cooperating with NATO and to the public diplomacy division for years and I want to thank them and the NATO office in Belgrade especially because that cooperation in fact made it possible that three years ago we had Mr James Appathurai having a conversation with Mr Ivica Dadic, our Minister for Foreign Affairs. Last year it was Rose Gottemoeller and this year we have you. So, we are climbing the hierarchy as you can see. My personal note that I would like to add to this conversation is that you are not  the first Stoltenberg at the Belgrade Security Forum – three years ago we had a special guest  your father Thorvald Stoltenberg who received the honorary citizenship of Belgrade as a proposal coming from our forum and I must tell you we share your sorrow but we also for closing him this year and families. But, in the same time, I want to share with you a moment of joy. Having Mr Stoltenberg with us was a real moment of joy for, I think, every single person who participated in that event. My first question and by the way I have to describe a little bit our idea how to in fact have this conversation more dynamic – I will have three questions, the same for Mr Stoltenberg and Mr Vucić as our guest Mr Stoltenberg will be the first to answer and my first question is related, in fact to the main purpose of your visit. You just came back from the very important exercise bringing, in my opinion, a new input, a new picture to the Serbian audience about NATO Serbia cooperation and I would like to hear your first impressions of the exercise.

Mr Stoltenberg: My impressions about the exercise are very good but before I say some more words about that let me just thank you for your kind words about my Thorvald, father, as you know he was a very, very devoted friend of this region, of Serbia, and he was extremely honoured when he received this honorary citizenship of Belgrade and actually I have learned a lot from him because he thought me the important of having friends, in many places in the world but especially that we maintain a very close relationship as a family to Belgrade and to Serbia because as you know I spent my childhood here in Belgrade in the 1960s. Then the  exercise, the exercise is very important for at least two reasons – one is that we are strengthening the capacity of Serbia of NATO Allied countries or partnered countries almost forty countries around 2000 personnel to work together in addressing national disasters as to consequences, earthquakes, forest fires, floods and these are the kind of natural disasters we have seen in this region but also in other places in Europe and with the climate change we also need to perhaps prepare for even more this kind of natural disasters, or at least some of them. So, it is important to bring countries together and to enable them to work together across borders, but also to bring military and civilian capabilities together, personnel equipment, so they really can mobilise the full capacity, of the full strength of societies when they respond to natural disasters. So, that’s the first reason why this exercise is important, but the second reason is that it shows that NATO and Serbia are working together. That we are strengthening our partnership and I think the best way to show that we are good partners is not through speeches – President Vucic and I  - we are able to speak for a long time, both of us, and we are good friends but of course the speeches are important but even more important are actions on the ground and exercise shows that when we speak about partnership Serbia / NATO are not only words but also deeds, Therefore, I am extremely glad to be here together with the president and to open the exercise together with him.

Ms. Sonja Licht: Thank you. Mr Vucić.

Mr Vucić: Thank you, first of all, once again I wanted to say that Jens Stoltenberg as the Secretary of NATO is welcome to our country and he personally is true friend of Serbia and there are no doubts about it. You mentioned Thorvald Stoltenberg and I was honoured and privileged to meet him in his apartment in Oslo and I will never forget it because during that meeting I learned a lot about the public diplomacy and possible future steps of Serbia regarding regional crises and how to maintain peace and tranquillity in the region. Once again today’s exercise, it was really important I saw it for the first time, I saw for the first time many things, to tell you the truth, it is something very concrete, you know, and I am not well known about the content of all these words, interoperability, and you know, all these expert words. But today we saw how all our people from an entire region and Europe wide, even worldwide, can be helpful to each other and other very difficult circumstances regarding forest  fires, floods, car accidents and everything else and we saw it in very concrete terms and as a matter of fact it helped us a lot to realise what we as Serbia need to do in the future, what we should, how we should and what we should do regarding the new equipment for forest fires or for our guys that are saving lives. And different car accidents, you know, and at the same time what is the most important – all those two thousand people from thirty eight countries, they were living together for several days, they were learning  from each other, they were creating friendship between themselves. And thirdly, which is maybe the most important for the first time some of our people learned how you can use artificial intelligence, how we can use science for peace and security, that’s the name of the programme that we have with NATO because people mainly think that when we speak to NATO it’s always about, I don’t know, F16 or what kind of tanks, no, it is about something more important and for the first time we realise that if we call someone in the region for help, for assistance that we can immediately know where every single rescuer is, you know, and that’s what we can do together. We couldn’t do it so far and now with NATO support, with their programmes, with their plans with their kind of cooperation, we can deliver it to our own citizens and that’s real news for us and these kind of concrete actions; they speak more than all our words and I saw for the first time, you know, people from Bosnia, they were all together from the Republic of [inaudible] and from the other part of Bosnia federation Bosnia and Herzegovina, and they were all satisfied that they were all here together and we learned a lot from them and I think they learned something from our people. It will enable us to improve our deliverance in the future and to save more lives, to save more lives of ordinary people – that’s the main purpose that’s why I am very satisfied and on the other hand, a visit of Jens has always been very successful because he is very smart and a great politician, not only a professional as the main person, as the main person of NATO, he knows how to send the very best  messages to Serbian people, not only it is very obvious that he likes this country but he was saying very important words about 1999, expressing his deepest condolences to our civilian victims, which was received I think in a very great way by our people. Sorry it took a lot of your time it was very important for us and I really appreciate the role of Jens and the role of NATO in this situation.

Ms. Sonja Licht: I very much hope that this exercise will help both further cooporation but also neutral understanding about what this cooperation is about. My next question would be in a different direction. You have already mentioned climate change, natural disasters, president Vucić mentioned artificial intelligence, there are so many global challenges to security these days and unfortunately it seems that it can’t talk about the degrees of the challenges on the contrary – what do we expect as a response, what can be done within  NATO and broader and beyond in responding to these major challenges?

Mr Stoltenberg: I think the most important thing we need to realise is that the future is very hard to predict. That has always been the case but perhaps even more so now. So, I am always very sceptical when I listen to people that tell me what will happen in the future, because they have normally been wrong in the past. When I was…in my previous life before I become a politician back in Norway I worked in the centre bureau statistics in Norway, I was a communist trying to predict oil prices and we were wrong all the time. So, therefore, we actually gave up trying to predict oil prices instead we developed a strategy how to deal with uncertainty, how to deal with shifts in oil prices, to have a robust strategy, managing uncertainty. And I bring some of the same thinking into the security domain because very few people were able to predict the Arab Spring, very few people were able to predict the illegal annexation of Crimea, very few people were unable to predict the rise of ISIS. I remember as late as early 2014 hardly anyone had heard about ISIS and then a few months later ISIS controlled a large part of Iraq, Sudan, and actually threating Bagdad. So, to try to predict is extremely difficult. So, what we have to do is to prepare for the unforeseen and be able to react quickly and therefore what NATO has done is that we have increased our readiness, our preparedness, our ability to react quickly if needed. From whatever direction the threat or the challenge comes. And we have done so partly by increasing the readiness of our forces, partly by strengthening our intelligence services, the way we work on intelligence, strengthening cyber and also dealing with what we call hybrid threats. And we see all of these challenges at the same time, we see a more assertive Russia, in Crimea, we see turmoil to the south, terrorism and ISIS but we see more and more threatening challenges within cyber space. The last thing I would say about this is the following, is that one of the challenges we are faced with is that it is harder to distinguish peace from war or conflict from stability. There is a more blurred line, I grew up in the decades after the Second World War and in Norway where I come from we knew exactly when it started. It started the 9th April 1940 and it ended the 8th May and it took place in some specific countries, in Norway but not in Sweden. Now, it is very hard to say when the war against ISIS start, it’s hard to say when it ends and it’s actually hard to say where it takes place. It takes place in Iraq and Syria, but also in Asia, in North Africa, and in cyberspace. So, we have to accept that we also live in a time where we are faced with what we call below Article 5 Aggressive Actions, for instance, the use a chemical nerve agent in  the UK or cyber attacks against our democratic institutions or hybrid warfare was we saw in Crimea. So be prepared for unforeseen increase readiness that’s the best way to prepare for the future.

Ms. Sonja Licht: Thank you Mr President?

Mr Vecic: You should ask Jens about this, because we are too small to discuss these global issues, what can I say about climate changes? We can support all the efforts by an international community but our industry, our economies still too weak that we can play an important role as a member of the international community, yes, we do our very tiny, very small contribution to that, but we can mean something in this kind of regional framework and that’s what is reserved for us. But, speaking about something that Jens was mentioning, I would add something that we feel and most probably I am not right although I would like to hear his opinion on oil and the other commodities, prices, that would be very good for us to hear it. In a way we will be able to plant much better what we are going to do with our economy, how are we going to deal with these issues, but I absolutely agree with him that tackling uncertainty and possible instabilities are the main tasks of, let’s say NATO, but big counties and big powers all over the world – for us, it’s to avoid regional clashes, to maintain tranquillity and peace within the region, which is the real prerequisite for the economic progress, otherwise we wouldn’t face it and our citizens would be less and less satisfied and in that sense I see a lot of challenges in front of us in the future. And it would be great if I would be wrong and yes, it is right that we are very often wrong, I still have some concerns and… but, anyway, what I said yesterday privately or a few days ago doesn’t matter  there is something that I guaranteed him and I guaranteed our citizens and an entire Europe and world as well. We will do our best for Serbia, absolutely, and we will invest huge efforts into maintaining peace and tranquillity, which means that we do know what was done to us, what we did to the others and we need to skip and to avoid the same types of mistakes from the past, taking care of our future in a very rational way although it’s not going to be easy because we are just entering a new era of emotional spreading and emotional selling and that’s one of the reasons why it’s going to be a lot of situations deteriorated not improved. But anyway, we will do our best to carry on dialogue with Pristina, Albania, we will do our best to establish a better relationship with the new Bosnian leadership, and I think that there is no doubt that we will have to have better relationship with Croatia, that is something what we can contribute to. It’s not big, it’s not as important in a way that Jens was stressing about all the other big players and one small thing would just add to everything that, yes, we’re speaking about – I am a bit afraid of the global situation because nobody is really listening to anyone in the world. And there is no real hierarchy in the world, everybody is doing everything in accordance only with their own interests and it’s a bigger political mess than ever, although no-one wants to admit it, no-one wants to acknowledge it but hopefully there are many responsible people that will take care of this kind of uncertainties and big challenges in the future and for the future. From our point of view and from our side we will do our best not to create big headaches for big powers, but firstly and mainly and most importantly not to create any sort of headaches to our own people, to secure our owns peoples’ future and to create better economic environment to be able boasting ourselves of boosted economy, growth rates, better attraction of foreign investments and  that’s something that is recently been reachable for Serbia and hope that we are going to do it even in a much better way in the future.

Ms. Sonja Licht: If I can just add an additional question to what you just said, in a number of regional panels, you mentioned the necessity to create a kind of a small idea to economic community within the region. Where are these efforts at the moment, do you feel there is more readiness than there was at the beginning of this debate?

Vucic: I will do my best to be as brief as possible. I don’t know whether Jens knew it or not but, I think that telecom Serbia wanted to buy Dutch telecom shares, if I’m not mistaken, in Albania and they had a very best bid but the minister of telecommunications from Albanians didn’t agree on that because he was saying that Serbia was not very welcome in investing into that part of telecommunicating system in Albania. I am going to speak to [inaudible] today or tomorrow and hopefully we will overcome this situation. My most important political idea is to create unique market in an entire Western Balkan region and not only that, it means that we should create very similar or almost the same subsidies and incentives but we should have the same tax policies that would attract a lot more investors into all our countries, Serbia today has 55.5 / 56 % of overall investments in the Western Balkans. We would get more, and they would get much more if we do so. And I will never give up on this and I think that we will be able to agree on this with Bosnia. So far we have had only positive responses from Albania before this case and Eddy (?), he always agreed on this issue with us. I spoke with President Dukanovic on this issue, I think that we will get his support on this. I talk to Zaev as I said, recently, and then we will have to do it with Pristina. It is something that will work much better for the sake and for the benefits of all our people in an entire region. That doesn’t matter who provided or who started speaking about this idea, I think that [unknown]  and I myself discussed that for the first time when we met  each other but it’s good that it’s recognised by European Union and it’s good that we can just carry on our talks and that’s the real future, that’s what we need to do. It doesn’t matter who is going to be a part of European Union, within five years or ten years – we will need twenty years for that. Before that we will need to do something for our citizens and that is something of the biggest significance for all of us.

Ms. Sonja Licht: Thank you, Mr Secretary General, you have already mentioned several times during this last visit that some of the major regional challenges that President Vucic just addressed. Would you be so kind to tell us a little bit more how you see the region and how you see the challenges within the region and for the region?

Secretary General:   So, first of all, I think it is important to remind ourselves on the fact that this region has come a long way compared to where it was during the 1990s where we had wars, conflict, suffering and really, really difficult situations. I am not saying that there are not problems, no tensions, no challenge but I am only saying that a couple of decades ago  the situation was much worse and dangerous not only for the people in this region who suffered and were killed in conflicts, but also for the rest of Europe because instability in this region is also, of course, a great security risk for the whole of Europe and the whole of NATO. So, let me start, by recognising the progress. Also there are encouraging signs we see when it comes to economic developments at least in parts of the region because the progress both when it comes to security and stability and economic growth is uneven. But, in Serbia, for instance we have seen a stronger economic growth, we have seen some strong and important reforms, we have seen an improved physical balance which is extremely important because without managing the physical balance, that’s when any country could sooner or later end in deep troubles. So, of course, there are economic concerns, in Belgrade as it is in any other capital of Europe, but I am encouraged by the progress and the determination and the leadership of Aleksandar in continuing to pursue these reforms and to modernise Serbia. Good for Serbia, good for all the region and good for Europe. Then I also welcome the ideas to have a single economic… to open up the economies and to perhaps have a more integrated economic market And the more progress you can make on that the better, both for the economy but also for the security. Because I strongly believe that trade economic relations also creates more trust, more interdependence and by creating that the foundation for nationalistic rhetoric or for mistrust or distrust, is weakened because economic cooperation, trade, investment actually increased trust and interdependency and that also helps to reduce security risks. Of course, the easiest way to achieve that, the single market, is to join EU. So, therefore, I really hope that Serbia and all the neighbours in this region will succeed in joining the EU. I can say that because I actually tried to convince the Norwegians to join twice and I was not successful. Norway is the only country in the world which had negotiated a accession treaty with the European Union and then voted it down in a referendum not only once but twice, so if you can succeed what Norway didn’t manage then good luck and I really hope that you will succeed. Then, NATO has, of course, a presence in this region. We have a history here – the first time NATO went into military operations beyond our territory was in the Balkans in the 1990s, helped to end wars. We continue to have a presence there, different kinds of presence, we have presence in Belgrade and Sarajevo, in Skopje, and of course we have KFOR, which is there to protect all communities, of course, also Serbs, and to help to keep a safe and secure environment. Then, what concerns me despite all this progress because there is progress, is of course the tendencies we see to return our very strong nationalistic rhetoric – that’s not good and that can again, bring us back to situations we very much have to avoid going back into. And then, only the people in this region, in South East Europe or the Balkans which can solve the problems of this region. It cannot be solved in Brussels. We can help, we can assist, we can perhaps give advice if you ask us for advice, but we cannot solve the problems of this region, they have to be solved by the people here, and therefore I urge calm and restraint and not to return to nationalistic rhetoric. Then some people ask me, is it possible? Yes, of course, it’s possible. I use my own country as an example because that’s the country I know best, but since the Viking era and for centuries we used to be in war with each other in the Scandinavian countries, we fought each other all the time. We were fighting Swedes – almost all the time. And they fought us and we were ruled partly by Copenhagen, partly by Stockholm and it was really… the Norway territory, the Nordic countries were the part of Europe where they had the highest number of wars for many centuries. Now, we are best friends. We make a lot of jokes about Swedes, they make joke about us, but we are the best possible friends. So, if Swedes, Danes and Norwegians can become friends of course the people of the Western Balkans can become friends. So, just continue and make progress, work with your partners, friends and neighbours and then this will be a very prosperous and peaceful part of Europe.

Ms. Sonja Licht: Thank you, there are many people who believe that, in fact the Nordic model is the model we should follow – the Nordic council and even your effort to have a joint security strategy for that region. Mr President would you like to comment? It seems to me that you would.

Vucic: There is only one problem – there are no jokes between Serbs and Croats,  I would say, no jokes at all. Anyway, hopefully there would be a lot of jokes between us. There are several challenges in front of us – the biggest challenge as it has always been, economic challenges we have already, in a way, taken care of and we feel we’ll be able to, as I said, as a prerequisite for that to maintain peace and tranquillity to be only better and better. Secondly, we have huge problem in our relationship between Belgrade and Pristina. We have different stances, different attitudes over several incidents that occurred in Kosovo recently and I have had a chance to discuss it with Jens – for several hours and we cannot agree on everything because we are in a different position, but what we agreed on what was very important for all of us and particularly for Serbia, for me, is the fact that we agreed that if there is going to be any kind of possible challenges, possible incidents , possible mutinies and unrest, whatever that we should immediately contact each other, that I am allowed to call Secretary General immediately and he will respond to me and I have to say that I am profoundly grateful to him because the easiest part for me to contact someone during that latest incident in Kosovo was, with to create a contact with Jens. And to tell you the truth, it was easier to contact Americans than  at least some Europeans. And I am very thankful to Jens that he was not hiding himself as many people were doing so, because nobody wants to take responsible decisions when you face tough situations. But, someone has to do it, someone has to deal with it. Someone has to deal with  difficult situations. Someone has to make decisions, otherwise we can lose everything within a few moments. And hopefully we reacted properly, and we avoided bigger problems in the north of Kosovo. Still, of course, we see differently the world of NATO in 1999, it was justified by our friend Jens in a different way. We think that there is no justification for that, but we need to live, and we need to see what we’re going to do in the future. And we need to put more things on a rational level, that’s what we need to do, and I think that what we’ve been organising in the last several years, it has always been helpful to Serbia. It really has been very helpful to our country and that’s what our people need to hear. Whenever I say something good about today’s exercise people would say, Vucic, you go to hell! You are the biggest traitor! Or something like that. Okay, whatever you say. But, do we have some benefits from that? Yes, we do. If something happens to you or to your kids, if some of us, some of you will have a car accident our people will save you much easier than they were doing before. And that’s what we need to look for. And to tell you the truth, there is nobody else that we can lean on that we can rely on in Kosovo. Yes, we’re saying we are there to protect all the communities including the Serbs. I think that there are only Serbs to be protected in Kosovo. It doesn’t matter, whatever he says about it, whatever I say about it, the fact is that after all they need to protect Serbs. I don’t care how he is going to call it. Or he shouldn’t care how I am going to name it or…., no, that’s the content and that’s what is very important and, to tell you the truth, since we talked about it and since we’ve established this kind of mutual arrangement – how are we going to call each other? How are we going to contact each other? How are we going to communicate in the future? I feel much better. Because after all people in Serbia will always accuse myself, saying, okay, you did nothing for your people in Kosovo, you did nothing to secure them. And security and safety issues are the most important issues for our people in Kosovo and now I feel better you know. At least I know that I will always be able to reach him and then we can analyse and then we can put different views on the able to analyse what was really happening, whether our estimations or their assessments were right or wrong or vice versa or quite the opposite, it doesn’t matter. That’s what we need to do, and I hope that will calm down the situation in Kosovo and in particular among the Serbs. I cannot tell you how people were frightened in the last several days, particularly after very new threats that were coming from the south parts of Mitrovice and I think that people in Kosovo feel at least a bit safer today than it was yesterday, speaking mainly about Serbs and thank you for delivering these good messages we will have a  lot more challenges in the region,it’s not an easy situation for you, for us, we always support our neighbours in Macedonia, speaking about Bosnia, hopefully we will have good relationship, we will improve our relationship with Bosnia, I really hope so. But, as Jens said, nobody knows what future will bring to us, but, anyway, that’s what we need to work on, very hard, to invest a lot of our efforts and that’s what we will do. And once again can guarantee him and can guarantee to my people, to our people, it’s that we will do our best to refrain ourselves of all stupid either political, either other different wars in the future. We will do our best to keep and to maintain peace and tranquillity, that’s must to it for us, that’s the main prerequisite for the program in all the other areas. Thank you.

Ms. Sonja Licht:
  Thank you, if you agree I would like to see if there are any questions form the audience – our time is very short, since both of you are to fly out of Belgrade in a very short time. Questions?

Question 1:    Hello, I am [unknown] from Atlantic Studies Belgrade – first of al huge congratulations to all organisers of this event. As Mrs Licht  pointed out it’s not just this one event, it has been a serial of high level important events which definitely have helped understanding of Serbia public of significance of Serbia NATO  cooperation. Of course, I would like also to use this opportunity to commend President Vucić for some recent steps towards political west and NATO that somehow has fell below the radar of the global pundits who are discussing Serbia and the region recently. Secretary General, your kind words and apparently your understanding and respect for our military neutrality are very well received in the Serbian media, at least in the period when you are around. Serbian media has these days been highlighting the fact that you are by no means interfering in Serbian decision-making process, which they find is very important. But, there is a period when you leave Belgrade, another 360 years (?), living in Belgrade and during this time I suppose that all of you are fully aware there are other trends going on in Serbia, from where I stand and from Central Atlantic Studies: the fact that indicted were criminals even those who have actually committed a sentence for them cries in Kosovo because of which NATO and the rest of the community were forced to undertake very unpopular measures and radical ones are frequently on the national TVS and TVs with national frequencies which are public good of Serbia and so on. There is another huge two trend: two years of campaign of alleged epidemic cancer that is shaking Serbia caused allegedly by the usage of depleted uranium, the narrative, the fake narrative, goes even further on allegedly [cross talking] echo side in Serbia, etc, etc. So, how those two conflicting and totally opposing realities contribute to your overall assessment of Serbia NATO partnership and chances for sustainable and honest cooperation in the future. And is the strategic silence coming from NATO officials and from almost literally everybody in here, is this a strategy because if it is, I am a little bit concerned that it is going to kick us back. We are facing the twentieth anniversary of NATO bombing and Russian’s and Chinese are already preparing themselves – it’s not a secret, they are bragging about it, to produce a serial of documentaries and art films that are either going to cause a huge damage that can be rectified by three or four days of decent, honest debate and assessments of all benefits of Serbia NATO cooperation. Thank you.

Secretary General: Thank you so much, if I could respond to that. First of all, I think it is important to look into what happened in the future and therefore, not because I think we will always agree but to be honest about that and to have all the issues on the table, I think that’s a good thing and therefore, I have answered questions, for instance, on this depleted uranium many times including in Serbia and we made – this was before I arrived in NATO, this was back in ’99 and there was a study and we had independence and assessments and they concluded that there were no lasting health damages because of the depleted uranium.  Depleted uranium is a dense metal which some allies use in ammunition. And it was also studied by the UN Environmental Programme, reaching the same conclusion as almost twenty years ago. I am not silent, I answer all these questions every time they are asked, whether it is in Serbia, or Brussels or wherever. But, my message is that we have to learn from history, that we have to be honest about history and also express my condolences to those who lost loved ones, but we should not be imprisoned by history. So now, we need to move forward. We need to work together, how can we achieve more together? And the exercise today shows that we can do a lot together. And helping to protect people to save lives, develop advanced technology. Aleksandar mentioned artificial intelligence, robotics and so on, and make sure that rescue workers from Serbia can work together with rescue workers from Bosnia, and from Norway and from UK or from US and many other countries. So, we should not forget about the future but at some stage we need to be able to move forward to the benefit of all of us. Then on the neutrality of Serbia, you know, for me it’s extremely important that NATO will never, never and we have never done that, try to force a country into the Alliance. We totally respect a nation when they decide not to become members and I spoke about the Swedes: they have decided not to aspire for membership. We have the best possible relations to Sweden / Finland as our closest partners and they don’t want membership of NATO, perhaps because Norway is there, I don’t know. But, at least they’re not aspiring for membership. We totally respect that, but we welcome very much that we are able to work closely with Sweden as a partner, respecting their neutrality and we would very much like to work even closer together with Serbia as a partner, respecting the neutrality of Serbia.

Ms. Sonja Licht: We have time for another question here and that’s it, I’m sorry.

President Vucic: I wanted to say a few words about this, but it doesn’t matter.

Ms. Sonja Licht: Would you like to say something?

President Vucic: The last question and then I’ll use it.

Question 2:    So, for security policy, one of the co-organisers, two brief questions for Mr Stoltenberg, you mentioned hybrid threats and readiness for unpredictability so I’m keen to know are there also efforts to preserve democratic control over security sector in response of the hybrid threats in NATO since NATO is community of values and democracy is one of the values that are protected by the Alliance, so how to balance readiness to respond to hybrid threats and protection of democratic control. And the question for Mr Vucic is, have we explored all the possibilities for the maximum of cooperation within the military neutrality or are there more areas where we can explore cooperation?

Secretary General:   So, democratic control is fundamental for NATO always, and that’s one of the issues we are very focused on when new Allies or new nations join the Alliance. So, when NATO has gone from twelve members back in ’49 when we were established to 299 today democratic control over the armed forces has been one of the key criteria that has to be fulfilled to become a member of NATO. So, for instance, I work closely with Montenegro on democratic control over the armed forces but not only the armed forces but also the security services in a transparent way is a key criteria to be able to join NATO. And of course to uphold this also for NATO Allies when they are members of the Alliance also is key. I think it is absolutely possible to reconcile the need for democratic control with high readiness, because this is about making sure that we have clear rules, guidelines and the instructions for our armed forces. How to react and also of course to report and also make sure that the important decisions on when to deploy forces has to be subject to political decisions. So, for me, there is no contradiction between high readiness and democratic control, that is something which is absolutely possible to have at the same time.

Vucić: As I have already said we are in a final phase of… regarding that IPAP between 2018 and 2020 there are a lot of things to be done in improving our military cooperation, and there is a lot of stuff on the other side from different programmes to be done jointly with NATO. And we will do our best to secure the very best results and that sort of cooperation. I want to just refer to something what was said by [unknown] and it’s not a response to her, she knows that at least I always listen to her and always wanted to hear what she had to say. You see, in an entire region we face a process and it’s not a process of improving our economic cooperation the main process that is happening, and everybody is silent about it. It’s self-victimisation on a daily basis, wherever you go it doesn’t matter which part of which country you take you just listen about the crimes that were committed by the other side twenty / thirty / fifty / seventy I don’t know how many years, before this time and in the past.  And when you face this situation it’s not always easy to respond it and we do our best to refrain ourselves which is not always the case, that we are successful, but we do our best to keep things on a very low level, not to respond or when we respond to respond properly. Is it always like I say? No, it is not. But, at least, we do our best to do it this way. I wanted to say something about war criminals that you mentioned, that they are appearing somewhere in the medias – whatever you might say some people serve their sentences, but at the same time those people didn’t become ministers, prime ministers, presidents or our advisors, which has been the case throughout the region. And no-one is saying that to any other countries and to all the other people, because some of them would find a formal reason to reply to the Serbs, they would say, okay, but , you know, the other court, the higher court deny that first degree verdict and now all of a sudden they all became nice guys. Well, you know, they unfortunately killed all eighteen witnesses, there is no single one that would testify about some people’s terrible crimes and that’s it. And now they can do whatever they want, they can have, they can be, and they can take the most important post in their countries or so-called countries. It doesn’t matter, but in Serbia, although they don’t occupy any single important post in this country, that becomes the biggest problem. That’s not the biggest problem – the biggest problem is whether all of us in the region, and I am referring to our friends in the region, whether we will be able to overcome all terrible events from the past because it’s about us. It’s not about Americans, Canadians, Chinese, Japanese, it’s about us. If we don’t do that you will always have response from the other side. And then I was listening to the stories about Serbia’s interference in Bosnian election and I didn’t go for a single time. At least in the last one month I didn’t receive Ivan Dodik, he is still the president of Republika Serpska. which you know, when someone from European Union goes there even if that was a creation prime minister, who reacted? Was there anyone that said something bad about it? If I was going there – media from all over Europe would hang me literally. If that was the same or worse than by some from European Union, doesn’t matter, that’s okay. That’s the hypocrisy that we are facing on a daily basis and that is why we need to resolve it differently. To be very sincere, to say, okay, that’s the problem in Serbia, let us resolve it. But, we have the same type of a problem or worse problems, in this region, and that’s what we need to tackle differently, sincerely, honestly and openly, otherwise we will face more problems in the future and I know that you know everything that I am speaking about and I know that most of the other people know this. You know, today or yesterday, I don’t know when I just gather information during our exercise in [unknown] that some of our people attacked two Serbia citizens of Albania nationality and I reacted immediately with the strongest possible words urging Minister of Interior to resolve that issue immediately. That is something that should never happen in this country. And I am very sad that I am leaving to Kazakhstan immediately after we have finished this conference otherwise I would go there visiting them and that’s my message to our people, you can be Albanian, you can be Hungarian, you can be Croat, you can be whoever you want you have to be free and you have to feel free here in this country and that’s what we’re going to do. And we’re going to secure that environment and you will see that we will find those bastards that were committing that kind of attack, but we need to see that from the other sides as well. We needed ten days to see the reaction about the guys that were attacking [unknown] in Zagreb and not to mention to other parts of former Yugoslavia. Sorry, that I was in a way replying in a bit more passionate way but, it’s not that simple, it’s not that simple. Everything is connected, everything is related, and we are all related to each other in this region and that’s why we need to sit together always and that’s what I was saying to you, Jens. Did I surprise you with something in Kosovo or doesn’t matter where else? No, just we need to speak to each other if you want to go somewhere let us know. If we want to go somewhere I will let you know. We don’t need any further surprises in the future. We need to work together, we need to build trust and confidence, not to ruin it on a daily basis. I was speaking about us and regional countries. That’s it – sorry that I took a lot of your time.

Ms. Sonja Licht: Thank you – I am worried about your planes as far as time is concerned we would have more time, but you don’t have more time. On behalf of the entire audience and those who watch I am sure some of the parts of this debate, this conversation, I want to thank you for being sincere, for being ready to both refer to the legacy but what is very important to the future of cooperation and mutual understanding. Those two in my opinion are the most important interrelated processes that we need to follow both in the region and, of course, within Serbia and NATO and once again it was good to be your moderator today and thank you for opening the Belgrade Security Forum this year in such a way.