Updated: 18-Jul-2005 NATO Speeches


18 July 2005

“From popular revolution to accountable institutions: ensuring support for the democratic consolidation and Euro-Atlantic integration of Serbia and Montenegro”

Keynote speech
by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
at the Club de Madrid International Forum

President Tadic,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me, first of all, say how much I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today. And let me express my sincere thanks to the Club de Madrid for arranging this meeting as well as for its persistent engagement in Southeast Europe.

Exactly a week ago, the world commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. The genocide that took place in this Bosnian village was a crime of tremendous proportions, the worst since the end of World War Two. It was not only committed by those who were present at the scene. There were also those who had prepared the ground, by preaching nationalism and racism, and by clinging to the illusion of creating states that are ethnically “pure”. They, too, carry a big part of the responsibility for what happened.

But even if we cannot change the past, we all have a collective obligation to learn the right lessons, and to do our very best so that we will never be haunted by a tragedy like Srebrenica again.

I believe that we have indeed been learning the right lessons. We made the Balkans cause our cause. And despite the odds, NATO made a difference. If we compare the Balkans today to where that region was a decade ago, it becomes clear just how much progress has been made. The countries in South-East Europe are moving away from nationalism and are opting for regional cooperation and Euro-Atlantic integration. We all know that, throughout the region, daunting political and economic problems still persist.

NATO has done its share to sustain this positive momentum, and we will continue to do so. During the nine years that we have been present in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the security situation there has consistently improved. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1), NATO and the European Union together helped to prevent a civil war. And our robust military presence in Kosovo remains an essential factor for regional stability and for a political solution that should do justice to all concerned.

But NATO’s involvement has always extended beyond our military presence. Over the years, we also developed specific programmes of cooperation, through which we engaged several countries in South-East Europe in combating transborder crime, tightening border security, promoting civil-military relations, and the democratic control of the armed forces.

All these steps demonstrate NATO’s enduring commitment to bring the Balkans back to Europe. And let me stress that, for the Alliance, this commitment always included a commitment to Serbia and Montenegro as well.

Since Milosevic’s fall from power, this country has made substantial efforts to rebuild its ties with its neighbours and the international community. It has trade agreements with all of its neighbours. Apologies for war crimes expressed to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. And not least the handing over of a significant number of people indicted by the Hague Tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

We have also noted – and welcomed – the constructive and restrained stance taken by Belgrade during the riots and ethnic violence in Kosovo early last year. As you know, NATO is not only involved militarily in Kosovo, but politically as well. We are engaged in the Contact Group Plus and we firmly support the Standards Implementation Process.

This process also requires the active support of Belgrade, now more than ever. After all, this year is going to be a crucial year for Kosovo’s future, and we must not let this complex issue fall into the hands of the demagogues. To make real progress, cooler heads must prevail. Realism and mutual respect are indispensable.

Most importantly, perhaps, people here in Serbia and Montenegro have finally started to confront their recent past. The presence of President Tadic at the Srebrenica commemorations last week was a very positive sign. It was a demonstration of courage and real political leadership. And it indicates that more and more people here are finally realising that they cannot simply see themselves as innocent victims of what happened over the past fifteen years. That is a hopeful development. For it is only by confronting the past that Serbia and Montenegro can embrace the future.

In my view, a key part of this future is what we call Euro-Atlantic integration. Serbia and Montenegro must be an integral part of the region and of Europe, at harmony with its neighbours and the world community, not a lonely dissenter dwelling on perceived historic injustices. And an important part of Euro-Atlantic integration is a closer relationship with NATO.

I am fully aware that, at least for some of you here today, this may seem a statement you have trouble to accept. After all, I represent the organisation that six years ago led an air campaign against this country. And yet I stand by my statement. Because I firmly believe that Serbia and Montenegro and NATO have a common future.

Let me be clear: six years ago, NATO’s air campaign was fully justified – but not because of any grievances against the people of Yugoslavia. It was simply our last resort to stop the policy of Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic was obsessed with Yugoslavia’s past. And this obsession with the past made him willing to gamble away Yugoslavia’s future.

But that was then, and now is now. Today, Milosevic is a man of the past, standing trial in The Hague. For me, this is a constant reminder that things can change for the better. That there is no law of nature that condemns the Balkans to be “Europe’s powder keg” forever. And that Serbia and Montenegro and NATO can finally move forward in building a solid and trustful relationship.

We are not starting from scratch. In 2001, when there was an upsurge in ethnic Albanian extremism in Southern Serbia, we worked together with Belgrade on a longer-term solution, with appropriate confidence- and security-building provisions. We worked hard to facilitate discussion between Belgrade and the ethnic Albanian armed groups in the area. And as a result of our common efforts, the crisis was defused.

Since then, we have moved closer, if only slowly. We now have in place a tailored cooperation programme, which seeks to assist Serbia and Montenegro in reforming its defence and security sector. This reform has made progress, but we believe that more can and should be done, and that the Alliance can be of assistance.

Today, we have also signed an agreement on transit arrangements for peace support operations. NATO has been keen to ensure that it can cross Serbia and Montenegro in order to supply our troops in Kosovo. Given the crucial role of our military presence there, Belgrade shares that interest. This agreement underlines that relations between Serbia and Montenegro and NATO are moving closer – both in practical terms, and politically.

But there is much more that can be done. For example, we believe that we should make more effective use of the SEEGROUP (an informal group of South Eastern, European Countries at NATO) – which brings together countries from this region to discuss common security concerns. This group should be encouraged to meet at the level of Ambassadors to discuss defence cooperation as well as other political topics of regional importance. We are also in favour of intensifying our political dialogue with senior government officials here in Belgrade.

And we hope to enhance our support for defence reform efforts here in this country, maybe by creating a joint group to monitor and guide the process. We all know that defence reform is absolutely necessary, but we also know that it can cause severe economic and social hardships. That’s why we are examining ways to financially assist with the ongoing resettlement and retraining of Serbian and Montenegrin military personnel.

We all know what the next major step in our relationship should be: membership of Serbia and Montenegro in NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme. It now comprises 46 countries, from the United States to Russia, and from Ireland to Kazakhstan, who work together politically and militarily. There is no doubt that Serbia and Montenegro, along with Bosnia and Herzegovina, should be part of this unique group of nations. And last year, at NATO’s Istanbul Summit, the Alliance’s Heads of State and Government stated that they look forward to seeing this happen.

However, you are all aware of the issues that still need to be resolved before membership in PfP can become a reality. Simply put: we expect more cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal.

Indicted persons, like Karadzic and Mladic, are still at large and have to be handed over to the ICTY. Justice has to run its course.

It is crucial for the longer term future of countries that they come to terms with their past – not just selectively, but to the full. That is why we first need to finish what is still unfinished. We need to bring these people to justice. If we want to move away from notions of collective guilt, we must first of all acknowledge individual guilt – and then do what is necessary, and just.

This is urgent and cannot be put off indefinitely. Because I believe that Serbia and Montenegro must finish its unfinished business, and thereby take a final and decisive step out of its previous self-isolation.

The reward for such a step will go far beyond membership in PfP. The European Union, in particular, offers considerable prospects as well.

For all these reasons, I am confident that we will overcome the remaining problems. Membership of Serbia and Montenegro in the Partnership for Peace will be a major step forward not only for the security and stability in the region; it will also be another confirmation that Serbia and Montenegro is on an irreversible path towards a better future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, NATO is involved in peacekeeping operations in places as far away as Afghanistan. We are training Iraqi security forces, and we have just begun to support the African Union in its efforts to bring an end to the tragedy in Darfur. I want to stress that all these new tasks for the Alliance will not divert us from our Balkan engagement. We have invested far too much in this region to turn away from it.

Of course, the tragedies that unfolded here in this part of Europe at the end of the 20th century cannot be made undone. But we owe it to all those who suffered in these tragedies that we bring this region back into the European mainstream. Serbia and Montenegro may have started this reintegration process later than others. But it is never too late. As this country charts its own course towards Euro-Atlantic integration, it can count on our support.

  1. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.

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