NATO Week Opening Remarks

Thank you Jelena, and welcome to everyone to this sixth Belgrade NATO Week.  During the course of this gathering, we’ll have a chance to discuss specific security challenges and stability in the Western Balkans, as well as the scope for NATO’s cooperation with Serbia.

Those are of course very important and worthy topics.  I want to start today, however, by taking a step back – to ponder why NATO is involved in a conference in Serbia in the first place.  After all, Serbia isn’t a NATO member, and doesn’t want to become a NATO member.  So why are we here today at all?  There are two reasons:  shared goals and partnership.

— NATO and Serbia share the same strategic goal: a Europe that is unified, free, and at peace.  And we can work together as partners to achieve those goals.

— I think we all know that Serbia is a partner with NATO through Partnership for Peace.  But what does that mean, really?  The concept of partnership does not even appear in NATO’s founding document — the Washington Treaty.  It was only developed after the end of the Cold War, when suddenly the potential for cooperation expanded exponentially.

NATO decided to include a mechanism that allowed it to foster closer relationships with neighboring countries that were either not ready for, or not interested in, actual membership.   Thus, Partnership for Peace was born.  It reflected NATO’s evolution from a collective defense alliance to something much broader in scope – a cooperative security organization.

— Since then, partnership has grown into an integral component of how NATO operates.  Like NATO itself, partners are expected to commit to peace and common values — democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.

— But NATO has moved far beyond that initial vision of shared values and cooperation.  NATO’s current Strategic Concept elevates partners to a fundamental component of how we work toward a more secure future – for all of us.  In fact, NATO’s Strategic Concept identifies Cooperative Security through Partnership as one of NATO’s three core principles (along with Collective Defense and Crisis Management).

So this partnership is central to NATO’s vision of a “Europe whole, free and in peace.  Serbia’s Individual Partnership Action Plan further defines this relationship, and states that its partnership with NATO “…will contribute to achieving the strategic aims of ensuring security and long-lasting stabilization of the Western Balkans and process of [Serbia’s] European integration.”

Both NATO Allies and our partner Serbia share the same strategic goals, and both can help each other ensure a more secure future.

Before I say anything else, I want to make something very clear.  I have said this before and it bears repeating:  through this partnership, the United States is not looking for some sort of back door for Serbia’s path to membership in NATO.  We respect Serbia’s neutrality.  Full stop.  We are not here to recruit.  The United States and NATO value Serbia’s commitments to global and regional stability as a partner.  Not only that – we view Serbia as a vital partner.

Let me point to one example.  As part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace, Serbia’s military regularly partners with the U.S. military and other allies and partners to conduct joint exercises.  Just last month, Serbia recently hosted NATO’s largest ever civil disaster response exercise.  This was an important step for both NATO and Serbia in demonstrating goodwill to our partnership, but also gaining mutual benefit from that partnership.

Think about that for a second.  Serbia, the only country which NATO has ever engaged in open warfare in its nearly 70 years of existence, just hosted a NATO exercise.  Who says the Balkans can’t change?  Who says we shouldn’t be optimistic about regional peace, or about Serbia and Kosovo someday soon formally normalizing the relationship?  In fact, last year, Serbia’s military participated in 13 different exercises with NATO and their members. This cooperation is good for all of us, and we look forward to keeping it going.

Partnering to improve professionalism and training among our security forces is on element of the benefits that Serbia derives from partnership with NATO.  But it is far from the only element.  NATO’s most visible role in the region, the Kosovo Force, or KFOR, is the NATO body uniquely committed to our shared goals of ensuring security and stabilization – the same goals identified in Serbia’s Individual Partnership Action Plan.  And this is a costly, long-term NATO commitment to stability in this region.

Deriving its mandate from UN Security Council Resolution 1244, and operating under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, KFOR is fundamentally a peace enforcement operation that helps to maintain a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all people and communities in Kosovo.

The United States proudly contributes more troops to KFOR – more than 600 – than any other Ally.  We do so because we are committed to playing a direct role in guaranteeing the safety and security of the people of Kosovo.

In addition to the training of troops and protection of the Serb population in Kosovo, Serbia derives other benefits from this partnership as well.

Serbian government institutions now take part in more than 100 NATO engagements a year.  The most prominent this year was the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center exercise “Serbia 2018.”  By jointly exercising its disaster response operations with NATO, Serbia improved its capacity to assist its citizens in the event of catastrophe.

The scenario for this year’s EADRCC exercise strengthened Serbia’s ability to work effectively across a wide range of relief operations. These included urban search and rescue, emergency medical teams, water rescue, as well as detection, protection and decontamination teams.

Serbia has also taken advantage of NATO’s disaster response capabilities to get more than a million dollars’ worth of humanitarian assistance to help with the migrant crisis.

In addition to the EADRCC exercise, the Serbian Army last year conducted a three-day joint paratroop training exercise with American airborne soldiers.  Through these types of engagement, Serbia is transforming its military along structural and training lines that are compatible with forces for EU and international peacekeeping operations. In fact, Serbia is a regional leader in contributions to EU and UN peacekeeping missions around the world.

Also, Serbia has been the beneficiary of four NATO Trust Fund projects valued at nearly $15 million.  What is the concrete benefit for Serbia?  Simply put, NATO has a direct role in helping Serbia to secure its weapons stockpile in the interest of our shared counter-proliferation and civilian-security goals.  One of these projects is ongoing at the Technicki Remontni Zavod (TRZK) in Kragujevac where Ministry of Defense specialists are dismantling unsafe ammunition with NATO support.

Finally, Serbia is developing strategic relationships with top universities and research institutions in NATO countries through the Science for Peace and Security program.

The United States wants Serbia to play an even stronger positive role in regional and global security operations.  As the United States Ambassador to Serbia, I take every opportunity to remind people of the positive influence Serbia had a century ago in helping to bring an end to World War I – an event we will celebrate this weekend.

And I will repeat the historical fact that few nations have ever suffered or sacrificed as much as Serbia did during that war, nor were so deserving of the victory they earned so dearly.  Serbia also played a vital role in helping to defeat fascism during World War II.  Serbians have a right to be proud of this history, and we are proud that we were your partners in both victories.

And we are your partners today as well.  Through NATO, and in our bilateral programs for economic development, rule of law, support for fundamental freedoms, and in the search for regional peace and security.

I commend President Vucic for his quest to put an end to a generation of turmoil and instability in the Western Balkans, and to overcome the animosities of the past by seeking peace with former adversaries.  More work is needed to restore trust and to overcome the emotional and psychological barriers that linger, but I am convinced we are moving in the right direction.  Hopefully, this NATO Week will find ways to encourage momentum.

Thank you, and I look forward to continuing the conversation with you all today.