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    • Should Serbia be militarily neutral still a divisive issue

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    • Date: 31 July 2008
      General Kovac speaks of Serbia\'s military neutrality, Media Centre Belgrade, July 2008
      General Kovac speaks of Serbia's military neutrality, Media Centre Belgrade, July 2008

      The public debate “Should Serbia Be Militarily Neutral?” was organised by the Centre for Civil-Military Relations  within the project “Increasing Citizens’ Participation in Security Politics”, supported by the Institute for Sustainable Communities, on the basis of a USAID donation. It was the fifth and last in the series of public debates that included the participation of decision-makers in Serbian politics.

      The format of the debate was changed. Questions posed by the citizens interviewed in the “Should Serbia Be Militarily Neutral?” documentary, produced by the Centre with the support of the Royal Norwegian Embassy Belgrade came first. Than the key speakers - Director of the Strategic Planning Department within Republic of Serbia’s Ministry of Defence, Brigadier General Mitar Kovač, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Security Zoran Dragišić and once the Adviser to Minister for Kosovo and Metohija Ljubomir Kljakić - provided answers to these questions.

      The first question was, whether it is possible to reach EU membership, and remain neutral. Ljubomir Kljakić was first to reply. He said that although it might seem as Serbia today makes a part of a security system which is Euro Atlantic by its features, Kosovo’s unilateral proclamation of independence suggests that Serbia’s position should be reconsidered. Brigadier General Kovač agreed on how one state formally might remain neutral, but asked how come that certain countries in the region, such as Romania, had not followed that suit. The decision to align or not is dependent on the prevalent vision of strategic environment Serbia will be facing in near future. Kovač finally expressed his doubts that a military neutral Serbia is acceptable to EU. Dragišić called all participants to agree on a common definition of neutrality, being “permanent neutrality on military alliances and ongoing conflicts.” Dragišić said that Serbia can not be compared to Switzerland (representing an example of permanent neutrality), since the historical context is completely different. Dragišić’s answer to the question, therefore, was a determined “no”, because by the very act of entering EU, one country ceases on being militarily neutral.

      Second question was, will neutrality increase or weaken Serbia’s military potential, and what is the price of neutrality. Kovač said how neutrality implies bigger spending, if its military wants to keep up with those in the region. He expressed doubt that this is possible in the near future. Dragišić tried to explain his point of view by using the debate on challenges and threats to Serbia’s security. He believes that the number of issues to which Serbia can respond without cooperating with the countries in the region is reasonably small. The possibility of framing this cooperation even narrower, could backlash on society’s ability to cope with challenges and threats. Kljakić refused the very possibility of providing a veritable answer. He criticized the atmosphere where debating strategic questions becomes such an activity that it generates instability. The right questions to ask first, he believes, are: What do we perceive as challenge or threat? Who is our hypothetical enemy? On these questions, only a new Strategy of Security can provide an answer.

      The third question was what gains and losses Serbia can expect if neutrality becomes a strategic choice. Kljakić championed neutrality using current state of international affairs as his argument. He said that although possibility of a world conflict is not looming, trend of increased militarization remains a reason for concern. Serbia’s strategy in conducting foreign affairs was based on the commitment to Euro Atlantic integration, until it became obvious that a number of Western countries were supporting Kosovo’s independence. This is when Serbia’s government turned to Russia, seeing it as a country becoming more assertive on the international scene. Dragišić eventually criticized neutrality seeing it as a reactive, and not an active policy.

      Discussion ensued. MP of Serbian Radical Party, member of the Parliamentary Board on Security and Defence Božidar Delić warned that Resolution on Military Neutrality was not approved under pressure, and that it has to be respected. Delić asked General Kovač, why the reform of the armed forces is being conducted without a single strategic document, and under the patronage of NATO. Delić claimed how the main source of the problems in Serbia is NATO and United States as its leading country. He finally criticized the tendency of using military as an instrument of foreign affairs.

      Filip Ejdus called upon Delić to say which analysis has been the basis for making the strategic decision on neutrality. Sonja Stojanović said how she does not share his opinion that military should not be used as a tool of diplomacy, and pointed at the successful example of Serbia’s Ministry of Defence.

      Zoran Krstić wanted to know why neutrality is being seen in past tense, when the Resolution which was passed by the Assembly is still valid. This only proves, in Krstić’s opinion, that current Resolution is outdated and that new meanings of the word must be found.

      In the end of the debate, General Kovač answered to criticism, explaining how after the Resolution was passed, concept of neutrality was never “made operational” by its integration into strategic documents. This is why organising debates as the one that was organised today is important, concluded Kovač.

      Report by Marko Savković

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