5 Questions for Boro Vucinic

Boro Vucinic

Boro Vucinic has served as Montenegro’s minister of defense since November 2006.  We had the opportunity to get his thoughts on some key issues of interest to our community.

1. Recently, Montenegro contributed a small force to the NATO ISAF mission in Afghanistan.  How has the Montenegrin public reacted to this distant troop deployment, and how, if at all, has it affected popular support for NATO membership?

The decision on deployment of the Montenegrin armed forces personnel to the ISAF peace-keeping mission was made in the Parliament of Montenegro, with the support of the majority of the parties in the parliament. At the moment, our country has its second contingent of 36 members in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. Besides them, two members of our armed forces are deployed in the UNMIL mission in Liberia, as well as three Navy members in the EU peace-keeping mission “NAVFOR-ATALANTA” in the Somalia waters.

We are therefore trying to emphasize, through an intensive communication with the public, the significance of defending democratic values, together with our allies at the place where there are new global security challenges. The Ministry of Defense, in communication with the other governmental agencies of Montenegro, is investing significant efforts in raising public support for NATO. We are trying to explain to the citizens the new role of NATO, not being only a military but also a political and security institution. The intensive interaction and transparency of work of the Ministry has resulted in the fact that citizens have recognized the importance of participation of our armed forces personnel in building and strengthening peace in the world. We are rightfully satisfied with that recognition as well as with the fact that there is no major opposition from the public in regard to these missions.

We expect the support for NATO will increase in time. It is also expected that the citizens have recognized the need for NATO membership and the need for member support evidenced by the recent floods in our country. The efforts and the specific contribution from the Armed Forces of Montenegro, police and civilian sector, as well as NATO member and partner countries, in controlling floods are notable.

2. On October 28, Montenegro submitted its first individual annual program as part of its NATO membership action plan (MAP).  At the Lisbon Summit, NATO allies recognized "the considerable progress that Montenegro has made on its road to Euro-Atlantic integration and its contribution to security in the region and beyond."  However, as the EU noted in November, Montenegro still has work to do to more fully implement rule of law, increase government transparency and accountability, and strengthen its judicial system.  What is Podgorica’s plan to keep these issues from becoming an obstacle to its NATO accession bid?

The Government is committed to continue its close cooperation with NATO and is convinced that the to-date success in the defense area, the good assessment of MAP, and partnership goals implementation will be recognized in the upcoming period and individually evaluated on our strategic way to Euro-Atlantic integration. By using MAP mechanisms, we are determined to further improve the reforms in the defense system.

At the same time, we are paying special importance to the decision of Brussels on candidate status for the EU membership, which is certainly a new, big step forward for Montenegro in regard to integration. The Government is committed to implementing the adopted Action Plan with the aim of improving all the areas which the EU has marked as important criteria for furthering Montenegro’s progress.

It is true that at the Lisbon Summit, the success of the defense area reform has been positively emphasized. However, I consider the reforms on our way to EU and NATO are interconnected, although not mutually conditioned, and that the security and defense through civilian control is in the interest of the entire society, not only one Ministry.

3. NATO members are currently struggling with defense budget cut-backs and overall fiscal austerity.  How is Montenegro coping with this problem of having to “do more with less,” and what is Montenegro doing to be seen as a contributor to NATO’s security rather than just a net consumer?

The global financial crisis is a limitation but also an opportunity for a more efficient joint work, through integration, on military and military-civilian projects. That is also seen in the example of the United Kingdom and France, which are merging several significant military projects.

Montenegro has introduced savings measures through an anti-crisis economic package, even in the defense budget. However, the budget for 2011 will meet all the international commitments taken by the Ministry of Defense, including its commitment towards ISAF, UN and EU missions.

Montenegrin contribution to NATO operations is 2% of our armed forces. Our contribution is also reflected in a several joint NATO and Partnership for Peace exercises.

All this shows that we are not only the beneficiaries but also contributors to NATO. However, I would point out that our full contribution will take place with a full-fledged membership in the Alliance.

4. The North Atlantic Alliance just adopted its first new Strategic Concept since 1999.  From its perspective of a post-conflict, Western Balkan nation, how does Montenegro view the continuing evolution of NATO after Lisbon?  Has the question of NATO enlargement, especially in the Western Balkans, been adequately addressed?

The importance of an “open door” policy is reflected in the fact that the new Strategic concept of NATO will bring the Alliance much closer to the countries in the Western Balkans. I believe that this new concept will primarily help towards reaching the goal of “peaceful and united Europe” faster. While implementing the new Strategic Concept it is important to develop mechanisms which would ensure a more tangible contribution to NATO reforms and a better quality of life for the citizens. With regard to our region, looking from a historic perspective, those mechanisms would contribute to strengthening the collective security system which is necessary for the permanent security in the Balkans.

5. Prime Minister Milo Đukanović has been instrumental in carrying out important democratic reforms and reorienting Montenegro toward Euro-Atlantic structures like NATO and the EU. Will the absence of this hugely important personality in the government affect the speed or resoluteness of Montenegro’s drive to NATO membership?

By making difficult political decisions during last two decades Prime Minister Đukanović has incontestably contributed the most to the democratization and international credibility of Montenegro. With his political vision he has defined our country’s way forward towards Europe and the world. Regarding the possible impact of his decision to resign as the Prime Minister on Montenegro’s pace towards NATO membership I would like to point out the firm commitment and undivided views of the Government and the ruling coalition on the issue of Euro-Atlantic membership and the European integration of Montenegro.  I can freely say that the Government and the ruling coalition have never been more devoted to strengthening the Montenegro’s position within NATO Alliance and to bringing it the full membership in the nearest possible future. To that end the ongoing reforms in the Defense sector have a strong support across the Montenegrin society and will remain the priority of our new Government.

Damon Wilson is Executive Vice President and Director of the International Security Program and Matthew Czekaj is a research associate with the International Security program at the Atlantic Council.

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