Toward a Europe Whole and Free
Consolidating Europe’s South

Welcome and Moderator: Ian Brzezinski, Senior Fellow, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security,  Atlantic Council
H.E. Ditmir Bushati, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Albania;
H.E. Igor Lukšić, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Montenegro;
H.E. Nikola Poposki, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Macedonia;
H.E. Kristian Vigenin, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria

Toward a Europe Whole & Free

Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

IAN BRZEZINSKI:  Welcome.  My name is Ian Brzezinski.  I’m a senior fellow here at the Atlantic Council with the Brent Scowcroft Center, and I got the privilege of serving as your moderator for our panel “Consolidating Europe’s South.”

Now, looking back over the day, we had an interesting first panel with Damon and Tomas Valesek where they talked about the importance of the vision of a Europe whole and free and the progress that had been made to it and the benefits.  They had mentioned it does a – this – security is provided as a foundation for prosperity, how the process of NATO and EU enlargement has reduced nationalist tensions within Europe, how it’s been a driver of reform.  And then with a fellow called Brzezinski – I think I got that name right – (scattered laughter) – we had a powerful discussion on the crisis in Ukraine and broader issues of Europe’s security situation.  From the senators, we had a strong call for another round of enlargement, and I sense that was a bipartisan call around enlargement.  And then the secretary of state just spoke, saying how this was a decisive moment, the crisis we have in Ukraine, for Europe, and the need to think big, and he rolled out several steps that will be important for building and securing a Europe that’s whole and free.  And he had mentioned increased defense spending, energy diversification and integration in TTIP.

But now we’re going to bring back the focus to what Damon and Tomas outlined, and that is the process of building a Europe whole and free and reanimating or reinvigorating that process.

Now, Europe’s south, the Balkans, in my view, remains unfinished business in the (avocation ?) known as completing Europe.  There are some five countries that are – remain outside of the European Union, four outside of NATO.  Nearly all want to be in both institutions.  And this is a region that has made tremendous progress over the last two decades.  In some ways, as someone whose roots are from north Central Europe, this region has had to overcome, I think, even some more challenging legacies of history than north Central Europe:  authoritarian regimes, subordination to the Warsaw Pact, of course the bloodletting of the 1990s.

So as we focus on the Ukraine crisis, we at the same time, in my view, have to reinvigorate our focus on the Balkans, on Europe’s south, because the progress this region has made, the vulnerabilities that still remain, and I think it’s an important part of our response to Russia’s aggressive challenge to the vision of a Europe whole and free.  In ways of strategic significance, the region provides a needed opportunity to demonstrate that that vision is not just alive, but it is a motivating, animating and unifying force in the trans-Atlantic community.

To address the opportunities remaining, the challenges that are out there and the economic and geopolitical dynamics that are shaping this region, we have an impressive panel of statesmen here.  We have Ditmir Bushati on the end there, minister of foreign affairs from Albania, a former member of his country’s parliament, leader in his party’s – his country’s Socialist Party, a founder of the European Movement in Albania, and has a tie to the United States, having worked with Freedom House.

Igor Luksic is the deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs and European integration for Montenegro, a member of parliament, a former finance minister, a member of the board of governors of EBRD, a deputy prime minister and a prime minister in his – all on his resume.

Nikola Poposki is the minister of foreign affairs from Macedonia.  He brings extensive experience in European integration, having served as his country’s ambassador to the EU and a number of years at the Joint Research Center at the European Union.  He was also a former banker.

And Kristian Vigenin, minister of foreign affairs of Bulgaria, also a member – former member of the European Parliament and his country’s parliament, a leader in his Socialist Party. And I would note he was one of the first foreign ministers in Europe to embrace the new Ukrainian government.

So gentlemen, welcome to the Atlantic Council, and thank you for your time, and if you’re willing to share your perspectives.

Minister Poposki, I’m going to throw the first question out at you.  You know, here we have a crisis in Ukraine, and we have – actually, let me put it this way.  I’ll put it in provocative – a way.  We just had a powerful statement from Secretary Kerry, and he talked about TTIP, defense spending and energy security.  He didn’t talk about NATO enlargement as an important priority.  So here you are in Washington, D.C., and I would – I think – and I think you would agree – that NATO enlargement has to be an important priority.  So how do you make the case to Washington, D.C., when there’s a conflagration that’s becoming increasingly volatile and dangerous in Eastern Europe and Ukraine, that now is a time to be focusing on NATO enlargement and the Balkans, at a time when the Balkans are relatively peaceful and we got a challenge to the east?

MINISTER NIKOLA POPOSKI:  A fair question, I would say, not easy to respond to at this stage.  But I think that there are two distinctive points that need to be made in this context.

I think that in the European integration process, in this effort of all of us to make a Europe whole and free, we have experienced that most decisions have been driven by the facts on the ground and that most of the time that we were responding to crisis.  If you look at the European enlargement process, all of these enlargements have happened under pressure of circumstances from the ground.  And this was what was pushing, let’s say, making tough decisions on getting countries on board.  One of the conclusions in that context was that you are not joining EU and NATO when you decide so, but you join it when NATO and EU decide.  And their decision-making process is driven by other priorities, responding to crisis.

And I think that this is a reality that we are seeing right now that even in Ukraine, we can argue about the current situation and what are the best ways to respond to the current situation on the ground, but we can – we have also to turn backwards a little bit and do an analysis of what could have we done in order to stimulate, let’s say, different developments and what are the measures that are still remaining at our disposal to change this reality.  And I think that the reality on the ground is really appealing.  What we suffer on the other side is that the questions like the enlargement have been pushed on the backseat, which can be a reasonable explanation.

The second point I would like to make is that in this context of crisis-driven decision-making process, we have realized that some of the guiding principles have not been emphasized enough.  One of them has been the rule of law.  We have been talking about international rule of law, about these principles, how important they are.  And we are a typical example of a country where clearly, the legal arguments are on the side of Macedonia should have been accepted and been part of NATO in 2008, and probably a lot of things would have looked quite different, including the GDP per capita, because NATO membership is a big – gives a big boost to investment.  And while we haven’t seen that, even after 2011 court ruling by the International Court of Justice, we are still outside of NATO because of opposition of a NATO member state.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t have to work hard on all the criteria, on discussions, on resolving bilateral issues, et cetera.  But as we all agree, NATO is about security and making – and prosperity, as a matter of fact, and making a Europe whole and free will require efforts from member states’ sides.

These are two elements that I think we should not neglect.  We should avoid making decisions just when the crisis arrives.  And there is a clear case for the four or five countries in the center of the Balkans that still need to join EU and NATO, anticipate the trends and get them on board, becoming members.  And the second aspect is that – not forgetting the principal values, and one of them being rule of law.  So if we want to increase the certainty, we should look at the ICJ court ruling and say, well, according to an agreement that two countries have made some 20 years ago, Macedonia should not be blocked in joining NATO today.

Thank you.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Thank you.  Thank you.

Minister Luksic, how is the Ukraine crisis reverberating in your neck of the woods, in the Balkans?  I mean, I was – I ask because I was struck by the response the Russian Foreign Ministry had to your prime minister’s visit here to Washington, and I think it was some two or three weeks ago, and he called for a bold start and further Euro-Atlantic integration, and the Russian Foreign Ministry described that statement as hostile.  What are – how is the crisis in Ukraine – how is Russian policy affecting security in your region?

MINISTER IGOR LUKSIC:  Well, first of all, I think that we need to remind on – and you’ve done that in a certain way – of what, just minutes ago, Secretary Kerry said by saying that in past 65 years, there’s been no other institution, no other organization that has brought more security, freedom or human rights than NATO.  It was even at certain points a sort of a backstop for the prosperity of the European integration process in Europe.  And our view is that if we want NATO to play the same role in time to come, then along with sticking to defense budgets, criteria, or promoting energy cooperation, free trade and so on, there has to be a clear commitment to the Open Door Policy in our region because certainly Europe cannot be, in our view, whole, free and at peace unless countries from the Western Balkans who want to become part of the NATO really become part of the NATO.

And we realize – and it’s fair to say that it’s – it is a two-way street.  It’s not only that member states would sit one day and say, well, you know, because of this or that crisis, let’s just enlarge.  All the countries need to be judged by their own merits.  And even if it – if it – even if there was no Ukraine crisis, we would still be arguing that our very clearly set strategic priorities, referring to Montenegro, of eventually becoming part of the EU and part of NATO are in the best national interest of Montenegro.  It is in the best national interest of the region, and it should be the best interest of the NATO also, given that – given that strategic considerations also suggest that, you know, in order to make northern Mediterranean NATO collective security system whole and fully functioning, Montenegro should be also inside.  And it can – and can also serve as an excellent encouragement to all other aspiring countries who may think about, you know, working the best efforts to try to also join the alliance.

And it is a two-way street because we are aware that there is – that there’s been a lot of things that we should do.  There’s been key – four key areas in which, according to our view, we’ve made significant progress.  There is progress in the field of the rule of law.  There is progress we’re making in our defense system.  Our soldiers have been taking part in a number of peacekeeping missions around the world, including ISAF, in order to show how interoperable they are, that they have reached important standards.  There is also work in progress in order to further improve our intelligence because it’s an important standard when your country wants to become – to make part – to be part of the alliance, and plus there is also an ongoing active engagement of ours in talking to our people to explain why there is so many assets of being part of the collective security system.

All of that together – put together should at some point suggest that Montenegro is ready.  We believe that we are good enough to be assessed.  But it – and objectively assessed, we believe that we could continue the process of – you know, of rounding off this whole system when referring to the security alliance and the Western Balkans.  But – and plus if you consider the invitation extended to Montenegro, for example, to next summit, that doesn’t mean that we should just then sit back and relax.  It will take at least two more years to become a full-fledged member state because there is a process to follow, and in those two years there is also enough of space to do many other things.

So by doing all of that, I think, again – and I’m coming back to the main point – is that there is an excellent chance to further – by committing to the Open Door Policy, we all together further improve the security, the stability of our region, and then in a way pre-empt any future crisis, any new different threats to appear, because our system all together, our joint system, would perform in a – in a better and more solid way.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  You mentioned an important theme about consolidating the gains that we’ve seen in the Balkans, so let me jump to Minister Bushati.  One of the remarkable developments in the Balkans over the last 20 years has been the reconciliation among states and peoples over there.  One of the terrifying things about what Russia is doing, what Putin is doing, is he’s reanimating ethnic tensions.  He’s legitimizing violence on ethnic grounds.  He’s saying you can revise borders according to ethnic populations.  That’s one of the most dangerous things that he’s doing and something that probably will ultimately bite back at him.  In the Balkans, we’ve had the reverse process over the last two decades.  We have populations that – or ethnic populations across borders, but we’ve seen reconciliation in the region.  We’ve seen stability in the region based on this reconciliation.  How stable is that progress, and what needs to be done, if anything, to reconsolidate – to further consolidate that progress and cement it?

MINISTER DITMIR BUSHATI:  Thank you for the question.  I’m not sure whether we have reached the point of reconciliation in the Balkans.  We are still in the process of normalization of relations, because if there are some common features of the Balkans that needs to be addressed, some of those member state building issues are still there, such as border disputes, statehood, mutual recognition.  We still waste energies on how to sit together in a table rather than discussing about the future, and we still are facing with issues of respect of minority rights and also political and security dilemmas, not to mention here the economic landscape, which is quite difficult for the Balkans.

And if we see also now there is the situation in the Balkans, in the Western Balkans more specifically, we have a division into baskets, to add those baskets that you mentioned at the very outset.  First you have a group of countries that aligned fully their foreign policy position with that of EU and U.S., especially I’m mentioning EU because most of Western Balkan countries, with the exception of Kosovo, are under contractual obligations to align their foreign policy position with EU.  And then you’ve got also some other countries that did not align their position with that of EU, and few of them are considered difficult partners because of the brotherhood with Russia and energy ties, and they have been unfortunately, in some cases, and fortunately in other cases, rewarded.  So due to this policy, we have seen also some kind of encouragement for periphery voices on – drawing comparisons, for instance, between Crimea and Kosovo, or drawing comparisons between a federalist model of Bosnia with that of – with that of Ukraine, not helping the region to act as such.

Why I’m saying so?  Because we have – we have made always a vivid discussion with other colleagues that we are not yet a region.  If we see the journey of Balkans towards EU, certainly there has been remarkable progress.  But if one would ask me whether we have reached the point of no return, I would not be sure that we have reached the point of no return.

And if I would go a little bit further and analyze the role of EU as a stabilizing factor in the region, and if I would analyze the role of EU towards Ukraine and impact – and its impact in Balkans, I would say that unfortunately, EU was treating Ukraine at the very outset as a classical example of Eastern Partnership country, without sufficiently analyzing or taking into account few elements, such as first the size of the country of Ukraine, the size and also the historical background of the country; second, the lack of financial instruments to back up European policy and to exert certain leverage in the courtyard of EU, if I may – if I may use this word; and the third, lack of political clarity.  I have always asked myself why people in Kiev were demonstrating with EU flags in their hands.  And this was not the case, for instance, with people demonstrating in Turkey or with people demonstrating in Bosnia recently.  So they’re all showing a desire to be somehow at the limelight of European policy.

And if we see now, there is also the reaction of EU towards Western Balkans.  I’m afraid it’s more or less what my colleagues from Macedonia and Montenegro were painting.  So we have a wait-and-see approach, basically.  So we have more bureaucracy, more procedures and less political soul steering this process, which is very much needed.  And now there is – (chuckles) – paradoxically, we are seeing and witnessing two competing enlargement agendas, Putin agendas – enlargement agendas, which is very centralized.  It’s very harsh.  There are no chapters, no screening process, no benchmarks, but there is only – (chuckles) – energy and financial injectives (ph).  And there are also – and there is also the EU and NATO accession agendas, which in few cases lack clarity.

So the consolidation of south and the consolidation of Balkan – it’s a very challenging process that needs, first and foremost, EU and U.S. involvement.  Otherwise, it will take lots of time, and we would be in a position to see maybe further fragmentation also in the region.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Well, let me kind of – well, you know, when I think of Putin’s enlargement and agenda, I think – benchmarks – I think the word “subordination” – (chuckles) – comes to mind as one of his requirements.  But I’m a little bit skeptical as to how much momentum there is behind the West’s enlargement agenda.  It’s been five years since we’ve had a round of enlargement, certainly on the NATO side.  So Minister Vigenin, can you have a pause in NATO and EU enlargement?  Can you have a pause in the process of making true, making come to life the vision of a Europe whole and free?  Or is it really two gears; you’re either moving forward, or you’re falling back?  I mean, I ask you because your country has been through both processes.  You’ve been through an EU enlargement process, and you’ve been through the NATO enlargement process.

MINISTER KRISTIAN VIGENIN:  Well, thank you for this question, Ian.  Listening to colleagues, I think that we are more or less on the same line.  That’s very positive because we are part of the same region.  We are in different stages of our membership or preparation for membership, but we have, at least for the moment, the same goal:  to be, all of our region, all the countries in the region, part of EU, part of NATO, or at least most of the countries in NATO as well.  And we want to have a stable region which is democratic, with clear rules, with rule of law, democracy, free and fair elections, and everything that you can see being the basis of the EU integration, the basis of EU and NATO as well.

I think, looking now at the situation with Ukraine, I think we need to see a more clear picture, maybe, or look a bit back into the summer of 2013 and the early autumn to see how this all started.  I’ll try to make the link with our region.  Actually, already in the late summer, we’ve seen that Armenia, which was negotiating association agreement with the EU for years, has actually completed these negotiations, suddenly, overnight, changed its opinion and decided to join the customs union and not to sign the association agreement.  Then some trade measures were taken against Moldova from Russia to increase the pressure on the country, with the same reason not to sign the association agreement.  At the same time, look back to Yanukovych and his government.  It was Yanukovych and his government that played the decisive role to complete the negotiations to initial the association agreement.  I’m not going into the details, but I mean, we also had our reasons to postpone the signature of this agreement.

But what happened in the autumn?  Because of the strong pressure on the side of Russia, Yanukovych decided not to sign the association agreement.  And you see that country by country, Russia was trying to prevent those countries from coming closer to the EU because Russia had different agenda.  And the natural question for some of the member states on the east – you have the panel afterwards – the natural question was, and still is, who’s next?  Obviously, it would be impossible, and if not impossible, very, very difficult to derail one of the EU member states or NATO member states.  But if we look into the Russian strategy right now, I believe that the next attempt to further compete with the EU for influence after the eastern neighborhood will be the Balkans.

And you mentioned one of the statements in relation to the visit of the Montenegrin prime minister here.  I think we need to be very careful.  Why I’m saying this?  Because anyway, there is historically Russia has strong ties with our region.  Economically, it’s quite present.  Most of our countries are quite dependent on Russian energy resources.  Why I’m saying this is that we need to be very careful and take decisive steps.

I’m not against strong relations with Russia.  There’s nothing bad, in principle, to have relations with other countries, not only with or within EU.  But I mention actually we see a very different model of development.  It’s not just another power which tries to increase its influence; it’s a different model where you obviously – you do not have the freedom the way we see that in the EU.  You do not have the free media, for example.  You don’t have the same standards for elections.  And you can name number of other elements which are actually opposite to what we try to defend within EU and in our region.

So I think that the events now in Ukraine and in the eastern neighborhood give additional reasons why EU and NATO should focus much more now on the Western Balkans, should help those countries to work better in preparation for the membership, should give strong signals to them that they encourage them much more than it was before, especially in the last years, to achieve the goals, to achieve the benchmarks.  And in – especially with NATO, you know that there will be – in June there will be four reports on the readiness of the four applicant or candidate countries to join NATO, for their readiness to join.

I believe that now we are in a decisive political moment.  We should not make even also the membership in NATO kind of a bureaucratic process where every country has to match certain criteria, we evaluate and we produce another report.  I think it’s an important political decision to give – at least this is my position of my country, and I think of the other countries from our region for sure, and many others as well – to give – to invite for membership Montenegro, to try to solve the issue so that Republic of Macedonia can also be invited and to join NATO, and maybe – that’s another issue that I think is important, but let’s discuss it – to see are we really ready to make a promise to Georgia that Georgia one day will be part of NATO.  If we are serious, if we can respond with yes, then we should give them Membership Action Plan.  If we are not ready to take these steps this year or anytime in the future, because we’ve postponed that decision for quite some time, then we should be fair to our partners and say maybe Georgia will not be part of NATO, and not to mislead them, if you understand what I mean.

I know that it’s difficult to say it openly like this, but I believe that they deserve Membership Action Plan.  And that would consolidate our efforts not only within the current EU and especially NATO member countries, but would consolidate and strengthen our efforts to bring more stability in Southeastern Europe, which is a very important region which created a lot of troubles in the past.  But now it’s time to really focus and make this stability irreversible.  Now is the time to act.  That’s our message.  Thank you.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Well, that’s – I like that.  It’s very clear, three steps there:  pulling Macedonia to the table where – (inaudible) – NATO, an invitation to Montenegro and pushing the bar forward or pushing the process forward for Georgia in NATO.

You know, there’s a saying in Washington that was made by – or by a former chief of staff of the White House.  It’s never let a good crisis go to waste.  And when I look back at the experiences of Poland and the Czech Republic and Hungary and the big bang in 2004, they had their crises.  They had the Balkans.  They had the Iraq War, the Afghanistan conflict.  And they all stood up as partners and contributed to peacekeeping operations, military operations in those conflicts.

I’m wondering, now that we have crisis in the east and an invasion of Ukraine, enhanced security in Central Europe – there’s a role for countries that aren’t frontier states in Europe.  United States – let me put it this way.  Each one of your countries is not a frontier state on the Ukraine crisis.  Romania is.  Poland is.  The Baltic states are.  Slovakia is.  You’re one step behind, a little bit more secure.

I’ve taken note of the fact that, you know, while I think the United States should be doing more, we have deployed a company to Poland.  We have deployed a company to Romania.  We have deployed, I think, a company each to the Estonian states (sic).  We’ve beefed up our F-16s over there.  And some West Europeans have done the same thing in the air and sea realms.  Are there contributions that the Balkans ought to be thinking about to contribute to the security of Central Europe?  And I recognize that some of your countries are – military capacities are more limited than others, but the mere offer, the mere contribution of even just a small contingent I think would be enormously – would be of enormous symbolic potential, maybe even some operational value, but would underscore the value of your readiness to contribute, the security of the community as a whole.

Is there – is this something to give thought to, Minister Poposki?

MIN. POPOSKI:  In practical terms, it hasn’t been demonstrated that this is a factor of acceding quickly.  Macedonia is one of the leading contributors in Afghanistan.  We have been always in the top five countries in terms of per capita contribution to troops in Afghanistan.  It has been the case previously with Iraq.  We are still in a situation of technically illegally being blocked to accede NATO since 2008 Bucharest Summit.

So I will go back to the argument that this is a purely political decision, that if NATO decides that it’s ready to get a country on board, it happens.  Same thing applies to the European Union.  We have seen cases where the questionable level of readiness has been put forward.  In previous enlargements, enlargement have happened.  These countries are today part of the European Union.  It is a purely political decision.  And if we let, let’s say, this crisis – and I think that this is a very good point.  You should never get it wasted, and if there is anything to be drawn out of this crisis, I think this is to take some anticipative moves.  That would be not to wait for another crisis to spread somewhere in or around the Balkans or to discourage people or to make them feel that NATO and EU have forgotten about the remaining countries in the center of the Balkans, but to use the momentum in order to achieve something that should have been achieved actually at the earlier stage.  It’s never too late.  I think it is better to handle it now and then to use the September summit in order to make it an enlargement one.  And there are very good cases to be made, and I think that there is willingness on the candidate side not to let it just be another crisis in the line.

And then how it will be handled is probably another question because the contribution of none of the countries that is here on the panel is decisive on how the Ukrainian crisis is going to go one way or another.  And probably what Kristian has made as a point, we are not at the first contact point, but we are all of us pretty much dependent on energy, and to an extent that is much higher than other countries in Europe.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Yeah.  Look, I am the – I think I stand among the first in the – (inaudible) – to always kind of point out the contributions that Macedonia and its neighbors have made to our operations, our NATO operations, our U.S.-led operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But if I heard you correctly, just so I’m – I understand correctly, you don’t think Macedonia would be prepared to make a military contribution to a NATO operation in response to the Ukraine crisis until you’re a member?  Because if that’s the case, I think you’re going to send a very negative message to other allies and missing an opportunity to really highlight the value that your country brings to the alliance.

MIN. POPOSKI:  Quite the opposite.  We have been very constant in making contributions to all NATO operations.  It has been the case since the very beginning, even before we got to the level of becoming – actually being extended an invitation to join NATO in 2008.  We have been doing it at much earlier stages.  My point was that the practice hasn’t shown that this is an argument to get you in.  So you have a country, typically, like Macedonia, that has made very valuable contributions, to the level, if not more than some NATO member states.  We are still outside.  And you have countries that are in NATO and haven’t made these visible steps to the same extent.  So it is a political decision, and it needs to be made on a political basis.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Minister Luksic, I’m going to throw the same question to you.  Do you share that position?  What would Montenegro be?  And granted you have a very small military, but are you willing to make that symbolic contribution or small operational contribution?

MIN. LUKSIC:  And you suppose that NATO will make the decision of organizing a mission or something like that?

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Well, NATO has.  I mean, there are –

MIN. LUKSIC:  Which one?

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  There are NATO contingents going into the Baltic Sea.  There are beefed-up operations for our air policing.

MIN. LUKSIC:  For what reason?  Because Secretary Kerry said that they want to prove the allegiance to Article 5.  So the point is, as far as I read it – (laughter) – but I guess Kristian or Ditmir are better to read that because they’re NATO member states.  The point is to show that the alliance agreement is there to stay.  So if anybody threatens to take away a piece of a NATO member state, then has to be faced with very grave consequences.  So we are showing the commitment to the alliance.

Ukraine is not a member state of the NATO.  And we’ve heard every now and again that nobody thinks about any sort of the military solution.  So what we’re talking here about is that in order to – from the security point of view, if we’d like to fully consolidate Europe’s south, I mean, referring to Western Balkans, then our argument is that the cheapest way to provide NATO a major contributor to bringing – to the vision of a Europe whole and free, bringing more security, more freedom, more political stability, more values that both EU and NATO are based on, then the cheapest way is to commit to the Open Door Policy in an effective way.

Let’s – and Kristian has already said there will be a couple of – (inaudible) – referring to all the aspiring countries.  We believe we have done really a lot.  And it doesn’t mean that the next day after the invitation, we’ll just, you know, sleep – fall asleep.  No, we’ll have to work more in order to be able to really fully respond to all the benchmarks until the day we are a member state.  But the point is not that particular milestone or that particular date.  The point is that any moment after full-fledged membership, we are able to contribute the way we should contribute to the alliance’s goals.  So that’s how I interpret the current situation.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Do my other colleagues want to comment on this?

MIN. VIGENIN:  Well, maybe just in defense of my colleagues – well, actually, we all understand and we all know that there is no military solution of this situation now.  There can only be political and diplomatic solution.  And the presence of additional military forces in Baltics, Poland – that’s important for the countries, for the – for the feeling of being secure for the citizens of those countries, but I personally don’t think that they are military threaten.  So I believe that we should carefully develop a long-term strategy on something else, not so much the military presence, but the way we counteract to the way Russia is influencing or trying to influence neighboring countries.

So I don’t think that it’s necessary for NATO to count on the military presence of Republic of Macedonia or Montenegro.  So I believe they need now to prepare really to be part of the alliance.  Once they’re in, of course, they will be part of all decisions that have to be taken and all the steps that are taken.

By the way, Bulgaria is one of the countries that of course supported all measures that were taken to reassure the security of NATO member states, to reassure the unity of NATO.  But at the same time, I must say that we do not feel so much threatened of the current situation as our Baltic colleagues do.  But we need to show this solidarity.  We do it, because I always try to explain also to our people that now our colleagues feel threatened, and we have to show this solidarity.  One day – hopefully not, but one day we may feel much more threatened than now, and then we’ll count to the solidarity of all the others.

And I think this is again part of the spirit of the alliance.  It was the solidarity and staying together is something very important at this moment.  But then our solidarity and support should be extended also to the countries who believe that their future is to be part of NATO, and respectively, the EU.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Thank you.


MIN.   :  Just want to make the quick comment, we want to make sure that here we are not talking about the security architecture being at stake.  It has to do also with values, the European values.  And I believe the colleagues who are pointing out also the contribution of Balkans in the security architecture of Europe nowadays.

So let’s assume for a moment that there is no crisis in Ukraine.  And I’m sure that still Montenegro, Macedonia and other countries in the region would like to join NATO.  So the question is whether we see the recent events in Ukraine as an additional factor for further giving real impact to – giving real impact to the Open Door Policy.  This is the central question that we need to ask.  Then whether our defense capabilities are limited or advanced, there is – there is a variety of, let’s say, elements, indicators and also – and also – and also experiences within NATO.  So no one is pretending that the next day Macedonia or Montenegro will join, we’ll have a very different situation in the NATO.

So – and the last – the last point I have – it’s about – it’s about the security zone, whether this is a protected territory of NATO or not.  It’s not only about Article 5 and current countries of – NATO countries of – current NATO member states.  It’s also about the protected territory, whether Balkans will continue to be a NATO and EU or a Western-protected territory or not, or whether we would see the first Russian influences being transformed into further fragmentation of the region that we have seen in the past.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Do you see that fragmentation – do you see the prospects of that fragmentation through Russian intervention increasing now in your region?

MIN.   :  Well, they are there in terms of gas policy.  They are there in terms of – in terms of economic presence.  And they are there also in terms of few frozen conflicts of the past.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  OK.  Well, let me open it up to our participants out here.  And as I reach out, let me just ask you to give us your name, your affiliation, and if you have a point or a comment or a question, to keep it brief so we can get as many people as possible.

I think I’ll start with Peter (sp).

Q:  Thank you.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Peter (sp), welcome back to Washington, D.C., Peter Berea (sp).

Q:  It’s great to be back.  And really, it’s an exciting discussion we have.  And I wanted to appreciate the pitch which all the representatives of Western Balkan countries are making for continued NATO enlargement.  And I remember 10 years ago when we were entering NATO, and really since that time, we really have the unprecedented cooperation and period of stability and prosperity in our region, which, as I mentioned, has encouraged the subregional cooperation between – which regards four countries.  And it was really a very comfortable feeling when actually, Slovakia, the first round of enlargement, was left out, that we have had actually the biggest support from our neighbors who entered the alliance.  And I can imagine a different type of situation if, let’s say, NATO would postpone or didn’t take this kind of decision, and really, it’s a very comfortable situation now having NATO on – let’s say, on our, let’s say, territory, and seeing, really, what is happening in Ukraine.  And really, this is also pushing us to think about the further enlargement.  And that’s why since the very beginning, Slovakia has been an arduous (sic) supporter of enlargement of NATO and moving it also to Western Balkans, because we believe the same kind of benefits we have will be also for the countries from the Western Balkans entering – it will have also benefits for the alliance, but it will have first of all benefits for the region.

So my question would be for the panelists how you see the subregional cooperation as a factor of moving this process of enlargement, both within the EU and NATO, forward?  And once – one more thing which I wanted to say, that really I think what we heard here is a clear testimony that basically, those countries are already prepared for sharing the burden of common security and collective security, and that’s why I also believe that the future NATO summits should really take a courageous decision and invite additional countries to join the alliance.  And we have some of them here sitting here.

So thank you very much.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Strong call for further NATO enlargement, and the question, if I could just summarize, is what –

Q:  Subregional cooperation as a factor of – as a positive factor for the processes of integration.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  So subregional cooperation as a driver for further integration.

Q:  (Inaudible.)

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Mr. Luksic, do you want to give a shot at that?

MIN. LUKSIC:  Why not?  Although Ditmir has been sharing a couple of – simultaneously couple of regional cooperation initiatives, but gladly.  I think even in the scope of the security cooperation, there exist and A-5 Adriatic – American-Adriatic Charter, which is a way to reproduce positive experience there was between American-Baltic Charter, you know, to prepare the countries.  And already through the A-5, for example, a regional initiative in the security field, we have pushed forth some of the ideas and some of the – some of the projects and programs to not only prepare ourselves for the future membership, but also to contribute to the peacekeeping missions.  Through that framework, for example, some time ago we managed to deliver in terms of a peacekeeping contribution in Afghanistan, for example.  And again, one of the ideas we have is that post-2014, Operation Resolute Support could also be based partially through a joint effort from the region so that countries can pool and share.  And that is already a nice exercise, how we prepare ourselves for the future on participation as a collective security, you know, pooled and shared approach, which is – which is, I mean, the only sustainable way how one should make the security policy in a most effective – as most effective one.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Ditmir?  Minister Bushati?

MIN. BUSHATI:  I would fully subscribe with what Igor said.  And I would add also something concerning Ionian-Adriatic Initiative, which needs to be revitalized, and also to be a little bit more substantial if we ensure the all inclusiveness, because there are countries, Macedonia and Kosovo, that are not part of this initiative.  And here we see a ground for further cooperation because there are EU and non-EU member states, NATO and not NATO member states, and there is also potential to bring together trans-Adriatic pipeline with Ionian Adriatic Pipeline, so these energy corridors that could be beneficial for all countries – all countries of the region.  And in this case, we might give also some signs that we see those energy corridors also as a shared prosperity area.

But in order to do that, we need to have also the EU political backing and also the financial instruments necessary to implement these good ideas and good intentions – (inaudible).

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Julie (sp), did you have a question?

Q:  Why do you need to join NATO to do all this stuff?  And does your joining NATO make NATO stronger, which might be a –

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Minister, I think that’s directed to – yes.

Q:  (Off mic) – and how?

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  The question is why should they join NATO?  How will they contribute to making NATO stronger?  Is that fair, Julie (sp)?

Q:  Hmm?

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  In short, how will the new – how will the aspirant countries make NATO stronger once they’re members?

Q:  Well, the first part would be why do you want to join?  I mean, can’t you do this stuff?  I went through this with Leonard Merry (sp) years ago in Estonia.  I mean, and his response was, well, if we don’t get into NATO, we’ll continue doing what we’re doing.  I want to know, you know, why you guys need NATO, if you think you do, in order to do the things – I understand about the EU, but I’m talking about NATO.  And the second part is do you make it stronger?

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  So second part, will you make – will their joining NATO make it – will their joining NATO make the alliance stronger?  And then the first question is why do they want to join NATO?  Why does Montenegro, why does Macedonia want to join NATO?  Can’t they do what they need to do outside of the alliance?

MIN. POPOSKI:  Very, very smart and very relevant question.  As I am coming out of an election campaign, I think this is one of the toughest questions I got from the electorate, explaining the logic of what do we win with NATO and EU membership.

Number one, I think, is predictability.  (Cross talk, laughter.)  It’s a recipe for – it’s predictability, number one.  Predictability means better investment perspectives.

I’ll give you one example.  Albania, the year it joined NATO, they got till now something like 6 billion euros of investment.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is what has happened, an investment boom.  Why?  We have been working quite a lot on attracting investment.  One of the major problems in Southeast Europe is unemployment level.  In order to attract investors, they have their ticking boxes, a long list of things they would like to see, between availability of workforce, training, the costs, tax system, et cetera.  One of them is political predictability.  There is a perception that NATO membership increases dramatically the political predictability.  Whether it’s a myth or a fact is another thing.  The thing that really matters is that the perception of an investor is that being a NATO member state, it’s easier to predict the future of your investment.  Very important thing.

Number two, I fully agree with your statement.  Whether we join NATO or we don’t join and when we’re going to join, we do the same stuff.  Actually, the reforms that we need to do are done anyways.  It is the driving force what has allowed Macedonia to make progress over years, even after suffering an illegal blockade to join NATO.  We continue to have our commitment in Afghanistan.  We continue to send troops, to spend money.  We’ve continued to do all the reforms that are relevant for that.  So it’s a driving force.  I would say EU in this respect is much more than NATO because EU has very strict and very visible requirements.

And number three, when we talk about cooperation – and I agree with you, we can do our cooperation even without being in NATO and EU.  As a matter of fact, Switzerland has excellent cooperation with both France, Italy and all the other members without being in NATO and without being in the EU.  However, this cooperation is one of the preconditions to join.  I would say it’s not only a precondition, it’s a consequence.  Once you’re in the same club, your mutual cooperation, your regional cooperation strengthens, if not for anything else because the trust increases.  You see the same guys on weekly basis in Brussels, and you discuss issues of foreign policy.  And number two, you know the fact that you’re on the same board, that you’re in the same club – it increases your predictability about their behavior, so when you know what’s going to happen next door to you.  You can do that, you can achieve that even without being in a club, but it helps big time when you make decisions jointly with your neighbors.  You know what’s going to happen in the future.

And I think that these are the strong arguments that we are making.  I agree that none of this is preconditioned by NATO membership.  We can do – keep doing that without being part of NATO.  But NATO membership helps big time – predictability, investment and trust in your neighbors.

MR.     :  (Off mic.)


MR.     :  What about – (off mic) –

MIN. POPOSKI:  Very fair question:  What about gains of NATO?  So what do you win?  What do you go to say to your electorate in your campaign?

Well, you suffer because your electorate doesn’t care about enlargement.  It is one of the topics that is very poorly communicated.  Two, people have very short memories.  So you don’t forget the gains of the past enlargements, and most of the time you take it for granted.  I think that NATO has an institutional memory.  You don’t need to go centuries backwards, even though we can.  You just need to go 20 years backwards.  What has happened because there was no anticipation and no stepping up from NATO side and embracing all the countries from Southeast Europe the same way as it happened in other regions, the price was if you take Bosnia, some 250,000 there; if you take the larger region, probably have 2 million or 2 million of displaced people, and quite a lot of disorder, that after that came to taxpayers, both in the region and in the countries that are part of NATO.  I would say if you base your assessment on the experiences with Slovakia, Poland, et cetera, you can say, well, NATO can very well survive without Slovakia, but I think NATO has a hell of an interest to get Slovakia on board.  And if I was making decisions in 2000 or whenever this decision was made politically, I would get Slovakia on board because it will cost less money, my taxpayers, and it will make my environment more predictable, and I will be better off today, as it is the case.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Minister – (inaudible) – Minister Luksic?

MIN. LUKSIC:  I think I should agree with most that has been said.  But I think on that particular question, well, the same reason why Albania or Croatia wanted to join.  Was it a mistake?  I don’t think so.  I think it was a great decision.  But if somebody starts and – stops and says, all right, but why would we need Montenegro and so on, then I think that the person that suggests that should actually attempt to open up a debate about the character of NATO.

I think that there is – there should be equal enthusiasm of the NATO to enlarge with regards to Montenegro and Macedonia, for example, the equal enthusiasm as, for example, Russia has enthusiasm to prevent some of the countries from joining either EU or NATO.

And why – and on the compatibility of two integration processes, NATO and EU, well, I don’t think that EU would have been so successful had there been no NATO in the background.  So I think it’s – when you look at both transitions – (succession ?) processes – or the accession process of all the former socialist countries from the Eastern Bloc, then from Baltic states, Poland, all the way down to Bulgaria and Albania, Croatia, everyone is in NATO today.  And in some of the cases, it was simultaneous entry to both, in some cases, first NATO and then EU, and I’m pretty sure that it is a good order of moves when talking about Montenegro, for example, because I’m pretty sure that once we are inside, it will only actually streamline our own accession talks with the European Union.

So I don’t think that anybody should have any real dilemma on this.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Thank you.  One more question?  Sir?

Q:  (Off mic) – by your predecessors?

MIN.   :  Excuse me?

Q:  The answer by your predecessors to that question was when we feel secure, we can do our own development.  It wasn’t by getting in and being in the club and talking to everybody in the club, but it was what is understood by security, by having security.  It wasn’t about doing business with other people.  It wasn’t about getting trade.  It was about when we feel secure and we are not going to be threatened, or if we are threatened by the outside, there will be somebody to rescue us; we can therefore get ahead with our own economic development and our own lifestyle.  Didn’t have to do with trade.  I’m just telling you that.  But that was the answer that was – your predecessors gave, your – and that is between 1998 and now.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  OK.  One last question.  Ambassador?  Do we only have one mic?

Q:  Robert Gelbard, Atlantic Council board and formerly President Clinton’s special representative to the Balkans for three years.  I think in response to the question about concrete – about benefits for NATO for enlargement, I would say first, the symbolic power of new countries joining NATO right now would be very important.  Second, a small but important concrete benefit would be the fact that adding Montenegro would complete the Adriatic Sea.  The Russians recently have tried to get permission from Montenegro to gain access to the Port of Bar, which Montenegro denied, which I think has some result in terms of the threats that they have been making to Montenegro recently.  But that denial is another very good example of why Montenegro should be granted that membership, as well as Macedonia.

But I would add something to what Bulgarian Foreign Minister Vigenin, I think, very incisively said at the very beginning in terms of the Western Balkans being the next target.  I don’t think it’s the next target; I think it’s already a target.  I think the campaign that Russia has begun in terms of subversion is an ongoing one involving political threats and action, involving the church and ties between Orthodox churches in Russia and in the countries of the region, using the threats of the economy, and particularly energy, and other means.  But we see it already in a number of countries throughout the region now, and it’s something that everyone, including the current members of NATO, should be very aware of.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Thank you, Ambassador.

I think that’s going to be our last question.  I think we’re going to use that as a kind of a wrap-up question for our colleagues.  And so I think I’ll start down at Minister Bushati and work this way.  If you want to address Ambassador Gelbard’s point and add any final comments, we’ll bring our session to a close.  You’re in agreement?

MIN. BUSHATI:  I am delighted to see that we are on the same page.  (Laughter.)

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  That is concise and to the point.

MIN.   :  Well, just maybe a few words.  You know, EU is a big union of 28 member states now.  And some of us know the east, and respectively the southeast, better than others.  I believe that in the past sometimes we made mistakes just because some of our partners within the EU, for example, were – or felt that they know better how to deal with these countries.  And now I see, with the crisis, because we’ve discussed a lot with – in the foreign affairs council, for example – I see that they started to listen us more than before.  And I say this because now with regard to Southeastern Europe, EU and NATO member states, especially the big one, decisive ones, should listen a bit more the countries which are – from our region which are already in EU and in NATO.  And I believe that if they listen to us, they will not make mistakes, and we will avoid negative developments.  Maybe it’s not that simple as I say it, but I think we have a lot of arguments in favor of EU enlargement, in favor of NATO enlargement, not to lower the requirements or to be less demanding, but it means to be more focused, to provide more support, to engage much more with these countries, because it is really necessary.  It’s for our – for the security of Southeastern Europe.  It’s important for the security of the whole – a whole Europe, and for the trans-Atlantic community as well.  So that would be my message.

And just a remark on the question of the subregional cooperation.  We actually have a number of formats.  One of them is really a very good format, which is clearly Southeastern European Forum, and this is Southeastern European cooperation process.  We do a lot of – or we cooperate a lot in the framework of this process.  And also, bilaterally, we work a lot.  I mean, EU member states, from the region, work on bilateral basis a lot with the candidate countries to prepare them, to help them see – or avoid our own mistakes, to help them prepare for negotiations, and all the rest.  I mean, there is really a very good cooperation.  We should keep this cooperation.  We should keep the direction or – it’s a – we should keep those countries and help those countries to stay on the path towards enlargement of EU and NATO because if we – if we allow disruption of this process, if we allow that other players derail some countries from this process, that would very strongly negatively affect all of us.  So I hope also (the aliens ?) will get this message, because there are important decisions to be taken from now on, and the role and the opinion of the experts is very important.  And June and September will be very important months for NATO.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Minister?

MIN.   :  Well, I think generally one of the bad things you could do when you have an unfinished business is to keep it unattended.  So I think even if it – even if there was no crisis at all in Eastern Europe, I think the argument, as we’ve just heard, remains the same.  The compatibility of the two processes is relevant, and it is absolutely – I mean, it is – I fully agree with you that NATO brings about more security, and unless there is enough of security, one cannot count to, you know, develop political stability in the country or in the region, plus set the ground for economic prosperity in the long run.  It goes without saying.

So I think it is unfinished business, and let’s just not keep it like it is because it’s easily to shift focus in today’s world.  Let’s do everything we can to, you know – let’s do everything we can to, you know, work together in – for the same cause.  And I think then it may – it may have incredibly important positive effect, positive impact to many other – many other elements of the – of that – (inaudible) – because we’ve been focused on Ukraine, but let us not forget that we’re – we have also unsettled business in the Mediterranean, and the Mediterranean will come back, Mediterranean issues and challenges will come back sooner or later.  I mean, it has gone nowhere.  It’s still around us.  But nobody’s paying enough of attention there because it’s not making a headline news.  Everybody seems to be like, OK, take it for granted.

(Inaudible) – Syria or unfinished business of setting new – of helping new democracies, I mean, you know, turbulating (ph) democracies and so on in the Mediterranean.  So for that aspect as well, it’s important to keep focus on finishing business where it can be finished and with least – with least resources.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Minister Poposki, you have the last word.

MIN. POPOSKI:  Yes, yeah, thank you.  I think that one of the points that will lead to a conclusion was that we generally react on crisis.  The reason for putting the title “Europe Whole and Free” is the fact that we have a serious crisis in Ukraine.  And I think it’s a fair point to emphasize that.

One of the most difficult things will be to shift from this psychology of crisis management to a psychology of a long-term strategy and vision.  If we want to have Europe whole and free, we definitely need to get the Balkans in it.  If we look at the last century, any of the troubles that has happened in Europe had a source or a direct consequences on the Balkans.  If we want to make sure that in this century this is not going to happen, we should get it in.

And this is not a suicide bomber kind of argument, I’m going to blow up myself unless you get me in.  This is a very rational argument that political decision-makers should have in mind when they’re taking steps on strategic things such as NATO enlargement.  There is a gain for NATO, for sure, if nothing else than saving taxpayers’ efforts on the long run in order to get a region that has a troubled history on the right path.  It has definitely an argument for the countries that are in the region and are already part of NATO and EU because getting the rest of us on the same boat will mean predictability and security for all of them.  I mean, I don’t think that Macedonia can be a nice place unless all of our neighbors are nice and stable and prosperous.  So it is in our interest that they are in that.  And this is valid for every single country of us.

And finally, last but not least, I think that as you have pointed out, every crisis should have – should be used for a good purpose, not in order to waste the time and energy on just discussing these things, but just making actions.  And actions can be made because we have a summit.  We have a right proper kind of environment.  We just need the political will.  Political will can be influenced by a number of people that have a word to say on the importance of NATO enlargement today.

Thank you.

MR. BRZEZINSKI:  Thank you very much.  I’d like to thank our panel for their comments.  Everyone of them represent a country that has soldiers standing with U.S. soldiers abroad.  They all underscore the value of NATO enlargement.  They validate it.  They show – they demonstrate why it should be continued.  And I guess I’d close at saying I remain even more confirmed, but I hope you will all work together to help add a fourth pillar to Secretary Kerry’s three-pillar agenda, and that fourth pillar – (inaudible) – being enlargement at the next summit.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)