If after several major changes of government in Serbia there is at least one constant, which is passed from hand to hand like a baton, it is the phrase that Serbia’s membership in NATO is “not an issue”. It had no content even when it was launched in the first years of Boris Tadić’s first presidential term, and it doesn’t have it today, almost 20 years later. Its only “value” is propaganda and it serves to avoid a very important political issue, in order not to offend the dominant voter opinion established by Slobodan Milošević.
All political options in Serbia have embraced the concept of so-called “military neutrality”, which the government of Vojislav Koštunica pushed through the parliament in October 2007, through the Resolution on the protection of sovereignty, territorial integrity and constitutional order. Everyone was relieved because of the adoption of “military neutrality”, because they no longer had to avoid it with the phrase “membership in NATO is not an issue” and they were no longer at risk of being asked – why don’t you make it an issue?
Military neutrality sounded, and still sounds today, like a firm state position. Many are convinced that this concept is carved in the Constitution, that it is some kind of legal and political sanctuary that must not be touched. And it is not even a law, but only one sentence, in the sixth out of a total of eight items of a parliamentary resolution by which the negotiating team at the time sought and received a parliamentary alibi to reject everything that was on the negotiating table regarding Kosovo in Vienna. From this parliamentary resolution today, 15 years later, not a single letter has any importance or touch with reality, except for the famous “military neutrality”.
Unfortunately, even this only surviving concept has no substance, or practical effect, except that it serves as an excuse to avoid membership in NATO. It has the same strength as its predecessor saying “membership in NATO is not an issue”. But it is the decision of a sovereign state, and it was accepted by more or less all political options, which have alternated in power in the meantime.
However, this does not mean that it corresponds to reality, just as the decision that Serbia does not recognize the Law of Gravitation would not correspond to reality. If anyone could even defend it until now, then this concept finally lost its meaning (if it ever had any) after the recently held NATO Summit in Madrid and the decisions made there.
The Strategic Concept, a 16-page document adopted by the leaders of NATO members, is historic in many respects. It gives a precise security, political and development vision of the world, as seen by NATO members and their one billion inhabitants. And what is even more important, such a vision of the world will be “valid” for all of them for at least another 10-15 years. According to that vision, the part of the world occupied by NATO members is “not at peace”, and Russia is “the most significant and direct threat to their security, peace and stability”. Primarily because of these two attitudes, NATO’s latest Strategic Concept was rated as historic, according to some (Parisian Le Monde) and “turning point” in the entire 73-year history of the Alliance.
Due to its efforts to establish spheres of influence and control through coercion, subversion, aggression and annexation and using conventional, cyber and hybrid means, Russia has been labelled enemy number one, far ahead of international terrorism and China. Russia has ceased to be a “partner” and even a “challenge” for NATO and its members, as it was addressed in some earlier strategic documents of the Alliance, and today the possibility of its attack on the sovereignty of NATO members is not ruled out.
Of course, this vision of the world does not necessarily oblige anyone outside NATO to agree with it. You can freely say – that’s your opinion, those are the threats and enemies you see, nothing obliges us to see the same vision of the world. And you would be right, moreover, you would be a part of the global majority, which does not belong to NATO and may have a different vision of the world today and the near future.
But does the fact that you would have a “separate opinion” mean that the projection of NATO, with all its enemies and security threats, would not concern you? That’s difficult, almost impossible.
Back in 2009, the International Security Institute, in cooperation with NATO’s public diplomacy sector, organized a series of conferences in Serbia on the topic of whether it is more beneficial for Serbia to have strong allies or to be neutral. The motto of these conferences was “Indecisiveness is weakness”. Even then, and especially now, Serbia’s indecisiveness, or military neutrality, is still its great weakness, even a ballast that prevents it from realizing its main state interests.
Serbia can ignore NATO’s Madrid strategy, but that strategy will not ignore Serbia. Regardless of the fact that Serbia is not mentioned in the document, and the Western Balkans is only mentioned once, in item 45, it simply has to find itself in this text and set its plans for the future within this framework, if it wants to realize them.
It is not about the views and assessments of some imaginary entity under, for Serbia, the “hateful” name of NATO. It is about the strategic views and assessments of individual countries with which Serbia has the most developed economic, technological and any other cooperation. Among them are a whole series of countries that Serbia and its people consider sincere friends, and almost all of its neighbors (except BiH). Therefore, the vision of the world that they all “painted” together is also the vision of the world that each of the NATO members has individually. Serbia simply will not be able to ignore it if it wants to progress, and especially if it sees its future the way NATO members see it – “in a world where sovereignty, territorial integrity, human rights and international law are respected and where each country can choose its own path, free from aggression, coercion or subversion”.