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NATO HQ Sarajevo  /  News  /  2022  /  NATO Secretary General reaffirms commitment to stability, security and cooperation in the Western Balkans

Aug 10 2022


The NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, gave an interview about the Western Balkans this week. Here is what he had to say about the security of BiH and relationships between the Alliance and countries across the region.

Q.There is a lot of talk about Russian influence in the Balkans, especially in Serbia and Srpska Republic. Many times you mentioned the tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the inflammatory rhetoric of Milorad Dodik. How would you describe the current situation in Bosnia?

A.We call on Russia to play a constructive role in the Western Balkans, but we regularly see Russia doing the opposite. NATO fully respects every nation's sovereign right to choose their own political and security arrangements. . This is a fundamental principle of European security. A principle that Russia has also made a commitment to respect, as part of the Helsinki Final Act.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has come a long way since the conflicts of the 1990s, but unfortunately tensions remain high, with more divisive rhetoric, stalled reforms, and foreign actors working to undermine progress. NATO will continue to promote stability, security and cooperation in the region through our partnership with Bosnia and Herzegovina, though the efforts of our Headquarters in Sarajevo, and through NATO's support to the EU-led operation EUFOR ALTHEA in Bosnia and Herzegovina, under the Berlin Plus Arrangements.

NATO maintains high-level political dialogue with Bosnia and Herzegovina. This past May, I met with the Chair of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Šefik Džaferović in Brussels. The Defence Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina joined our discussions at the Madrid Summit, and only a few days ago the Chair of the NATO Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, visited Bosnia and Herzegovina. Furthermore, as agreed by NATO leaders in Madrid, we are ready to step up political and practical support for partners at risk from Russian aggression, including Bosnia and Herzegovina.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

Q.As a follow up: Albania is in talks with NATO to build a naval base on the Adriatic sea. When it comes to the Western Balkans, are you considering any additional infrastructure investments or even troop deployment in the region? If yes, can you give us more details?

A. We welcome offers by Allies to host NATO facilities. Our experts must look into all such offers, and then provide advice based on military requirements. NATO's new Strategic Concept approved at the Madrid Summit reaffirms the strategic importance of the Western Balkans for our Alliance.

NATO will continue to promote stability, security and cooperation in the region, including through the daily efforts of KFOR and of our headquarters in Sarajevo and office in Belgrade.

Security and stability in the Western Balkans is important for NATO and for peace and stability in Europe.

Q. Montenegro in June celebrated its fifth anniversary of joining NATO. That was the first country that joined NATO under your leadership. Are you satisfied with Montenegrin commitment to NATO? In what areas it can be improved?

A. Montenegro is a valued Ally making important contributions to our shared security, including with troops in NATO's multinational battlegroup in Latvia and our UN-mandated KFOR peace-support operation in Kosovo. I also welcome Montenegro's continued contribution to stability across the Western Balkans region and its increasing defence spending. All this represents a concrete demonstration of your country's strong commitment to NATO.

At the same time, Montenegro can always count on NATO to safeguard its security. For instance, our air policing mission continues to keep your skies safe, with jets from Italy and Greece. Furthermore, NATO and Allies showed strong solidarity and support to Montenegro during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing equipment, medical supplies, and financial support through the NATO Pandemic Response Trust Fund and stockpile.

Q.The Government on Monday accepted the protocols for Sweden and Finland joining NATO. Now the Parliament needs to ratify the protocols. Given that some member states already ratified the protocols, when do you expect Montenegro and other member states to finish the job and these two countries join the Alliance?

Montenegrin Parliament late last month ratified protocols for Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Given that some member states already ratified the protocols, when do you expect other member states to finish the job and these two countries join the Alliance?

A. NATO's closest partners Finland and Sweden were invited to join the Alliance at our recent Summit of NATO leaders in Madrid. That was a historic decision; for Finland, for Sweden, for NATO, and for our shared Euro-Atlantic security. On 5 July, NATO ambassadors signed the Accession Protocols for both countries in the presence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland, Pekka Haavisto, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Ann Linde. I will not speculate on any timeline; but I look forward to speedy ratifications by all Allies, and I welcome Montenegro's swift support.

Q.Until the Russian invasion, joining of these two countries was somewhat unthinkable. Now NATO will rise to 32 member states. With them joining the NATO, where do you see the future of open door policy? Is it realistic to expect any country to join in the next 10 years?

A. As NATO leaders reiterated in Madrid, NATO's door remains open. The criteria for NATO's membership are clearly laid out in Article 10 of the Washington Treaty, and decisions on NATO membership are taken by the North Atlantic Council by consensus. Ultimately, NATO's accession is an exclusive prerogative for NATO and for a sovereign country, which independently submits its request for membership. No third party has any veto.

Q.Following Russia's war against Ukraine, Allies reinforced the existing battlegroups and agreed to establish four more - in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. Will those battlegroups be there temporary or not? Montenegro is a part of Latvia's battlegroup. Do you expect Montenegro to contribute to new battlegrounds?

Following Russia's war against Ukraine, Allies reinforced the existing battlegroups and agreed to establish four more - in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. Will those battlegroups be there temporary or not? Montenegro is a part of Latvia's battlegroup, and minister of defense said that it will send troops to Bulgaria or Hungary. Do you expect member states to contribute to new battlegrounds?

A. Our decision at the Madrid Summit to enhance our battle groups in the eastern part of the Alliance forms part of a fundamental shift in our deterrence and defence – the most significant since the Cold War. This includes strengthening our forward defences, increasing the number of high readiness forces to well over 300,000, and boosting our ability to reinforce, including with more pre-positioned equipment, and stockpiles of military supplies. Furthermore, we will have more forward-deployed capabilities - like air defence - strengthened command and control, and upgraded defence plans, with forces pre-assigned to defend specific Allies.

I commend Montenegro's valuable contributions to our continued efforts to protect our populations and Allied territory.

Q. How do you see some inflammatory rhetoric from highest Serbian officials regarding, among other things, "srpski svet"? The current interior minister, and former defense minister Aleksandar Vulin is an example.

A. NATO and Serbia are close and long-standing partners. Our partnership is based on political dialogue and practical cooperation, in full respect of Serbia's stated policy of military neutrality.

Our political dialogue takes different forms. This includes my contacts with President Vucic and other political leaders, and regular interactions with Serbian counterparts by my Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy, and the Head of our Military Liaison Office in Belgrade. It also includes a well-established relationship between the Commander of KFOR and the Serbian Chief of Defence.

These relationships are made possible by a constructive spirit and mutual respect, which should continue.

Q. Are you concerned for lasting security in Kosovo, following the recent developments in northern Kosovo?

A. I recently spoke with the political leadership in Pristina and Belgrade about the tensions in northern Kosovo. All sides must remain calm, avoid unilateral actions and engage constructively in the EU-mediated dialogue. The NATO-led KFOR mission is monitoring closely and prepared to intervene if stability is jeopardised, in accordance with its UN mandate. Our mission is committed to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all the people of Kosovo. NATO continues to fully support the EU-mediated dialogue and we call on all parties to continue the negotiations. This is critical for regional peace and security.

Q.The Russian invasion is affecting the world. We can see with the energy and food prices, inflation etc. Do you think that will affect the two percent GDP commitment from member states? Is it realistic to expect the member states in this condition to fulfill their respective commitments?

A. At the NATO Summit in Madrid, we addressed the global food crisis caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, including Russia's deliberate targeting of agricultural and transport infrastructure. President Putin's war is driving up food prices, pushing people into poverty and destabilising entire regions.

At the same time, we face the most serious security situation in a generation; and NATO Allies are stepping up their investments in defence to keep our people safe. Our newest defence spending figures show that 2022 will be the eighth consecutive year of increases across European Allies and Canada. Allies are also investing more in modern capabilities, and contributing to NATO deployments and exercises.

At the Madrid Summit, Allies recommitted to the pledge they made in 2014, to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence. They also agreed to build on that pledge and decide next year on commitments beyond 2024. This shows a real commitment to greater burden-sharing across the Alliance. We must continue to spend more and spend more together in NATO, for the longer term. This is about our security in a more dangerous world.

Q.NATO is now unanimous, but do you, for example, expect Turkey to keep being supportive? I'm asking this, given initial opposing to Sweden and Finland membership, not implementing sanctions to Russia and also buying Russian arms.

A. I commend all Allies for moving so quickly in accepting Finland and Sweden's applications for membership, and I thank Türkiye, Finland, and Sweden for their constructive approach. The trilateral memorandum they signed at the Madrid Summit made the signature of the Accession Protocols possible.

Türkiye is an important and a valued Ally. It has the second biggest army in NATO. It is strategically located, bordering Iraq, Syria and the Black Sea; and it plays a major role in the fight against terrorism, including against ISIS. No other Ally has suffered more from terrorism, is more exposed to the instability and violence from the Middle East, and no other Ally hosts more refugees than Türkiye. Türkiye also makes essential contributions to NATO operations, with airbases for our fight against ISIS, contributing to our operations in Kosovo and to our advising activities in support to the Iraqi security forces. Türkiye has been a committed NATO Ally for decades, working together with other Allies to address our most pressing security challenges. It also rallied to Ukraine's side with strong military support; and I welcome Turkish efforts to ease a global food crisis by negotiating safe passage for Ukrainian grain stuck in the country because of Russia.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

Q.You warned that Russian invasion could last for years and that allies would support the Ukraine no matter what it takes. Given the prices and energy crisis, and the opinion polls, do you think the support for Ukraine will be unanimous as long as it takes? Also, what is your prognosis, when could the Russian war end? And where would that leave Vladimir Putin in coming years?

A. It is impossible to predict how long the war in Ukraine will last, and what the long-term implications will be. What is important is that we continue to support Ukraine for as long as necessary.

Of course, all the military, economic and humanitarian support that we have been providing to Ukraine has a high price; but the price of not supporting Ukraine would be much higher. It would mean rewarding Russia for having attacked a sovereign and independent country of 40 million people; and it would run against our own security interests, because it would make Europe even more vulnerable to Russia's aggressive behaviour.

The price we pay in continuing to support Ukraine can be measured in money. The price Ukrainians pay is measured in lives lost every day.

Q.There are people that claim that NATO provoked the Russian invasion. Pope Francis said that NATO positioning was factor in Russia war move. Do you see any personal or institutional responsibility for the way things turned out?

A.NATO strived for a better relationship with Russia for decades. We established the NATO-Russia Council, we agreed to the NATO-Russia Founding Act, and we invited Russia to work together to strengthen security in the Euro-Atlantic area; but Russia walked away from building more trust and a partnership, and from working closer together. I profoundly regret this.

For many years, Russia used violence and intimidation. Now it is waging a brutal war against Ukraine, which gravely undermines international security and stability and constitutes a blatant violation of international law. Russia's appalling cruelty has caused immense human suffering and massive displacements, disproportionately affecting women and children. Russia bears full responsibility for this humanitarian catastrophe. It must immediately stop this war and withdraw from Ukraine.

We remain willing to keep open channels of communication with Moscow to manage and mitigate risks, prevent escalation and increase transparency. However, any change in our relationship depends on Russia stopping its aggression and fully complying with international law.

Q.What are you most proud during your 8 years at NATO? Is there something that you not proud of? Any advise for you successor?

A. Leading an Alliance of 30 nations and one billion people is a responsibility I take very seriously, and I remain 100% focused on my job as Secretary General. There will be a time for reflections in the future.

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