A senior NATO official, Javier Colomina - Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy (DASG) has paid his second visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina this year. The visit comes in the week of the Council of Ministers of BiH adoption of BiH Reform Programs for 2021 and 2022, the process led by the BiH Commission for Cooperation with NATO.
Q.On this visit, what was your message to the country’s authorities?
A. I have had a very productive visit, as part of my regular political consultations with the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I met with a range of high-level officials, including - amongst others - the Chairman of the country’s Presidency (Mr. Sefik Dzaferovic) and the Deputy Foreign Minister (Mr. Josip Brkic).
I shared views with my interlocutors on an array of topics of mutual interest. We discussed the continued development of our long-lasting partnership, which has been in existence since 2006, when Bosnia and Herzegovina signed the Partnership for Peace Programme with NATO. I welcomed the recent adoption of the Reform Programmes and the renewal of the UN Security Council mandate of the EU-led Operation Althea, which plays a key role in ensuring a safe and secure environment in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the benefit of all communities. NATO continues to provide support to the EU-led operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina under the Berlin Plus agreement.
Overall, the visit provided a very useful opportunity to reaffirm NATO’s commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Euro-Atlantic path.
Q.Can you comment on the recent approval of the Reform Programme by the Council of Ministers?
A.It is a very important step in the consolidation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s relations with NATO and in the strengthening of our partnership.
We remain committed to our strong political dialogue and practical cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina and we will continue to support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Euro-Atlantic reform efforts for the benefit of all its people.
Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy Javier Colomina and Chairman of the BiH Presidency Mr. Sefik Dzaferovic.
Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy Javier Colomina and BiH Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Josip Brkic.
Q. How do you see cooperation between BiH and NATO in the future, in view of the Republika Srpska National Assembly’s Decision on Military Neutrality?
A. Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of our long-standing partners, having joined the Partnership for Peace programme in 2006. Our commitment to this partnership is steadfast, as also reaffirmed during the NATO Summit in Madrid this past June and at the more recent meeting of NATO Defence Ministers this past October.
We strongly support your country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and we remain committed to your Euro-Atlantic aspirations, for the benefit of all your people.
NATO is a steadfast supporter of peace and stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and across the Western Balkans.
Our political dialogue and practical cooperation are more important than ever, especially in light of the most recent developments that we have seen across the European security landscape.
At the Madrid Summit this past June, Allies agreed to step up political and practical support to help a number of partners, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, counter any potential malign influence, in light of the changed security environment in Europe.
We are ready to step up our support to Bosnia and Herzegovina in different ways, in order to strengthen its resilience. For instance, by developing a new defence capacity-building package to help Bosnia and Herzegovina to implement its plans for the modernization of its defence and security structures. The scope of the package will be determined on the basis of the requirements defined by Bosnia and Herzegovina, an assessment by NATO, and a decision by NATO Allies regarding funding and other resources.
We could enhance our cooperation in the field of counter-terrorism, crisis management and cyber security. We could also reinforce our Headquarters in Sarajevo with more personnel and financial resources and provide more resources to support expert team visits to the country and counter-disinformation efforts.
Our discussions are ongoing. We continue to consult closely with the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in order to ensure that our enhanced support is tailored to the specific needs of the country.
Ultimately, the pace and scope of a further developed partnership between NATO and Bosnia and Herzegovina will continue to rest on the sovereign decision by your country’s authorities.
Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy Javier Colomina and NATO Headquarters Commander BG Pamela McGaha during the meeting in MOD BiH.
Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy Javier Colomina and Jonathan Mennuti Principal Deputy High Representative (OHR).
Q. What is the status of NATO-Serbia relations, especially against the backdrop of your very recent official trip to Belgrade?
A. That too was a fruitful visit. I had in fact the opportunity to exchange views and compare notes on the state of play of NATO-Serbia relations with several representatives of the Serbian authorities. I met with Foreign Minister Dacic and Defence Minister Vucevic. We discussed NATO-Serbia partnerships, as well as the implications of Russia’s war in Ukraine for the Western Balkans and the important role that our UN-mandated KFOR mission continues to carry out, for the benefit of security across Kosovo and regional stability.
NATO and Serbia have been building their partnership for the past 16 years. Over this period, we have achieved significant results in a number of areas. For example, NATO has supported the reforms of the Serbian Armed Forces; we currently have 10 ongoing projects with the Serbian scientific community, including with young scientists; we worked together to be better prepared for civil emergences such as floods and forest fires; and NATO Allies and partners helped Serbia destroy hundreds of tons of surplus ammunition. All this is done in line with Serbia’s needs and based on Serbia’s request, and in full respect of Serbia’s policy of military neutrality. A new partnership framework, which NATO and Serbia are currently developing, offers the opportunity to advance our cooperation. NATO is certainly open to it.
We believe that our partnership is beneficial for Serbia, NATO, and the entire region. The stability of the Western Balkans is in fact of strategic importance for the Alliance – as stressed by NATO leaders at the Madrid Summit this past June and reflected in NATO’s New Strategic Concept.
Q. NATO keeps taking about respect of countries’ neutralities. Can you elaborate more on your partnerships with neutral countries?
A. We fully respect every nation’s sovereign right to choose their own political and security arrangements. Including when this means having and implementing a policy of military neutrality. This very principle informs our partnerships with many countries across the Euro-Atlantic area and beyond. NATO’s partnerships are based on sovereign decisions made by individual countries to formalize their own relationships with NATO – although not a full NATO membership - by choosing individual activities that best fit with their ambitions and security needs.
Activities on offer under the Partnership for Peace programme touch on virtually every field of NATO activity, including defence-related work, defence reform, defence policy and planning, civil-military relations, education and training, military-to-military cooperation and exercises, civil emergency response, and cooperation on science and environmental issues. Such activities inform our relations with many partners, including with countries that pursue a policy of military neutrality, including for instance, Serbia, Austria, Ireland, Switzerland and – until a recent time – Finland and Sweden which are now in the process of becoming fully fledged NATO members.
Q. Will NATO assume the responsibility for the consequences of using depleted uranium in the region, in the past years? Is it ready for potential lawsuits of those afflicted against the Alliance, following the example of Italian soldiers who won their cases against Italy, a NATO member?
A. Any discussions on this issue must be based on science and facts. As NATO takes matters of health and environment very seriously, it established a Committee on Depleted Uranium in 2001. The Committee – in close cooperation with the United Nations – exchanged information on claims about the possible health risks associated with depleted uranium. Based on independent evidence, this committee concluded that NATO’s use of depleted uranium in the Bosnia and Herzegovina conflict did not cause any continuing health risk.
Several reports by the United Nations, including one from 2014, also concluded that sites with depleted uranium pose no significant health risks to the population. This is the scientific evidence and it has been consistent.