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Dec 21 2020

Public diplomacy is one of our biggest challenges

BELGRADE, Serbia - Tommaso Vitale, Chief of the NATO Office in Belgrade, in an interview for the Strategic Policy Council portal, addressed the issue of public diplomacy and what NATO Serbia partnership means today, almost 15 years after the signing of the Partnership for Peace.

"Serbia and NATO have been developing this partnership steadily for the last fifteen years, both at the political and practical levels. We see Serbia as a valued, committed and respected partner in our efforts to consolidate security and stability in the Western Balkans. Albeit perhaps not at first glance, the NATO-Serbia partnership is indeed multifaceted if you take a deeper look. From a major civilian disaster response exercise held in Serbia in October 2018, to cooperation in the scientific and technological fields, to training of Serbian military for deployment in international peace-keeping operations, just to name a few examples. I am proud to be here and witness this first-hand. I also look forward to the further development of the NATO-Serbia partnership, during my tenure as Head of the NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade" - said Brigadier General Tommaso Vitale when he was asked to assess the relations between Serbia and the Alliance.

Brigadier General Tommaso Vitale
Chief NATO MLO Belgrade
We are open and transparent about what we do and we are willing to exchange views on NATO with all interested parties.

I think one of the biggest challenges for NATO in Serbia is public diplomacy, since the public does not see how much we do together, and there is still a considerable information-gap. We are open and transparent about what we do and we are willing to exchange views on NATO with all interested parties. We will continue to do our best; our colleagues at NATO Headquarters in Brussels do their very best to explain what NATO is, to engage with Serbian media outlets with the aim of portraying an accurate and factual image of NATO and of our partnership with Serbia. NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg himself is especially attached to Serbia and this is apparent every time he speaks with the Serbian media.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of the Republic of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić in Mladenovac, Serbia at the opening ceremony of the "SRBIJA 18" civilian exercise

When we talk about NATO, not everyone in Serbia is aware that NATO is actually an alliance of 30 democracies. Some of those countries are among the biggest investors and economic partners of Serbia. NATO is Italy, my home country, one of its 12 founding members, NATO is also Canada. NATO is Norway, where our Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is from. NATO is Greece, where the majority of Serbs take their kids for summer holidays. NATO is Hungary, Germany, Slovakia, Denmark and many other member countries.

We highly respect the Serbian public opinion. Its perceptions and perspectives are a crucial factor for us; and we take them into due account in our daily activities. We fully respect that NATO remains controversial. At the same time the NATO-Serbia partnership is on solid ground and continues to develop, in a transparent, reliable and mutually beneficial fashion. This is the message we want to give to ordinary Serbian citizens.

All in all the relations between Serbia and the Alliance are on a solid ground, they are mutually beneficial and based on mutual respect.

NATO is an alliance of 30 countries, all of which have their own bilateral relations with Serbia. This is of course an important factor of consideration, as we look at how Serbia interacts with NATO as an entity. For instance, in our office we have Italian, German, Hungarian, Greek, Slovenian and Croatian personnel working side by side on a daily basis with their Serbian colleagues and counterparts. NATO’s partnership with Serbia is based on a request from the Serbian authorities and is conducted in full respect of your country’s stated policy of military neutrality. In other words, we are here to assist and to support Serbia according to its own priorities. All our efforts are therefore tailor-made to Serbia’s needs. Throughout the years, we have developed extensive practical cooperation in various domains, with a focus on the reform of Serbia’s security forces, institutions and structures as the core element of our cooperation. In addition, as in any partnership, we have consolidated our political dialogue, which is key to fostering mutual understanding.

In late 2019, Serbia and NATO renewed the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) within the framework of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme. This was a great step forward as it provided us with an agreed cooperation platform for the next two years, featuring over 200 activities. The IPAP is a fundamental document, which encompasses both political and military issues, setting priorities and coordinating all aspects of our cooperation. For thirteen years, Serbia has been a part of the Planning and Review Process (PARP) – the basic mechanism of the PfP designed to foster the level of interoperability between Allied forces and partner forces. Through PARP, Serbia has been strengthening the capacity and operational standards of its armed forces taking part in international missions led by the UN and the EU, for which Serbia is a well-known and respected contributor across the world. I would like to take this opportunity to also mention the Operational Capabilities Concept (OCC), a PfP mechanism through which Serbian units can be trained and evaluated according to NATO standards. Through the Operational Capabilities Concept partner countries, including Serbia, have access to well-tested NATO procedures and standards; and this helps to significantly improve their respective defence capacities. Let’s be clear: this process is a two-way street, which benefits both of us. We learn from each other and we help each other. Serbia has been constantly proving that it has a lot to offer to this end. One of the latest examples comes from the implementation of NATO’s Defence Education Enhancement Programme (DEEP), through which Serbia offers its valuable experience in the reform of defence education institutions, a critical aspect in its own right for the security of many countries. Furthermore, since 2006, Serbia has contributed to more than 30 projects under NATO’s Science for Peace and Security Programme. These have included energy and environmental security, defence against chemical/biological/radiological/nuclear agents, counter-terrorism, cyber-defence, and human security. There are numerous ways, mechanisms and platforms for our cooperation and we are happy that Serbia uses many of them. Also, several NATO Allies and partners – including for instance Austria, the Czech Republic and Turkey – have provided critical medical aid to Serbia in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, all in all the relations between Serbia and the Alliance are on a solid ground; they are mutually beneficial; and they are based on mutual respect.

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