Cablegate: Serbia: Recipe for a Nato Debate - Let Stand 10 Years Then


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E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: SERBIA: Recipe for a NATO Debate - Let Stand 10 Years Then



1. (SBU) In recent months Serbian media and civil society have

tossed a decade of taboos out the window by publishing letters,
op-eds and articles that openly debate Serbia's future relationship
with NATO, which they have portrayed for years as a "criminal
organization." Despite sharp emotional divisions between
supporters and opponents of membership and the political
opportunism driving much of the negative rhetoric, the debate has
succeeded in laying out some basic facts about the alliance, and
for the first time since the 1999 bombing campaign the public has
been confronted with the heretofore unthinkable: that Serbia might
one day be a member. Even the Russians seem concerned with the
turn of events and have weighed in with their own op-eds. For our
part, Post has engaged early with the media and NGO community,
encouraging objective discussion and stating publicly that NATO's
doors are open. End Summary.

The Debate


2. (SBU) Serbia's public debate over NATO membership is alternately
irrational and sophisticated, a clash between anger over the past
and longing for future relevance. Opponents of membership paint
NATO as an anti-Russian war machine, focus on the 1999
intervention, and claim Serbia would be forced to recognize Kosovo
in order to join. Advocates note that Serbia will soon be
surrounded by NATO members - some, even within the government,
supporting Euro-Atlantic integration of the entire region - and
appeal for a more pragmatic approach. Increasingly, the arguments
have become sober, analytic and economic.

3. (SBU) In the absence of a clear long-term government policy,
military analysts, academics and pro-western NGOs have all taken up
the issue with zest, publishing op-eds and organizing roundtables
and media events. In one case, an NGO included the mother of a
"NATO victim" at a panel discussion who advocated NATO membership
as a way to expose the truth of Milosevic's crimes. Another group
invited Jamie Shea - notorious here as NATO's spokesperson during
the 1999 Kosovo campaign - to speak via DVC to a young audience.
In contrast, TV talk shows have been negative or inconclusive at
best, with NATO opponents playing on emotions, abusing facts and
attacking supporters as "NATO lobbyists." Supporters have thus far
been unprepared for this kind of live, gloves-off fight, a
liability in this society where strong, emotional rhetoric is
valued over mere logical argumentation and where most citizens get
their news from television.

4. (U) Probably the most important contribution to rational
discussion of the issue has come from intellectual daily Politika,
which has placed an even mixture of pro and con articles from
analysts and activists alike. Yet several other dailies, even
including sensationalist and traditionally anti-western Press,
Kurir and Glas Javnosti, have published NATO op-eds on both sides
of the discussion.

5. (SBU) In one bitter op-ed published in daily Politika, military
analyst Miroslav Lazansky, the nephew of convicted war criminal
Biljana Plavsic, who has built a career railing against the western
military complex while privately seeking every opportunity to
admire it in person, conjured the specter of NATO one day sneaking
atomic weapons into the Serbian heartland. A confident critic
under normal circumstances, Lazansky's shrill tone shows that the
apparent change in climate has touched a nerve among die-hard

Supporting Objective Discussion


6. (SBU) Since the 10th anniversary of the NATO campaign in March
2009, Post has been proactively engaged in supporting NATO public
education projects, steering AEECA media training funds, democracy
grants and Post resources towards the subject of Euro-Atlantic
integration and NATO study tours. Many of the dozen or so projects

resulted in TV programs dedicated to the subject, and our efforts,
combined with those of the Czech Embassy (NATO's Contact Point
Embassy) and NATO PD, have contributed to the current
re-examination of Serbia's "neutrality" stance. In a September
2009 meeting with the new editor-in-chief of Politika daily, we
expressed our hope that the media would begin educating the public
about NATO. In October, the debate began with a trickle of letters
and articles placed weekly in Politika presenting the alliance in a
factual light, and hinting at Serbian membership as one possible

7. (SBU) In November 2009, we placed an op-ed in Politika that
gently challenged several hard-core NATO myths and encouraged a
local NGO to tackle the sole negative response. The debate soon
took on a life of its own. It reached a fever pitch in January
when, after Defense Minister Sutanovac hinted that NATO might be in
Serbia's future, a group of "200 intellectuals" held a press
conference to condemn the government's alleged efforts to
"secretly" bring Serbia into NATO, and called for an immediate
referendum to allow the public to voice its objection.

8. (SBU) Emboffs have been active at roundtables, and Ambassador
Warlick made the U.S. position clear in her first press interview
on February 8, saying "the U.S. fully supports Serbia's European
and Euro-Atlantic aspirations, and is doing everything to help its
efforts in that direction." In several end-of-the-year interviews,
then-Charge d'Affaires Jennifer Brush highlighted that "Serbia's
NATO membership is the decision for Serbia to make," while
stressing that other countries in the region have recognized the
benefits of joining. "We only hope for an open, honest and
rational debate, based on facts not emotions. NATO remains open to
a deeper level of cooperation with Serbia on Serbia's timetable,"
Brush told Beta News Service. The political and public affairs
counselors have participated in a series of roundtable discussions
around Serbia on the pros and cons of NATO membership.

GoS: One Step Forward (oops) One Back


9. (SBU) Mindful of the polls and fearful of attacks from the
opposition, the government has been coy on the topic. However,
Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac, known for his pro-NATO stance,
has publicly painted NATO in friendlier colors, arguing the merits
of closer collaboration and saying "NATO is no longer Serbia's
enemy." The initial firestorm that resulted from his comments
implying Serbia might become a member appears to have led to a
retreat from such public statements, but Sutanovac continues to
advocate the need to achieve NATO military standards and expand
Partnership for Peace (PfP) activities and Serbia's engagement in
various UN peacekeeping operations.

Referendum against NATO


10. (U) The January 11 initiative by a group of 200 political,
intellectual, and religious leaders close to former Prime Minister
Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) to demand a
referendum on NATO membership had the unintended effect of
promoting broader discussion. The petition, read by Serbian
influential intellectual and a member of Serbian Academy of
Sciences and Arts Matija Beckovic at a press conference, says that
Serbia has never belonged to a military alliance, recalls the 1999
"criminal" NATO bombing of the country, and credits NATO with
creating the "phony state" of Kosovo. Signatories include
Kostunica, Association of Journalists of Serbia Chairwoman Ljiljana
Smajlovic, film director Emir Kusturica, writer Dobrica Cosic, and
even Serbian Orthodox Church bishops Atanasije, Hrizostom, and

11. (U) In response, pro-NATO activists pointed out there was no

referendum on neutrality before Parliament issued its neutrality
declaration in December 2007. Government officials hedged that
there was no need for a referendum, since membership "isn't on the
agenda," but that "one day" the people would need to be asked.

12. (U) Political analyst Djordje Vukadinovic, close to DSS, told
Blic that the initiative had been launched several months ago but
was announced in January primarily in response to Defense Minister
Sutanovac, LDP leader Cedomir Jovanovic, and several pro-NATO
non-government organizations that expressed support for Serbian
integration with NATO. Blic suggested that the referendum aimed to
unite the opposition at a time when the Serbian Progressive Party
(SNS) has called for elections. "It is no secret that all parties
in the ruling coalition are not united regarding the stance toward
NATO, and the initiative might cause problems within the ruling
coalition," Vladimir Goati, director of Transparency Serbia, told
the paper.

Russia's Counter-Offensive


13. (U) Russian officials have become increasingly vocal on the
subject. "I do not believe that the Serbian people wish to join
NATO," Politika quoted President of the Russian Parliament
Committee for International Relations Konstantin Kosachev on
January 13. In a February 6 interview with daily Blic, Russia's
Ambassador to NATO Dmitriy Rogozin said the fact that most NATO
member states have recognized Kosovo is an "obstacle" for joining
NATO. "Belgrade will have to officially recognize Pristina's
sovereignty, which will also change the stances of Moscow," he
said, adding that"If Serbia wants to join NATO, it will have to
give up Kosovo." If Serbia insists on joining NATO, "Russia would
be forced to reexamine its stand towards Kosovo," because, Rogozin
said, "Russians cannot be bigger Serbs than Serbs."

14. (U) This statement triggered a rare, if restrained backlash.
"It becomes clear that the Russian stance towards Kosovo is not a
position that comes from a great friendship or love [for Serbia],
but from their own interest," Filip Ejdus, a member of the Forum
for International Relations said a Blic article entitled "Is Moscow
Blackmailing [us]?" NGO activist Miljenko Dereta echoed that
Russian "blackmail" aims only to protect Russia's political and
economic interests in the region.

15. (SBU) Russian Ambassador to Belgrade Alexander Konuzin then
escalated the rhetoric. In a tough February 12 Politika op-ed, he
appealed to Serbs' deepest notions of collective identity and
history to generate negative emotions. Konuzin writes: "NATO
members... fail to point out one membership condition that is
unacceptable for any Serb: Serbia's accession to the military
alliance in its 'castrated' form without Kosovo. It would be the
accession of a 'broken Serbia' that is to renounce its history and
the sacred tombs of its heroic ancestors who laid down their lives
to establish the Serbian nation." Referring to the 1999 campaign,
he wrote: "It was the first time a European country was bombed
after World War II. And it was a Slavic country, an Orthodox
country. They didn't just bomb Serbia, they bombed every Serbian
family, and not only with bombs but also politically and morally.
The political bombers are still cruising above the country." As a
solution for Serbia's strategic security goal, Konuzin offered
President Medvedev's vision of Serbia in a new, Russian-proposed
European security architecture. Though appealing to the average
Serb, this op-ed was nonetheless risky, since it cynically brought
emotion into an increasingly objective debate among intellectuals,
and invited an attack in the same paper by an otherwise anti-NATO
columnist, and even a few sharp comments on Politika's website such
as, "Russia wants to fight NATO down to the last Serb."

Tadic Brings Clarity


16. (U) After this op-ed appeared, on February 15 President Tadic
joined the debate. There will be no parliamentary election before
the government's term of office expires in 2012, during which time
the question of Serbia's membership in NATO will not be raised
either, he clarified. He also dismissed calls for a referendum,
saying "You don't hold a referendum on what you don't want."
Serbia will continue to develop its relations with NATO in the
coming period as it has so far, through the Partnership for Peace
[PfP] program, he added.



17. (SBU) Without clear political will from the government and even
tacit support from relevant opposition parties, moving public
opinion on NATO will be a long, difficult slog. Emotions are deep.
Yet this debate itself, and even the glimmer of support shown by
polling results, are encouraging signs. Recent polls found that
although over 50% of respondents were opposed to joining NATO, 20%
were in favor and 30% undecided. Kosovo is a dominant factor in
keeping those numbers from increasing. Still, two years ago few
would have predicted Serbia would declare EU membership as a
strategic goal, as is the case today. In fact, there does seem to
be a growing quiet consensus within the current government that
Serbia's long-term future lies in becoming not only a member of the
European Union, but a part of the broader Euro-Atlantic security
alliance as well - precisely in keeping with its more robust stance
in support of NATO membership for Bosnia and other countries in the
region. Whatever trajectory Serbia may be on - even if it is less
a matter of "if" but "when" - it will be important for U.S.
interests and those of our allies to continue to explore ways to
deepen Serbia's PfP engagement, reinforce the principle of NATO's
open door and sustain our activities in the areas of education,
engagement and consistent public diplomacy. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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