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The Cable

Montenegro: NATO’s next member?

Montenegro’s Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic is a fascinating man. After rising to prominence at an early age as an ally of Slobodan Milosevic, Djukanovic turned against the Serbian leader in 1996 and became the key figure in Montenegro’s push for sovereignty and independence from the former Yugoslavian states. He has been a controversial figure in ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Montenegro’s Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic is a fascinating man. After rising to prominence at an early age as an ally of Slobodan Milosevic, Djukanovic turned against the Serbian leader in 1996 and became the key figure in Montenegro’s push for sovereignty and independence from the former Yugoslavian states.

He has been a controversial figure in European politics, facing charges of organized crime and extensive cigarette trafficking, but has always managed to come out of the fray unharmed. Now in his third stint as the head of government, Djukanovic is leading Montenegro’s push for NATO membership.

His country has just been granted Membership Action Plan status for NATO membership, a step neither Georgia nor Ukraine has been afforded. That was the main issue on the agenda when Djukanovic came to Washington last month to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joseph Biden, and lawmakers.

Following his meetings, Dukanovic sat down for an exclusive interview with The Cable. Here are some excerpts:

JR: So, can you tell me about your meetings with Secretary of State Clinton and Vice President Biden? What was your message to them? And what was their message to you?

MD: My message to them was actually very simple. Montenegro is steadily moving towards its European and Euro-Atlantic goals. We are pleased that you have announced renewed and stronger presence in the Balkans from the United States and we stand ready to be your partners in dealing with the remaining outstanding issues in our region.

Their message was one of tribute to Montenegro for what it has done thus far, recognition for what we have done and also appreciation for Montenegro’s readiness to participate in Afghanistan and other critical places where the support of the international community is needed. Their message was a readiness to continue to support Montenegro towards full membership in NATO. These messages were very encouraging for us.

JR: Montenegro has received MAP status for joining NATO. So many other countries have sought this status, but your country has advanced farther than them. What is the secret? Why is your country been more successful?

MD: Unlike others, Montenegro managed to preserve internal peace and to spare itself from war in its territory — that was our first advantage. The second advantage was in the fact that we pursued realpolitik. This is something that should seem natural, but I will tell you that this is an advantage, especially in our region, which is so obsessed with history and false ideas of one’s historic importance…. In short, we did not engage in any wrong topics. All this allowed us to focus on key tasks, this is why Montenegro’s progress comes as no surprise.

JR: What have you heard from the U.S. government about the schedule for your country joining NATO? Do you expect this soon? What are the obstacles between here and there?

MD: So the most important message that I heard in yesterday’s talks with Secretary Clinton and from Vice President Biden was that all countries of the Balkans … should be part of NATO and the EU when they fulfill the conditions for that. Also, Vice President Biden said that … they should become members when they continue to fulfill and have conducted the necessary reforms. At the same time, they feel very confident that Montenegrins have the capacity to fulfill these requirements.

JR: My understanding is that you will deploy troops to Afghanistan soon in what is a small contingent, but the first presence of Montenegrin troops. Please explain why you have made this decision to deploy troops to Afghanistan. Do you believe that this is in your country’s security interest? Or is this more about building relationships with America and other Western countries?

MD: I do think that the threat of terrorism is global and this is something that, sooner or later, threatens everybody. I think that it makes more sense to support the fight against this scourge at a time when that seems to be a danger that is not so close to home. Besides, of course we feel we need to demonstrate to America and others our readiness to be a part of this democratic coalition. Because this indeed confirms our readiness not just to enjoy the privileges one has as a member of NATO, but also to fulfill obligations resulting from such a status.

JR: Regarding the institutions of your country: Did the officials or lawmakers raise issues of corruption and what did they ask of you regarding tackling corruption in your country? And how did you answer them?

MD: I brought up these issues … Our most important task remains to enhance the quality of life of our citizens. This task is closely linked with the continued and further presence of foreign investments in Montenegro…. So, thinking what the next package of advantages we as a state need to offer to foreign investors or potential investors. Our conviction is that this is better legal security and enhanced rule of law and because of that, the rule of law and tackling corruption and crime efficiently remains an important priority for us.

JR: At one time, you were much more eastward looking, and now you are much more westward looking. As you look now at Russia, how would you describe the path they have taken on the same issues: corruption, human rights, and economic freedom?

MD: I would first like to say that an important part of the Montenegrin tradition is cooperation with Russia, cooperation between our countries. We recently spoke of three centuries of official relations between Montenegro and Russia. On the other hand, Montenegro, totally logically, is moving toward Europe to be part of Europe and of NATO. This, I think, is something that is very appropriate for the whole region in which we live. But we don’t think we should abandon some traditional friends. One does not exclude the other.

JR: You mentioned that you’ve seen that the administration has announced increased engagement in the Balkans. Have you seen that increased engagement implemented and, if so, what are some example of that increase?

MD: I would say that this is best illustrated by the Bosnian example. As you know, America is together with Europe a co-author of this so-called Bosnia Peace Process, which should lead to a constitutional reform resulting in a viable Bosnia for the future. Also, it seems to me that there is a very visible interest in the United States strengthening the position of Kosovo. We also know that for some years know the United States has been demonstrating an interest that the dispute between Macedonia and Greece be overcome, thereby creating the full integration of Macedonia into NATO. As you know, these are precisely the three outstanding issues in our region which prevent us from being to say that the Balkans is definitely a stable place.

JR: What do you think of the effectiveness of the foreign policy of the Obama administration after one year?

MD: As a citizen of Europe, I feel (with my very frequent contact with various people in Europe starting with European statesmen) that American foreign policy indeed gives us great encouragement and hope in Europe. It is my opinion not only in Europe. I hope that President Obama and his administration will have enough time to implement their very highly set goals in terms of foreign policy, to implement them consistently and to contribute to something that the whole world will benefit from.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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