Should Serbia join NATO?

Over at, there is a discussion about a group of 200 “intellectuals” who have asked the Serbian parliament to call a referendum on the country’s possible future NATO membership.

The argue that Serbia is traditionally neutral, that the Kosovo situation precludes Serbia’s NATO membership and that people are against membership and should be given an referendum on the matter.

Here is a slightly modified version of the comment I posted there.

Its clear that the 200 “intellectuals” are nothing of the sort. The list contains artists and sports stars who may be may be intelligent, but not intellectuals as the word is commonly understood.

The self-proclaimed “intellectuals” do have a point about Serbia’s military neutrality. From the time of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia onwards, Serbs have only joined wars after being directly attacked or invaded. During the postwar era Yugoslavia was part of the non-aligned bloc (along with the likes of India and China) and considered neutral (it never joined the Warsaw Pact). NATO war planners actually thought that in the event of WW3, Yugoslavia would side with NATO despite being a socialist country.

The main point, or question, is should Serbia join NATO? If the political elites determine there is a reason to do so, then the question arises as to whether it is a matter for referendum or not. The constitution should dictate the conditions under which the government can take the country into legally binding international agreements that affect the country’s neutrality.

As pointed out by others, the main “reason” for joining NATO might be to signal that Serbia is firmly in the Atlantic camp. NATO is seen as a sort of EU-lite, joining it is one of the stages on the way to full member status in the Western European fold. This of course, is agreeable to Serbian liberals and inimical to Serbian nationalists who look to Russia as the country’s natural and historical ally.

There are benefits to NATO membership. It is a common defence pact, so the fact that Serbia’s military is currently weak means that it may benefit from the umbrella cover of NATO allies.

But I do not think that Serbia should rush into membership. This move requires serious debate and has major geopolitical consequences for Serbia.

Serbia is unique in that it is the only NATO candidate country that was subjected to an illegal war of aggression and civilian bombardment by the organisation.

The “intellectuals” are right, NATO was the military instrument used to violate Serbia’s sovereignty and create the mess that is Kosovo. This fact alone complicates matters significantly because the history of that conflict is still disputed and and it’s consequences are still unsettled.

Joining NATO might be presented as Serbia’s “admission of guilt”.  By joining the organisation that bombed it, some might suggest that Serbia is tacitly accepting that what happened in Kosovo was justified, weakening its current negotiating position. Others will see it as surrender, a case of a beaten and bullied former enemy now agreeing that 2+2=5 and therefore welcomed back to the bosom of the West. A case of state level Stockholm Syndrome.

Other things to keep in mind include the fact that membership implies responsibilities and commitments. Serbs will be promising to fight and die for any member state that is attacked, including Turkey, or America. Serb men and women might end up fighting and dying in Afghanistan, or wherever else NATO decides to get involved.

In addition, joining NATO would anger and isolate Russia, a key ally and economic partner (albeit a self-serving one). This really is not something that should be undertaken lightly.

Finally NATO is lost in space and scrambling for relevance at present. The organisation is trying to work out what to do with itself and its strategic direction is not settled yet.

My feeling is that Serbia should wait and see. I think remaining neutral is wise for as long as it is possible, but joining the EU will end that anyway as the EU is gradually moving towards a common defence policy that means de facto military commitment from all members.

The EU may attempt to dodge this bullet by adopting NATO as the military wing of the EU, in which case Serbia would be mad to join NATO as it could enjoy the benefits of EU membership, but carry none of the burdens of military commitments.

NATO is very active in Serbia currently. It is very keen to get Serbia in to the organisation. One has to wonder why? Clearly NATO sees Serbia as strategically key to the region, and it is. The real question is, does a partnership with NATO suite Serbia. That is yet to be determined.

5 Comments Should Serbia join NATO?

  1. Milan

    What you refer to as “the so called intellectuals” (since they are “merely” artists and such) are no less competent when it comes to the issue than politician are. Politics, as any academic text defines it, is an art, not science – not even social science. It is science only so much as it contracts the PR industry to influence public opinion when necessary (see Edward Burney (1760-1848) ). The job of politicians is not to sacrifice the interest of the elite circles at the cost of promoting morality in a given society or bettering the situation of the working classes. When these two are in conflict, morality is sacrificed for the sake of maintaining the privileged status of the business class. As any Serb will tell you, joining NATO would be, above all, immoral. Therefore, the utilitarian principles such as “Serbia would benefit if this or that” doesn’t hold water. It is no secret that politicians by “Serbia” mean “business classes” On the other hand, artists and writers, as they always have been, are always concerned with the well-being and morality of all the people. Once you have ensured physical survival and that you are not starving to death, morality and identity become an essential ingredient for a happy life.

  2. Milan

    If Serbian forces would go to Iraq and Afghanistan, they would be on side who fight against NATO!
    It is logical that we oppose occupier and our common enemy…

  3. victor

    Situation is the next im amazed my dear JD that u r really up to be aware of the quantity of things happening in small Serbia, definitly thats why i like and i enjoy hearing u, u make me be less ignorant, about all this as usual i dont have any opinion.
    Im out of BG for the next weeks, hope to be able so see u and i promess now that im in a spanish spoken country ill read all news papers so i can be able to have a nice chat, with some wines or water as u wish


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