Regional defense leaders pledged a joint approach to Euro-Atlantic integration and to addressing common security challenges.
By Klaudija Lutovska for Southeast European Time in Skopje -- 09/04/12
The Adratic Group member countries' defence ministers signed the joint declaration in Skopje. [Tomislav Georgiev/SETimes]
The efforts by the Adriatic Group to advance regional security co-operation and its members' decision to jointly approach NATO membership ahead of the Alliance's summit next month is a step forward, according to analysts.
The defence ministers from the Adriatic Group -- Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Kosovo -- signed a declaration during their congress in Skopje last month asking NATO to clearly state at the upcoming meeting in Chicago that it is committed to its "open door" membership policy.
"NATO is the best guarantor of regional security. The regional countries are working jointly to [advance] the defence concepts and not be discouraged by the bureaucratic procedures," said Montenegro's defence minister, Milica Pejanovic Djurisic.
Analyst Pande Lazarevski of the Pavel Shatev Institute told SETimes that the declaration also shows the regional countries are ready to join the Alliance, not only on individual basis but also as a regional group.
"The declared readiness to enter and build the collective defense system jointly is an important step forward in the accession process," Lazarevski said.
He explained it is equally important that NATO members Croatia and Albania pledge to provide continued support to aspiring members Macedonia, Montenegro and BiH.
"Croatia and Albania still participate in the Adriatic Group, more out of political solidarity, though they also benefit from it in a wider sense," Lazarevski added.
Retired Colonel Petar Shkrbina, a military-security analyst, told SETimes that the Skopje conference was also intended to prepare the ground for Kosovo's and BiH's NATO candidacy. This, he said, explained Serbia's absence at the gathering.
"The US secretary of state announced that Kosovo should become a NATO member candidate. The plan should materialise fairly soon. Agim Cheku was present in Skopje in his capacity as Kosovo defense minister," Shkrbina said.
"As for BiH's candidacy, it will be problematic because of the status of Republika Srpska," he said.
At the conference, Cheku pledged "Kosovo is ready to help build regional security and stability and it is time to join the charter," and, importantly, expressed regret at Serbia's absence.
In light of the security vacuum created by Greece blocking Macedonia's NATO accession, the group pledged support for Macedonia as part of the declaration, asking the Alliance to grant membership "as soon as possible."
Macedonia President Gjorge Ivanov requested that NATO re-examine its 2008 Bucharest summit decision -- when it deferred to Greek demands.
"Macedonia meets all membership requirements and NATO countries should take into account the ICJ verdict, which found Greece in violation of international law blocking Macedonia's Alliance entry," Ivanov said.
He expressed hope that Greece will respect its responsibilities from the 1995 interim agreement with Macedonia.
"That is a most reasonable solution. The interim agreement stipulates Macedonia can become a member of international organisations under the UN provisional reference 'the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia'. Greece had agreed with this decision," Tony Deskoski, an international law professor at the Ss Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, told SETimes.
The group also said that steps need to be taken to implement a multinational air defence.
It called for joint regional projects like the forming of regional medical teams, networking all training centres and expanding co-operation in the natural disasters arena.
"This is a clear determination to apply NATO's smart defence concept to use collectively the existing regional defense capabilities, which will at least reduce the regional security risks and threats," Dimitar Mirchev, a former ambassador and a professor at Ss Cyril and Methodious University, told SETimes.
Forming a regional council similar to Scandinavia's Nordic Council to develop energy, infrastructure, transportation, food and environmental projects to advance the defence concepts should be the next step, said Macedonia's former Foreign Affairs Minister Srdjan Kerim.
The model is applicable because not all Balkan countries can participate in different projects thereby offering away out of bi-lateral disputes which have stifled progress.