NATO in the Western Balkans: Today and Tomorrow conference

Ambassador Delawie’s Remarks at the NATO in the Western Balkans: Today and Tomorrow conference

It’s really great to see the NATO Parliamentary Assembly hold its Rose-Roth conference here in Pristina for the first time.

I only regret that we have no U.S. Congressional delegation here to participate.   But as some of you might have heard, we have elections coming up on November 8, and every member of Congress is fully consumed with election campaigning at this point in the cycle.  I’m sure all of the elected members of parliament here today can fully understand that obligation.

But just to be clear, the American delegation’s absence is absolutely no reflection on Kosovo or on the value our Congress places on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to speak on the subject of NATO and the Western Balkans.

For 25 years, the Alliance has been the primary guarantor of Balkans’ security – although as a side note, we should also acknowledge the very important and complementary role that the European Union has also played in bolstering regional stability using its own toolkit, as we heard yesterday from Amb. Apostolova.

From its peacekeeping operation in Bosnia in the 1990s to KFOR’s current role in maintaining a safe and secure environment in Kosovo — NATO has been instrumental in moving this entire region away from bloodshed and ethnic strife, towards a safer and brighter future.

And, as everyone in this room is already fully aware, NATO is not going anywhere.  It’s in this region for the long-haul.

No one should doubt that the Alliance remains fully committed to the future stability and security of the Western Balkans, as well as to supporting the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of countries in the region.

This is evident from the fact that at the Warsaw Summit Heads of State and Government tasked the North Atlantic Council with developing a report on NATO’s engagement and relations in the region.  The report is due at the Foreign Ministerial meeting this December.

The United States is actively taking part in discussions regarding the scope of this report and I fully expect that the final product will serve to guide and further strengthen the Alliance’s relationship in the region.

Current NATO Members

Three countries from the region are, of course, already members of NATO.

Slovenia was the first regional country to join NATO in 2004, followed by Albania and Croatia in 2009.

Today, all three of these countries sit securely within the Alliance and their efforts are contributing to stability and security across the region and throughout the world.

It’s worth noting, for example, that all three of these nations are currently contributing to the KFOR mission in Kosovo, and all three have also contributed to NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.


And, of course, Montenegro is shortly expected to become the 4th country from the Western Balkans to join NATO’s ranks.

In December 2015 NATO formally invited Montenegro to join the organization.  The country inched closer to membership just last week with a positive result in national elections that many viewed as a demonstration of public support for NATO.

It’s likely now to be only a matter of months before NATO welcomes Montenegro as its 29th member.

This will be an incredible achievement.

Future Aspirants and Partnerships Programs

The invitation to Montenegro to join the Alliance is also strong affirmation of NATO’s commitment to the “Open Door” policy—proving it is every bit as alive today as when the Alliance was founded in 1949.

It’s an important, positive signal to all the countries of the region that desire membership, especially the formal aspirants Bosnia & Herzegovina and Macedonia.  It underscores that if they, like Montenegro, are willing to do the hard work of enduring reform, NATO’s door is open.  The U.S. urges Bosnia & Herzegovina to complete its Defense Review by November 30 in order to provide a strong framework for further progress toward NATO goals. The U.S. looks forward to Macedonia reaffirming its commitment to the values of the North Atlantic charter through resolution of the political crisis and vigorous reforms, as well as resolving name issue.

Of course, not every country in the region has aspirations for NATO membership.  That is each state’s own sovereign decision. But even those countries that do not wish to join NATO can still benefit from talking and working with the Alliance.

NATO’s partnership programs, like the Individual Partnership Cooperation Plans (IPCPs) and the Individual Partnership Action Plans (IPAPs), are concrete examples of both the Alliance and non-aspirant countries can benefit from enhanced relations.

These programs are demand-driven, and tailored to the interests of each particular country.

Countries can research, plan, and budget for cooperative activities that meet their needs—and there are over one thousand programs on NATO’s Partnership Cooperation Menu to choose from.

NATO already counts Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia as partners.

This constructive engagement benefits everyone, so we hope that all countries in the region take advantage of the programs NATO has to offer.


Let me turn to the Republic of Kosovo – our host for this conference, and of course where I am focused. First, I don’t think it’s possible to understate the continuing importance of having a robust KFOR presence serving in this country.

Some argue that KFOR is not as essential as it once was.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

KFOR is an expression of the NATO Alliance’s commitment to peace and stability in the Balkans.  It is an institution appreciated, supported and respected by both Kosovar Albanians and Kosovar Serbs alike.

Its presence remains a salient deterrent against violence and instability.

Reflecting the importance of this mission, the vast majority of NATO Allies (23 of 28) are KFOR troop contributors.  Sustaining their contributions at required levels remains critical. KFOR has been incredibly successful, but its work is not yet done here

Eventually the day will come when the mission is no longer necessary.  Eventually the political and security situations in this country will improve sufficiently to discuss a departure of KFOR. We do need to begin prudent contingency planning for that day.

This raises a few questions, however.  For one, NATO should not withdraw from Kosovo if the country doesn’t have the capability for self-defense.

I fully understand that the topic of Kosovo’s ability to provide for its own defensive security is a sensitive issue, particularly among the non-recognizing nations in NATO.  However, what are the alternatives?  A permanent KFOR mission?  Or NATO ending its tremendously successful mission here by leaving behind a security vacuum?

I believe it is imperative that we support the gradual, transparent transformation of the Kosovo Security Forces to the Kosovo Armed Forces with a limited, territorial defense mandate that is sensitive to regional concerns.

The transformation must occur in a constitutional manner that includes all relevant actors in the country.  It will not be easy, either politically or logistically, but we need to recognize that this transformation will ultimately enhance regional security and is the logical precondition for any eventual withdrawal of KFOR.

As we move forward, establishing a robust bilateral cooperative relationship between NATO and Kosovo – providing avenues for engagement, advice and assurance — will only gain in importance.  I believe this should be welcomed by all of Kosovo’s neighbors.

It will take time to develop this type of relationship.  But A step in the right direction occurred at the Warsaw Summit where Allies committed to notifying Kosovo of their intent to develop a “cooperative relationship” between Kosovo and the Alliance.

The United States strongly supports this initiative and is working with Allies in Brussels to define the nature of the relationship and to identify visionary ways in which NATO and Kosovo might cooperate, now and into the future.

Summary and Future

So, to summarize, I want to stress again that the Alliance remain fully invested in the Western Balkans.

NATO should continue to seek more opportunities to enhance partnership and engagement in the region.

I want to express my sincere thanks to all of you, as members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and as members of parliament in each of your respective countries, for coming to Kosovo and taking the time to review and discuss the important issues that the Alliance faces here in South Eastern Europe.  I thank you for your continued support for the Alliance’s work in this neighborhood.

As Allies, we all have a shared stake in the security and stability of this part of Europe.  We have together invested a great deal to end the violence and injustices of the 1990s, to preserve the peace that followed, and to secure the region’s future in the European framework.

We have made enormous progress.   But there is still some distance to go to finish the job.

I have no doubt that NATO will remain committed to do it.


Ambassador Delawie’s Responses to Questions at the Conference

Italian MP: You have said KFOR still has a role for some time to come.  You can’t expect it to last forever?

Ambassador Delawie:  No.  we are working with other NATO Allies to create the conditions in Kosovo and the Western Balkans so KFOR will no longer be necessary.
US policy re Europe is that it be whole, free, and at peace.  We certainly support the ambitions of all WB countries to achieve their ambitions of integration into European structures.  As that becomes closer to realization in the WB it will be easier to see when KFOR will no longer be necessary.  We will certainly work with our Allies as that process continues.

Italian MP: Can Kosovo really have an effective military force?

Ambassador Delawie: Yes.  BG Mossman talked about the NALT’s work with KSF regarding professionalization and understanding of the important activities that the KSF must execute.  The U.S. along with many other Allies are working with the KSF to help improve their capability and their ability to interact with militaries of other countries.  We believe that KSF should transform gradually into a KAF in a way that takes into account the sensitivities of all of Kosovo’s communities.  The U.S. has been working with the KSF on that project for some time.

Italian MP: How big a problem are FTF for Kosovo?

Ambassador Delawie: We have been very impressed with the activities of the GoK regarding the problem of dealing with FTF.  I think Kosovo is a leader in the region; they have arrested FTF, they have prosecuted them, and they have convicted them, and some are in jail.  Kosovo has participated in all regional gatherings about CVE and we are very pleased to have a partner here that takes this so seriously.  I don’t think any country can claim to have broken the code about exactly how to prevent people from travelling to Iraq or Syria to fight in other peoples’ wars, but I know we have a good partner in Kosovo and it has made a lot of progress in the last couple of years.

UK MP: How will policy in the Western Balkans change under a Clinton presidency?

Ambassador Delawie: I am under strict instructions not to talk about the policies of any Presidential candidates until the American people have made their decision.  I can tell you that U.S. policies on the WB has been remarkably consistent whether there has been a Democrat or a Republican as head of our government and I would anticipate that would continue.

UK MP: What are Serbian views regarding these issues?

Ambassador Delawie: You will have to discuss with my colleagues at the US embassy in Belgrade about that.