Ser­bian, U.S. Offi­cials View Balka­ns Region­al­ly, Mullen Says

By Jim Gara­mone
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Oct. 21, 2008 — Ser­bian and Amer­i­can mil­i­tary offi­cials under­stand the two nations dis­agree about Koso­vo, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today, but they rec­og­nize the rela­tion­ship has to be about more than just that nation.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen met with Ser­bian Pres­i­dent Boris Tadic last night and dis­cussed ways the U.S. and Ser­bian mil­i­taries can work togeth­er.

Tadic rec­og­nizes that there is more to the U.S.-Serbian rela­tion­ship than their dis­agree­ment on Koso­vo, Mullen said. The Unit­ed States quick­ly rec­og­nized Kosovo’s dec­la­ra­tion of inde­pen­dence from Ser­bia in Feb­ru­ary.

Ser­bia has turned to the West, and is work­ing to join the Euro­pean Union. It is also a mem­ber of NATO’s Part­ner­ship for Peace pro­gram, often a step­ping-stone to full mem­ber­ship in the alliance. The nation is work­ing to elim­i­nate the bar­ri­ers to full inte­gra­tion in the Euro­pean econ­o­my and the Euro-Atlantic com­mu­ni­ty, the chair­man said.

This includes ener­get­i­cal­ly search­ing for Ratko Mladic and oth­er war crim­i­nals from the Bosn­ian war.

“I get the sense that they are focused on the under­pin­ning of the mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary [rela­tion­ship] and a future that has them as mem­bers of the Euro­pean Union and NATO,” Mullen said.

Ser­bia has a strong strate­gic com­mit­ment to keep ten­sions low and to make sure vio­lence does­n’t break out over Koso­vo, Mullen said. The Unit­ed States and Ser­bia must con­tin­ue to make progress in Koso­vo, he said, and the next big way is to sup­port the Euro­pean Union Rule of Law Com­mis­sion in Koso­vo.

“There is so much focus on secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty in Koso­vo that every­thing is seen through the prism of Koso­vo,” Mullen said. “We have got to look beyond Koso­vo inde­pen­dence, because that isn’t the end of the impor­tance of the region. We have to focus on the Balka­ns writ large. I’m mind­ful to focus on Ser­bia as Ser­bia affects the region, and not just how Ser­bia affects Koso­vo.

“There has to be a bal­ance there,” he said.

Mullen said he is pleased with the path of the mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship between the Unit­ed States and Ser­bia. “Part of that is the great rela­tion­ship with the Ohio Nation­al Guard [as part of a Guard part­ner­ship pro­gram], but part of it is the gen­er­al slope-up.”

The chair­man said he’d like to see Ser­bian forces work­ing along­side U.S. forces in actu­al oper­a­tions. “You can only learn so much from train­ing,” he said. “There’s always learn­ing that goes on from a real-world oper­a­tion.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)