Thursday, January 20, 2005

Liquid Lunch

On Tuesday, I attended a lecture by the Defence Minister for Serbia & Montenegro at the RUSI. The lecture was on the record (obviously if the Chatham House rule was on I wouldn't be posting this) but I felt that it went above and beyond the sort of boilerplate that on the record remarks by officials about the future of their country can be.

The key aspect of it was clearly the fact that Westernisation and ultimately NATO membership is the keystone of Serbian policy at this point. The minister made a few bitterly humerous remarks regarding the attitudes of some of his domestic press, which I take to indicate (which I'm sure we all knew anyway) that the populace is not all of a mind on this issue. In discussion of military reforms the minister referred, correctly in my view, to the importance of skimming off some of the old guard at the top who had too-close links with the old regime. At lower levels he made no pretense of immaculate and immediate attitudinal transformation - he predicted a decade long process of gradual Westernisation, noting that the people of Serbia who finally complete the process may well still be in elementary school right now.

At a practical level he praised Western governments for their assistance and made the case that in his view one of the most important moves countries like Britain and America could make would be to invite Serbian officers to train with our own forces and be taught at our staff colleges.

I felt that one area in which he was, perhaps a little less than candid - shall we say he was "diplomatic" - was in response to questioning over Russia's reaction to a Serbian realignment towards the West and NATO. His response was, frankly, blithe. Unconvincingly so in my view. Apparently the Russians are thrilled, delighted and cock-a-hoop and there is not the slightest tension. Hmm.

Lord (David) Owen chaired the event and closed by supporting the minister's comments and arguing that the West should be more active in drawing Serbia under our umbrella. One thing he particularly singled out as a missed opportunity was the failure of the West to include Serbia in the PFP immediately after the fall of Milosevic.

Unfortunately I failed to take notes during the event and so this summary is somewhat thin but you get the general gist of what went on. The event itself was only (after lunch) 1 hour so obviously the ground covered was fairly limited.

Yesterday I attended a half day conference on the use (or not) of the tribal areas of Pakistan as a terrorist haven. It was highly worthwhile and brought a number of points to the fore which seem to me to be relevent both to the Afghanistan-Pakistan situation in particular and to counterinsurgency policy in general. And I took notes. So I'll stick something up about that at some point over the next week when I have time.

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