“Atlantic Council of Montenegro – An Example of Effective Civil Society Engagement”

Interview: Prof. Milica Pejanović – Đurišić, PhD

  • Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro

Mrs. Pejanović – Đurišić, you were the Minister of Defense in the Government of Montenegro from

March 2012 to November 2016, during the critical phase of Montenegro’s NATO accession process. You also have extensive ambassadorial experience, including serving as Montenegro’s Ambassador to the United Nations. What is your assessment of Montenegro’s current position in the geopolitical context, and how do the challenges in national and international security that Montenegro faces today differ from those it faced during your tenure as Minister?

During my tenure as Minister of Defense, Montenegro went through the key phases of NATO accession, which represented a significant step towards strengthening our national security and final integration into international security structures. The result of these efforts is a significantly improved overall geopolitical position for Montenegro.

The challenges and threats faced by Western Balkan countries today are, in their essence, the same or similar to those of the past. While military aspects of security were becoming less significant, we faced more complex challenges, including hybrid threats, cyber-attacks, and malign foreign influence aimed at destabilizing the region.

Sources of those threats remain unchanged – external agents of destabilization, regional challenges including growing interethnic tensions, and internal issues such as organized crime.

Precisely these challenges require a comprehensive approach, including Montenegro’s cooperation with allies, strengthening institutions, enhancing capacities to combat cyber threats, and bolstering regional ties by addressing outstanding issues. This was indeed the focus during the preparation for our country’s NATO membership.

In this context, Montenegro’s role and the significance of its NATO membership as an active participant in the international community have become crucial for stability, not only within the country but also in the region.

Let’s take a moment to consider your experience as an ambassador to the United Nations. What was your diplomatic cooperation like with representatives of UN member states? What were the key initiatives you took or supported, and what were the biggest challenges you faced during your three-year tenure in New York?

Montenegro became the 192nd member of the United Nations shortly after declaring independence. On June 28th of this year, we will celebrate 18 years of our membership in this organization. Since then, diplomatic cooperation with representatives of UN member states has been crucial in promoting Montenegro’s interests.

Membership in organizations like the United Nations is of exceptional significance for countries like Montenegro. Firstly, this membership provides us with a platform to promote national interests and strengthen international visibility and influence. It also offers the opportunity to actively participate in global issues important to the entire international community. Additionally, countries like Montenegro gain access to various analyses, data, and insights, enabling us to make better decisions in the national interest. Finally, through active participation in UN bodies, Montenegro can advocate for and promote regional goals, contributing to stability and prosperity not only in the country but also in the region.

During my time as ambassador in New York, I continued the tradition of my predecessors by promoting peace, security, sustainable development, and multilateralism on behalf of Montenegro. In a complex geopolitical landscape, aligning Montenegro’s national interests with those of other member states and the UN itself was undoubtedly of higher quality thanks to our strong ties with NATO allies and Montenegro’s alignment with EU foreign policy. It allowed us to work towards common goals, including the vital fight against climate change.

In July of this year, the NATO Summit will be held in Washington. Additionally, elections for a new Secretary General of the Alliance are forthcoming. What do you think will be the focus of the Summit, and what challenges do you expect the new Secretary General to face? Will the change in the leadership of the organization have an impact on the transatlantic community?

The upcoming NATO summit in Washington and the election of a new Secretary General are highly significant for the Alliance’s future for two main reasons.

This year marks NATO’s 75th anniversary, and since the last summit in Lithuania, Sweden has become a new member. Additionally, it has been two years since the start of the war in Ukraine. These factors create an expectation for the leaders of NATO member states to demonstrate strong unity within the Alliance and to continue offering robust support for Ukraine. Ukraine is engaged in a crucial conflict with Russia and is striving to uphold transatlantic values in Europe.

However, with the upcoming elections in Europe and the United States, the new Secretary General of the Alliance may face a series of challenges. These challenges, if successfully overcome, will maintain strong cooperation and understanding among the members. In essence, the new Secretary General is expected to uphold unity among the allies, enhance the efficiency of the Alliance, and effectively lead the organization through political, military, and technological changes and adaptations.

What is positive is the fact that during the previous turbulent period, European members increased their investments in defence, with more than half of the members now spending at least 2 percent of their GDP for this purpose. It is realistic to expect that this summit will also be an opportunity to strengthen transatlantic relations, as support from the US remains crucial for defending Europe from external threats and strengthening these relations will indeed be one of the key tasks for the new Secretary General. Whatever the case may be, according to the current Secretary General Stoltenberg, the Summit will be an opportunity for NATO to plan its next 75 years.

You are currently serving as Chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro, an organization that was established back in 2006. Can you tell us more about the role of your organization in strengthening democracy, stability, and security in the country and the region? What are the key activities of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro?

One of our organization’s main activities is to raise awareness among the local public about the importance of Montenegro’s NATO membership and the benefits it brings to our country and its citizens. We achieve this through public events, campaigns, and partnerships with relevant international and domestic organizations, informing citizens about security challenges and the role that NATO plays in preserving peace and stability. Additionally, we aim to contribute to the creation of public policies in the field of security, focusing on building national capacities essential for fulfilling the functions derived from the Constitution and laws, as well as membership in the NATO Alliance.

The Atlantic Council of Montenegro also organizes the 2BS Forum (To Be Secure Forum), the leading political-security conference in the Western Balkans and one of the most significant gatherings of its kind in Southeastern Europe. Over the past 13 years, the 2BS Forum has become an essential platform for dialogue and idea exchange among government representatives, non-governmental organizations, the academic community, and security experts.

Furthermore, the Atlantic Council of Montenegro actively supports and participates in projects on topics such as cybersecurity, counterterrorism, and the training of young leaders in the fields of security and defense. Through the Digital Forensic Center (DFC), the first digital center of its kind in the Western Balkans, we are dedicated to combating disinformation, fake news, and propaganda campaigns aimed at destabilizing democratic processes and institutions in Montenegro.

By implementing these concrete activities, the Atlantic Council of Montenegro has been contributing to the promotion of stability, capacity-building, and strengthening international cooperation since its establishment shortly after the restoration of Montenegro’s independence. I believe that our initiatives represent an example of effective civil society engagement in supporting security reforms and promoting transatlantic values.

How do you think the security policies you implemented as Minister and promoted as president of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro contribute to creating a favorable business environment and attracting investments in Montenegro?

The security policies we implemented during that period, which the Atlantic Council of Montenegro has been promoting since its establishment, play a key role in creating a favorable business environment and attracting foreign investments to Montenegro. A stable and secure environment is a fundamental prerequisite for economic development and investments, and through collaboration with partners such as NATO, Montenegro creates the stability and predictability essential for investors. 

Membership in the Alliance, therefore, provides additional security and confidence to investors, demonstrating that Montenegro is part of a broader security community and is committed to preserving peace and stability. Furthermore, participation in international initiatives aimed at strengthening regional cooperation contributes to creating a favorable business environment by reducing the risk of conflict and improving the climate of trust among states, as one of the most common prerequisites for attracting foreign investors and corporations is the possibility of their regional presence. 

Finally, investors value transparency and the rule of law. The reforms implemented in the period leading up to NATO accession, and especially the reforms carried out in the process of EU accession, through strengthening institutions and combating corruption, ensure legal security and a stable business environment that attracts investors. 

Unfortunately, although Montenegro had the opportunity to capitalize on investment opportunities arising from NATO membership, this did not happen to the extent we expected, primarily due to the inertia of institutions and all those actors who were expected to continue promoting NATO values even after joining the Alliance. Joining the Alliance was not the end but the beginning of that journey, and many opportunities were missed in that regard. 

Additionally, our country faced various challenges in recent years, which partially slowed down economic development and investment attraction. The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the global economy, including Montenegro’s, thereby somewhat reducing investment opportunities. Also, geostrategic hotspots in the region, as well as political instability in some parts of the Balkans, could have acted as cautionary factors for potential investors. 

Although we have not progressed as expected, if the Government and competent ministries make new efforts to promote our NATO membership and invest in infrastructure, education, and other key sectors, we can once again rally around that initial common goal of creating a prosperous and secure society. Through the continuous promotion of our country as a reliable partner and attractive investment destination, there is plenty of room to make better opportunities and seize the ones that arise.