Friday, February 5, 2016

Montenegro to Force Troops to Join NATO Operations

Members of Special Forces Brigade of MontenegroDespite popular opposition to the move, the Montenegrin government plans to make military engagement in NATO combat operations mandatory for all members of the armed forces.
Dusica Tomovic

As one of the first moves in its upcoming accession negotiations with NATO, Montenegro's goverment is set to amend the defence laws and define participating in the alliance's military operations as mandatory for all troops.

According to the plan, changes to the law that define the use of Montenegrin army units in international operations will be completed by the end of March and sent to parliament.

BIRN has learned from the Ministry of Defence that the new law will abolish the principle of voluntary service abroad, which has been in force since 2010, when Montenegro joined the NATO-led ISAF operation in Afghanistan.

The possibility that soldiers could decide whether they want to be engaged in NATO operations - or not - was provided by the law adopted in 2008.

This was introduced as a compromise solution after only a few soldiers exhibited interest in joining NATO's multinational operation against the Taliban in Afghanistan, which was launched in 2003.

The new law will also prescribe which Montenegrin troops will be available for rapid intervention abroad if NATO allies so decide.

"Deployment will now be mandatory, which means that soldiers will have to go to Afghanistan, for example, or to some other NATO operation in future, if their superiors decide. Otherwise, they risk losing their jobs," a senior offical from the ministry told BIRN.

In February, Montenegro will begin accession negotiations with NATO, after it received an official invitation to join the club last December.

The obligations include modifying key security and defence laws, which must be adapted to NATO's collective defence system regulations.

A majority of Montenegrins still strongly opposes the country's military engagement in places like Afghanistan.

According to the some polls conducted by the Ministry of Defence, only 30 per cent of military personnel also consider taking part in NATO operations acceptable.

The government recently requested approval to contribute to NATO’s peace-keeping mission mission in Kosovo, KFOR, despite opposition from the large Serbian community, which bitterly opposes Montenegro's intention to join NATO.

In order to increase the number of soldiers who are willing to participate in NATO missions, the authorities have offered numerous benefits for those who are deployed abroad, such as higher wages and additional points in the ranking for the country’s housing fund.

After joining NATO in 2004 and 2008, Slovenia and Croatia also abolished voluntary participation in international missions. In Slovenia, dozens of soldiers lost their jobs in 2004 after refusing to go to Kosovo and join KFOR forces.

BIRN contacted the Ministry of Defense seeking a broader explanation of the plans concerning contributing to NATO operations, but it declined to comment.

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