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Collective Security Dialogue in the Balkans: The Belgrade Security Forum

Location

The Belgrade Security Forum, a conference held annually in Belgrade, Serbia, seeks to promote regional security and reconciliation through dialogue and learning. The Forum is organized by three Serbian organizations: the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence, the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, and European Movement in Serbia. Its funding comes from a variety of private and governmental sources. Now in its third year, the Forum has attracted several hundred policymakers, scholars, government officials, and others to hear prominent speakers on topics of regional security. The conference aims to promote security dialogue and cooperation between states in the region. Additionally, the forum aims to consolidate security-sector reform as the Balkans moves from a security problem to a security partner. Common topics of discussion include collaborative security, energy security, the role of NATO and the European Union, gender in the security industry, and conflict reconciliation. In a world region that was dominated by conflict in recent years, collaborative security is a precious and necessary commodity.

Context

The Balkans region has transitioned from an international trouble spot to a “success story in the making.” Violence and turmoil have given way to the onset of liberal democracy and greater interstate cooperation. The Belgrade Security Forum exists to facilitate cooperation and the exchange of ideas among states in the area of regional security. It attempts to reduce collective security loss caused by imperfect cooperation among states and NGOs in the region by creating a venue for politicians and democracy promoters to share ideas. This exchange of ideas about security helps expedite the progress of democracy in the region. Specifically, the Balkan Security forum seeks to bring the European security conversation to the Balkans, discuss Balkan security issues in a wider European context, and raise awareness of Balkan achievements and accomplishments to the rest of the world. The organizers seek to create a genuine security community among Balkan and international leaders.

Actors

The forum is organized by three groups: the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence (BFPE), the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, and European Movement in Serbia. BFPE’s mission is to build democratic leadership toward integration of Serbia with the larger European community. These three groups have created a joint project management team, led by BFPE’s Nenad Bosiljcic. Prominent donors to the forum include the Balkan Trust for Democracy, the Swiss Embassy, the Robert Bosch Foundation, the Norwegian Research Council, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and USAID.

Participants in the forum include policy makers, NGO officials, experts, academics, and journalists. Several hundred participants have attended each year of the forum. Speakers at the forum have included prominent academics, NGO leaders, researchers, high-level Eastern European cabinet ministers, EU and NATO officials, ambassadors, experts, and other notable figures in the international security community. 

Conferences

            Initially, the forum organizers were unsure of the frequency of the conference, waiting to see whether the first forum was successful before committing to an annual or bi-annual format. The first Belgrade Security Forum occurred over three days, September 14-16, 2011. Prior to the forum’s official opening, the organizers held the Belgrade Security Seminar for Young Researchers, choosing 20 scientists to participate based on submission of papers, a seminar that was repeated in the 2012 and 2013 forums as well. Notably, the first conference was opened by Serbian president H.E. Boris Tadic.

            Sessions in 2011 were centered around the question “What Do We Have in Common, What Sets Us Apart?” All sessions were conducted under the Chatham House Rule, allowing for free use of information while maintaining anonymity of participants. The first session discussed energy security in the Balkans, hoping to reduce regional dependency through energy cooperation and integration.  The next two sessions discussed specific security issues outside of Europe, covering Russia’s role in European security as well as the move toward democracy in the Middle East after the Arab Spring. The forum included a ministerial panel, which stressed the importance of regional cooperation for mutual prosperity. The panel members—including the foreign ministers of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Bulgaria—agreed on the need for the creation of more mutual energy and security infrastructure. They also created a relevant distinction between regional competition and rivalry.

            Other panels discussed topics such as the interconnectedness of global security issues and European security in light of a shift in American focus away from Europe. The thematic night owl sessions covered topics such as NATO’s roles, Turkey and neo-Ottomanism, media roles, and gender integration in security sector reform. The last panel sessions covered women in security-sector leadership and post-conflict reconciliation. The conference was successful, and the decision was made to hold it annually.

            The second Belgrade Security Forum was entitled “Coping with the Crisis: Challenges to Democracy and Security.” It occurred from September 20-22, 2012. Session topics included Balkan security community building, UN women’s rights legislation, frozen, unresolved conflicts, and cyber crime. The BFPE president, Sonja Licht, was a keynote speaker and noted the unique potential of the Balkan region for cooperation after conflict. Further panels discussed whether the Balkans are finally a success story, the prospects of Europe emerging from its economic difficulties, an incomplete peace in Kosovo, Nordic security cooperation, Chinese roles, and energy security. 41 media outlets were present at the conference, resulting in 379 instances of media coverage of the event.

            The third Belgrade Security Forum occurred September 19-21, 2013. It was entitled “Is the State Under De(construction)? Risks and Responses from the Balkans and Beyond.” Firstly, an academic panel discussed the transformation of certain practices in international security. Other sessions spoke of multilateral regional cooperation, new state models, reconciliation, global civics, state-building and European integration, EU response to Egyptian and Syrian crises, human security in Kosovo, and energy security. At the 2013 conference, 55 journalists produced 203 media pieces detailing the proceedings.

            While the Belgrade Security Forum is not particularly groundbreaking in its premise, it is valuable in the Balkans as the region continues to move from conflict to cooperation. While much of the subject matter is very similar from year to year, the same issues need to be discussed by regional leaders as they progress. The conference provides a venue for idea sharing and promotes good relations between both states and policy NGOs in the region. Participants can return to their home countries and implement new ideas discussed at the forum. The exchange of ideas between major policy players leads to mutual benefit.

Lessons

           The Belgrade Security Forum has demonstrated the viability and importance of multilateral collective security discussion. The diversity of participants and viewpoints helps to cross-pollinate all attendees and maintain a realistic picture of regional politics. Collaboration with and learning from other leaders in the field across national boundaries keeps attendees honest and in tune with democratic progress. Constructive dialogue, communication, and collaboration are crucial ingredients to democracy, and this conference helps advance those causes. Additionally, the first conference made the important distinction between competition and rivalry among regional players. The need for a competitive environment that does not prevent cooperation is relevant in all regions. The Belgrade Security Forum shows the power of creating a venue for the exchange of ideas, contributing to mutually beneficial regional security.