Montenegro: In the Shadow of the Volcano
Montenegro: In the Shadow of the Volcano
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Thessaloniki and After (III) The EU, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo
Thessaloniki and After (III) The EU, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo
Table of Contents
  1. Обзор
Report / Europe & Central Asia 2 minutes

Montenegro: In the Shadow of the Volcano

Montenegro has been a crisis-in-waiting for two years now, with Belgrade opposing efforts by a reform-minded government under President Milo Djukanović to distance itself ever further from its federal partner Serbia.

Executive Summary

Montenegro has been a crisis-in-waiting for two years now, with Belgrade opposing efforts by a reform-minded government under President Milo Djukanović to distance itself ever further from its federal partner Serbia.  Federal President Slobodan Milošević has steadily escalated the pressure against Djukanović, probing the extent of NATO support for Montenegro and pushing the Montenegrins toward a misstep that might undermine their international backing. Each of the three possible policy-paths facing the Montenegro government, however, is unappealing in its own way:

  • Going ahead with a referendum on independence for Montenegro would risk radicalising a population still peacefully divided over the issue, and would offer maximum provocation to Belgrade, which retains a powerful military presence in Montenegro.
     
  • Maintaining the status quo may offer a better chance of avoiding open confrontation with Belgrade, but it leaves Montenegro in a limbo. Its friends are not offering all the help they could, on the grounds that it is not a sovereign state; but prospects for self-generated income through inward investment or revival of the tourist industry are still hostage to international risk perceptions.
     
  • Achieving rapprochement with the Serbian government would be possible if Milošević went.  But Montenegro cannot afford to leave its future in the unsure hands of the present Serbian opposition. And as the atmosphere in Serbia steadily worsens, political and public opinion in Montenegro appears to grow ever less willing to compromise.

Djukanović is under some domestic pressure to move faster towards holding a referendum, but all his foreign contacts are advising him to go carefully and not provoke Belgrade into a response, and for the moment he is being patient. For its part, the Belgrade regime seems content for now to play a cat-and-mouse game with the Montenegrin government and population, keeping them nervous and not knowing what to expect.  Montenegro’s dual-currency system – with both Deutschmarks and dinars as legal tender – appears to have stabilised the economy at the cost of unwelcome if temporary inflation, but Serbia has intensified its trade and financial blockade.

Overall, the situation is fragile, and could deteriorate rapidly. The fifth war of the break-up of Yugoslavia may not be far away. Montenegro’s friends need to act quickly, decisively and visibly if this prospect is to be avoided.

The NATO allies can help Djukanović out of his policy trilemma

  • by giving Montenegro the economic support it deserves but is presently being denied (reducing the perceived advantages of independence);
     
  • by increasing the presence and visibility of the international community in Montenegro (giving political support, and raising the stakes for any would-be attacker); and
     
  • by making a stronger direct commitment to Montenegro’s security, backing that commitment with a formal authorisation to NATO to commence military planning and appropriate movement of forces.

Unless an effective deterrent strategy is rapidly developed and applied, the international community will again cede the initiative to Milošević, and could yet again in the Balkans find itself reacting, after the event, to killing and destruction that could have been prevented.

Podgorica/Washington/Brussels, 21 March 2000

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