Montenegro: Defence reform ushers in greater security

Montenegro: Defence Reform Ushers in Greater Security
Toxic fuel removal in the Boka Bay

Montenegro’s Boka Bay is a place of striking beauty. Bare rock walls soar 1,000 metres above the sapphire blue waters of the Adriatic Sea. Red-roofed fishing villages nestle on islands and in low-lying areas. The ancient port of Kotor, with its graceful Venetian architecture, has gained renown as a World Cultural Heritage site.


  • Removal of 128 tons of toxic rocket fuel.
  • Over 60 T-55 tanks, more than 1,000 heavy weapons and 480 tons of ammunition melted down and recycled.
  • Modernization of ammunition storage facilities.
  • Development of disposal facilities for a future 75 percent reduction in ammunition stockpiles.

Only a few years ago, this unique place faced a dire threat: 128 tons of toxic fuel, once destined to propel anti-ship rockets, was stored on the shore, at risk of leaking from outdated storage tanks. Almost 26 tons of inflammable napalm thickener sat at a nearby airport. Fortunately, the Montenegrin Government had recognized the urgent need to take action. It requested the OSCE and UNDP to assist.

The waste was decanted into special containers and transferred to a facility in Sweden where it could be safely destroyed, monitored by a team of observers from Montenegro.

“My family, friends and neighbours were all concerned,” says local resident Tamara Jurlina, who lives near the storage area. “Now we know our environment is no longer endangered, and this threat is removed for good.”

Planning new strategies

While originally meant for security, the excess arms now sharply raised the risk of insecurity. The environmental threat in Boka Bay was one concern. Another came from explosive materials not being properly stored. Surpluses and inadequate storage also meant that bullets, bombs and other items could more readily fall into the wrong hands, including those of criminals and terrorists.

In 2007, Montenegro’s Ministry of Defence determined that initial priorities for security reform should include reducing ammunition and safeguarding remaining stores, as defined by NATO operational standards. It also committed to complying with all relevant European Union, UN and OSCE agreements on small arms and light weapons.

To assist in planning to achieve these goals, the ministry requested the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC)—mandated by UNDP and the Regional Cooperation Council to support arms control—to conduct an ammunition technical assessment.

Using recommendations in the assessment, the Ministry of Defence drew up a plan to get rid of toxic military waste, reduce ammunition supplies, destroy and recycle heavy weapons like tanks, and effectively manage storage. The plan emphasized environmentally benign disposal, in compliance with EU legislation, and stressed developing national capacities to sustain secure management over the longer term.

UNDP, in collaboration with OSCE, supported the development and implementation of the plan, with funding from Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, as well as other donors participating through the OSCE.

Reducing and recycling

The Boka Bay cleanup was one early success. Another was the destruction of surplus heavy weapons

Over 60 T-55 tanks and more than 1,000 heavy weapons were melted down for scrap. Extensive local and international media attention, including by CNN, sent a strong public message that Montenegro had begun to make a serious investment in peace.

Ammunition reduction focused first on destroying technically simple items that did not require additional capacities or equipment. About 480 tons were melted down and recycled.

At the same time, Defence Ministry staff began evaluating military facilities as a first step towards developing capacities to handle more complex disposals. Two were selected, and are now being readied for operations. This has entailed modernizing some equipment, as well as developing technical skills to meet disposal requirements that widely vary by the type of ammunition. New guidelines for transporting explosive materials have been developed, and monitoring systems created to track disposal. To respond to public concerns about potential dangers, representatives from the ministries of defence and interior met with communities close to the destruction sites to explain safety precautions and the importance of controlled reductions.

Once the facilities fully come on line, they will help Montenegro achieve a goal of reducing all surplus or obsolete stocks, and maintaining a safe quantity of 2,500 tons, down from 9,900 tons.

For securing remaining ammunition, the Ministry of Defence chose its Taraš storage depot for a modernization pilot—over time, it aims to reduce its nine depots to three. A $1.7 million upgrade included state-of-the-art security surveillance and fire alarm systems, and facilities to maintain 24-hour armed guards. A new staff has been trained to monitor and control access to the facility.

Continued progress

At the opening of the Taraš storage site, Minister of Defence Boro Vučinić underlined that Montenegro has far to go in reducing the legacy of its past. But, he says, “we are fully aware of the threat (of surplus ammunition), and we will continue working on its destruction, in order to remove the risk and ensure the safety of our citizens.”

A second arms storage facility at Brezovik is already in the final stages of preparation for a similar $3.3 million reconstruction. Some 700 tons of the oldest and most unstable weapons were demilitarized in 2012. Toward these ends, the Government has committed over $1 million from selling recycled weapons and ammunition.

Lessons learned in Montenegro are being used in other countries in South-eastern Europe (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Serbia, etc) spread through OSCE and UNDP support.

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