Ministry of defence Republic of Serbia

Profession dedicated to peace

Sacrifice that professional members of the United Nations (UN) personally pay, together with their families, in order to perform this honourable, highly responsible and often highly dangerous duty, few can understand. This job requires not only knowledge and professional experience, but also indescribable enthusiasm, personal stability and composure, a great capacity to cope with stress, focus, attention, understanding, openness and courage. Professional members of this world organization, engaged in the UN-led peacekeeping operations, are separated from their families and the loved ones on average about 280 days a year, or more often, and this is something that cannot be compensated in any way. In the increasingly hazardous conflict environments, where this highest international institution sometimes manages to realize only a limited degree of critical tasks, members of peacekeeping operations are in constant mortal danger, and often under constant threat, assaulted, but also killed.

When we talk about peace in the world, the first association for many of us is the blue sign of the Organisation of the United Nations UN. Members of this organization have been engaged for more than seven decades in war zones around the world, in a noble mission of peace enforcement and exercising the human rights. One of them is Slavimir Nikolic, a UN political officer, Deputy Chief of Joint Mission Analysis Centre (JMAC) – analytical and intelligence service – in the MINUSTAH peacekeeping mission in Haiti, and a senior instructor of the world organization for JMAC entities who decided to put his experience and knowledge of a Serbian Armed Forces AF&AD officer at the service of the world peace.

Speaking about his profession in the UN, after many years of international experience, he says for Odbrana magazine that this business is a "honourable bread with seventy seven crusts". And it all started when he was still a boy and decided that the military profession is his life choice, and as he points out, just as many boys of his age at that time, he was greatly influenced in that decision by the combination of historic heritage, family tradition, but also popularisation of that noble profession in the media.

- Ever since I was a little boy I looked at my father's pictures in uniform while he served military service at the airports in the former Yugoslavia; a very important determinant of my future vocation was admission of one of my brothers in the secondary military medical school, an event whose value was additionally amplified by admission of the second brother as well to the school for officers of inland waterways navigation. Both of them got uniforms and interesting professions, which, for a boy who looked at worthy family role models, became a dream that he would dream for years. It is inevitable to say that since then I waited for every Sunday and the term for the show "Allow me to address you" which fascinated me with its contents, especially military or war themes. At the same time, I managed that way, in a way that only I knew, to be closer to my brothers, who left home very early exactly because of the profession they have chosen.

If you add to all this, in that year 1982, to a teenager, the film "An Officer With a Rose", it created such a chemical reaction in the boy's mind that there was no obstacle which was insurmountable on the way to the officer's uniform. That dream began to be realized in 1991, albeit in a very turbulent time in our region, by enrolling on the 48th class of the Military Academy in Belgrade, and it fully came true in 1995, with obtaining the first officer’s rank, in the branch of electronic warfare and countermeasures. In my opinion the greatest gain was the fact that our parents had at that moment three uniformed sons in three different colours – me in blue, a brother in olive-gray, and the other in a white uniform.

As an officer of the Serbian Armed Forces, you participated in a multinational operation UNMISET in East Timor, which was the first deployment of a member of our Armed Forces in the UN multinational operations, after the country's readmission into that global organization. What has that experience meant to you?

- The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was re-admitted to membership of the UN General Assembly as a new state in 2000, after its membership of that international organization had been suspended in 1992. In late 2001, the first national testing and recruiting of military officers was conducted for the participation in the UN peacekeeping operations, and the necessary conditions were met by only five of our officers, including myself, the youngest in that group. Summing up the experience gained in this peacekeeping operation, where I worked as a military observer on the border between East Timor and Indonesia, then as a duty operations officer at the Command of military observation contingent and a liaison officer with an armed military contingent of the peacekeeping operation, the most important thing was that I had the opportunity to compare the level of our professional skills, foreign language skills, military skills, and especially the quality of the acquired military education and specific technical characteristics to those of officers from other countries.

The officers of our army are at the top of the world standards, able to perform highly responsible tasks at all levels, whether in the field of tactical and operational action or command functions. Such a conclusion was exactly one of the primary "triggers" for my professional joining the UN. When it comes to the perception of our country, and the Armed Forces and its members in peacekeeping operations, the current situation speaks for itself – from a symbolic participation of five military observers in the UN in only one peacekeeping operation, Serbia currently has more than three hundred professional members of the Armed Forces in eleven peacekeeping operations under the mandate of the UN and the European Union.

That was the engagement that has influenced your career in the following years to take on a different course. How did you decide on this step?

- I left the professional military service in 2007 with the rank of Captain I Class, at my own request, while I worked in the Defence Policy Sector of the Ministry of Defence, which happened about a year after their my return from specialization in Switzerland at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. Immediately after leaving the Armed Forces I took over the duty as a Head of the Cabinet of the Minister of Youth and Sports at the Government of the Republic of Serbia, which is an experience different from the one that I had at the Ministry of Defence. Leaving that position has passed relatively quickly, and I felt as if I had started the day in the office at the Palace of Serbia to end up in the evening on a flight to the Caribbean, and Haiti. However, the offer for a position in the UN peacekeeping operation in Haiti has arrived only after many years of complex processes that involved the preparation of a professional biography and collection of detailed documentation required to apply for a job at the UN.

Namely, after returning from the UN peacekeeping operation in East Timor, where I gained a personal insight into the functioning of the UN and realized that the international environment in which military personnel, police officers and civil servants operate, together is something which I personally and professionally strive to, I was sure that I have far more than that what was required of references, experience and capacity to carry out such jobs. It took more than two years to get an invitation for an interview with the recruiting UN panel, and another six months to get an answer and receive an official invitation to join the UN. Summing it all, I think one need to have a great mental strength and determination, personal and professional capacity, and most of all strong support of the innermost core of your life – the spouse, family and the loved ones, to make, in today's world, such a sudden, serious, highly sensitive replacement of a profession. The professional, security as well as existential risks were high.

How much your previous professional experience and knowledge from the Ministry of Defence and the Serbian Armed Forces, as well as the duties you had performed, meant to your further career?

- The fact is that a significant percentage of the professional members of the UN today, particularly in peacekeeping operations, comes from military backgrounds. These are either retired members of the national armies or, as in my case, people who have decided at some point of time to change their profession. The military profession brings, both during training and in-service, excellent base for acquiring specific knowledge and skills that are highly valued and sought after in the UN system. Whether we are talking about logistics, transport, information technology, communications, finance, aviation, engineering, administration or politics, analytics and intelligence work, former officers from all over the world can be found in each of the UN peacekeeping operations. Specifically for me, the experience as a former Air Force officer of electronic warfare and countermeasures branch, with a specific duty in troops, but also in the organizational units of the Ministry of Defence, knowledge and active use of several foreign languages and contacts with foreign military representatives, working groups and delegations, as well as education and training abroad, certainly contributed to the development of the profile and characteristics adequate for work in the UN.

Engagement in the MINUSTAH mission in Haiti marked your work in an international environment. How does the life of a UN officer in that mission look like?

- One of the main reasons for my, now many-year engagement exactly in the MINUSTAH peacekeeping operation is the existence of such an operating environment that has enabled the development and operation of analytical and intelligence activities. Specifically, this mission is one of the pioneers of such activities in the UN peacekeeping operations in the 21st century. After nearly four decades of ignoring this concept and a decade of struggle for its establishment, in 2006, the UN made a decision on the establishment of analytical entities in all peacekeeping operations, made up of military, police and civil servants. Although the term "intelligence work" organized by the UN has long been controversial, this peacekeeping operation has been one of the most recognized models in the collection and processing of information, and use of intelligence to support planning, decision making and implementation of mandate of the peacekeeping operations granted by the UN General Assembly, ever since the establishment of analytical and intelligence body until today. The task of my team is collection, fusion, analysis and exploitation of information for the purpose of intelligence and analytical support to primary clients – military, police and civilian leadership structure of peacekeeping operations. Carrying out such a complex and sensitive tasks in a complex and dangerous operating environment is a great professional challenge.

To make things worse, catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti and its capital in 2010, killing about 250 thousand people in a minute, has caused internal migration and humanitarian crisis for around two million inhabitants. It decimated the state administration and the law enforcement, and led to a cholera epidemic that has so far claimed more than eight thousand lives and with almost 800 thousand people suffering from that illness. Unfortunately, these days, Haiti is again being affected by political crisis, where the fate of building a democratic and stable social order and the long-delayed parliamentary and presidential elections is again on the test, and the efforts, time and resources of the international community invested in the stabilization of the country threaten to once again be downgraded or cancelled.

Which professional challenges have you faced the most?
- The fact that exemplifies the best how demanding the job is the fact that it is the economically and socially least developed country in the western hemisphere, which is characterized by overpopulation of urban areas and inaccessible mountain villages, and is characterized by frequent political upheavals and the tendency for violent change of executive power, constant political instability and social unrest, the constant and violent criminal activities of armed groups on the ground.

In addition, we are speaking about the presence of armed paramilitary organizations, the high activity of international drug trafficking cartels, a marked prevalence of illegal weapons, and a disadvantage is the specificity of the language, because the official language is Creole, that is not used anywhere in the world, very small portions of the population speak French, Spanish or English. Also, in the country there is a latent tendency toward misunderstanding or disapproval of the function of UN peacekeeping operation. Keeping all that in mind, it is impossible to acquire such a practical, operational and tactical experience in any form of theoretical training or read in any textbook, and indirectly perceive. It is this richness to which a man and enthusiast strives when considering the professional fulfilment. Certainly he also strives to the fulfilment of philanthropic and humanitarian work.

My responsibility in this, as well as the responsibility of my colleagues, is primarily to share this experience and knowledge with others, but also to apply them to the extent as much as possible, in other operational theatres. I intend soon to apply the lessons learned in some other, equally demanding UN peacekeeping operation as well as to articulate that knowledge in a doctoral thesis.

Your biography proves that you have continuously perfected and expanded the existing knowledge and skills. Why is it important for the job you do?

- The level of expertise gained before leaving the Serbian Armed Forces, which, among other things, played a key role in the process of admission to the UN, is not the one on which I personally and professionally wanted to stay. One of the core competencies of professional members of the UN is the commitment to continuous learning. Carrying out regular, individual, operational tasks within the mandate of peacekeeping operations requires constant improvement and expansion of existing knowledge and skills. In today's era, with the introduction of new technologies and innovative practices, persons who perform tasks in conflict areas without training and acquiring new skills cannot be able to respond to the growing security threats, and save their lives or the lives of the affected civilians.

After joining the organization in 2007, I had the opportunity to attend several courses aimed at narrowly vocational professional training in Haiti, Italy, Norway and the United States. Today I possess internationally recognized certificates in the field of security management, analytics and intelligence activities, the use of specialized analytical programmes, management of incidents of kidnapping and release of the hostages, as well as many other highly specialized ones. Apart from that, since 2013, when I became senior JMAC instructor for the UN, I started to teach at the Norwegian Defence International Centre in Oslo. At the end of 2014, I enrolled in doctoral studies in Serbia in the field of applied security, expecting to develop a dissertation that will treat the evolution of analytical and intelligence activities in the UN peacekeeping operations.

What does that actually mean?

- Looking at the issues from the perspective of a political officer – dedicated to analytics and intelligence work – the biggest challenge is understanding how the global security environment has changed, and the process through which the UN passes in order to adjust their activities to such conditions. In short, it is about adapting the system and us, members of professional organizations, security realities in theatres of operations. Peacekeeping operations today occur in a far more complex operational context from the one we knew in now seven decades long existence of the UN organization.

The organization and its members are now faced with the active hostilities in which the parties to the conflict do not want to negotiate, or even do everything possible to prevent the very presence and the work of international organizations on the cessation of hostilities and the peace establishment. Sacrifice that professional members of the UN organization personally pay, together with their families, in order to perform this honourable, responsible and often dangerous duties, few can understand. The work in the UN requires professional knowledge and experience, enthusiasm, personal stability and composure, a great capacity to cope with stress, focus, attention, understanding, openness and courage.

Professional members of the UN are separated from their families and the loved ones on average about 280 days a year, and even more, and this is something that cannot be compensated in any way. In the increasingly hazardous conflict environments, where the UN sometimes manages to realize only a limited degree of critical tasks, members of the peacekeeping operations are in constant mortal danger, and often under constant threat, assaulted, but also killed. Statistics, in this case, is not pink and is something with which one must live, and what a rational person cannot ignore.

Bearing in mind your ambitions and desires, where do you see yourself in ten years?

- We live in a time of rapid and unexpected events, without effective control apart from those in our limited living spaces. Going back to your original question, where do I see myself in the future, it is certain that in the upcoming period I will try some new professional challenges in one of more challenging and demanding operations in terms of security, such as Somalia or Syria. On the other hand, after nearly a decade of working in conflict areas, I am not excluding the possibility to opt for one of UN humanitarian agencies or UN regional commands in the territory of the European Union. However, I must admit, the international engagement, with predominantly challenging security environment and intensive use of the latest technologies and technological innovations, is my dominant area of interest.