Montenegro: Defense reform brings greater security

A man removes toxic military waste from Boka Bay, Montenegro
Toxic military waste was removed from Boka Bay, Montenegro. Photo: UNDP

Montenegro’s Boka Bay is a place of striking beauty. Only a few years ago, this unique place faced a dire threat : 128 tonnes of toxic fuel, once destined to propel anti-ship rockets, was stored on the shore at risk of leaking from outdated storage tanks.

“My family, friends and neighbours were all concerned,” said local resident Tamara Jurlina, who lives near the storage area.

Recognizing the urgent need to take action, the Montenegrin government asked the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to assist in what became a successful clean-up.

Technical experts worked with Ministry of Defence officials to identify international and EU environmental and safety requirements to dispose of the fuel. The waste was gradually poured into special containers and transferred to a facility in Sweden where it could be safely destroyed.

Results

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

“Now we know our environment is no longer endangered and this threat is removed for good,” said Tamara.

The environmental threat in Boka Bay was one concern. Another came from explosive materials not being properly stored. In 2006, a storage facility near the town of Vir blew up in the middle of the night, destroying houses and injuring 32 people. 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.

With its partners, the Ministry of Defence drew up a plan to reduce and secure weapons stocks in the country. The plan emphasizes eco-friendly disposal methods in compliance with EU legislation, and strategies to sustain safe weapons management over the long-term.

The Ministry of Defence chose the Taras storage depot as a pilot initiative for modernization. The aim is to reduce nine depots to three, and a US$1.7 million upgrade has already installed state-of –the-art security surveillance, fire alarm systems, and facilities to maintain 24-hour armed guards. Similarly, a detailed project design for an arms storage facility at Brezovik has been prepared and is in the final stages of a US$3.3 million reconstruction.

Additionally, more than 60 T-55 tanks and 1,000 heavy weapons and about 480 tonnes of ammunition have been melted down and recycled.

Two old military facilities selected by the Ministry of Defense (through a competitive process) are already operational to handle more complex disposals. This involved modernizing some equipment as well as developing the technical skills needed to dispose of diverse types of ammunition. The facilities help Montenegro reduce all surplus or obsolete stocks, and maintain the required quantity of 2,500 tonnes, down from 9,900 tonnes.

These initiatives are part of Montenegro’s broader efforts to reform the armed forces, deal with remnants of war, and restore confidence in a peaceful future.

Read the full story in our publication "Empowering Lives, Building Resilience"