Tag: Balkans

A delicate balance

The Western Balkans: A Delicate Balance

The collapse of Yugoslavia twenty-six years ago unleashed brutal wars and a huge humanitarian catastrophe. Today the delicate order in the Balkans is under threat again. Serbia aspires to join the European Union, but is strengthening its ties with Russia, despite the growing strains in the West’s relationship with Moscow. The relations between Kosovo and Serbia are tense. Unable to embrace necessary reforms, Bosnia is on the edge again, while Macedonia and Montenegro suffer from deep divisions. Continued recovery and peace in the Balkans require sustained Western engagement and the prospects of integration into the European Union. But Europe is tired of enlargement and its authority in the Balkans is weakening. Meanwhile, the influences of Russia and radical Islamist ideology are growing in the region. Join us at the Wilson Center as experts discuss the challenges in the Western Balkans and the policy options for preserving the region’s fragile order and recovery.


Ross Johnson
History and Public Policy Fellow, Wilson Center
Visiting Scholar, Hoover Institution
John R. Lampe
Senior Scholar, Wilson Center
Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland, College Park
Daniel Serwer
Senior Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations
Professor, School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University
Marta Vrbetic
Wilson Center Global Fellow, Global Europe Program
RSVP NOW » Forward to a Friend


Monday, June 26th, 2017

5th Floor Conference Room


Wilson Center
Ronald Reagan Building and
International Trade Center
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania, Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20004

Phone: 202.691.4000


Privacy Policy

Tags :

The KLA isn’t the only winner

A coalition led by three parties that trace their origins to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) won a plurality in Kosovo’s parliamentary election yesterday. Running for the first time together, the winning KLA coalition has promised the prime minister’s post to Ramush Haradinaj, who was acquitted twice by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The Self-Determination Movement (Vetëvendosje), which advocates a referendum on union with Albania, came in second, with former Prime Minister Mustafa’s coalition a close but disappointing third.

Ramush was serving as prime minister in 2005 when ICTY first indicted him. He resigned and went to The Hague to defend himself, successfully. He was indicted again in 2011 and acquitted again in 2012. French authorities detained him in January of this year at the request of Serbia but freed him in April. His appointment as prime minister will complicate relations with Serbia, whose laws he unquestionably broke during Kosovo’s armed rebellion in 1998 and 1999, and Montenegro, as he for several years has opposed demarcation of its already agreed border with Kosovo. Ramush’s brother and supporter Daut was convicted in 2002 of murdering members of a KLA rival group. He was also involved in a short-lived but violent Albanian insurgency in Macedonia in 2001.

The emergence of a KLA government will complicate an already complicated situation. It will harden attitudes among Serbs, both within Kosovo and in Belgrade, where a former deputy prime minister to a Milosevic-supporting government is now president, elected on a pro-European Union platform. The EU and US will try to revive implementation of a Brussels agreement that provides for reintegration of Serb-majority northern Kosovo with the rest of the country, in exchange for more Serb autonomy. Ramush has the kind of authority required to reach such an agreement with the Serbs, but he will want in exchange needed Serb support for conversion of Kosovo’s lightly armed security forces into a small NATO-compatible army.

Having more than doubled its vote in percentage terms, Self-Determination is also a big winner and will be the new government’s main opposition. Using so far non-lethal violence both on the streets and in parliament to make its points, it opposes Kosovo statehood, preferring to make the country a part of Albania, and the talks with Belgrade. It also criticizes both the winning coalition and the outgoing government for corruption and abuse of power, a charge that resonates strongly in a country disappointed in the economic benefits of almost a decade of independence. Self-Determination’s mayor of Pristina, Shpend Ahmeti, has acquired a good reputation for managing the city well.

The big loser in this election is the political party derived from Kosovo’s peaceful protest movement of the 1990s, led then by Ibrahim Rugova. Coming in third, its fragile ad hoc coalition will have a difficult time influencing events in a political scenario dominated by the out-sized personalities of Ramush, Self-Determinatio leader Albin Kurti, and President Thaci, another former KLA leader.

Many will feel trepidation about domination of Kosovo by former KLAers and Self-Determination, both of which are led by consummate showmen. They seem more likely to compete for attention, often appealing to pan-Albanian  and anti-Serb nationalist sentiment, than for prizes in good governance. But we all need to respect the outcome of truly democratic elections, which these seem to have been. Ramush and his government can always prove their critics wrong. I wish them well in meeting the real needs in today’s Kosovo: economic and social improvement as well as good relations with its neighbors.

Tags :


I’m thrilled Montenegro joined NATO yesterday, not least because it signals to the rest of the Balkans that the door to Atlantic institutions is still open. But I’ve got to admit that it is a difficult moment for the Alliance: Russia is doing its best to block NATO expansion and the President of the United States is doing his best to undermine its mutual defense commitment.

Moscow’s efforts are by now obvious: an attempted coup in Podgorica last October, hybrid warfare efforts in Macedonia, political and financial support for Bosnia’s Republika Srpska. A rational patriot would react to these attacks on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of their respective countries by trying to get into NATO, not stay out of it. Only Serbia has (so far) concluded that it is better off outside NATO than inside it, even if its newly inaugurated president thinks NATO membership would solve many of the countries problems and appears to regret the domestic opposition to it.

But if NATO is now more attractive than ever to the Balkan aspirants, which of course include Kosovo as well, the Article 5 commitment to mutual defense is on shakier ground than ever. President Trump not only omitted it from his speech at NATO. He also neglected to mention it either before or after that speech. Defense Secretary Mattis is busy reassuring the world that the President did recommit to Article 5, but that simply is not true anywhere but in the talking points that the Pentagon and State Department proposed and the President did not use.

What difference does this make? Here is the text of Article 5:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

The mutual defense requirement was triggered for the first time after 9/11, as as an expression of allied solidarity with the United States, including patrolling by allied AWACS over the US and later other measures in support of US operations in the Mediterranean. NATO has also taken collective defense measures in response to threats to Turkey and threats from Russia.

Would NATO defend Montenegro? I have my doubts, especially with Trump in the presidency. Fortunately, an attack on the small country from another state isn’t likely. Podgorica for now at least has good relations with its neighbors, even if the Kosovo parliament has refused to allow demarcation of the border. Far more likely: Russia will continue to try to destabilize Montenegro, using the anti-independence Serb opposition and other Russophiles as its hybrid warfare instrument. Another assassination attempt cannot be ruled out, though Serbia is presumably still ready to foil it.

NATO members, Montenegro now included, are of course expected to meet their own defense requirements. Each NATO member by 2024 is expected to spend 2% of GNP on defense. Montenegro does not meet that goal yet. It makes little difference to Alliance capabilities whether it does so, but its claim on NATO support would be enhanced if it did. Petty it may seem, but President Trump is nothing if not petty.

He allowed Montenegro membership in NATO, once the Senate had approved it overwhelmingly and Defense Secretary Mattis presumably weighed in heavily. For that, not only Montenegro but also the rest of the Balkans should be grateful.


Tags : , , ,

Memorial Day for America and the Alliance

Donald Trump has done more damage to the NATO Alliance than the Soviet Union managed in more than 40 years. Even after its implosion, the Alliance endured for another 27 years, fighting its first wars in Kosovo and Afghanistan. It has taken only a bit more than four months for Trump to cast a pall over Europe’s most important link to the United States and to render the Alliance irrelevant.

German Chancellor Merkel has concluded that Europe, “to some extent,” has to go it alone. This was her reaction to Trump’s miserable performance at the NATO Summit meeting last week, when he failed to mention the Article 5 commitment to come to the defense of our allies and harshly criticized their failure to meet NATO’s exhortation that they spend 2% of GDP on defense. That guideline was intended for 2024, but Trump treats it as a treaty commitment and pretends that the allies owe arrears for their many years of not meeting it.

This purposeful mendacity has consequences. It has convinced the allies that they cannot rely on the United States. An important corollary is that they need not follow the US on other issues. Trump will soon discover that our allies have no interest in ratcheting up sanctions on Iran, for example, but instead prefer to continue doing good business with Tehran. Nor are the allies likely to line up and salute on the wars in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Libya. “All for one and one for all” has for decades meant Washington could “to some extent” depend on European backing for American initiatives worldwide. That presumption is now null and void.

Who benefits from this Alliance decay? Russia of course. The vodka flowed in the Kremlin last week. Trump’s own ineptitude and the consequent investigations have stymied his efforts to reach out to Moscow. He is nonetheless proving a useful pawn. Russian President Putin’s fondest hope is to throw NATO into disarray. Trump has done it for him, without any apparent quid pro quo.

The notion that the US or NATO would contest Russian action in Ukraine or Syria has evaporated. The consequences will be felt not only in those two countries but also in increased Russian audacity in the Baltics, the Balkans, Georgia, Moldova and elsewhere. I was just informed of a Montenegrin detained and expelled  from Moscow. Apparently he was on an unpublished non grata list. We’ll be seeing a lot more of that kind of harassment. Putin will push until there is a push back, which he will have concluded isn’t coming any time soon.

He is correct. Trump is pushing back against his democratic allies far more than against any autocracy. His only real enemies at this point are what he likes to call radical Islamic terrorism and Iran, the two of which he has somehow managed to conflate despite their mutual sectarian enmity. Trump simply ignores the fact that Russia is increasingly aligned if not allied with Iran, not only in Syria. Nor does he pay any attention to the fact that Russia and Iran have never focused their attacks there on the Islamic State or Al Qaeda, but instead collaborated in launching the latest chemical weapons attack on more moderate anti-Assad forces.

This is a brave new world in which the president of the United States is not what I would regard as loyal to democratic principles, at home or abroad, or to our democratic allies. Memorial Day commemorates those who have died in the nation’s service. I feel their loss even more deeply when we abandon the ideals they were seeking to defend. This is indeed a sad Memorial Day for America and its allies.

Tags : , , , , , , , , ,

From Bosnia to Iraq, with love

Some colleagues interested in Iraq asked what lessons had been learned from states that have emerged from a collapse of central authority. I was assigned Bosnia. Here is what I had to say:

  1. Central authority never completely collapsed in Bosnia. The internationally recognized government continued to exist in Sarajevo.
  1. But its authority did not extend during more than three years of the war to the three-quarters of the country controlled by unrecognized Croat and Serb military and governing structures, analogous in a way to Kurdistan under Saddam Hussein.
  1. Nor has central authority in Bosnia been fully restored, 22 years after the wars ended.
  1. Let me offer a short version of the story.
  1. After Croat (Catholic) and Bosniak (Muslim) “Federation” forces swept through western Bosnia in August and September 1995, the US peace initiative imposed a ceasefire.
  1. At Dayton, we rolled back the Federation forces from about 67% of the territory to 51% and accepted the governing authority of Republika Srpska on the remaining 49%. The Federation and Republika Srpska are two sub-state units of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  1. This was done with the concurrence of Croatia and Serbia, Bosnia’s nearest neighbors. They were responsible for the war; peace could not be made without them.
  1. NATO initially deployed 60,000 troops, one-third Americans, to guarantee no reversion to war.
  1. We also created a thin central government with limited competences: foreign affairs, customs, currency, immigration, and a few other things like international communications and law enforcement.
  1. The currency used was the Deutschmark, as there was no possibility of agreement on anything else. As a consequence, there could be no: no printing of money and no devaluation.
  1. Under the Dayton constitution, this thin central government and the corresponding parliament were power-sharing arrangements: no important decisions could be made without all ethnic groups agreeing. This was repeated in the Federation down to the municipality level.
  1. Most responsibilities were devolved to the two “entities” created by the warring parties: the Federation and Republika Srpska. The Croat entity was to disappear.
  1. But that Dayton formula proved insufficient to create a functioning state. A civilian international community “High Representative,” designed at Dayton as powerless, was entrusted in 1997 with virtually dictatorial powers to fire officials and promulgate laws.
  1. From 1997 to 2006, he undertook the strengthening of the central government by fiat, with authority derived from a Peace Implementation Council in which the major powers were represented.
  1. With support from the NATO forces, he and the other civilian organizations he reigned over dismantled the separate Croat governing structures, organized elections, unified the army and defense ministries, the customs, the banking system, the license plates, and to some degree the courts, arrested war crime indictees, vetted the police, blocked broadcast of hate speech, instituted direct election of mayors, and beefed up the central government’s authority.
  1. This was vigorous international state-building backed by the stick of military force.
  1. The carrot was entry into Euro-Atlantic institutions.
  1. In 1999, four years after the war, a summit meeting in Sarajevo opened for all the countries of former Yugoslavia the prospect of membership in NATO and the European Union, a commitment that has been reiterated several times since.
  1. While Bosnia lags most of the rest of the Balkans in qualifying because of its still dysfunctional governing structure, incentives like a Stabilization and Association Agreement and a Schengen visa waiver have proven critical in thickening the authority of the central government.
  1. Present circumstances—which include Brexit, the refugee crisis, and a long recession as well as a decision not to admit any new EU members before 2020—have postponed the most important carrot and reduced its attractiveness, which accounts for a lot of the difficulties the Balkans, and Bosnia specifically, are facing right now.
  1. One other detail from Bosnia that may have some relevance to Iraq: the international community, in the person of an American “supervisor,” took on direct governing authority over the Brcko District, perhaps the most contested area during the war.

Read more

Tags : , , ,

Preventing new Balkan conflicts

Here are my speaking notes for the testimony I delivered today at the hearing on “The Balkans: Threats to Peace and Stability” of the Subcommittee on Europe, Asia and Emerging Threats of the House International Relations Committee.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. With permission, I would like to submit a written statement for the record and use the few minutes I have for just three key points.

First, the countries of the region made remarkable progress in the 10 years or so after the NATO intervention in Bosnia in 1995. But in the last 10 years, the U.S. effort to pass the baton of leadership to the European Union has allowed slippage. In Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Macedonia there are now risks of instability that could trigger a regionwide convulsion. That would reflect badly on America’s global leadership role, unravel three peace agreements, and cost us far more than conflict prevention.

Second, those who say ethnic partition through rearrangement of borders would be viable are playing with matches near a powder keg. Moves in that direction would lead to violence, including ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and even genocide. It happened in the 1990s and could again. Monoethnic states cannot be achieved without a massive and expensive peacekeeping deployment.

Ethnic partition would not only be violent, it would also generate a new flood of refugees and creation of Islamic mini-states in parts of Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo. This was a main reason we refused to move borders in the 1990s. Americans should be even more concerned about it today. The Islamic State and Al Qaeda have had more success recruiting in the Balkans than many once thought possible given the pro-Western and pro-American attitudes of most Muslims there. Reducing Balkan Muslims to rump monoethnic states would radicalize many more.

Damage would not be limited to the Balkans. Russia would welcome ethnic partition, because it would validate Moscow’s destructive irredentist behavior in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria, Crimea, and Donbas as well as give Moscow a stronger foothold in the region. It would also leave a geographic gap in NATO and the EU that we have long hoped would be filled with friends and allies.

My third point is this: I see no serious alternative in the Balkans to the political and economic reforms required for each of the countries of the region to be eligible for NATO and EU membership. All want to join the EU, which unfortunately will not be able to begin admitting them until 2020 at the earliest. That leaves NATO membership as the vital “carrot” for reform, except in Serbia. We need to do more to enable Balkan countries that want to do so to join the Alliance, as Montenegro is doing.

In Macedonia, this means Europe and the U.S. need to tell Greece “The FYROM” will be invited to join NATO once it reestablishes transparent and accountable democratic governance. In Kosovo, it means ensuring Pristina develops an army designed for international peacekeeping that poses no threat to Serbs. For that, Serbia will need to accept Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, by allowing UN membership. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, NATO members should tell Republika Srpska secession will gain no Western recognition or aid for it or any country it joins, including from the IMF or World Bank.

These and other suggestions in my written testimony would put the region back on track and prevent the peace agreements of the 1990s and 2001 from unraveling. So too would ensuring that all Balkan countries have access to energy supplies from countries other than Russia: natural gas from Azerbaijan, LNG from the U.S., or eventually Mediterranean gas from Cyprus or Israel.

Mr. Chairman, I’ve just outlined a substantial list of diplomatic tasks. If the Administration commits to them, implementation might require an American special envoy. But a policy should come first: one based on maintaining current borders, preventing ethnic partition, and pushing harder for NATO and EU membership. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Tags : , , , ,