What to do in the Balkans
I prepared these speaking notes for a briefing on the Balkans today:
- The US is responsible for three peace agreements in the Balkans: Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, leaving behind a web that has prevented war for more than 15 years.
- All the countries of the region have made substantial progress in political and economic reform.
- But progress has slowed and even stalled since the European recession.
- The Greek financial crisis, the massive flow of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, and Brexit have made it doubtful that the promise of EU membership can be fulfilled any time soon.
- EU charm is not working as well as it once did, despite Mogherini’s strong statements.
- This is a problem for the US because we have been depending on Europe to carry the burden in the Balkans, with US support when needed.
- But if Brussels fails, the peace agreements could unravel, with serious consequences: heightened migration not only through but from the Balkans, growing radicalization of Balkan Muslims, and increasing Russian troublemaking near and even inside NATO.
- What is needed is mainly a diplomatic, not a military, effort to complete Balkan peace processes so that all the countries of the region can join NATO and the EU, if they wish to do so.
- This diplomatic effort could include the following:
- Recommitment with Brussels to existing Balkan borders and states, including a planned response to any scheduling of a Republika Srpska independence referendum.
- Accelerated NATO and EU membership.
- Better carrots and sticks, including expanded trade and targeted sanctions.
- Refocus aid on rule of law, particularly anti-corruption and countering extremism.
- Increased emphasis on National Guard cooperation with Serbia, Kosovo Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia.
- Establish a region-wide truth and reconciliation effort.
- An enhanced effort to solve country-specific issues: Bosnia’s constitutional and electoral inadequacies, UN membership for Kosovo, Macedonia’s name.
- In addition, we need to counter Russian troublemaking by reducing Balkan dependence on Moscow’s gas, sanctioning those who finance Balkan leaders who threaten peace, beefing up our media capabilities, and consulting with Balkan governments on Russian election meddling.
- These are not expensive things, but important ones. Doing them would preserve peace and stability, avoid major costs, limit Russian troublemaking and give us a lot of secure and prosperous friends.