Day: November 14, 2017

Questions about unraveling

A few questions have come up about my report for the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on preventing The Unraveling of the Balkans Peace AgreementsI’ll try to answer some of them here.

Q: Was the report requested by the Congress or the Administration?

A: No, though it has been briefed to both.

The report originated in a call to me last spring from CFR prevention director Paul Stares, a former colleague at the United States Institute of Peace. I had done two previous reports for Paul, both on Libya, but he was of course aware of my interest in the Balkans and had noticed the increasing alarm about the Balkans in the US and European media.

Q: Why did you write about changing borders in the Balkans? Doesn’t doing so give that idea legitimacy/credibility?

A: CFR rightly requires that its authors treat a full range of options to deal with the potential contingency in question. Changing borders has been widely discussed in the Balkans, Europe, and the US. I felt I had to deal with the idea.

I did so by looking at it from the perspective of US interests and values. It failed on both counts. It would require both heavy diplomatic and military commitments from the US, EU and Russia that are not available. It would also boost President Putin’s misbehavior in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, not to mention undermine the US position on Kurdistan’s independence referendum. It would also vitiate liberal democratic values, which are based on equal rights regardless of ethnicity, not trying to herd people on to the “right” side of a border.

Q: The report suggests a special envoy for the Balkans in order to reassert US leadership on some key issues. Secretary of State Tillerson is not keen on special envoys. Isn’t there another way?

A: Yes. I mention in the report that the current institutional setup could be used, a deputy assistant secretary, provided she or he has good connectivity with upper levels of the US government. Another option, one I wish I had included, would be delegation of authority for the Balkans to Vice President Pence, who has already begun to take the lead there. A formal delegation with key objectives outlined would likely be a better solution than a special envoy, but I’m told it is also unlikely.

Q: What has been the reaction to the report?

A: Positive from those who agree with me. Others don’t communicate as much, but instead use my mention of border changes to suggest falsely that is my preferred option. Let me say again: I see no way to change borders that is feasible with the resources available and oppose the idea in principle as well as in practice. Democracy and rule of law are the answer, not ethnic tribalism.

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