Policy Report | May 02, 2018

Time for Action in the Western Balkans

The EastWest Institute, together with the National Committee on American Foreign Policy issued a report examining the need for immediate, decisive action by the United States and the European Union to address pressing issues and prevent potential conflict in the Western Balkans. The Western Balkans—Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania and Serbia—are once again an area of concern owing to deficient internal governance, economic challenges, intraregional ethnic frictions and external influences.

In the face of early warning signs, the report presents a fresh look and advocates for a coordinated response, introducing achievable policy steps that are practical under the current socio-economic conditions.

Please access the complete report: Time for Action in the Western Balkans: Policy Prescriptions for American Diplomacy

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Western Balkans Panel Discussion

A plan of action for American diplomacy in the region and why “stasis is not equal to stability.”

As part of the roll out for this report, the EastWest Institute hosted a panel discussion on Thursday, May 31: "Time for Action in the Western Balkans: Policy Prescriptions for American Diplomacy."

The report was co-written by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP) and the EastWest Institute (EWI). Ambassador Cameron Munter, CEO and President of EWI was joined by Ambassador Frank Wisner, an International Affairs Advisor with the law firm Squire Patton Boggs, and former U.S. Envoy for Kosovo Status Talks and Jonathan Levitsky, partner at the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, and a former counselor to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

Ambassador Wisner started the discussion by explaining three elements that are driving instability in the region. First, internal stability has regressed since the Dayton Accords as institutional degradation continues, the economy weakens, joblessness increases and talented people continue to leave the region. Second, the continuing persistence of quarrels between nations makes peace and security more difficult, particularly between Kosovo and Serbia.

As a final point, he explained the intrusion of outside influencers is not constructive. The Russian Federation uses the Western Balkans as a focal point to exercise its influence in sometimes problematic ways, as was evidenced by Russia’s attempts to interfere in Montenegro’s democratic institutions.

Turkey exerts helpful influence throughout the Balkans by investing in infrastructure development and peacekeeping missions as a NATO member; however Turkey’s domestic politics can intrude on its foreign policy, as was seen when the Turkish Prime Minister campaigned in Sarajevo in May. China, for its part, invests billions of euros in the region, but weaker environmental, labor and transparency standards compared with the U.S. and E.U., may come at the cost of regional reform necessary for future E.U. membership.

Ambassador Wisner also touched on the difficult presence of fundamentalists in the region. The Western Balkans are both a rich recruitment ground for disaffected youth, as well as a place where fighters often return after participating in conflict zones such as Syria.

Focus on Bosnia

According to Mr. Levitsky, Bosnia and Herzegovina is at a dangerous point, but is getting to a stage where it could become a more significant issue, perhaps even a genuine national security risk due to the refugee flows and political instability. He further explained that the larger problem is the Dayton Accords, as these “were never meant to be a final end state,” but must evolve. Ambassador Munter urged the U.S. to “reengage in support of what our European colleagues are doing” to address this potential hotspot.

Ultimately, the goal for the Western Balkans is full membership in the E.U. and NATO, but that is a long term view. What is required today is a credible and achievable strategy that makes it clear to citizens and governments in the region that both these goals are realistic and within reach.

Serbia and Kosovo must continue their engagement, Munter emphasized. Wisner noted that Macedonia has made significant progress on the issue of its name, and Montenegro’s accession to NATO is welcome.

The realization of E.U. and NATO membership is the long term goal, but because “this isn’t a carrot anyone will eat anytime soon,” Mr. Levitsky suggests that the benefits of E.U. membership be broken up into pieces to encourage the adoption of further necessary reforms today.

Wisner and Munter emphasized that the report is not a comprehensive study of the region, but a call to action for American policymakers in support of European leadership in the region.