In March, Mrs. Clinton – FM/USA - commented in Brussels that the Obama administration was “determined to listen, advise (European Union countries) and through agreement arrive at wise solution to common challenges.” Among the “common challenges” was that the “Balkans is in danger of becoming part of the forgotten past.” She added the ominous view that “it will not be allowed for unfinished business to remain there.”
The US vice president’s trip in Balkans on May was again evidence of a lack of European leadership. Biden’s visit to Serbia, Kosovo, and, most especially, Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), was necessary due the reason that Europe is still not up to resolving its own security problems. Brussels has lost – if it sometimes had – its vision on Balkans, is divided with Kosovo case and lacks a viable policy toward BiH, leaving Washington to lobby most consistently for the steps that would bring the country into the EU.
A recent panel discussion on the Balkans presented by the Lord Byron Foundation at Toronto’s Royal Canadian Military Institute (RCMI), brought together experts on the subject. The panellists agreed that recent moves indicate “reinvigoration” of the former Clinton policies, whereby then-secretary of state Madeleine Albright worked assiduously to go to war on behalf of Kosovo. That was arguably, one of the greatest errors and miscalculations of the Clinton regime. The justification was that Serbs were intent on genocide of Kosovo Albanians when, in fact, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) provoked Serbian reaction, and fabricated massacres.
Since the war al-Qaida and Muslim extremists have flooded into the Balkans: Kosovo, Bosnia, Macedonia. The dreaded spectre of militant Islam in the heart of Europe has become a reality, enhanced by U.S. policy and now apparently revived by Obama.
Now Europeans realize they were hoodwinked into recognizing Kosovo’s independence on the pretence it would resolve problems and bring peace. Kosovo case was not unique, like it was introduced into playgrounds of international politics, it was a precedent to numerous separatist movement on globe that violence is the right mean to achieve political aims instead of international law.
Bosnia- Herzegovina (BiH) is a country whose chronic ethnic divisions have defied one of the most intensive, multilateral nation-building efforts ever attempted. Last year, for the first time since the war ended, there was anxious worry in Sarajevo about renewed conflict. Even if the parties never pick up arms again, BiH risks permanent stagnation, a quite plausible scenario that would put the substantial American investment — and continuing American interests — in BiH at risk. Instead of an inevitable EU member, Bosnia is more likely to remain an unwelcome, dysfunctional and divided country, with an aggrieved Bosniak (Muslim) plurality, a frustrated, increasingly defensive Serb entity, and an anxious, existentially threatened Croat population. More in my article “BosniaCollapsing”.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is on the stage of transition from an international protectorate to one responsible for its own reform dynamics. Scepticism is growing about the EU’s capacity to facilitate such reform, when the reinforced EU Special representative (EUSR) should replace the Office of the High Representative (OHR).
Leaders of the three strongest national – Serb, Croat, Bosnian Muslim - parties, met on late 2008, after alarming negative EU reports, with the aim of reaching an agreement over several highly disputed issues that are crucial for country’s EU membership, as well as the closure of the Office of the High Representative, OHR. In only two hours, they reached a general agreement on a process of future constitutional changes, questions that would be covered in 2011 census, as well as regulation of the status of the Brcko district and state property. More here.
Deepening talks have continued after this sc Prud Agreement, which will strengthen federation elements while weakening central state power. The Agreement states that Bosnia-Herzegovina is a decentralized country with four—as opposed to the current three—territorial units, while the changes to the Constitution would be discussed in more detail at their future meetings.
The US Vice President Joseph Biden’s visit to Balkans on May 2009 represents the end of the “Dayton phase” of BiH and the beginning of the new phase of upgrading the Dayton Agreement or entering into a new agreement for BiH.
Presidend Obama is now in a bit similar situation in Balkans than President Clinton during 90s. Quote from Time: Do Something…Anything, May 3rd, 1993:
All the new options, Clinton acknowledged, “have pluses and minuses,” and “all have supporters and opponents in Congress.” That is a large part of the President’s problem. He is getting plenty of advice, but it is not consistent. He is being pulled and tugged in several directions at once in a * field — foreign affairs — for which he does not have his own fingertip instinctiveness. He is being asked to lead where his allies in Europe are reluctant to follow. Clinton feels the strength of the moral argument for action echoing around Washington but is unwilling to start something without knowing how he will end it.
Selection of Mr. Obama brought hope to see some change with US Foreign policy in Balkan too. However when he selected Biden as his vice I went to deep doubts about his judgment. Selecting a man on the record for stating that “all Serbs should be placed in Nazi-style concentration camps” during Senatorial deliberations in 1999 over NATO aggression on Serbia, and that United States ought to conduct a fascist, “Japanese-German style occupation” of Serbia. If Mr. Obama needs help of this kind of redneck so bay bay change.
Some background to U.S. Balkan politics during 90s see e.g.“Beyond Tragedy: NATO’s Intervention in The Former Yugoslavia/Virginia University
It’s said that The Balkans are a graveyard for foreign ambitions. This could be the “lessons learned” to both USA and EU.
Some more sustainable solutions could also be implemented in Western Balkans. Withdrawal of Kosovo recognition can open real negotiations between local stakeholders with unpredicted but possible compromise can end one frozen conflict. Facilitating new Dayton could solve other crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina. With these actions U.S.and Russia together can also restore the authority of UNSC as ultimate forum of international conflict prevention.
The key question from my point of view is whether western Balkans really needs outside advice or not. The other option could be that instead to be the mastermind of Balkan policy the EU and USA should be facilitators for regional initiatives.