LOST BENEATH the bloody headlines from Afghanistan, Darfur, Iraq and Lebanon is the fact that the Balkans are undergoing their most profound period of change since Slobodan Milosevic's overthrow in 2000. Last June, Montenegro declared its independence, and the process to determine Kosovo's future status has entered its last stages. New governments are also in power in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
All of these changes are taking place at a time when strategic uncertainty in southeastern Europe is increasing because Washington and Brussels are consumed by problems elsewhere, while Russia is increasingly asserting its political and economic interests in the region. Balkan stability over the past seven years has rested on three pillars: a significant U.S. military presence, the foreseeable prospect of EU accession for the Balkan countries and the fact that political elites in Belgrade, Banja Luka, Skopje and Zagreb support the political and territorial status quo in the region. Two of these three pillars-the U.S. military presence and the foreseeable prospect of EU accession-are either being withdrawn or pushed back to an increasingly distant future. The few remaining U.S. troops in Bosnia were pulled out in 2006, and a similar withdrawal is planned for Kosovo in the near future. Both moves reveal the mindset of bureaucratic planners who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Meanwhile, the Europeans are suffering from too many of their own problems to guide the Balkan states successfully through the transition process, so the EU is unable to provide firm assurances as to when the next round of enlargement that would include the Balkan states might take place. Hence, there is a significant danger that international policy toward the region could founder for the next couple of years.