The Balkans: Partnering-Up for the Future

For two hundred years, the forces of nationalism and geopolitical realities have kept the present Balkan states and their predecessors apart, having failed to produce a unity of strategic purpose and a truly common political agenda.

For two hundred years, the forces of nationalism and geopolitical realities have kept the present Balkan states and their predecessors apart, having failed to produce a unity of strategic purpose and a truly common political agenda. Since the fall of Milosevic in October 2000 and the return of democracy to the region's metropolitan power, the Balkan states have passed the point of no return along the path toward Euro-Atlantic integration. The states in the region are ready to partner-up for a common future.

During the last twelve years, while the Yugoslav civil war raged seemingly endlessly, the Western democracies acted for the most part in a confused fashion and, with notable exceptions, did not contribute long-lasting solutions to the problem that has been the Balkans.

After 1995's Dayton Accords, which ended the central chapter in the Yugoslav war of succession, initiatives designed to foster regional stability and prosperity, such as the Royaumont Initiative, the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI) and the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, were instituted. However, none of them could offer a solid political, economical and security model. Finally, the double-carrot of prospective NATO and the EU membership now dangles in front of Balkan states, and no state stands to go home hungry.

On 29 July 2003, NATO and the EU made public a framework to jointly engage the Balkans, bringing to the table for the first time a strategic approach designed to succeed and reaffirming a common vision for the future of the Balkans characterized as "self-sustaining stability based on democratic and effective government structures and a viable free market economy," leading, eventually, to EU and NATO membership.

NATO-the strongest and most cohesive military alliance the world has seen and a political actor on the world stage in its own right-and the European Union-the only institution capable of bringing political and economical order and prosperity to the region-have inseparable roles to play in this historical undertaking. As NATO's outgoing secretary general, Lord Robertson, put it at the Thessaloniki Summit, NATO and the EU are moving away from ad hoc cooperation towards a genuine common strategy.

A continuing, if diminished, American military engagement in the region is necessary in order to make this vision a reality. The same can be said for the prospects of financial recovery. While America is not the "indispensable nation", as Madeleine Albright once put it, in the context of the Balkans, it is clear that American support is key to ensuring membership in some of the preparatory Euro-Atlantic institutions, such as Partnership for Peace.

From Belgrade to Sarajevo, Zagreb to Tirana, Pristina to Podgorica, a political consensus has formed concerning the vital interest each country has in joining NATO and the European Union. Most also understood that leaving any state behind in the integration process is not in their own national interest.

The ghosts of the past still haunt the Balkans. There have been radical changes in political, economic and cultural perceptions, as well as a noticeable shift in the attitude towards human rights and religious freedom. The inviolability of international borders is being accepted. And the list goes on. Over all, the region has come a long way, and the days of communist tyranny and aggressive warfare appear over.

Still, there is the danger of renewing regional rivalries. For example, Washington's insistence that military aid be contingent on states signing onto the Article 98 provision of the International Criminal Court [ICC], which would grant Americans immunity from extradition and prosecution in the ICC should they be served with a warrant in their countries has forced many to painfully choose between the EU and the United States and goes against the spirit of the July 29th joint framework.

The document produced by the joint framework lists seven core and interlinked areas of the concerted approach on security and stability in the region. First, conflict prevention and crisis management, which creates a mechanism to preempt any current or potential crisis from escalating beyond a war of words. For example, the document explicitly notes that ethnically cleansed Serb IDPs returning to Kosovo may require ongoing security protection. In certain situations, a new division of labor may be possible, with the EU assuming a military role, such as Operation Concordia, in Macedonia.

Second, defense and security sector reform. Rapid deployment capabilities, interoperability issues and regional military cohesiveness are just some of the issues to be covered.  However, as has been seen in the past six months in Serbia, when the political will for military reform arises, much can be done in record time.  Additionally, the project for a regional multinational peacekeeping force, known as the Southeast European Brigade (SEEBRIG), can be expanded for the common benefit of all parties concerned.

Third, programs to strengthen the rule of law and the police structures, so as to better deal with the fight against organized crime, corruption, illegal migration and human trafficking. Here the framework outlined at the Ohrid Regional Conference on Border Security and Management, held in May, 2003, is a fine starting point.

Fourth, the war on terror, whether it be based on extreme ethnic or religious lines, will require strong regional cooperation and a commitment to do what is necessary to rid the world of the dangers of asymmetrical warfare.

Fifth, the issue of border security and management. Here, too, the strategy developed at the Ohrid Conference is applicable.