More broadly, tech and trade offer the same possibility. On both sides of the Atlantic, we’ll be focusing on human talent, promoting free trade and innovation while tackling high sovereign deficits, and emerging global security challenges. Such a strategy should be geared towards reinvigorating the competitiveness of the West and promoting conditions for the United States and the EU to lead in a “values” based market. In this framework, special attention needs to be devoted to the Western Balkans, to support the socio-economic development of countries that are currently vulnerable to economic coercion from nefarious players.
The economic and infrastructural gap of the region with the EU needs to put the connectivity issue of the Western Balkans high in the transatlantic agenda: again, not simply because it’s a “problem” but because it offers solutions valuable to all. The region should be included in the Washington-led 3 Seas Initiative, and new infrastructure connectivity projects should be supported through the Development Finance Corporation, the EXIM Bank of the United States, in cooperation with the EU investment plans and the Berlin Process. More attention should be paid to the region when it comes to the “near-shoring” the production of critical goods within the transatlantic economy, and diversify production networks to reduce over-dependency on China. This will prove to be a cost-effective investment in the long term by providing for security and prosperity within the community.
In all these areas, dealing with the Western Balkans is not a matter of putting another problem on a list of common challenges to Europe and America. That list is already too long. The benefit should be in creating the space for the Western Balkans to be part of the common solution that we seek on both sides of the Atlantic. Yes, this will require some changes in the thinking of those in the region who have spent the better part of the last three decades agonizing over the inward-looking elements that keep them apart, and thus unable to join the rest of the western world. But if the Western Balkans are to take their rightful place in the Euro-Atlantic community, then Europe and America need to invite them to help solve the Euro-Atlantic’s global and common problems.
Valbona Zeneli is a professor of national security studies and chair of the strategic initiatives department at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.
Cameron Munter is a retired American diplomat who lives in New York and consults globally. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Serbia 2007–2009.
The views presented are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Defense or its components.