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Atlantic Council - Balkans Forward Report

Atlantic Council FUTURE EUROPE INITIATIVE BALKANS FORWARD A New US Strategy for the Region Damir Marusic, Sarah Bedenbaugh, and Damon Wilson BALKANS FORWARD A New US Strategy for the Region Damir Marusic, Sarah Bedenbaugh, and Damon Wilson ISBN: 978-1-61977-384-4. Cover photo credit: White House. Vice President Mike Pence and Montenegrin Prime Minister Duško Marković, August 1, 2017. This report is written and published in accordance with the Atlantic Council Policy on Intellectual Independence. The authors are solely responsible for its analysis and recommendations. The Atlantic Council and its donors do not determine, nor do they necessarily endorse or advocate for, any of this report’s conclusions. November 2017 CONTENTS Foreword..............................................................................................................................................1 Acknowledgments............................................................................................................................2 Executive Summary .........................................................................................................................3 Introduction.........................................................................................................................................5 Fissures Abound................................................................................................................................ 7 What Does Russia Want?...............................................................................................................11 Spotlight: Corruption, not “Ancient Hatreds” ........................................................................12 A Wake-Up Call for the United States ......................................................................................15 From Security to Prosperity .........................................................................................................20 About the Authors............................................................................................................................21 Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region FOREWORD T he Western Balkans is a region in flux. As the United States and Europe focus on internal concerns, Russia and other countries are reshaping the geopolitical landscape across the region. Meanwhile, a new generation of investors and entrepreneurs are primed to breathe new life into stagnant economies, but crime and corruption remain entrenched in the political and economic spheres, preventing successful implementation of needed reforms and endangering political support in Europe for further integration. Against a backdrop of enormous change and uncertainty, the United States, the European Union, and the Western Balkans have an opportunity. If we get it right, we can lead in creating a safe, secure, and prosperous western Balkans firmly embedded in the West. Get it wrong, and American ambivalence today may engender a crisis tomorrow, which in turn would demand a far greater degree of US engagement than would ever have been required to avoid a crisis in the first place. Recognizing the importance of the Balkans to the future of the European project, the Atlantic Council established its Balkans Initiative. Over the past year, the Council’s Balkans Initiative brought together the best minds—senior government officials, members of the business and startup community, civil society leaders, academics and policy experts, and journalists—to tackle the most pressing challenges facing the region and to drive forward a renewed US strategy in partnership with our European allies. They came together in the form of consultations, delegations, and strategy sessions in Washington, DC and across the region, providing important insight into the hopes, concerns, and expectations in these capitals. Reflecting our own “bet” on the people of the region, the Initiative intentionally adopted a bias of drawing on the next generation of entrepreneurs, leaders, and experts – both in the region and in the United States. As a project with many facets, the past year has been a full-team effort. I would like to offer special thanks to Executive Vice President Damon Wilson, who was instrumental in providing direction and guidance for this major project, and for bringing together a roster of leading contributors and experts to ground the initiative in a forward-thinking strategic perspective. Associate Director Sarah Bedenbaugh deftly managed project operations and ensured that the Council’s Balkans programming ran smoothly and efficiently. I would also like to thank our “brain trust,” the countless experts and intellectual entrepreneurs in our network who selflessly contributed their time, vision, and critical analysis to this project throughout the process. Thanks in particular to Damir Marusic for serving as lead rapporteur for this report, Majda Ruge for her extensive work and testimony on foreign fighters and radicalization in the Balkans, and to Nonresident Senior Fellow Dimitar Bechev for his landmark study on foreign influence in the region. I also want to acknowledge the leadership of Ambassador Robert Gelbard who, in his role as an Atlantic Council executive committee board director, has championed and supported the Council’s Balkans Initiative. Finally, I want to extend our deepest appreciation to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund for its generous support of this report and the overall Initiative. Our work would not have been possible if not for RBF’s keen recognition of the need to remain consistently engaged in this unfinished part of Europe and ensure a clear, constructive, and optimistic future for the Balkan region. I also want to thank the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland and the Federal Foreign Office of Germany for their support of the Council’s Balkans Initiative programming. This text is both a culmination of the past year’s work, and only the very beginning of what we hope will be a new vision for US engagement in the Western Balkans. Frederick Kempe President and CEO Atlantic Council Damon Wilson Executive Vice President Atlantic Council ATLANTIC COUNCIL 1 Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I n preparation for this report, the authors benefitted from the contributions of many individuals who have been integral members of the Atlantic Council’s Balkans Initiative effort. The Council wishes to thank the following individuals who were consulted throughout the duration of the effort, participating in Initiative events, delegations, study tours, and meetings. They provided countless intellectual contributions to this project and support the report’s conclusions; however, not all of the report recommendations reflect the views of all the individuals listed here. Additionally, individuals participated in Initiative activities in their private capacities; institutional affiliations are provided for identification purposes. Mr. Haki Abazi President and Executive Director, Emerging Democracies Institute The Honorable Robert S. Gelbard Chairman, Gelbard International Consulting Ms. Karen Karnicki Mr. Mark Boris Andrijanic Public Policy Associate, Program Associate, Peacebuilding and Western Balkans, Rockefeller Brothers Fund Central and Eastern Europe, Uber 2017 Millennium Fellow, Atlantic Council Mr. Damir Marusic Executive Editor, The American Interest Dr. Dimitar Bechev Research Fellow, Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Nonresident Senior Fellow, Mr. Milan Nič Senior Fellow, Robert Bosch Center for Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia, German Council on Foreign Relations Nonresident Senior Fellow, Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council Future Europe Initiative, Atlantic Council Ms. Sarah Bedenbaugh Associate Director, European Union and Special Initiatives, Atlantic Council The Honorable Marcie B. Ries Former US Ambassador to Bulgaria and Albania Dr. Frances G. Burwell Distinguished Fellow, Future Europe Initiative, Atlantic Council Dr. Majda Ruge Fellow, Foreign Policy Institute, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University Senior Advisor, McLarty Associates Dr. Evelyn Farkas Nonresident Senior Fellow, Future Europe Initiative, Atlantic Council Former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia Mr. Daniel Vajdich President, Yorktown Solutions LLC Nonresident Senior Fellow, Future Europe Initiative, Atlantic Council Mr. Damon M. Wilson Executive Vice President, Programs and Strategy, Atlantic Council Dr. Sabine Freizer Nonresident Senior Fellow, Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council 2 ATLANTIC COUNCIL Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region EXECUTIVE SUMMARY A fter the violent decade of the 1990s, humanitarian catastrophes, should they arise. The the Western Balkans were thought to move should also send a clear signal to the region be on a path to stability. The promise of that the United States is committed to preventing Euro-Atlantic integration would help the reckless revisionism of existing borders—something countries of former Yugoslavia both push through that Russian adventurism has encouraged. painful internal reforms, and nudge the region 2) Pursue a “historic” rapprochement with Serbia. into closer cooperation helping salve the wounds of recent wars. There has been notable progress: This is not strictly speaking a new approach, but it Slovenia and Croatia are now both NATO allies and needs a more forceful try in the context of renewed members of the European Union (EU). Albania and engagement in the region. Belgrade can and should Montenegro have joined NATO. be a close partner and ally in the region, but it can only become one if it begins to meaningfully Buoyed by these successes, engagement by distance itself from Russia. This is not a trivial pivot for Serbian leadership, but neither should it be something on which the United States or the EU should compromise. both European powers and the United States has waned over time, justified by a passive belief in the inevitability of the region’s ultimate trajectory. The result has been predictable: by 2015, Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev was warning that the Western Balkans represented the “soft underbelly of Europe”. Krastev’s warning is even more salient 3) Regain the United States’ reputation as an honest broker. today. Already weak state institutions have been Turning a blind eye to the creeping authoritarianism strained by the flow of migrants and refugees of theregion’s leaders has seemed worthwhile in the short term. But a blind pursuit of stability at unemployment, political gridlock, and pervasive the cost of progress in democratic development corruption are a recipe for the radicalization of the virtually guarantees the persistence of the very region’s young Muslim population. And the last two pathologies that plague the region. Montenegro’s years have seen breathtaking attempts by Russia to accession to NATO presents one opportunity to help capitalize on the region’s lingering pathologies to an emerging partner make good on its commitment crossing the region into Europe. Persistent undermine the European project. to genuine democratic reforms. The breakthrough of Europe-focused reformers in Macedonia presents another. The United States should pursue a more intentional effort to prepare Athens and Skopje to become future allies, and join the EU to push the Belgrade-Pristina talks into the endgame. Though the region still broadly yearns to join the West (and its institutions), the final outcome should no longer be taken for granted. The United States, in particular, can and should play a key role. We should give voice to a clear, common vision for the region, and coordinate with the European Union to 4) Bet on the region’s entrepreneurs and youth. reestablish clarity in a common transatlantic goal at the political level. Noneofthesemovesmakesensewithoutaddressing longer-term economic prospects for the region’s Beyond that, there are several concrete steps the young people, especially as the accession process United States ought to take to help stabilize a region stretches indefinitely into the future. The United badly in need of stability: States must re-engage with its European partners to create meaningful economic opportunities for the people of the region outside of political patronage networks. From infrastructure projects, both linking the countries to each other and to the larger European continent, to lowering barriers to regional trade, to encouraging investment in the digital arena and in a new generation of entrepreneurs, there are a wealth of opportunities that can help unlock the human potential and bring a sense of purposeful direction back to a part of the world that increasingly looks like it has lost its way. 1) Establish a permanent US military presence in Southeastern Europe. Such an announcement would demonstrate an enduring US commitment to security in the region and anchor the United States’ long-term ability to influence developments. Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo is ideal for this purpose. Troops would be used both to help strengthen local authorities’ terrorist interdiction capabilities through training and sharing of best practices, and to provide aid in ATLANTIC COUNCIL 3 Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region The European Union is and will remain the major again becomes an exporter of serious problems, player in the western Balkans, committing far much less conflict. The Western Balkan region more resources, tools, human capital, and political offers the best near-term prospect to demonstrate attention to the region than the United States. tangible results of a continued close transatlantic For this, Americans should be grateful. There will relationship; and with a modest effortto recommit be no bright future for southeast Europe without to a compelling vision and strategy, including key EU or regional leadership. However, the United political and economic steps, the United States can States retains a special authority that it can use to catalyze positive strategic outcomes that pave the advance its interests in ensuring the region never way for a more secure and prosperous region. 4 ATLANTIC COUNCIL Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region INTRODUCTION T he Western Balkans were supposed to be rejecting the EU’s Association Agreement with a solved problem. The bloody wars of the Ukraine sent an unmistakable signal to the region 1990s have been followed by almost two that the European Union has no immediate appetite decades of halting but measurable progress for further enlargement. President Donald Trump’s 1 in the region. Since the 2001 signing of the Ohrid early rhetoric questioning the United States’ Accords between the government of Macedoniaand commitment to NATO and his floating a possible an Albanian insurgency ended the last of a series “grand bargain” with Russia prompted many of of conflicts that were triggered by the dissolution the region’s leaders to wonder if the United States of Yugoslavia, the United States and the European and NATO could still be counted on to protect the Union (EU) have worked together to help the region various post-Yugoslav territorial settlements. build a lasting and enduring order. All of a sudden, the Western Balkans are in the news The template was simple: The region would be again. A failed, Russian-backed coup in Montenegro, put on a path to membership in NATO and the EU. a train decorated with Serbian agitprop stopped Membership would both deter irredentism and help by security forces at the Kosovo border, a series of freeze in place the sometimes uneasy agreements protests against corruption following the first-round reached after the wars, while the promise of access victory of Aleksandar Vučić in Serbia’s presidential to Europe’s common market and borderless travel election, and lingering tensions in Macedonia after regime would compel actors to put aside their bitterly contested elections led to a constitutional differences and concentrate on internal reforms and crisis—these are just a few of the headline-grabbing state building. Over time, the theory held, nations moments of the last several months. of the region would evolve, away from exerting the Without the traditional mix of constraints and sovereignty regained in the post-Cold war period, inducements provided by the West since the and toward cooperating on mutually reinforcing late 1990s, the Western Balkans have become a policies to join the EU and its institutions, leading much more dangerous place. Pervasive political to greater regional integration and lessening the and economic stagnation is exacerbating long- significance of national boundaries. simmering grievances, and is undermining trust in Conflicts that were ended with heavy external the rule of law and democratic forms of government. involvement, such as the wars in Kosovo and Bosnia While Islamist radicalization among the unemployed and Herzegovina (BiH), called for sustained political youth in Kosovo and BiH may be the dog that has triage and substantial amounts of economic not barked yet, the region’s pervasive political and assistance by the international community. Less economic stagnation means the West cannot get immediate issues—including the name dispute too complacent. between Macedonia and Greece, tensions over With local populations and their leaders adrift, returnees and lingering resentments from the war foreign players have stepped in to fill the vacuum between Serbia and Croatia,as well as the status created by Western inattention. Turkey has been of Serbs in Kosovo and the internal ethnic politics cultivating its clients in the region, predominantly of both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia— in BiH but also in Albania and Macedonia. Russia, also required sporadic but intense diplomatic on the other hand, has been much more brash engagement. Though overall progress has been and cynical, stirring up ethnic trouble in order to slow—and has ground to a standstill in BiH—the destabilize the region and cause headaches for the soundness of this basic strategy has not been West. questioned. Prospects for EU accession remain the lodestar for In 2016, however, two important changes upended hopeful reformers across the region. Unfortunately, the status quo by undermining much of the Balkans’ the last few years have not exactly been encouraging trust in their short-term future in the EU and NATO. to aspirant countries. With the German elections Despite European leaders’ strident objections to the over, the European Union will now try to address its contrary, the Brexit vote and a Dutch referendum 1 Neil Buckley, Arthur Beesley, and Andrew Byrne, “EU Struggles to Regain Credibility in Western Balkans,” Financial Times, March 8, 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/bc829a82-03e4-11e7-ace0-1ce02ef0def9; Neil Buckley, “Brexit Poses Challenge to EU Expansion,” Financial Times, July 5, 2016, https://www.ft.com/content/2cd87b08-42ac-11e6-b22f-79eb4891c97d. ATLANTIC COUNCIL 5 Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region “. . . [T]he United States has mostly watched from afar in recent years, thinking that the Europeans had these matters mostly in hand. . . Unfortunately, a policy of benign neglect is no longer sufficient.” The good news is that a heavy lift is not required: a little bit of effort in the Western Balkans will go a very long way. By verbally reassuring actors that it remains committed to the post-Yugoslav territorial settlements, and by demonstrating said commitment through enhancing its force posture in the region, the United States would affect a notable change. As it enhances its presence, the United States ought to renew its efforts to pursue a better and more constructive relationship with Serbia; one more attempt to approach Belgrade 2 as a partner and ally, rather than as a perpetual regional troublemaker, could pay huge dividends. At the same time, the United States ought to attempt to “reset” its role in the region as an honest broker, by holding all our partners to a minimum standard of good democratic governance. Turning a blind eye to the creeping authoritarianism of leaders who are promising progress on vexing regional issues might seem worthwhile in the short term, but a blind pursuit of stability at the cost of progress in democratic development virtually guarantees the persistence of the very pathologies that plague the region. myriad structural issues; the extent to which it will have the political will to admit new members, even if it succeeds in reinventing itself, remains an open question. In response to rising Euroscepticism and a five-year moratorium on enlargement announced byJean-ClaudeJunckerin2014,Germanylaunched the so-called Berlin process, helping the EU remain engaged in the Balkans. It is no substitute for a real accession process, but is still the best bet for advancement amid turbulent political realities on the continent. Finally, the United States needs to re-engage with its European partners to come up with projects that enhance the economic prospects of young people in the region, evenas the accession process stretches indefinitely into the future. From infrastructure projects, both linking the countries to each other and to the larger European continent, to lowering barriers to regional trade, to encouraging investment in a new generation of entrepreneurs, there are a wealth of opportunities that can help unlock the human potential and bring a sense of purposeful direction back to a part of the world that increasingly looks like it has lost its way. For its part, the United States has mostly watched from afar in recent years, thinking that the Europeans had these matters mostly in hand. US diplomats have payed crucial roles at key moments. Yet, the region continued its slide down the US political agenda. Unfortunately, a policy of benign neglect is no longer sufficient. EU accession as a carrot has only worked when accompanied by the kind of political pressure that was applied in the early 2000s. 2 This has been the de facto policy since at least 2008, but has arguably not been pursued forcefully enough, nor as part of a broader regional vision. 6 ATLANTIC COUNCIL Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region FISSURES ABOUND I rredentism has played a role throughout Eastern some observers think he may really be serious this Europe since World War II, but nowhere has it time. Washington should lean in and help him and dominated politics as much as it has in Serbia. Kosovo’s Hashim Thaçi secure a final deal in the The one million ethnic Serbs living in BiH’s coming year. autonomous Republika Srpska entity are for now not the country’s obsessive focus. By contrast, the final status of Kosovo, where some 60,000 ethnic Serbs still live, remains a powerful and emotional issue. Various opposition politicians have tried to minimize the issue in every election by instead focusing on bread-and-butter topics more relevant to the lives of average Serbian voters. They have all failed. Two recent polls tell the tale: In one, only 10 percent of Serbs say they would go to war over Kosovo today, yet only 8 percent would accept a final settlement that involves Serbia recognizing But even as he has tantalized Western leaders with the promise of a breakthrough on Kosovo, Vučić has also courted Russia. He sees the Russians less as partners able to bring prosperity to his country, and more as a means of raising his own value to the West—by “playing hard to get” in order to wrest some concessions over the Kosovo issue. He also sees his relationship with Russia as a long-term hedge against the European project catastrophically cratering. If it does, Serbia will be left standing with a great power behind it, in contrast to the rest of the region’s countries that have staked their futures on what is potentially an unachievable, dead-end dream. Kosovo’s independence. In another, 80 percent of 3 Serbians say the country should walk away from EU accession if recognizing Kosovo’s independence was a precondition for entry. 4 Moscow has been all too happy to oblige Vučić and has seized on its “historic” ties with Belgrade—ties, incidentally,thathaverarelyamountedtomuchmore than rhetorical and “moral” support—to exploit the simmering resentments among the region’s Serbs in order to call into question the entire post-Yugoslav settlement. For an adroit politician, these kinds of statistics provide an opportunity for endless maneuver. Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić, who served as prime minister from 2014 until being elected president earlier this year, is exactly that kind of politician. He rose to power by cannily promising his constituents botha successful path to the European Union and an acceptable resolution of the Kosovo issue. Meanwhile, abroad, Vučić has repeatedly asked for patience from the international community, implying that he would eventually be able to bring his voters around to accepting Kosovo’s independence. In BiH, the most fragile post-Yugoslav state, Russia’s influence has been particularly malign. Apart from symbolic moves that exacerbate lingering intercommunal tensions(e.g., vetoing a United Nations resolution in 2015 that would have declared the notorious Srebrenica Massacre a “Crime of Genocide”), Moscow has been cultivating a client in Milorad Dodik, the leader of the ethnic Serb para-state enshrined in the Dayton Accords. The Russians have repeatedly supported attempts by Dodik to edge his entity towards a referendum on independence, with Putin personally hosting the Bosnian Serb leader twice in Moscow in the course of the past year. Patience has been given in abundance; he still has the trust of many in the West who view him as the only Serbian politician that can conceivably “go to China” on Kosovo. Whether Vučić actually intends to do so remains an open question. Since becoming president, he has suggested more and in private, that forcefully than before, both in public 5 the time for a deal over Kosovo may be at hand. Having successfully neutered his domestic political opposition and with an increasingly strong hold on the country’s media ensuring his grip on power, Of course, Dodik and his inner circle have spent more than a decade trying to tear apart BiH’s fragile state structures, and BiH’s problems extend far beyond factionalism. But the brazenness of Dodik’s recent 3 Milos Popovic and Sonja Stojanovic Gajic, “Public Opinion on the Security of Serbia and Dialogue with Pristina,” Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, February 14, 2017, http://bezbednost.org/All-publications/6464/Public-Opinion-on-the-Security-of-Serbia- and.shtml. 4 5 “Serbia: People Against NATO and Kosovo Recognition, Poll Says,” InSerbia Today, July 28, 2016, https://inserbia.info/ today/2016/07/serbia-people-against-nato-and-kosovo-recognition-poll-says/. “Vucic for ‘Internal Dialogue, Realistic Approach to Kosovo,” b92, July 24, 2017, http://www.b92.net/eng/news/politics. php?yyyy=2017&mm=07&dd=24&nav_id=101886. ATLANTIC COUNCIL 7 (From left to right) President Hashim Thaçi of Kosovo, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, and President Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia at the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue round in June 2017. Photo credit: European External Action Service/Flickr. provocations, openly backed and supported by In Serbia itself, Russian intelligence services have Russia, has in turn emboldened the leading Bosnian been operating with a surprisingly free hand. A Croat party to seek a revision of Dayton that would coup attempt in neighboring Montenegro, aimed further “federalize” BiH along ethnic lines. With the at destabilizing the country as it acceded to NATO, leading Bosniak party also entrenching amid all this, appears to have been coordinated out of Serbia the country’s future is precarious. and BiH by Russian agents. Russia held joint military exercises with the Serbian Army outside of Belgrade at the end of last year, and recently delivered six MiG-29 fighters to the Serbian Air Force, free of charge, rattling military planners in Zagreb and Pristina. The establishment of a “Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center,” a rapid-response base in the town of Niš in southern Serbia, has also spooked Kosovo’s authorities. In Kosovo, too, Russians have been playing their games. Pristina last year expelled two “journalists” supposedly working for a Russian media outlet. Government officials have indicated that Russian intelligence is present in the country’s north, and that “fake news” reports alleging Albanian attacks and acts of sabotage have driven the predominantly Serb population in the area onto the streets. Finally, 6 this year’s most telegenic provocation—the dispatch But not all of the region’s problems involve Serbian of a train garishly decorated with text declaring irredentism. Macedonia found itself destabilized “Kosovo is Serbia” in several different languages for months after a closely contestedelection in traveling from Belgrade to Mitrovica in Northern December 2016. All sides agreed that the vote, Kosovo—was said to be financed, at least in part, which was carefully brokered by the European by Russia. Union, was reasonably free and fair. VMRO-DPMNE, the country’s center-right incumbent party, won by the narrowest of margins but was unable to form a 6 “Kosovo Expels Russian, Ukrainian Journalists,” RFE/RL, September 17, 2016, https://www.rferl.org/a/kosovo-expels-two- journalists-russian-ukrainian-no-visas/27996756.html. 8 ATLANTIC COUNCIL Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region governing coalition with its erstwhile partner, DUI, cause for optimism. Still, much damage was done 7 the largest of the Albanian ethnic parties in the to the country’s cohesion over the past year and country. every new round of political wrangling is fraught with tension. If the past is any guide, Russia will not quit stirring the pot. The second-place, center-left SDSM did manage to come to an agreement with DUI, but was subsequently barred from forming a government The backdrop for the region’s pathologies is a set by the country’s president, a VMRO-DPMNE loyalist, of stagnant economies. Though the World Bank who relied on an ambiguity in the language of the recorded an uptick in gross domestic product constitution to justify his decision. A three-month growth last year, persistently high unemployment standoff ensued, featuring frequent and mostly continues to haunt the region. Kosovo and BiH are 8 nonviolent protests in the capital of Skopje. On by far the worst off. A full quarter of BiH’s overall April 27, peaceful protests erupted in violence population is unemployed; its youth unemployment as thugs allied with VMRO-DPMNE stormed the rate stands at 54.3 percent, one of the highest rates parliament and injured up to one hundred people, in the world. In Kosovo, a third of the population including SDSM’s leader Zoran Zaev. Finally, on May is not formally employed. Given that Kosovo is the 18, after some deft arm-twisting by USofficials, youngest country in Europe, that translates into a Zaev was grudgingly given the mandate to form his youth unemployment rate of almost 58 percent. government by the president. In BiH, frustrations boiled over in 2014, with In Macedonia, too, Russia has been active. Unlike widespread protests and riots erupting across the in Serbia where Moscow can invoke its so-called country; unfortunately, no single effective political “historic” relationship, Russia’s role in Macedonia has party or civil society entity has emerged in the wake been more transparent and more cynical. Instead of the unrest to capitalize on the unhappiness and of joining the rest of the international community force change. In Kosovo, the situation is different: in calling for dialogue during the tensest moments citizens’ frustrations fuel nationalist parties like of this year’s crisis, Russian diplomats in Skopje Vetevendosje (“self-determination”), whose exacerbated the situation by backing VMRO- members have set off tear gas grenades inside DPMNE to the hilt, and branding any attempts at parliament and fired a rocket-propelled grenade outside mediation as “foreign intervention.” at the parliament building in the past year. In the June 2017 parliamentary elections, Vetevendosje won almost 27.5 percent of the vote, outperforming expectations and giving it thirty-two seats in the Kosovo Assembly. If poisoning the well is their goal, the Russians have done an admirable job. VMRO-DPMNE, having been in power since 2006, have the largest and most robust patronage network in the country; it is still seen by many of the country’s Slavic majority as the If there is a silver lining, it is that radical Islam most credible representative of their narrow ethnic has not yet made sizable inroads into the Muslim interests. SDSM, by contrast, polled weaker among communities in either country even under such dire Slavs, and as a price for its coalition deal with the economic circumstances. According to estimates, ethnic Albanian DUI, acquiesced to a controversial approximately 950 individuals departed for Syria “Albanian Platform,” which includes the designation and Iraq from the Western Balkans between 2012 of Albanian as an official language of the country. and 2016. 9 This equates to 0.015 percent of the This was denounced by VMRO-DPMNE as a threat region’s Muslim population, suggesting that Muslim to the very cohesion of Macedonia, and SDSM was communities in the Balkans produce a smaller cast as treasonous. Both Russian media and its percentage of foreign fighters than, for example, diplomatic organs echoed these charges. France. 10 Zaev eventually got his chance to govern, and after Despite sensationalist media coverage to the the first round of local elections in mid-October contrary, a recent survey by the International 2017 showed sweeping support for SDSM (even Republican Institute (IRI) in BiH reveals a resilient in traditional VMRO-DPMNE strongholds), there is society committed to its secular state, with 7 8 9 “Macedonia’s Ruling Social Democrats Secure Sweep in Local Elections,” RFE/RL, last updated October 17, 2017, https://www. rferl.org/a/macedonia-social-democrats-sweep-local-elections/28798243.html. World Bank Group, “Resilient Growth Amid Rising Risks,” Southeast Europe Regular Economic Report, no. 10 (Fall 2016), http:// pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/521981474898709744/SEE-RER-Report-Fall-2016.pdf. Vlado Azinović, ed., “Between Salvation and Terror: Radicalization and the Foreign Fighter Phenomenon in the Western Balkans,” Atlantic Initiative, May 25, 2017, http://www.atlanticinitiative.org/images/BetweenSalvationAndTerror/ BetweenSalvationAndTerror.pdf. 10 The rate in France is 0.04 percent; Majda Ruge, “Radicalization Among Muslim Communities in the Balkans: Trends and Issues,” Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Hearing on Southeast Europe: Strengthening Democracy and Countering Malign Foreign Influence, June 14, 2017, https://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/061417_Ruge_Testimony_REVISED.pdf. ATLANTIC COUNCIL 9 SDSM party leader Zoran Zaev greets supporters during a pre-election rally in Skopje, Macedonia December 4, 2016. Photo credit: Ognen Teofilvovski/Reuters. majorities of all confessions reporting either relaxed Kosovar Centre for Security Studies puts the total or no observance of their religious identities. constituent 11 number of fighters departed to Syria between 2013 and 2015 at 317. Since then, some 127 had The survey also found all three communities—Bosnian Croats, Bosnian Serbs, and returned, with 120 having been arrested by Kosovar Bosnian Muslims—strongly condemning the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and disapproving of those going abroad to fight. authorities. 13 This is no time for complacency, however. Heavy territorial losses by ISIS in both Syria and Iraq mean Kosovo, too, thus far seems to be holding the line that efforts to criminalize the act of participating against radicalization. A law passed by the Kosovo in a foreign conflict will need to be supplemented parliament in 2015 criminalized the recruitment ofwith strategies that deal with the inevitable return individuals for the purpose of fighting in foreign of fighters. It is difficult to assess the potential conflicts and made participation in armed conflicts security threat posed by returnees to the Balkans, punishable by up to fifteen years in prison. 12 Similar but terror incidents across Europe have shown that legislation has been enacted in BiH, Serbia, and violence motivated by Islamist extremism is not a Macedonia—measures that by many accounts are phenomenon limited to the Middle East. working. In Kosovo, for instance, a report from the 11 Center for Insights and Survey Research, “Bosnia and Herzegovina: Attitudes on Violent Extremism and Foreign Influence,” International Republican Institute, February 2017, http://www.iri.org/sites/default/files/iri_bosnia_poll_february_2017.pdf. 12 “Law No. 05/L-002 on Prohibition of Joining the Armed Conflicts Outside State Territory,” Official Gazette of the Republic of Kosova, No. 7 (April 2, 2015), https://www.mpb-ks.org/repository/docs/LAW_NO._05_L__002_ON_PROHIBITION_OF_JOINING_ THE_ARMED_CONFLICTS_OUTSIDE_STATE_TERRITORYEMLJE.pdf. 13 Arife Muji, “Reintegration of Returning Foreign Fighters: What Approach Best Suits Kosovo?,” Kosovar Centre for Security Studies, May 4, 2017, http://www.qkss.org/en/Reports/Reintegration-of-returning-foreign-fighters-what-approach-best-suits- Kosovo-923. 10 ATLANTIC COUNCIL Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region WHAT DOES RUSSIA WANT? W hile Russia is not the source of the a slap in the face that still stings today—a lingering region’s various pathologies, it is reminder to Putin’s generation of spymasters availing itself of them as it pursues that Russia must restore its Soviet-era prestige in its policy as spoiler to the West. By international affairs. delegitimizing all the post-Yugoslav settlements— both territorial and political—Moscow hopes to achieve three separate goals: Nonetheless, Russia remains a comparatively weak actor in the region. Despite statements to the effect that Montenegro joining NATO represents a Distraction: Moscow calculates that given finite “red line” for Moscow, there is little evidence that diplomatic resources, energy devoted to solving any the Kremlin sees the Western Balkans as a non- political crisis in the Western Balkans is energy that negotiable sphere of influence in the way that it does will not be devoted to confronting it over more vital with Ukraine. Many hundreds of Russian soldiers interests in its immediate neighborhood (especially have fought and died in Donbas; only a handful of in Ukraine). Russian agents anddiplomats are orchestrating provocations using third parties in Macedonia, BiH, Serbia, and Kosovo. And Moscow is tightfisted to boot. Serbian politicians grumble in private that Russian support remains as superficial, as it historically has been; even the much-ballyhooed free MiGs require the Serbian government to pay (likely Threat: If a Balkans political crisis escalates to the point of skirmishes or civil war, it would speed up the weakening of already fragile states like Macedonia and Kosovo. As they serve as buffer states for refugee flows, destabilization could lead to a radicalization of heretofore secular Muslim societies, both in Macedonia and Kosovo, and Russian) contractors to have them modernized. 14 critically, further north in BiH. Either outcome Furthermore, the region’s population knows there is poses a looming threat to European security and no future for them with Russia. Poll after poll shows represents a positive outcome for the Kremlin. that while sympathy for Russia runs high among Serbs in particular, the positive feelings are tied to the Kremlin’s ability to stand up to what is seen as a domineering, overweening West. In Macedonia, affection for Russia is virtually nonexistent, but the sense of grievance among VMRO-DPMNE’s partisans leads them to voice appreciation for having at least one ally in the world willing to stand up for them. Precedent: In 2005, Putin said that the collapse of the USSR was one of the greatest geopolitical disasters of the century. By calling into question the legitimacy of BiH and Kosovo’s existing borders, Russia hopes to create an opportunity to broach a broader discussion of borders with its Western interlocutors. In this context, Russia would likely raise not only the status of Crimea and Donbas, but perhaps also the Baltics. When asked where they would like their children to live and work, most people in the Western Balkans agree that they prefer one of the major European capitals to Moscow. Accession to the European Union is still seen as the right way forward by a solid plurality of voters in Serbia, 47 percent were for joining, while only 29 percent were against, according to a poll carried out in December 2016 by Put more simply, the overall goal is to make as big a mess as possible in the region, a mess that would require Russia’s assistance to sortout. Russia is seeking leverage. Unraveling the increasingly frayed Dayton Accords and helping Serbia annex a piece of Kosovo would demonstrate that the Western- imposed order is not durable and would get the Kremlin a seat at the table as a new one is worked out. The recognition of the Republic of Kosovo by most Western countries over Moscow’s strident protests in the late 2000s is seen by the Kremlin as the Serbian European Integration Office. Politicians 15 in Serbia are most attuned to this paradox. In public, they whip up nationalism to stay in power. In private, they quietly admit there is no alternative to Euro- Atlantic integration. 14 15 Richard Tomkins, “Belarus Donates MiG-29 Fighter Aircraft to Serbia,” UPI, January 30, 2017, http://www.upi.com/Defense- News/2017/01/30/Belarus-donates-MiG-29-fighter-aircraft-to-Serbia/6881485794095. “47% of Citizens Support Serbian Membership to the EU,” European Western Balkans, February 6, 2017, https:// europeanwesternbalkans.com/2017/02/06/47-of-citizens-support-serbian-membership-to-the-eu/. ATLANTIC COUNCIL 11 Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region SPOTLIGHT: CORRUPTION, NOT “ANCIENT HATREDS” T hough the threat of resumption of ethnic the Wilsonian sentiments that shaped the interwar conflict admittedly still hangs over the period in Europe, these new states claimed to give Western Balkans decades after peace has their respective people the autonomy they had long been won, it is important to understand the been denied as vassals of various empires and other main mechanism that underpins it. The problem is supranational entities. not that the people in the region are unable to live in Unfortunately, the experiment in self-governance peace with one another, nor is it that the nationalist forces that kicked off the Yugoslav Wars have been prevented from creating the pure ethno-states that the region supposedly demands. No, the threat of ethnic conflict is an artifact of the corrupt politics in the region. Keeping this in mind will prevent policy makers from repeating or perpetuating the mistakes made at the end of the Yugoslav Wars—or from making similar, fresh mistakes of their own. has foundered. While Slovenia and to a somewhat lesser extent Croatia have managed to emerge as viable, modern, Western-facing states, the rest of the region has struggled. Most notably, BiH, explicitly whose Dayton-specified constitution tries to create a functional state by assiduously balancing the demands of its three constituent ethnic communities, has almost completely ceased to function after more than twenty years of triage by the international community. “The Western Balkans have Macedonia, also a multiethnic state trying to balance historically been plagued by a the interests of its Slavic majority and Albanian minority, was stuck at a menacing political impasse formorethantwoyears,with2001’sOhridAccordsin danger of unraveling. Finally, in Kosovo, the Albanian majority unilaterally declared independence in 2008 lack of trust . . . and while that lack of trust has been known to spiral into spectacular but bound itself to implementing a constitution that was broadly laid out in the UN-brokered Ahtisaari violence, it is a fallacy to Plan; here, the extent of the Serbian minority’s autonomy is the unresolved question that has left the country spinning its wheels. conclude that any of this was ever inevitable.” These three examples have led some observers to conclude that multiethnic states are a non-starter in the region, and that the process of partition kicked While a lively academic debate continues to rage off during the Yugoslav Wars has just not gone far as to the precise causes of the violent dissolution enough. of Yugoslavia, most specialists agree on one point: the idea that “ancient hatreds” drove the region’s The problem with arguments like these is that they peoples to genocidal or near-genocidal war is fail to adequately explain why the comparatively reductive and misleading. The Western Balkans have more ethnically homogenous states in the region— historically been plagued by a lack of trust between Serbia and Montenegro today—remain tarred by its constituent ethnic and religious communities, various forms of dysfunction. The answer ought and while that lack of trust has been known to spiral not surprise anyone who has spent any time in into spectacular violence, it is a fallacy to conclude the region: It is not that the various peoples of that any of this was ever inevitable. There has always the Western Balkans have not adequately been been ample kindling around for a conflagration, but segregated into ethno-states, but rather that they kindling does not spontaneously combust. have had very little experience in self-governance and building durable state institutions. Though Though the Yugoslav Wars were not inevitable, they did turn out to be experienced by many who fought in them as wars of national liberation, resulting in the “birth” of a handful of new states, their borders correspondingroughlytotheconstituentrepublics— and in the case of Kosovo, autonomous territories— of the former Yugoslav entity. In a resonant echo of Serbia, Croatia, BiH, Montenegro, and even Macedonia can (with various degrees of credibility) point back to medieval kingdoms as proof of their enduring and independent national identities, all of them were, for centuries, the subjects of either the Ottoman, Venetian, or Austro-Hungarian Empires— 12 ATLANTIC COUNCIL President of Serbia Slobodan Milosevic, President of Croatia Franjo Tudjman, and President of Bosnia and Herzegovina Alija Izetbegovic sign the Dayton Agreement in Paris on December 14, 1995. Photo credit: NATO/Wikimedia. domineering organized their lives. outside forces that shaped and This analysis is still a useful guide today. The rise of President Aleksandar Vučić represents the consolidation of a new Big Man power center in Serbia. In Macedonia, the complex political struggle to form a government waged between the center- right nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, the leftist SDSMparty,andtheAlbanianDUI,isbestunderstood as a fight between competing patronage networks. In BiH, Dragan Čović has emerged as a leader of ethnic Croats, and Bakir Izetbegović, the son of BiH’s first president, Alija Izetbegović, leads the Bosniaks. Of course, Đukanovic, Dodik, and Thaçi, who feature prominently in Kanin’s 2003-era analysis, are still entrenched fixtures in their own countries. Certain Balkan analysts have identified a tendency toward personalized power, rather than some ill-defined propensity for discord, as the root of much dysfunction. The Western Balkans have historically been a region of peoples, the argument goes, but not necessarily of states. And during previous eras, these peoples have survived the rule of foreign powers by relying on local “Big Men” to govern them. 16 David Kanin, writing in 2003, correctly identified Montenegro’s Milo Ðukanović, BiH’s (or rather Republika Srpska’s) Milorad Dodik, and Kosovo’s Hashim Thaçi as such Big Men and pointed to the patrimonial legacies of Croatia’s While deeply ingrained patronage networks are a Franjo Tuđman and Serbia’s Slobodan Milošević in political reality that cannot be wished away, that shaping their respective countries’ politics in similar is no excuse for abandoning efforts at reform, ways. Even Tito’s Yugoslavia, Kanin argues, with however; outsiders ought to be wary of trying to 17 all its layers of bureaucracy and ideological veneer recruit Big Men for their reformist ends. As Kanin about “brotherhood and unity,” still featured heavily noted, this tactic just doesn’t work. Balkan political personalized rule. leaders know very well how to “co-opt international 16 17 “Big Man (Anthropology),” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_man_(anthropology). David Kanin, “Big Men, Corruption, and Crime,” International Politics 40 (2003): 4, accessed May 15, 2017, doi:10.1057/palgrave. ip.8800038. ATLANTIC COUNCIL 13 Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region support by speaking the language of modernity entrenched strongmen as a putative quick solution to the region’s various pathologies. The emergence and offering promises of stability and ‘reform’.” 18 It is a well-worn routine: the politicians talk a good of more small, fragile states in the region would game to Western donors, but actively slow progress serve only to cement the hold of these strongmen’s in areas that directly impact their hold on power. patronage networks over their respective ethnic These same leaders are also adept at brandishing constituencies. And cooperating too closely with the threat of ethnic conflict whenever their patrons the Big Men only extends the political and economic ask more of them than they are willing to deliver. stagnation. The goal of US policy in the Western Balkans, beyond maintaining peace, ought to be to build bridges to strengthen existing states, not to splinter them further. It is important for policy makers to keep all these dynamics in mind and avoid the temptation of partition or the embrace of the region’s more 18 Ibid. US Officials on the Balkans The US relationship with large and powerful countries like China, Russia, and Turkey dominate the news cycle, but the strategic importance of the Western Balkan region belies its size. Statements made by leading US officials over the past year illustrate the successes made possible by strong US engagement, together with European allies: We truly believe the future of the Western Balkans is in the West…and we look forward to reaffirming the commitment of the United States to build the relationships that will strengthen the ties between the European community, the Western Balkans, and the United States of America. Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at the Adriatic Charter Summit in Podgorica, Montenegro on August 2, 2017 The United States and Serbia share a long history of friendship and cooperation and a commitment to work together toward an even brighter, more prosperous future for our countries. Serbia’s continued efforts to promote economic reform, to further strengthen the rule of law, and to improve relations with its neighbors are cornerstones of its dedication to regional stability and economic growth. By working together, we can foster peace and prosperity throughout the Balkans. Press statement by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on the occasion of Serbia’s national day, February 13, 2017 ...advancing the EU-facilitated, US-supported dialogue is in the interest of Kosovars and Serbs alike. It is vital to Kosovo and Serbia’s shared European future. And it is essential to stability in Southeastern Europe. US Senator John McCain, remarks to the Assembly of Kosovo, April 13, 2017 TherelationshipbetweentheUnitedStatesandMontenegrogrowsdeepereveryyear,asrecentlyshown by Montenegro’s joining NATO as the 29th ally last month. We welcome Montenegro’s contributions to regional and transatlantic security and our shared efforts in Afghanistan. We welcome your continued progress in building strong democratic institutions and tackling corruption to ensure Montenegro’s steady progress towards EU membership. Press statement by US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, on the occasion of Montenegro’s national day, July 13, 2017 The United States’ commitment to a Europe whole, free, and at peace remains ironclad. Stability and prosperity in Bosnia and Herzegovina play an important role in the success of this vision. US Senator John McCain, remarks on his visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, April 12, 2017 Kosovo is an example of what happens when the international community, led by America, commits itself to the defense of interests and values. US Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, in answer to advance policy questions presented during nomination hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee 14 ATLANTIC COUNCIL Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region A WAKE-UP CALL FOR THE UNITED STATES T he Western Balkans remain the unfinished European Union. In that year, Frontex detected more business of a Europe whole and free. This than 764,000 illegal border crossings, sixteen times full realization of this goal has been at the number of crossings in 2014, and a whopping the heart of US strategy toward Europe, 164-fold increase over 2011 numbers. Such massive 20 precisely because a whole, free Europe removes the refugee flows strained already shaky local security continent as a conceivable future battleground and capacity and social services in the countries along maximizes the likelihood that the United States will the route, and in the EU countries at the Balkans’ have the kind of capable, coherent partner required external border. The official “closure” of the route to address global challenges. Instability in Europe’s in 2016 slowed but did not stop the movement of Southeast could deprive the United States of a people through the region. For European leaders still strategic partner on facing challenges further afield. struggling to nail down an EU-wide common border and migration management policy, the Western But the United States has stopped paying attention, Balkans remain an area of serious concern—a distracted by more pressing crises abroad, and concern that should be shared by the United States, thinking that the Europeans have matters in as it threatens the safety and security of Europe. hand. Sensing that the UnitedStates has all but withdrawn from the region, Russia has gone on the The large Muslim populations of the region have offensive, capitalizing on a strategic vacuum. Before thus far mainly avoided radicalization, even though considering how to counter Moscow’s disruptive more radical mosques and schools, funded with and dangerous tactics, it is critical to understand money from Saudi Arabia, have been springing why it is a US interest to care in the first place. up in both BiH and Kosovo. These populations, especially in Kosovo, have remained deeply pro- American, but over time, both US disengagement and lack of opportunities at home could accelerate radicalization and grow the pipeline of violent extremists, sending disenchanted recruits into the civil wars of the Middle East with the potential to return home as security liabilities. In the words of Bulgarian analyst Ivan Krastev, the Western Balkans represent the “soft underbelly of 19 Even the casual observer of European Europe.” history understands that the continent’s great power conflicts started with smaller conflicts, frequently in the Balkans, which metastasized, drawing in outside powers. The kindling for a new conflagration is still in place. Russia has a keen sense of these vulnerabilities, and has been busy poking its fingers into barely-healed wounds. Given Moscow’s resource constraints and a lack of concrete interests, however, its meddling ought to be easy to counter. BiH, whose cohesion represents the ultimate key to securing lasting peace in the region, is probably the most likely country to catch fire. Its power sharing agreement is already tenuous and being pushed to the breaking point by sectarianism. And efforts The United States should help to reestablish a clear, aimed at improving governance—such as rooting common vision for the region built on support for out entrenched corruption—have stalled. Any domestic reforms that could stabilize the Balkan further fragmentation in BiH—whether political or states and ultimately join them to a secure and administrative—could easily turn what is currently a prosperous transatlantic community. The United weak state into an outright failure, sending profound States needs to work with the European Union aftershocks through a region patently incapable of to reestablish clarity in our common goals at the absorbing them. political level to strengthen Balkan stability. But there need not be a cataclysmic conflagration Concretely, there are several steps the United States for the United States to be affected. Starting in ought to take in order to help stabilize the region, 2015, the so-called “Balkan route” became one of and help it get back more firmly on a track to Euro- the leading avenues for migrants and refugees Atlantic integration: leaving North Africa and the Middle East to enter the 19 Ivan Krastev, “The Balkans are the Soft Underbelly of Europe,” Financial Times, January 14, 2015, https://www.ft.com/ content/2287ba66-8489-11e4-bae9-00144feabdc0. 20 “Western Balkan Route,” Frontex, accessed September 28, 2017, http://frontex.europa.eu/trends-and-routes/western-balkan- route/. ATLANTIC COUNCIL 15 Migrants sit along a road as they wait to cross the border with Croatia near the village of Berkasovo, Serbia October 21, 2015. Photo credit: Marko Djurica/Reuters. 1. Establish a Permanent US Military Presence in Southeastern Europe Typically, NATO partnerships serve as a proxy US commitment to a region. Unfortunately,thekeycrisiscountriesintheBalkans— Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia—have either limited prospects for, or no intention of, joining the Alliance in the foreseeable future. At the same time, NATO’s largest operation in the region, the Kosovo Force (KFOR), has been gradually winding down, from 50,000 troops at the height of the initial operation in 1999 to a total An announcement that the United States intends to increase its military presence as the KFOR mandate winds down could prove beneficial on two fronts. First, more boots on the ground would reassure the region’s people that the United States is not going anywhere, remaining committed to their success, and further it would discourage their leaders from cozying up to revisionist powers hoping to be a divisive presence in the region. Second, having an increased military presence will help the United States to anticipate and react to future crises in the region as they emerge. to demonstrate strength of 4,273 in February 2017. The optics are 21 In polling, it is difficult to disentangle regional attitudes toward NATO from attitudes toward the United States, as surveys usually ask about the former rather than the latter. But for most citizens, the distinction hardly matters: the United States is seen primarily as a guarantor of security in a unmistakable: the West’s attention is waning. And the optics correspond to a stark strategic reality: a profound vacuum has opened up, and everyone feels it. 21 “Kosovo Force (KFOR): Facts and Figures,” NATO, accessed May 25, 2017, http://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/ pdf_2017_02/20170214_2017-02-KFOR_Placemat.pdf. 16 ATLANTIC COUNCIL Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region low-trust neighborhood. Support for the Alliance reliable guarantor of its own security, may welcome is strongest among Albanians, but NATO enjoys the move too, making it unlikely that situating a majority support everywhere except Serbia, where permanent military base in Kosovo would be met the 1999 NATO bombing during the Kosovo war with significant domestic opposition. has left deep scars. Even in Belgrade, however, 2. Pursue a “Historic” leaders privately express support for Montenegro’s accession. No matter what the polls say, Russia is Rapprochement with Serbia seen as more of a hedge than a likely long-term pillar of support. Although US relations with Serbia have improved since the 1990s, the two countries’ relationship remains fraught and beset by suspicion. The NATO The rationale for recommitment should be made bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo War has left a crystal clear. A) The migrant crisis of the preceding bitter residue. According to a recent poll, 64 percent two years has strained the capacities of states all of Serbs would not deign to accept an apology along the Balkan peninsula. The United States from the Alliance even if it was forthcoming. 23 Only should announce that US forces will help strengthen local authorities’ terrorist interdiction capabilities through training and sharing best practices, and 40 percent thought the bombing was due to the policies of fallenstrongman Slobodan Milošević, and more than 17 percent believe it was done to ethnically cleanse Serbs from Kosovo. will provide aid in humanitarian catastrophes, should they arise. B) Furthermore, it should be made unambiguouslyclear that the United States is committed to preserving existing borders in the region. The statement should note that various regional governments have been rattled by an increase in activity from foreign intelligence services on their territory and have asked for assistance with counterintelligence operations. Much of the negative public sentiment is fueled by a lurid tabloid press largely in thrall to President Vučić’s Serbian Progressive Party. Blindsiding Vučić with a fait accompli of establishing a permanent base in Kosovo could lead him and his political machine to reflexively paint the move as anti- Serbian. Forestalling that will require a concerted diplomatic effort and deft timing, but would be well worth the US government’s energy. Ifpossible,theannouncementshouldbecoordinated so that Pristina, Podgorica, and Skopje explicitly welcome US help on these matters. Sarajevo, unfortunately, will probably not be able to voice support for the initiative, given the likely veto of Republika Srpska. Nevertheless, it should be made clear that the United States means to preserve and guarantee the territorial integrity of all the countries in the region, very much including BiH as codified in the Dayton Accords. Serbian officials have signaled that they want better relations with the United States, and have pointed to the fact that in 2016 alone, the Serbian Army has conducted more than two hundred joint military exercises with the United States and NATO, compared with only seventeen with the Russians. They have privately admitted that while NATO as a brandcarriesoverwhelminglynegativeconnotations with their voters and membership in the Alliance is off the table for now, increased cooperation with the United States would be highly desirable. Operationally, the current base for US Army soldiers under KFOR command in Kosovo—Camp Bondsteel—should be repurposed as the United States’ first permanent military base in Southeastern Europe. Bondsteel is well-equipped to act as a center for regional operations, with facilities for as many as 7,000 soldiers, one of the best hospitals in the region, and landing pads for up to fifty-two helicopters. Although the base does not have a runway, the investment required to construct a purpose-built airstrip would likely be significantly less than constructing a new base elsewhere. Serbia’s greatest politicians have always excelled at playing large powers off against each other. Vučić is as wily as they come, and will be loath to completely rid himself of the strategic maneuverability and political ambiguity he has created by his dalliances with Moscow. Indeed, US diplomats should not expect him to renounce his country’s “historic” partnership. But what they must insist on is fair and accurate coverage of what could be the “historic” rapprochement between the United States and Serbia. The United States and Kosovo already have in place a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and given the challenges it faces, the Kosovar government The United States might offer a gradual but very public warming of relations betweenthe two countries, to perhaps culminate in a high-level ought to welcome the initiative. 22 The Serb minority in Kosovo, which has come to see NATO as a 22 23 “Status of Forces Agreement Between the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and KOSOVO,” Agreement effected by Exchange of Notes at Pristina, February 18, 2012, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/196802.pdf. Tanjug, “Majority of Serbians Wouldn’t Accept NATO’s Apology- Poll,” b92, March 24, 2017, http://www.b92.net/eng/news/ politics.php?yyyy=2017&mm=03&dd=24&nav_id=100857. ATLANTIC COUNCIL 17 Photo credit: US Army Sgt. Tyler Meister/Flickr. visit from US Secretary of Defense James Mattis In that case, the United States must call his bluff. or a similarly ranked Trump administration cabinet Instead of being held up as a valuable partner for official in the future, accompanied by recognition peace and stability, Serbia would be isolated in its that Serbia is the lynchpin for regional stability, and neighborhood, with only Moscow to rely on. In all a valued partner in the fight against terrorism. The communications, one message should be made price: a visible effort by the Vučić administration to explicitly and repeatedly: The United States will not conduct a concerted public diplomacy campaign abandon the Balkan region. within Serbia on behalf of the rapprochement and For a historic revitalization of the US-Serbia alliance partnership with the United States. Each step in the tosucceed,itisimportantthatVučićbepressedhard, process of drawing closer on the part of the United but without requiring a humiliating climb-down or States must be reciprocally met with positive efforts about-face. The United States should be confident by the Serbian government to tell a positive story that facing a difficult choice between weak support to its people. He should be pointedly reminded from Russia and a real offer for rapprochement with that the seventeen joint military exercises Serbia the West, he will make the right choice. conducted with Russia last year got inordinately more coverage in Serbian and regional media than the more numerous missions with the United States and NATO. 3. Regain the United States’ Reputation as an Honest Broker For almost two decades now, it has been apparent Vučić may balk and over time may fail to deliver on that in managing the Western Balkans, the EU what he has promised; he may even protest that he possessed all the carrots while the United States cannot control the tide of yellow journalism that his carried the stick. In the early 2000s, particularly in country’s main tabloids publish on a regular basis. BiH, this arrangement yielded positive results, with 18 ATLANTIC COUNCIL Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region US diplomats behind the scenes twisting arms. By ran a patronage network just as fearsome as the President Barack Obama’s second term, the United one his party controls today. While the fresh-faced States was still present, but now firmly “leading reformer talked a good game, he never seemed to from behind.” The April Agreements could not have fully deliver; even as signs of autocratic backsliding gotten off the ground in 2014 without US help, but accumulated, the West looked the other way. the United States let the EU take the lead from there. Today, with a constitutional crisis having narrowly been averted, Macedonia remains poor and has Unfortunately, the EU has become convinced of the potential to slide into a dangerously unstable the virtue of waging foreign policy by bureaucratic situation. means alone: all problems in their neighborhood, from violence to corruption to poverty, are in As Zoran Zaev, a man that Western-backed civil one way or another seen as solvable through the society strongly supported in Macedonia’s recent enlargement process, which is itself primarily a list of elections, promotes his sweeping changes, the reforms for candidate countries to achieve. But this United States must take care not to hold him too devotion to legalistic detail—to making an endless close. US policy and rhetoric can emphasize support number of tightly specified reforms on a fixed for the country, not any one actor, recognizing that schedule—has often led Europeans to prefer stable in a healthy democracy a reformed VMRO-DPMNE governments that promise to improve themselves would someday likely return to power. Similarly, as partners over the unpredictable democratic when a young student asks why Milo Đukanović’s ferment that is the natural product of the values the Montenegro has been allowed to join NATO and Union is supposed to represent. is making progress on EU accession even though he has ruled his little coastal country more or less unopposed since 1991, the West needs to have a better answer than “stability.” Rather, the West needs to be clear that it holds leaders accountable for reforms. When it is engaged, the United States corrects this myopia. To the horror of “stabilocrats” in Brussels, Washingtonwilloftencalloutbadbehavior,andbring consequences to bear on the perpetrators. Even the Obama administration, much less confrontational than many of its historical predecessors, still took At the same time, being an honest broker does the lead in imposing sanctions on Russia after its not preclude being an active, interested player. aggressions in Ukraine. At its best in the Western The United States ought to work hard to make Balkans, the United States has knocked heads Montenegro’s NATO membership a success. This together when necessary. At its worst, it has let the means working closely with our newest ally on EU proceed alone and partially blind. a common security agenda, but also helping it accelerate domestic reforms, bolstering the rule of law, and helping nurture a healthy political climate that includes space for a loyal opposition. After all, presidential elections are looming in 2018, and Russia is sure to try to leverage its malign influence in the Democratic Front to field an anti-Western candidate. In Serbia, Vučić’s first-round victory in the recent presidential elections was accompanied by days of protests across the country, with citizens upset by his grip on media and the intimidation campaigns waged by his formidable patronage networks. Western leaders silently watched, waiting for the protests to die out, with some, including German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, even praising Vučić Similarly, in Macedonia, the United States needs for not resorting to violence. While it is quite likely to assume a more prominent role in fostering 24 that Serbia’s new president would have won the reconciliation and reform in the wake of the most vote anyway, the West would be wise not to waiver recent government formation. In parallel, it should in voicing its expectations that Belgrade will respect do everything it can to help resolve the country’s rule of law and fundamental freedoms. long-standing name dispute with Greece, where there seems to be opportunity for momentum at last. Restoring confidence in the central government and improving interethnic relations would complement our efforts to restore the viability of Macedonia’s NATO membership, nudging the region further toward stability. Macedonia offers a glimpse of where stability fetishism leads. VMRO-DPMNE’s Nikola Gruevski was the West’s “guy” for the better part of ten years. When first elected in 2006, he represented a new generation of leadership in Macedonia. Gruevski defeated a corrupt SDSM political machine, which 24 Associated Press, “German Official Praises Serbian Leader for Peaceful Protests,” Daily Mail, April 12, 2017, http://www.dailymail. co.uk/wires/ap/article-4406266/German-FM-praises-Serbian-PM-says-protests-democracy.html. ATLANTIC COUNCIL 19 Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region FROM SECURITY TO PROSPERITY T he Western Balkans have appeared to be an to the European Union has always represented an ultimately manageable problem throughout opportunity to escape the stultifying parochialism most of the twenty-first century—a project and suffocating corruption of their home countries: for international development agencies and reforms at home would be nice, they reason, but the EU enlargement advocates to tinker with, a topic opportunity to emigrate and work abroad would be that State Department desk officers might debate even better. After Croatia joined the EU in 2013, its over lunch, or the subject of a New York Times off- young people flocked to Germanyand the United the-beaten-path travel piece that might note the Kingdom seeking better opportunities. 25 Even region’s troubled history in passing. But with the EU without an EU passport, hundreds of thousands struggling with existential questions and the United of young people, especially those with advanced States gazing ever more inward over the last several degrees, have found ways to emigrate since the years, what once seemed like stubborn eccentricities 1990s. More than 340,000 have left Serbia since are looking increasingly like dangerous liabilities to the wars, and more than 200,000 have left BiH. 26 the European continent. Sensing a vacuum, local Macedoniaissufferingfromsuchanacuteemigration leaders have started jostling for advantage. Russia, crisis, especially among its Slavic population, that glimpsing yet another opportunity to make trouble successive governments have not dared run a census for the West, has been exacerbating tensions. since 2002, lest it reveal uncomfortable truths about the relative ethnic makeup of the country. The priority for the United States is to firmly put an end to the drift. A small show of commitment This trend can and must be reversed. If the Western will shore up an order painstakingly put together in Balkans can retain and harness the human capital response to the bloodletting of the 1990s. Locals of their younger generation, the region’s future is need to be reassured that new ethnic hostilities bright. Working with our European Union partners, are not around the corner, and that borders are not we should pursue a concerted effort to provide about to be redrawn right under their feet. It should opportunities for youth and entrepreneurs to thrive be made clear to the Russians that they are wasting outside traditional patronage networks, and use our their time and money trying to sow chaos in the leverage to create opportunities for them within region. their countries. The United States should expand its approach of using public-private partnerships and modest public financing to attract larger numbers of students from Latin America to study in the United States, in order to draw in students from the Western Balkans. This does not mean that once the United States recommits, the status quo ante can be restored as if nothing has happened. BiH is having serious difficulties governing itself, and its constitution will eventually have to be amended. Serbs and Kosovar Albanians will both have to make painful concessions Making it as easy as possible to start new businesses to close a painful chapter in their shared history. clearlywouldbeapositivestep.Governmentsshould And Macedonians will need to work at rebuilding a be prodded to deregulate their sclerotic economies, civic identity badly frayed by the events of the last especially with an eye to taking advantage of two years. None of this can happen when aggrieved opportunities created by technology. (Estonia is an nationalists and partisans of Greater Serbia or excellent model to emulate.) Barriers to trade and Greater Albania, egged on by external revisionist travel in the region should be drastically lowered, powers, are dominating the conversation. A new not just to spur regional trade, but to also get larger generation of forward-looking leaders will have to international firms to invest. emerge for all this to work. But for there to be even a shot at such a future, Unfortunately, the best and the brightest are present crises need to be averted first. And fast. leaving in droves. For the region’s youth, accession 25 26 “Youth are Deserting Balkan Countries,” Deutsche Welle, December 23, 2016, http://www.dw.com/en/youth-are-deserting-balkan- countries/a-36891266. Elvira M. Jukic, “Youth Emigration Causing Balkan ‘Brain Drain,’” Balkan Insight, August 1, 2013, http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/ article/young-people-leave-serbia-bosnia-the-most. 20 ATLANTIC COUNCIL Balkans Forward: A New US Strategy for the Region ABOUT THE AUTHORS Damir Marusic is the executive editor at the American Interest, a bi-monthly magazine of foreign and domestic policy and politics based in Washington, DC. Sarah Bedenbaugh is the associate director for the European Union and Special Initiatives at the Atlantic Council. Damon Wilson is executive vice president for programs and strategy at the Atlantic Council. ATLANTIC COUNCIL 21 Atlantic Council Board of Directors INTERIM CHAIRMAN *James L. Jones, Jr. R. Nicholas Burns *Richard R. Burt Michael Calvey James E. Cartwright John E. Chapoton Ahmed Charai Joia M. Johnson Stephen R. Kappes *Maria Pica Karp Andre Kelleners *Zalmay M. Khalilzad Robert M. Kimmitt Henry A. Kissinger Franklin D. Kramer Richard L. Lawson *Jan M. Lodal Thomas J. Ridge Charles O. Rossotti Robert O. Rowland Harry Sachinis Rajiv Shah Stephen Shapiro Kris Singh James G. Stavridis Richard J.A. Steele Paula Stern Robert J. Stevens Robert L. Stout, Jr. *Ellen O. Tauscher Nathan D. Tibbits Frances M. Townsend Clyde C. Tuggle Melanne Verveer Charles F. Wald Michael F. Walsh Maciej Witucki CHAIRMAN EMERITUS, INTERNATIONAL ADVISORY BOARD Brent Scowcroft Melanie Chen CHAIRMAN, INTERNATIONAL ADVISORY BOARD Michael Chertoff George Chopivsky Wesley K. Clark David McCormick David W. Craig *Jane Holl Lute William J. Lynn PRESIDENT AND CEO *Frederick Kempe *Ralph D. Crosby, Jr. Nelson W. Cunningham Ivo H. Daalder Wendy W. Makins Zaza Mamulaishvili Mian M. Mansha Gerardo Mato William E. Mayer T. Allan McArtor John M. McHugh Eric D.K. Melby Franklin C. Miller James N. Miller Judith A. Miller *Alexander V. Mirtchev Susan Molinari Michael J. Morell Richard Morningstar Georgette Mosbacher Edward J. Newberry Thomas R. Nides Victoria J. Nuland Franco Nuschese Joseph S. Nye Hilda Ochoa- Brillembourg Sean C. O’Keefe Ahmet M. Oren Sally A. Painter EXECUTIVE VICE CHAIRS *Adrienne Arsht *Stephen J. Hadley Ankit N. Desai *Paula J. Dobriansky Christopher J. Dodd Conrado Dornier Thomas J. Egan, Jr. *Stuart E. Eizenstat Thomas R. Eldridge Julie Finley Lawrence P. Fisher, II *Alan H. Fleischmann *Ronald M. Freeman Laurie S. Fulton Courtney Geduldig *Robert S. Gelbard Gianni Di Giovanni Thomas H. Glocer Murathan Gunal Sherri W. Goodman Ian Hague Amir A. Handjani John D. Harris, II Frank Haun Michael V. Hayden Annette Heuser Ed Holland *Karl V. Hopkins Robert D. Hormats Miroslav Hornak *Mary L. Howell Wolfgang F. Ischinger Deborah Lee James Reuben Jeffery, III VICE CHAIRS *Robert J. Abernethy *Richard W. Edelman *C. Boyden Gray Neal S. Wolin Mary C. Yates Dov S. Zakheim *George Lund *Virginia A. Mulberger *W. DeVier Pierson *John J. Studzinski HONORARY DIRECTORS David C. Acheson Madeleine K. Albright James A. Baker, III Harold Brown Frank C. Carlucci, III Ashton B. Carter Robert M. Gates Michael G. Mullen Leon E. Panetta William J. Perry Colin L. Powell Condoleezza Rice Edward L. Rowny George P. Shultz Horst Teltschik TREASURER *Brian C. McK. Henderson SECRETARY *Walter B. Slocombe DIRECTORS Stéphane Abrial Odeh Aburdene *Peter Ackerman Timothy D. Adams Bertrand-Marc Allen *Michael Andersson David D. Aufhauser Matthew C. Bernstein *Rafic A. Bizri *Ana I. Palacio Carlos Pascual Alan Pellegrini David H. Petraeus Thomas R. Pickering Daniel B. Poneman Arnold L. Punaro Robert Rangel Dennis C. Blair John W. Warner William H. Webster *Thomas L. Blair Philip M. Breedlove Reuben E. Brigety II Myron Brilliant *Esther Brimmer Reza Bundy *Executive Committee Members List as of November 6, 2017 The Atlantic Council is a nonpartisan organization that promotes constructive US leadership and engagement in international affairs based on the central role of the Atlantic community in meeting today’s global challenges. © 2017 The Atlantic Council of the United States. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the Atlantic Council, except in the case of brief quotations in news articles, critical articles, or reviews. Please direct inquiries to: Atlantic Council 1030 15th Street, NW, 12th Floor, Washington, DC 20005 (202) 463-7226, www.AtlanticCouncil.org