The Geopolitics of the Balkans: Outcomes and Possibilities


In modern terms, to speak of geopolitics as a useful policy instrument can be a dangerous enterprise. Too often, skeptics tend to consider geopolitics simply policies based on rapid geographic and political expansion leading to a particular state’s domination in a perpetual balance-of-power contest. In the broadest sense, what links traditional and more recent examinations of critical geopolitics is the study of the geographical dimensions (physical, cultural, political, and economic) of world politics. Thus, to speak of the geopolitics of the Balkans, however, one must constantly relate the broader relevance of the idea of Europe to those (in the Balkans) who consider themselves as either “in” or “out” for the broader European context. Even the name Balkans betrays this long-term, somewhat skewed perception of the European “outsider.” Further, following the horrific events of 11 September 2001, the geopolitical significance of the Balkans virtually vanished before the eyes of many policy makers. Yet while the Balkans no longer constitutes a primary foreign policy challenge, it seems prudent to emphasize that the “West” cannot afford to look in all directions other than toward Southeast Europe.

Among the people of the Balkans and the Caucasus
they tell the legend of a captive eagle that manages to escape
from captivity and return to his family. But 
his master had ringed his claws, and this stigma 
makes the fugitive a stranger among his own race. 
The family refuses to take back their own.

--Ismail Kadare[1]

In modern terms, to speak of geopolitics as a useful policy instrument can be a dangerous enterprise. Too often, skeptics tend to consider geopolitics simply policies based on rapid geographic and political expansion leading to a particular state’s domination in a perpetual balance-of-power contest. Yet there are nuances to modern geopolitics that clearly refute this more traditional notion; contemporary geopolitical observers, for example, both commonly examine the effects of increasing economic globalization and political fragmentation in international relations.[2] In the broadest sense, what links traditional and more recent examinations of critical geopolitics is the study of the geographical dimensions (physical, cultural, political, and economic) of world politics. The dynamic influences and often competing tensions among peoples, ideas, and resources can prove to be powerful forces in specific locations. Thus, modern geopolitics can be accurately described as the disruption of physical borders by [technological, resource, and ideological] flows.

To speak of the geopolitics of the Balkans, however, one must constantly relate the broader relevance of the idea of Europe to those (in the Balkans) who consider themselves as either “in” or “out” for the broader European context. Even the name Balkans betrays this long-term, somewhat skewed perception of the European “outsider.” The German geographer August Zeune mistakenly named the Balkan peninsula (Balkan Halbinsel) at the beginning of the nineteenth century to avoid the culturally sensitive euphemisms of “the European part of Turkey” or “Turkey in Europe.”[3] He mistakenly suggested that the northern borders of the region were the Balkan mountains in Bulgaria, and although his geographical boundaries were drawn too narrowly it remains true that for much of its history since the time of Roman frontier (limes) the Balkans was the fault line of empires, religions, and civilizations where people clashed in their various roles as guardians of the “imaginary” borderAccording to Zeune, In the north this Balkan Peninsula is divided from the rest of Europe by the long mountain chain of the Balkans, or the former Albanus, Scardus, H?mus, which, to the northwest joins the Alps in the small Istrian peninsula, and to the east fades away into the Black Sea in two branches.[4] To live in the Balkans literally meant that one was in Europe but not of Europe.

Further, following the horrific events of 11 September 2001, the geopolitical significance of the Balkans virtually vanished before the eyes of many policy makers. Understandably, the United States and Europe felt compelled to divert resources away from the region and into their mutual struggle against global terrorism. Yet for over a decade following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Balkans presented the West with one of its greatest strategic and policy challenges; the prosecution and aftermath of four violent conflicts—including the first military intervention by NATO—consumed billions of dollars and involved exhaustive diplomatic and regional initiatives. And while the Balkans no longer constitutes a primary foreign policy challenge, it seems prudent to emphasize that the international community cannot afford to look in all directions other than toward Southeast Europe.

The Balkans today is mired in a period of difficult, painful transition, and various locales—whether in Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, or Serbia—stand the chance of rapidly succumbing to transnational criminal influences and becoming “black holes” of terrorist influence such as happened in Afghanistan—which became not a sponsor of terrorism but rather a terrorist-sponsored state. Even as halting progress toward representative government and institution building takes place in Croatia, Serbia, and Kosovo, internal corruption, black market activities, and illegal arms shipments threaten the stability of the region. When $25 dollars can buy anyone in Macedonia today a real, not a counterfeit, passport, the Balkans has increasingly become attractive to those who can easily escape the notice of already overstretched internal security forces.

Thus, to speak of the geopolitical “fate” of the Balkans, it seems clear that what does—or does not—happen with the fate of the nation-states of the former Yugoslavia will be the main critical uncertainty in the future security equation. Though analytically and conceptually wrong to separate the former Yugoslavia from the rest of the Balkans, this paper’s essential argument is that what happens there will most affect not only the Balkan region, but the future Europe as well.

There are reasons to be both optimistic and pessimistic; often, these reasons spring from the same pathways that current events have recently produced in Southeast Europe. While unlikely that peace will break out all over, the possibilities for new conflicts remain. Further, should the K-FOR, I-FOR, and possible future M[acedonia]-FOR withdraw without the regional stabilization leading to improved long-term prospects for human and state security, it seems likely that some form of regional disruption will return and that the greater European powers, and possibly the United States, will have to chose some form of intervention.[5]Thus, the pessimistic assessments that we recently witnessed the end of the first decade of a new Thirty Years War are not as frivolous as they might at first seem.

At best, with the continued log-term presence of some form of international security forces in the region, we will find ourselves in the former Yugoslavia dealing with a nether world between war and peace. This may be the best possible outcome over the next decade. Certainly, such outcomes are preferable to the past great power practice of Balkan intervention. Rightly or wrongly, American and European intervention in the former Yugoslavia—the ground zero of the Balkans—has changed the dynamics of Europe. And, despite the desire of many states to continue “The Grand Tradition” (in which Europe intervenes in the Balkans, often in response to conflict, only to exit as fast as possible in the aftermath of conflict termination), such “tradition” has produced a problematic, often conflictual, history in the region. The far preferable solution, indeed the only pragmatic one, would be to have the Balkan states know they are part of Europe and not some irredeemable mutant.

The central assertion of this paper then is that the future of European security, as well as the future of the U.S.-NATO translatlantic relationship, will be driven by decisions as well as the lack of decision, by successes as well as failures in the Balkan intervention. While attention continues to focus on lesser significant issues such as the viable candidates for the next round of NATO enlargement, what happens in a security context in the Balkans—not in the Baltic states or in Central Europe—will be prime determinants of the future European order.[6]

Indications and Challenges

History, Isaiah Berlin once wrote, is made “by prophets with armies at their backs.”[7] It may well be that to reach a state of common identity among Balkan peoples, one that respects the possibility of both difference and commonality as a basic human identity, as well as adherence to the rule of law and the processes of constitutional liberalism, future prophets may well require armies at their sides that are both peacekeepers and peacemakers. But one must be careful of that responsibility, just as one must be careful of the application of military force at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way.

Some success has, to date, been achieved. Constant challenges and opportunities abound. While Bosnia shows some indications of slow impro­vement, Kosovo is little more than a quasi-permanent “parastate.” And Macedonia is a completely separate problem. Indeed, the crucial mistake of most analysts is that “ethnic” and “religious” differences are similar motivators for the past decade of Balkan conflict. As I have argued elsewhere,[8] this argument is myopic and does not account for long-term disintegrating effects.

With the effective end of the “golden miracle” of the Yugoslav self-management system in 1962 (essentially the year that Yugoslavia stopped permanently its rapid economic growth), Yugoslavia took nearly three decades before its disintegration began in 1991—and continues today. Yugoslavia did not die with the fall of the Berlin Wall; to the contrary, slow economic decline allowed divisive nationalism to rise, social and religious stratification to occur, increasing disparity in economic prosperity between “North” and “South” (Slovenia and Macedonia as examples of the most and least prosperous of the former Yugoslav republics), and fragmented identities that had been unified around coherent ideological themes in earlier times. While the above claims are controversial, they do explain how and why the Yugoslav experiment proved at least partially successful from post-World War II until the 1980s.

Prevailing Tensions

Some necessary truths from recent experience in the Balkans bear thinking about relative to the future:

·      The Balkan Pivot. Yugoslavia whatever its remains will be is critical to European stability. Absent NATO intervention that began actively in 1995, there would have been deaths, more refugees, and more potential for the conflict to expand. Moreover, a wider conflict would have drawn Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania, as well as NATO partners Greece and Turkey, deep into its vortex.

·      The Failure of the UN as Peacemaker? Perhaps nowhere else in the Eurasian example has the general failure of the UN to implement and secure effective peace in the post-Cold War period been more firmly illustrated than in the Balkan example. By 1995 the UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Forces) was both figuratively and literally held hostage in Bosnia-Herzegovina.[9] The UN lacked the political will and institutional means to effectively secure order among contending sides in the most brutal conflict in Europe since World War II. By the time of the 1999 intervention in Kosovo, UN approval and sanction of the NATO air campaign was neither sought nor ever seriously considered. The ambiguity of UN Resolution 1244 after the Kosovo intervention did not settle—or attempt to settle—the notion of state sovereignty, the responsibilities of states to support basic human rights for its citizens, or the authority of the so-called “international community” to violate sovereignty to enforce human rights standards. The non-resolution of these issues will force the Balkan issue again and again back into the arena of intractable problems over the next ten years.

·      Balkan Protectorates? Full implementation of the Dayton Accord is unlikely—at any foreseeable time in the future. Further, Dayton-type accords for Kosovo, Montenegro, and Macedonia are unlikely given the lack of international will to even push for a revision of the original Paris Peace Agreement (the Dayton Accord) of 1995. The creation of what are effectively Balkan protectorates may well become the only practical option for stability in the region. A military force capable of implementing freedom of movement and the return of refugees must safeguard such protectorates.

Over the long term, the United States may likely have to lead this effort if Dayton is to be preserved, even if such a “protectorate” may not meet the expectations of both the American people and Congress. It is questionable whether the American will to do so will persevere until 2015; the necessity for some form of peacekeeping force through the year 2015 is almost certain.[10] Further, it is a mistake to assume that the concepts of “stability” and “security” are synonymous terms.[11] Until stability is set on an even keel, however, there remain no viable prospects for long-term human or state security in the region.

·      Military Force Is Not an Enduring Solution. A near?term protectorate is not a long-term solution. Effective military forces are not a substitute for enduring diplomatic, political, economic, indeed “ecological” solutions. Similarly, the influence of non-governmental organizations such as Military Personnel Resources, Inc. (MPRI) in training and effectively creating viable armed forces in the region has had an extraordinary impact.[12] MPRI turned what was little more than a Croatian police force in 1992 and created a military armed force in 1995 that carried out Operation Storm in the retaking of the Krajina in 1995 (and the single largest ethnic cleansing operation of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s).

·      Yugoslav Disintegration Was Inseparable from European Fragmentation. The break-up of Yugoslavia by political disintegration was inseparable from the processes of larger European fragmentation in the wake of the Cold War. Yugoslavia was not an artificial creation but rather a nation with a social, cultural, and economic fabric that was more than what Tito held together. Yet if economic decline in a condition of weak state authority and uncertain borders leads to conflict, then the lessons of Bosnia?Herzegovina foretell a bleak future for similar intrastate conflicts of the future.

·      Religious Difference, Warlordism, and Ethnic Division Did Not Cause the Last Balkan War. Religious difference, cultural diversity, corruption and rising criminality, or uneven economic development did not exclusively fuel the hostilities of the last Balkan War. Dissimilar structure and goals of various national ideologies emerged within the political culture of each of Eastern Europe’s national groups. The rise of nationalist ideology found fertile ground in the post-Cold War era, and attached to it culture, politics, religion, and beliefs in a complex array that reaped destruction. Religion, as a cultural component, contributed to the political culture that saw war as a necessary outcome but was not itself the exclusive cause for war. So-called warlordism, at best, is a problematic term and almost always a consequence of, and not a cause for, conflict.

As for ethnic division as a satisfactory explanation for conflict, it seems worthwhile to argue that ethnic diversity is itself a long-term guarantor of state security. If true, then the fate of Macedonia in particular (as the last ethnically heterogeneous society remaining of the former Yugoslav republics) matters. Hegel, notably, argued forcefully that ethnic diversity was both anecessary condition and necessary product for the stability of the modern state.[13]Indeed, Hegel foresaw a “general system” of state stability based on the bond of the polisrather than allegiance secured by blood bonds. Further, as a precursor to the liberalist movement of the twentieth century, Hegel stated repeatedly that for a state to be “rational,” it must be pluralistic.[14] And although Isaiah Berlin was largely critical of Hegel’s “Utopianism,” he supported Hegel’s advocacy of pluralism and multiethnic identities, claiming that “subjection to a single ideology, no matter how reasonable and imaginative, robs man of freedom and vitality.”[15] Berlin echoes Hegel’s earlier concerns in warning of the dangers of monoëthnicism:

This is the beginning of nationalism. . . . If each culture expresses its own vision and is entitled to do so, and if the values and goals of different societies and ways of life are not commensurable, then it follows that there is no single set of principles, no universal truth for all men and times and places. The values of one civilisation will be different from, and perhaps incompatible with, the values of the other. If free creation, spontaneous development along one’s own native lines, not inhibited or suppressed by the dogmatic pronouncements of an elite of self-appointed arbiters, insensitive to history, is to be accorded supreme value; if authenticity and variety are not to be sacrificed to authority, organisation, centralisation [sic], which inexorably tend to uniformity and the destruction of what men hold dearest—their institutions, their habits, their form of life, all that has made them what they are—then the establishment of one world, organised on universally accepted rational principles—the ideal society—is not acceptable.[16]

The Economic Geography of the Balkans

Yugoslavia “ended” in 1962 with the technological end of its economic growth, yet Yugoslavia took nearly three decades before entering its precipitous decline in 1991. Yugoslavia did not die with the fall of the Berlin Wall; to the contrary, slow economic decline allowed divisive nationalism to rise, social and religious stratification to occur, led to increased disparity in economic prosperity between “North” and “South,” and fragmented identities that had been unified around coherent ideological themes in earlier times. Heavy international lending in the 1970s—aside from the soaring oil prices of 1973 and the overall international debt crisis—did little to instill the fiscal discipline that could have led to the reform of the Yugoslav economy and the control of inflation. The overall international recession of the 1980s gave way in Yugoslavia to rising unemployment internally and the draw down in the external support funds that had been sent by Yugoslav Gastarbeiter working in Western Europe.[17] By 1986 unemployment exceeded 20 percent in Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and rose from 40 percent in 1979 to nearly 60 percent in Kosovo by 1985; by 1988, annual inflation had risen to 1,200 percent.[18] By 1983, the Gross Domestic Product difference between the wealthiest Yugoslav republic (Slovenia) and the poorest one (Kosovo) reached a ratio of 7.5:1.[19]

The 1990s further radically altered the economic geography of the Balkans, shifting economic processes to focus on new markets and new partnerships. The region’s legacy of a turbulent past, it marginal position at the “periphery” of Europe, and the lack of any economically dominant country willing to act as a driving force for the region simply assured continued underdevelopment.[20] Potential leading states, such as Slovenia and Croatia, were pulled by the “soft power” allure of the European Union and readily sought to economically escape from the Balkans. According to Simic, both Slovenia and Croatia view regional Balkan initiatives with mistrust; further, in January 1998, Croatia adopted constitutional amendments that prohibited return to any form of “Yugoslav” community.[21] Some thus feared that a new “Golden Curtain” would replace the former Iron Curtain.

Critics of the arguments presented here—that the disparate economic geography of the region is the greatest inhibitor of long-term security—will point to milestones established by the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe, as well as milestones that are reported to the White House by the U.S. Department of State. Such milestones clearly dictate a methodology and roadmap for assessing strategic progress.[22] But such milestones, to be blunt, are bureaucratic “paper tigers” and sidestep current reality. The international community—however politically insensitive the claim is—suffers from an acute case of “Yugo-fatigue.” By some admittedly large estimates, reasonable reconstruction estimates for the Balkan nations affected by war reached an astounding level of $100 billion required by 2004.[23] Even with the Balkan Stability Pact of 1999, investment could not approach such a high level and thus the consequence of war and its aftermath will likely affect both the Balkans and Europe for decades to come. Yugo-fatigue and political inertia thus partially explain the less than half-hearted recent attempts to assist Macedonia in its most severe crisis since its independence.

Alternative Scenarios for the Future

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Option 1. The “Non” OptionAmong the alternatives that could be considered for the future, the most pragmatic and often most frequently cited option is that of partition. But we must be clear in understanding that partition, while politically expedient, is in the longer term simply a guarantor of future trouble. Cynics, often with no Balkan experience or knowledge, can be quite brutal in their ideas and so-called resolutions. In the example of Macedonia, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Van Evera, for example, have suggested that:

If the Slavs refuse to share more equally with the Albanians, violence is inevitable. To forestall this, NATO should consider calling for a plebiscite to determine whether the Albanians want to remain in Macedonia. If not, Macedonia should also be partitioned. This is feasible because the Albanians of Macedonia are concentrated in western Macedonia, next to Kosovo and Albania. (New York Times, 19 April 1999)

Such a “solution” is flawed by internal contradictions. Why NATO should violate its own standard of avowed post-conflict neutrality and take on the role of mandating plebiscites, normally the role of institutions such as the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) is unclear. Why Albanians of western Macedonia, Kosovo, and Albania itself should be aligned with (read, “partitioned”) into a community that would represent the poorest ethnic community in Europe, and yet be separated—physically, psychologically, economically—from the very ethnic communities and trading blocs they would depend on (such as the “Slavs” of Macedonia) and be somehow expected to remain viable is doubtful. Why Mearsheimer and Van Evera cannot recognize that the partition they advocate is yet another barbaric form of ethnic cleansing, and more than just an “ugly formula for ending wars,” truly seems astounding.

It serves to emphasize, again, that Macedonia is the last ethnically heterogeneous society remaining from the former Yugoslavia. While some seasoned Balkan observers, notably Timothy Garton Ash, have argued that the true lesson of post-Yugoslavia is that ethnically homogeneous societies—such as Slovenia—tend toward stability rather than disintegration, any number of philosophers and social scientists have argued the exact opposite. A nation, as Franck has noted, largely comprises a people, while a state consists of its citizenry and bounded territory.[24] Only rarely does a nation of one people find itself within the exclusive territory of a defined boundary in a “pure” nation-state. Partition, therefore, is simply a modern variant of the “Grand Tradition” of Western European intervention in the Balkans—a tradition that has neither a proud nor successful history.

Option 2. Get OutThe decision to withdraw has viable merits. United States presidential candidate G. W. Bush clearly emphasized this preference in the campaign of 2000; subsequently as president, he came to realize the long-term effects such unilateral action would have on the transatlantic relationship. As uncomfortable as this option seems, counter-intuitive arguments could powerfully suggest that European—and particularly American—policies and ultimately intervention in the Balkans since 1991 have simply aggravated the violence and negative outcomes. Such counter-intuitive, however valid, remain suppositional only. In reality, it seems highly likely that some form of security forces will be present in the region at least until 2015.

Option 3. Continue and MaintainHow many forces will remain in the region depends on agreements and understandings reached between the United States and Europe, as well as between NATO and the emerging EU security and defense identity, and what type of security arrangements will be achieved by the formerly conflicting parties. Until long-term security is assured, the best we could hope for is some form of Cyprus-type force that assures presence, and perhaps stability, in the region.[25]

Option 4. Dayton PlusThis option, in which the Dayton Accord itself would be adapted and modified to newly emerging post-Dayton realities, received consistent refusal from the previous Clinton administration. The truth, however, remains: Dayton ended a conflict but did not resolve the reasons for war. Further, Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia lack even some form of basic framework agreement by which to resolve differences. No one at the Dayton talks really believed that the accord would instantly tear down barriers erected over 42 months of warfare and brutal atrocities.The Dayton Agreement should likely be viewed as the beginning of a long resolution process rather than its end.

Option 5. Do NothingThis option may seem exactly the same as the “Get Out” option 2. The difference, however, lies in the practice of political inertia. While professing support for long-term stability, the United States would simply “mark time” in its Balkan involvement until it could assure security partners that little further can be accomplished. Some observers might suggest that this is exactly the option the United States is practicing now. To date, 900,000 Serb, Croat, and Bosniak refugees have failed to return to their prewar homes. The ethnic majorities created by the war in Bosnia—in which Bosnia, like Gaul before it, is divided in three parts—have not been reversed by the forced institutionalization of democratic tendencies, if not practice of such them. Over 600,000 landmines, which would take thirty years at least to remove, now define the borders of the tripartitioned Bosnia and prevent the use of 15 percent of arable farmland. One could say more, but the emphasis seems obvious: the “Do Nothing” option has begun to crystallize.

Option 6. Continue, Support, and Refine the “Europeanization” of the Balkans:This clearly is the most idealistic option. Regional and international leaders would work to consolidate differences, actively secure a sense of identity and governance (such as workingnow to de-mine and integrate war-partitioned communities), and willfully express the belief and the commitment to integrate the Balkans into the European family. As such, “Dayton Plus” is mandatory and not an option. Further, what the Balkan states need, as Steil and Woodward have rightly argued, is to become part of the “Europeanization” scheme. If Europe had learned anything in the post-Cold War environment, surely one lesson was that European economic integration actually fueled disintegration in Southeast Europe.

Outsiders push Balkan integration . . . but such efforts are doomed to fail in the face of local insecurity and political resistance. The Balkans need the leverage that can be achieved only by satisfying the region’s single common aspiration: “Europeanization.” . . . In practice, Europeanization means extending the cross-border monetary, trade, and investment arrangements that already operate within the EU across Europe’s southeastern periphery. . . . What the region is not achieving politically on an intraregional basis can therefore be achieved within a few years under the aegis of Europeanization. This “New Deal” should apply to all states in the region—Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey, and Yugoslavia—with no state’s existing EU affiliations jeopardized or set back through participation. . . . Early staged entry into liberal European economic regimes will encourage private-sector development, reduce the state’s economic role, underpin the rule of law, and increase the benefits of forswearing violent conflict over resources and national boundaries.[26] (Steil and Woodward 1999, 97-98)

The Balkans and Initiatives That Have Geopolitical Significance

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At first glance, the interventions of the 1990s seemed to focus simply on stabilizing an unstable region. But, as a result of intervention, certain realities dictate that the region stability and larger geopolitical issues are indeed related.

First, and at the most basic level, the presence of international security forces has had a profound impact. In Bosnia, S-FOR providing the means to allow change to take place—particular­ly in demilitarization and disarmament Yet, in the most accurate un­derstanding, S-FOR did not “fit” the traditional conceptual purpose of Confidence Building Measures (CBMS) that mean to 1) improve the internal or the international climate and facilitate arms control; 2) reduce the risk of war; and 3) lower the im­portance of an acceleration in armaments or allow for the disproportionate re-arming of formerly warring parties. The United States, NATO forces, and S-FOR did create the conditions for potential stability and even growth, for economic reconstruction and potential interdependence, and for the integration of Balkan peoples of the former Yugoslavia into a potential wider European identity.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina,the thirty-six nations that variously committed to S-FOR were not involved so much in nation building as nation holding. The problem in Bosnia, as much as with the tensions over Kosovo and the continued disintegration of the former republics of Yugoslavia, is complex and inter-related with factors that cannot easily be categorized under the titles “ethnic” and/or “religious” wars. Root causes and consequences are far more profound. Since the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement, I-FOR, and S-FOR (the successor mission to the original implementation force), successfully worked to separate formerly warring armed forces and helped decommission more than 300,000 troops. An arms control process, under the supervision of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), resulted in the destruction of more than 6,600 heavy weapons, and S-FOR continued to seize weaponry forbidden under the original agreement. S-FOR ensured cease-fire compliance, oversaw the withdrawal of forces from the Separation Zone, and patrolled the 1,400-kilometer-long area. S-FOR provided a secure environment, not only for the people of Bosnia, but also for those responsible for the implementation of nonmilitary aspects of the peace process.

Although the UN, rather than S?FOR, had the responsibility to streng­then the International Police Task Force (IPTF), S-FOR was instrumental in supporting the IPTF and helping restructure civil police functions in Bosnia. S-FOR supported the IPTF in eliminating unautho­rized check­points throughout the region (thus enhancing freedom of movement), used its military presence to restrict the movement of armed forces, and assisted in the removal of over 20,000 land mines, as well as continued to inspect weapon storage sites and monitor troop training and movement activities.

Secondly, the region became a “technology demonstrator and testing ground” for new technologies. While unnecessary to enter into an extended discussion of specific and most often classified categories, the presence of U.S. forces in the region directly contributed to the testing and subsequent use of new sophisticated technologies that will have direct future affect on arms controls.[27] Emerging arms controls technologies such as “sniffers” for WMD detection and extended use of Predator and other unmanned vehicles (UAVs) found fertile ground in a region where U.S. forces were actively involved and may be, at a reduced level, for some time to come.

Thirdly, wider “human security” concerns, such as criminalization and arms networking, continue. The Balkans is prime area for the movement of illegal arms. Coupled with the movement of drugs and the proliferation of criminal activities and corruption, these issues are perhaps the greatest direct threats to the future security of Macedonia and Albania. As part of the arms windfall that followed from the Albanian governmental collapse of April 1997, for example, sources indicate that anywhere from 650,000 to 750,000 Kalasnjkovs and 3,000,000 hand grenades flowed north to Kosovo shortly after the spring of that year, often ending up in the hands of ethnic Albanians who were ungoverned, destitute, and steeped in the medieval Albanian tradition of blood vengeance.[28] Diaspora Albanian communities, particularly within the United States, further strengthened the rise of the UÇK (from Ushtria Çlirimtare e Kosovës—known in the West as the Kosovo Liberation Army, or the KLA) and provided funds and munitions to give Kosovars the violent means to achieve their dreamed for ends. (Notably, President Bush in June 2001 supported the “cutting” of such aid from diaspora communities in the United States.)

One could also mention “human” traffic flows that are linked to the flows of drugs and arms and criminal networking, and ultimately destabilize governments and provide only human “insecurity” for citizens of the region. While dangerous to too broadly categorize, it seems obvious that the “opportunities” for criminal activity that occur when war—particularly intrastate war—sets in are attractive for figures influential in both categories. Former Serb president of the tripartite Bosnian presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik, and Serbian parliamentary member from Kosovo, Zeljko Raznatovic (more popularly known as the paramilitary leader “Arkan”), were known to be involved in and to have heavily profited from smuggling and criminal network activities even as they supported struggles for their specific political causes during the wars in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo. (This consequence is unique to the phenomena of failing states and not to the Balkans. In Sierra Leone, for example, the Revolutionary United Front supported brutal rebel movements and commanded vast diamond smuggling operations, just as Jonas Savimbi did in Angola.)

Thus, the EU, under the emerging common security and defense policy, may become the “lead” agency for security initiatives for the future Balkans. At best, NATO could serve as lead executive agency (which would be supportable under the latest Strategic Concept); the future of the transatlantic relationship will therefore directly affect the future of the Balkans.

The Balkans As Testing Grounds for the Future European Security

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This paper’s brief review and suggestion of future alternatives does not suggest that U.S. intervention in for­mer Yugoslavia rep­resents a turning point in American foreign policy. But such intervention proved significant. By 1994, NATO leadership had fractured—largely driven by starkly contrasting American and British perspectives—over the issue of Yugoslavia. In that year, England argued for immediate NATO intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina, while the U.S. refused to use armed force. In 1995, NATO intervention, as an element of coërcive diplomacy, proved essential in creating the environment in which the Dayton Peace Agreement could take place. If NATO intervention in former Yugoslavia had not proven as subsequently effective as it did (along with the presence of NATO peacekeeping forces), the most relevant discussion of European security at the end of the twentieth century might well have been NATO disbandment—not enlargement.[29]

NATO’s own internal review illustrates how deeply Balkan intervention shaped an evolving role of necessary response to aggression against nonmeber states.[30]

o       In 1992, with the beginning of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, NATO limited itself to a no-fly zone policing action.

o       In 1995, NATO chose active airstrikes against Bosnian Serbs to protect cvilians.

o       Subsequent to the Dayton Acccord, NATO led the Implementation Force in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

o       In 1999, NATO bombed the sovereign nation of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) in order to prevent further Serbian abuse of Kosovar Albanians and to force the acceptance of NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosovo.

Beyond a NATO-centric focus, one must stress that the Kosovo intervention directly motivated European leaders to develop in reality (rather than theory) a Common European and Security and Defence Policy (CESDP), capable of deploying 60,000 troops within 60 days that could perform humanitarian/peacekeeping/crisis management functions in place for one year. As such, the EU presidency declarations of Cologne and Helsinki of 1999 are significant documents and may well indicate a departure from the “traditional” Euro-American transatlantic relationship that had existed since 1949 with the original North Atlantic charter.

Three basic recognition points to the Bosnian experience as templates for NATO security challenges as well as to a larger Euro-Mediterranean significance:

·      The Balkans Are the Testing Grounds for Future SecurityThe testing grounds for NATO’s future security challenges in the Balkans. It was in the Balkans, and not across the Fulda Gap, where NATO witnessed its first combat employment and its first out-of-area operations in history. The tensions of Europe’s “Southern Region” (the area where conflicts and entangle­ments may likely continue) will challenge the alliance’s enduring purposes.

·      Balkan Intervention Has Changed the North Atlantic CharterBalkan intervention has changed forever the collective defence identity of the North Atlantic charter. Whether NATO enlargement will create a more viable security system for Europe, one that will permit nations and peoples to decide their destinies, through peaceful pro­cess, may perhaps be the critical security question from now until 2015.

·      Posses, Preventive Diplomacy, and Taking the Initiative. Even in the absence of international institutional support, NATO might well subject states to meeting basic standards for human and ethnic rights, condemn and boycott politicians who promote abuses, and form its own coalition forces as neces­sary to deal with dangerous trends before they explode. Former secretary of state Cyrus Vance’s UN initiative to deploy observers into Macedonia before the outbreak of conflict may partially explain why Macedonia was the only one of six former Yu­goslav republics to escape the outbreak of war within its borders until 2001. At the same time, NATO’s move to deploy combat (rather than observer) forces into Macedonia as a result of regional tensions that boiled over in 1998 seemed a wise choice.

Conceptual Conclusion

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From 1945 to 1946, up to 250,000 people died as victims of Tito’s mass shootings, forced death marches, and concentration camps as he was creating the “new” Yugoslavia.[31] By contrast, some estimates suggest that 3,200 had died in Kosovo prior to NATO’s 1999 intervention on behalf of “human rights.”[32] Granted, in 1946 the world was a different place then: a Cold War was set to begin, and—in the wake of a world war—the sovereignty of newly emerging states (based on self-determination) was both acknowledged and respected.

Yet current and future Balkan “difficulties” suggest that apparent success in one Balkan mission will translate to success in all Balkan missions. Prescriptive solutions are therefore, by nature, problematic. There is, af­ter all, something inherently fraudulent about imposing narrative or­der on crisis situations and then offering lessons or solutions from a, largely, false order that never existed. There are, however, a number of general observations and policy implications that may be drawn from an examination of realities that took place in the former Yugoslavia during the last decade of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first.

First, policy makers must realize that the ambiguity that professed neutrality between contending parties cannot be maintained indefinitely. Secondly, there is a pressing need to link former Yugoslav identity with other European identities and organizations. Membership in NATO, for example, now appears to be a cultural marker of inclusion and economic attractiveness as much as a security guarantee for many former republics. Since EU membership criteria are so difficult to fulfill, NATO membership is the next best thing—a “Good Housekeeping” seal of approval that assures security guarantees and makes a region more attractive for outside investment. Finally, policy makers must acknowledge openly—while a window of opportunity still exists—the necessary commitment it will take to the Balkans during a painful geopolitical transition. Civil societies, both creating and sustaining them, require difficult choice and focused effort.

The regional players of the Balkans, clearly, have conflicted and conflicting geopolitical interests. Within the Balkans, the nations of former Yugoslavia, Serbia in particular, will remain pivotal in this next century. Regional problems will thus continue to demand attention in a new millennium. The contradictions and ten­sions of Balkan dissolution will, unquestionably, constitute fundamental future challenges to American and European diplomacy, societal integration, and international leadership. Thus, because of the immense complexities and new realities that “Western” intervention has engendered by direct intervention in the Balkans, one can be certain only of the continuing uncertainty in this, the most challenging part of Europe.


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[1]The Balkans: Truths and Untruths, in The Southern Balkans: Perspectives from the Region, Dimitris Triantaphyllou, editor, Chaillot Papers 46 (Paris: European Institute for Security Studies, 2001), 5-6.

[2]Relevant examples of the authors’ works include John Agnew and Stuart Corbridge Mastering Space: Hegemony, Territory and International Political Economy (New York: Routledge, 1995) and Gearoid O Tuathail’s “Post-Cold War Geopolitics: Contrasting Superpowers in a World of Global Dangers,” in Geographies of Global Change, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). More detailed information on O Tuathail can be found at http://www. geog/faculty/toal/gt.html and on Agnew at http://www.geog.

[3]“Balkans,” from the Turkish, literally means “mountains.”

[4]Goea: Versuch einer Wissenschaftlichen Erdbeschreibung, Berlin, 1811, 11, quoted in Predrag Simic, “Do the Balkans Exist?”The Southern Balkans: Perspectives from the Region, Dimitris Triantaphyllou, editor, Chaillot Papers 46 (Paris: European Institute for Security Studies, 2001), 20.

[5]An explanation of terms might prove useful here. Under the Paris Peace Agreement of 21 November 1995, commonly known as the Dayton Accord, Appendix C, Annex 1-A, “Military Aspects,” established a “multi­national Implementation Force, the I-FOR, under the command of NATO, with a grant of authority from the UN.” Annex 10 established a UN High Representative to “coordinate and facilitate civilian aspects of the peace set­tlement” while specifying that the “High Representative has no authority over the I-FOR.” After the 1996 “expiration” of the original one-year American commitment to NATO and I-FOR, the name S-FOR (Stabilization Forces) came into being. In 1997, internal debate between the U.S. Department of State and Department of Defense focused on two different views of a post-S-FOR reality. The American State Department preferred the use of the term, “Deterrent Forces” (D-FOR); the Department of Defense preferred “Normalization Forces” (N-FOR) with an emphasis on de-linking military responsibilities for actions not directly specified under the Dayton accord (such as apprehension of war criminals) and bolstering the responsibilities and functional effectiveness of the UN International Police Task Force (IPTF), specified in Annex 11 of the Dayton Accord. In an act of compromise between these differences, President Clinton’s 18 December 1997 decision to extend the American commitment of ground forces past the planned June 1998 withdrawal is most often referred to as the “Stabilization Force Plus,” or simply “S-FOR+,” decision. The K-FOR, or Kosovo Force, was established in June 1999.

[6]I define the Balkans here to include Greece, Turkey (that portion which lies in Thrace), the boundaries of all states that comprised former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary. Although many would prefer to remove Hungary from a “Balkan” context, over 2.5 million Hungarians (at least 12 percent of the ethnic Hungarian population) live outside the borders of present-day Hungary—many in Transylvania within Romania, in northeastern Croatia, and in the Serbian province of Vojvodina. As such, Hungary has a direct interest in the fate of the Balkans.

[7]Strobe Talbott, “The United States, Germany, and the Idea of Europe,” 20 March 1998. Address to the New Traditions Conference, Berlin, Germany. United States Department of State Listserver <U09885@UICVM.UIC.EDU> (16 June 1998).

[8]P. H. Liotta, “Paradigm Lost: Yugoslav Self-Management and the Economics of Disaster,” 125-146, in Dismembering the State: The Death of Yugoslavia and Why It Matters (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001).

[9]Until 1995, the UN forces in the former Yugoslavia were collectively titled UNPROFOR. With the signing of the Dayton Accord, however, the remaining UN missions took on different acronyms as the NATO-led I-FOR came into being. The UN mission in Macedonia, for example, came to be known as UNPREDEP (United Nations Preventive Deployment Force), and continued until January 1999.

[10]The European Union has also made clear that it intends to take the lead in Balkan peacekeeping, as a necessary feature of the Common European and Security Defense Policy (CESDP) and the Petersberg humanitarian and crisis response task capabilities.

[11]A thorough review of the Clinton administration national security strategies from 1994 to 2000 reveals a consistent emphasis on connoting “stability” and “security” as synonymous terms. Such terms are not synonymous, and in the Balkan example some basic strategic errors will continue to be made by assuming that stabilization inherently assures security.

[12]The exclusively American-sponsored Train and Equip program proved one of the most influential events in the post-Dayton environment. The program was developed (under legislation directed by the American Congress) for the specific purpose of enabling the Bosnian Federation, and government military forces that were largely Muslim, to defend against potential Serb offensives should the peace process in Bosnia fail. Under the Train and Equip plan, Bosnian troops received sophisticated modern equipment and high-technology battlefield simulation training, and were provided operations and maintenance funds that exceeded $700 million dollars from 1996 to 1998. A large portion of the program to improve the “quality” of Bosnian forces was assigned to a civilian organization, not U.S. military forces, titled Military Professional Resources, Inc. (MPRI), that was licensed from the Pentagon.

[13]Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Political Writings, translated by T. M. Knox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964),

[14]William James Hersh, Blinding the Cyclops: Thinking the End of Racism (Privately printed, n.d.), 26.

[15]Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity: Chapters in the History of Ideas (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991): 85.

[16]Ibid., 224.

[17]The practice of the Gastarbeiter (literally meaning “guest worker” in German) was a source of economic support for Yugoslavia; the tradition continues in various communities of post-Yugoslavia. In the Albanian communities of Western Macedonia, for example, Gastarbeiter funds sent from Western Europe provide economic support and stability to the “home” community.

[18]Susan Woodward, Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1995), 51; 53; 55.

[19]Fred Singleton, A Short History of the Yugoslav Peoples (London: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 276.

[20]Simic, 24.

[21]Ibid., 28, fn. 31.

[22]What the stability pact offered various Balkan nations was yet another incentive program for foreign investment. The U.S. contribution, which amount­ed to a $700 million aid, trade, and incentive program, included, for example, a $150 million fund to lure investors to the region, a pledge of $130 million in support of small and medium-sized businesses, and a program of tariff reductions. Under its original charter, all the nations bordering Yugoslavia were slated to receive assistance; even within Yugoslavia, Montenegro was deemed eligible for direct assistance, although U.S. officials did not elaborate on how this could be achieved if Montenegro chose to remain a Yugoslav federal republic. According to the International Monetary Fund, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Romania would require as much as $1.25 billion to $2.25 billion a year for the next several years in order to reasonably weather the enormous costs of trade disruption, refugee flows, and regional instability.

[23]Jose Meirelles Passos, “The New War for Contracts,”O Globo [Rio de Janeiro], 13 June 1999. Reprinted in World Press Review, September 1999, 15. These states include Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, and Romania. The $100 billion estimate suggests the necessary cost to allow these various states to reach pre-conflict conditions of stability and growth potential. Kosovo, notably, has had no functional economic base or viable infrastructure in recent history.

[24]Thomas M. Franck, “Tribe, Nation, World: Self –Identification in the Evolving International System,”Ethics and International Affairs 11 (1997): 155.

[25]Some form of peacekeeping force has been present in Cyrpus since 1964, yet Cyprus (divided between the Turkish identity that calls itself the Republic of Northern Cyrpus and the original national identity known as Cyprus) is one of the stronger applicants for European Union membership. The European security debate largely revolves around the issue of responsibility (and independence from U.S.-dominated NATO positions) regarding issues of crisis management and humanitarian response for areas such as the Balkans.

[26]Susan Woodward and Benn Steil, “A European ‘New Deal’ for the Balkans,” Foreign Affairs (November-December 1999): 97-98.

[27]Slobodan Milosevic was deeply influenced by the virtual mapping simulator at Dayton, and when American military planners introduced him to the technology this directly affected his decision to come to an agreement because of the clear and strategic significance of geography in post-Dayton Bosnia—particularly in the area known as the Brcko corridor. Subsequent technology “firsts” included the introduction and subsequent widespread use of Predator and other UAVs (Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles) that were used in Bosnia, subsequently in Kosovo, and in July 2001 assisted U.S. forces in Macedonia from directly confronting angry Slavs who had tried to block the removal of ethnic Albanians during the NATO-brokered agreement on the evacuation of Aracinovo.

[28]Admittedly, other forms of arms flow occurred: from organized crime trafficking, as well as from the Serbian black market and the capturing of Yugoslav weapons.

[29]Laura Silber and Allan Little, Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation (New York: TV Books, 1996), 311-316.

[30]“The Alliance’s Operational Role in Peacekeeping: The Process of Bringing Peace to the Former Yugoslavia, Evolution of the Conflict,” NATO Handbook, 1998 edition. < 1998/v080.htm>

[31]Borivoje M. Karapandzich, The Bloodiest Yugoslav Spring, 1945 – Tito’s Katyns and Gulags. [Jugoslovenskokrvavo prolece 1945] (New York: Carlton Press, 1980).

[32]Casualty estimates, of course, are precisely that—estimates—and can be grossly manipulated. Although a full accounting can never be known for the exact number of dead during the breakup of Yugoslavia, it is worth noting that approximately 4,000 (mostly ethnic Albanians) died as a result of Yugoslav military and paramilitary action in Kosovo during the 1999 NATO intervention; conversely, roughly 500 mostly Serbs and Albanians died as a result of NATO military actions. Notably, during the time of the 1999 intervention, NATO press briefings placed estimates as high as 100,000 in Kosovo as a result of the now disputed “Operation Horseshoe.” For extended discussion of these estimates, and the myth and realities of the 1999 intervention, see: Yugoslavia Unravelled: Sovereignty, Self-Determination, Intervention, Ragu G. C. Thomas, editor (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2002).