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Southeastern Europe has challenged the future of Europe and North America. While some of the region's intractable disputes simmer (e.g., between Greece and Turkey), the events, policies and personalities that inflamed the Balkans since 1989 have endangered principles for which advanced democracies stand and the alliance that unites them in common defense. If and how we pre-empt, halt and un-do heinous measures by nationalists and extremists in the Balkans will largely determine how the Euro-Atlantic community enters the 21s century.

The July 30, 1999 declaration of a "Balkan Stability Pact" (the BSP) at a 30-state Sarajevo summit conference is, thus far, the West's principal, long-term response to the wars in former Yugoslavia. In the short-run, American bombs and missiles forced Serbs to evacuate Kosovo. The BSP however, begins to define how the West may seek to avoid another decade like the 1990s, suggesting a kind of de facto model not only for the Balkans but wherever peoples and borders intermingle.

Sarajevo bookends this century. Eighty-five years ago, a global war began there with the assassination of Austrian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand; this summer, the Sarajevo summit tried again to extinguish remnants of this modern "one hundred years war." The Archduke was, no doubt, still watching.

Bosnia and Kosovo shook Western leaders out of their self-delusion that post-Cold War Europe would be whole, free, and peaceful. We're not there yet. We may never be.

Further, a vague trans-Atlantic consensus painfully emerged - that responding to violent crises belatedly, and trying to enforce peace through intervention, have severe political, economic and moral costs for the West.

A formula for conflict prevention, however, was still needed. Western Europe, with Germany in the lead, championed the notion of a "stability pact" for the Balkans. A draft was first aired during early April, 1999, just a couple of weeks after bombing had commenced. Then, given the EU and G-8 imprimatur in June, the Balkan Stability Pact took form as an instrument aimed at preventing and handling long-term and regional conditions that generate tensions or conflict. Such a pact has the aura of a regional Marshall Plan, and a potential price tag of $30 billion over five years according to EU estimates.

But, the Stability Pact is not what we or the Balkans needed. It is diplomatic prozac at a time when shock therapy is required. It offers inducements and rewards before the heavy lifting. It suggests that we can buy and educate the Balkans towards market democracy in the long term, before a secure milieu exists in which to nurture such fragile institutions.

To the educated and sophisticated citizens of Southeastern Europe, the BSP is a bitter joke - another case of bait and switch, false promises, and dashed hopes. Interviews throughout the region during mid to late summer 1999 found no one who could muster more than moderate "interest" in the BSP's prospects. Most elites pointed out that initial financial commitments to support the Stability Pact were far greater than the follow-up transfer of resources; the United States, for example, brought to the Sarajevo conference no more than $500 million in commitments, most of which was left over monies from a supplemental allocation meant to fund Kosovo peacekeeping operations.

The Balkan Stability Pact is neither Balkan, stable nor a pact. Its genesis lies in Western, great-power interests and EU monies; it ignores the real basis for stability, which is security, and it is based solely on political commitment not treaty law and ratification. Most important, in a threat-rich, capacity-poor environment such as the Balkans, stability is vacuous unless sources of insecurity are eliminated.

The Stability Pact does nothing to address the immediate and urgent sources of insecurity that will undermine the accord's credibility. First, those who started this war as well as earlier post-Yugoslav wars rest comfortably in Belgrade. Slobodan Milo evi may be most recognizable, but six Serb leaders were indicted by the Hague Tribunal, and many other investigations are underway. Meanwhile, their army and police are intact, their money safely stashed, and no amount of bounty placed on their heads will enable even the remote possibility for their capture and arrest within Serbia.

As long as these people are in power in Belgrade, Serbia remains an outcast. As such, it will be excluded from most assistance packages, thereby ensuring that such packages will be less effective. A proactive, KFOR-led (and SFOR in Bosnia) program to apprehend those indicted for war crimes is essential ; without such an effort, a critical component of lasting security - internal and external confidence that justice will triumph - is absent.

Second, the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) is far from disarmed, and the kind of vigilante retribution first seen in Gracko will continue to recur. The KLA's mafia-like connections to shadowy financiers, arms traffickers and the global drug trade bode ill for any thought of handing Kosovo's governance over to "democrats." That Hasim Thaqi and other KLA leaders have less public support today than when KFOR entered Kosovo is small comfort. Without a robust effort to seize and destroy arms that incorporates all combatants, and strenuous sub-regional arms control, there is no chance for superficial stability to take root in the Balkans.

Third, beyond Kosovo, the Balkan Stability Pact is built on the shifting sand of a region that includes collapsed states, nationalist authoritarianism, and shaky coalitional governments with miserable economic records. In the 1990s, several varieties of Balkan political "systems" have emerged. Weak states such as Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Serbia encompass governmental institutions which exist and act but have so little efficacy that the provision of public goods is questionable. The state is consequently being supplanted by criminal organizations, ethnic or tribal groups, or other alternatives. Apart from weak states, pseudo- states such as Bosnia-Herzegovina exist at the behest of larger, wealthier, protective powers, while failed-states such as Albania long ago ceased to have much meaning in terms of political or economic behavior.

With respect to their degree of integration into Western institutions, the Balkans are not on the fast track; a few countries are tenuously moving on a slow track, while others are derailed and some have yet to leave the station.

Fourth, as others have also noted, the Stability Pact is primarily an EU "show". After providing the lion's share of military muscle to force Serb withdrawal from Kosovo, Washington is in the backseat. Given Europe's Balkan track record, the Pact's efficacy or longevity will suffer by such an imbalance between war-making and peacekeeping or reconstruction.

Stability for Southeastern Europe without first ensuring security is perilous. The German design implies a Balkan peninsula made docile through economic infusion, intertwined by trade, and increasingly dependent on the EU. But, as long as it is a region populated by failed states, weak political institutions, and extremist public personalities, docility will quickly usher in demagogues ready to attack democratic and market reforms as sell-outs to foreign interests.

With the Balkan Stability Pact, we and our allies seek to hold in check, dampen, and minimize political dynamics in a volatile region. Europe, and to a lesser extent the US, will throw money at the problem and hope that long-term palliatives constrain the chance for violent upheaval or further ethnic conflict while encouraging democratic behavior.

Yet stability isn't democracy. Ongoing, grinding poverty is a stability of sorts, along the lines of Todor Zhivkov's four decades in Bulgaria. When yesterday, today and tomorrow are indistinguishable, you've discovered stability. But it is also numbing and the antithesis of plural, tolerant societies or entrepreneurial capitalism.

The peoples and countries of the Balkans may, indeed, need substantial instability before they can find security- instability to rid themselves of war criminal presidents or aging nationalist presidents; instability to leap towards real market economies without heavy state intervention; instability during a concerted attack against organized crime; and, instability as society is forced by law to eliminate ethnic biases.

Change wrought via elections can destabilize for awhile, but such votes are the only path by which to ensure lasting, effective political shifts. Opponents of democracy should know that it is to their peril were they to stand in the way of implementing electoral outcomes. Accelerating and broadening economic transformations can be substantially destabilizing too, as the catharsis of economic contraction takes place before revitalization - for which the US and our NATO allies should be prepared with tangible assistance to strengthen the "social safety net." Serious attacks on organized crime likewise may provoke counterattacks and terrorism, against which American and European interests are obvious.

A Balkan Stability Pact that seeks to pump billions of Euros and dollars into Southeastern European infrastructure projects, or deposits additional thousands of NGO civil society-builders, may relieve the West of accumulated guilt for watching as genocidal plans were made and implemented. But, such measures will not ensure social, economic or political stability. The path towards market democracy and peaceful behavior must be first cleared of attitudinal and institutional obstacles. For such an endeavor, the Stability Pact's "silent" raison d'etre - to improve conditions within the Balkans so that peoples of that region stay home and eschew mass violence - misses the mark.

The Archduke may want to warn someone.

Daniel N. Nelson spoke at an EES Noon Discussion on October 20, 1999


About the Author

Daniel N. Nelson

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Global Europe Program

The Global Europe Program addresses vital issues affecting the European continent, U.S.-European relations, and Europe’s ties with the rest of the world. It does this through scholars-in-residence, seminars, policy study groups, media commentary, international conferences and publications. Activities cover a wide range of topics, from the role of NATO, the European Union and the OSCE to European energy security, trade disputes, challenges to democracy, and counter-terrorism. The program investigates European approaches to policy issues of importance to the United States, including globalization, digital transformation, climate, migration, global governance, and relations with Russia and Eurasia, China and the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.  Read more