What should Biden do about the Balkans? European Union
When U.S. President Joe Biden spent the first 100 days in office, his administration was putting a smaller foreign policy on its agenda of priorities to focus on internal affairs. But perhaps when the pandemic was expected to recede in the coming months, as a result of the success of his vaccine, the president could also offer room for more attention to foreign policy.
Although it seems that Biden is focused on reaching a new agreement with Iran and ending the “eternal war” in Afghanistan in the US, the region that can achieve an easy victory in foreign policy is the Balkans. Unlike in Afghanistan and Iraq, this part of Europe is considered a successful American military intervention in the 1990s.
Three decades ago, the Balkans then caught the attention of Senator Biden. Slobodan Milosevic was a staunch critic of Yugoslav President’s conquest wars and actively supported U.S. military action in Bosnia and Kosovo. Therefore, last November’s Biden elections were widely held in both countries and led to high hopes for renewed positive US participation in the region.
While other former Yugoslav states have progressed with European Union and NATO integration, Bosnia and Kosovo are lagging behind. Croatia is a member of both. Northern Macedonia has recently joined NATO while talks with the EU are expected to begin soon. Montenegro has also become a member of NATO and is currently in talks with the EU. Serbia is adamant that it would stay out of NATO, but is moving ahead with negotiations with the EU.
This dynamic effectively leaves Bosnia a clear path to the EU or NATO in the near future. Kosovo’s chances of getting into both are even further away. Leaving Limbo behind, there is concern that Bosnia will be relegated to a dysfunctional state caused by ethnic tensions and that Kosovo’s development will be halted without a clear roadmap for EU and NATO membership.
Much of this has a lot to do with the fact that for more than a decade the region has been neglected by U.S. administrations. Donald Trump Biden’s predecessor pursued an inconsistent foreign policy that yielded no tangible results. The summit held in the White House last September with Serbian and Kosovo leaders failed to address the most serious issue for the two countries: recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
Biden can address the consequences of past neglect and inappropriate policies by taking decisive action in Kosovo and Bosnia, as the US has largely a positive perception.
He should follow two paths. First, Biden could push for an end to the NATO enlargement process in southeastern Europe. Kosovo is eager to join the Alliance while Bosnia has made some progress, albeit with internal political means. A majority of its entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, are in favor of joining NATO, and most of the political leaders of the other entity (Republika Srpska) are actively opposed.
But that didn’t always happen. Just over a decade ago, then-Serbian Bosnian presidency member Nebojša Radmanović sent a letter to NATO expressing its commitment to becoming a full member of the Bosnian Alliance. What has changed since 2009 is that Bosnian Serb leaders – leaving the fall of American diplomacy in a vacuum – have officially taken a pro-NATO and pro-Russian stance. Despite Bosnia’s public opposition to NATO membership, Bosnian Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodi made clear the country’s growing cooperation with the Alliance, including participation in the US-led Defender Europe 2021 exercise.
In fact, it is an official policy decided by Bosnia to commit itself to NATO membership with the help of Bosnian Serb leaders. The country’s Foreign Policy Strategy for 2018-2023 reaffirms that “the continuation of NATO-related policies remains a priority for Bosnian institutions.”
The Biden administration should encourage Bosnia and Kosovo to join NATO quickly. This would give the two countries a brighter future and help them anchor firmly within the Atlantic Alliance. It would guarantee US political, military and economic investment in Bosnia and Kosovo over the past two decades.
Among the different functioning responsibilities of Bosnian institutions in the face of the pandemic, firmly entrenched ethnic leaders have turned to warming, diverting people’s attention away from rampant corruption and severe disability, and inciting violence in a dangerous way. The fact that membership in the EU and NATO, which existed more than a decade ago, has given way to a general sense of hope in the hope of improving some of the tensions created by the Dayton Peace Accords. Now Bosnia’s rapid adherence to NATO membership could prevent the country from having another frozen conflict in Europe.
Making progress on Kosovo’s NATO offer would surely drive reform and development in the new European state, which has long faced a socio-economic downturn. It would also rekindle fears of a renewed conflict with Serbia and escalate tensions in ethnically mixed northern regions. Encouraging Kosovo’s NATO integration, the Biden administration would send a clear signal to Belgrade that Kosovo would move forward regardless of the pace of full normalization. Pressing Serbia can help to fully recognize the neighbor and normalize relations.
Second, the US should push the EU to make it a clear opportunity for Bosnia and Kosovo to become members. Bosnia is further in the process of joining the EU and being a candidate for membership would be crucial in getting the country out of its current dysfunction. This would provide a valuable impetus for Bosnia to undertake political and economic reforms that Bosnian politicians would not undertake and, more importantly, provide more EU funding to invest in much-needed education, health and infrastructure projects.
Progress in joining the EU is also very important for Kosovo. Serbia is very supportive in the negotiation process and if it joins soon it could block Kosovo’s offer to join. The push by the United States to push for EU incentives for Kosovo as a candidate would ensure that the current situation is equal and membership. Being a candidate for Kosovo would also provide EU funding for reforms and infrastructure, but it would also put pressure on politicians to take more serious steps against corruption and economic underdevelopment.
In short, the Biden administration is in a unique position to anchor the Balkans within the Atlantic Alliance and ensure peace in this volatile place in Europe. Both states have a small population and integration into NATO would be profitable. Biden can help accelerate EU integration, which would contribute to the political and economic development of these countries.
The opportunity to push for policy in this direction will be presented on 14 June at a NATO summit in Brussels. The success of foreign policy for the 46th president of the United States is very simple, it can be achieved in his first term, and it would be a lasting legacy.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the attitude of the Al Jazeera editorial.