American Leadership In And With Europe: The Balkans

I had the honor to serve as the last U.S. Ambassador to the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro starting in 2004 and ending as Ambassador to Serbia in 2007.  During my time leading our diplomatic mission in this volatile region, some of the remaining parts of the former Yugoslavia entered the final stages of dissolution.  Montenegro achieved its separation from Serbia in 2006.  And after long and arduous, but unsuccessful negotiations by the U.S./European/Russian “Contact Group”, Kosovo declared its independence in 2008.

In both cases, the separation was the best course of action. Best for Montenegro, best for Kosovo, and best for Serbia.  Montenegrins and Kosovars agreed.  Serbs did not.  Long days and nights negotiating, arguing, cajoling, and offering multiple pathways of making this right for all parties failed. Neither I nor my Washington colleagues, nor our European partners were able to convince our Serbian counterparts to accept Kosovo independence and to focus instead on a united European future.  Serbia today remains unalterably opposed to the independence and territorial integrity of Kosovo.

After Kosovo’s independence, the U.S. sadly started to lose interest in the Serbia-Kosovo dispute, deferring to our European allies to take the helm.  In 2016 U.S. policy toward Europe and the trans-Atlantic relationship overall began to shift dramatically.  The new President openly questioned the importance of NATO, the U.S. security presence in Europe and even our economic relationship across the Atlantic.  But the Administration pursued its interest in settling the Serbia-Kosovo issue without and in competition with our European allies.  Pressure was put on Kosovo to relent in its reciprocal measures against Serbia’s delegitimization efforts.  A land swap of ethnic communities in Serbia and Kosovo was floated.  The WH has now issued an invitation to the two countries to come to Washington on June 27 for discussions.

Neither European nor American experts expect these discussions to yield a lasting and balanced agreement.  Sadly, this WH effort, like so many others, is not about the interests of the two parties, but about the upcoming U.S. elections. The outcome may well be a declared diplomatic victory for the U.S., but not a real settlement of a highly complex and emotional international issue.

Our friends in Belgrade and Pristina deserve serious, principled, character-driven U.S. leadership on their dispute.  Leadership in partnership with our European friends, who after all will have to work with both countries on the ultimate goal — integration into a Europe “whole free and at peace.”  An empty “agreement” without Europe that potentially unravels the broader geopolitical borders of the entire continent is dangerous, destabilizing, unsustainable, and not in the U.S. interest.



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Filed under Balkans, diplomacy, Europe, U.S. Leadership

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