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June 30, 2005—The United States needs to push for a speedy resolution of Kosovo's final status and stay engaged in the Balkans, concludes a new Council Special Report. "The ongoing uncertainty over final status has increased tensions in Kosovo, fueling Serbia's political turmoil and threatening to destabilize the entire region," says the report.
Forgotten Intervention? What the United States Needs to Do in the Western Balkans is a follow-up to the 2002 Council-sponsored Independent Task Force report Balkans 2010, and was co-written by Council Senior Fellow and retired Army Major General William L. Nash and research associate Amelia Branczik. Nash, head of the Council's Center for Preventive Action, led U.S. troops into Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and was a UN administrator in Kosovo.
Kosovo remains the most significant unresolved question. "Finding a settlement acceptable to all sides will be difficult and will require an active U.S. role to establish a consensus on the specifics of final status, prepare the environment in Serbia and provide political cover for Belgrade, create a credible process, and implement a solution." Final status will most likely involve some sort of conditional independence. The U.S. needs to work with the UN and the European Union to prepare Belgrade for this outcome, using incentives such as guaranteeing full protection for Kosovo's Serb community, a promise of EU candidacy for Serbia as early as 2006, and compensation for its loss of territory.
The report also argues that the United States, the UN, and the EU should create a consultative review commission on what the specifics of final status would be. Meanwhile, the United States should maintain its current modest commitment of troops in Kosovo and Bosnia as part of NATO forces there. Any outbreak of fighting would require a strong U.S. response. "Current conditions require more active efforts to prevent a crisis in Kosovo that could undo years of international efforts to create conditions for lasting peace."
With the threat of terrorism looming large for the foreseeable future, the existence of strong and stable states in the western Balkans, with the ability to police their borders and control organized crime networks, is critical for U.S. national security. "There is a danger that the United States is withdrawing too rapidly," says the report. "This could lead to a vacuum of political leadership that will undermine U.S. foreign policy goals.
For the region as a whole, the report makes the following recommendations:
- Stay Involved in the Western Balkans. "Although the broader U.S. objective is to pull out of a secure and stable region, a precipitous withdrawal of assistance will undermine stability and ultimately be counterproductive. Instead, the United States should continue to provide support for a greater EU role and promote the region's integration into the EU, which provides the best framework for securing political and economic stability in the long term."
- Restore Economic and Democratization Assistance to 2002 Levels. "The dramatic decline in U.S. assistance across all sectors suggests an underestimation of the difficulties involved in EU accession goals, and which will not fully materialize for several years...To demonstrate its commitment, the United States should restore annual funding for assistance programs in the western Balkans to $440 million, the 2002 level of assistance."
- Promote Governance Reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina. "Bosnia will not be a sustainable state as long as it maintains its current ineffective and inefficient government institutions. Reducing the cost of the public sector, reforming government structures within Bosnia's two entities, and making specific changes to the constitution introduced by Dayton will facilitate effective governance as the international community hands over greater sovereignty to local politicians."
- Promote Further Reform of Serbia and Montenegro's Security Sector. While "the chief obstacle to Serbia and Montenegro's progress on EU accession continues to be lack of compliance with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)," the United States "has an important role to play in encouraging and assisting further reform." While maintaining pressure to capture suspected war criminals Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, the United States can acknowledge Serbia's recent progress on ICTY compliance by providing more low-level assistance to Serbia and Montenegro's armed forces.
The Council's Center for Preventive Action (CPA) seeks to prevent, defuse or resolve deadly conflicts around the world and to expand the body of knowledge on conflict prevention. It does so by creating a forum in which representatives of governments, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, corporations, and civil society can gather to develop operational and timely strategies for promoting peace in specific conflict situations. CPA focuses on conflicts in countries or regions that affect U.S. interests, but may be otherwise overlooked; where prevention appears possible; and when the resources of the Council on Foreign Relations can make a difference.
Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent national membership organization and a nonpartisan center for scholars dedicated to producing and disseminating ideas so that members, students, interested citizens, and government officials in the United States and other countries can better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments.