Charles A. Kupchan, Whitney Shepardson Senior Fellow
The Balkans region in southern Europe has been unsettled since the dismantling of Ottoman dominance there in the late nineteenth century. During the twentieth century, ethnic and sectarian tensions not infrequently brought war to the region, most recently during the 1990s amid the breakup of Yugoslavia. The United States played a significant role in bringing peace to Bosnia in 1995 and to Kosovo in 1999, but the region faces continued instability.
The European Union (EU) is now taking the lead on consolidating peace and stability in the Balkans. It is using the lure of integration into the EU's institutions and its single market as an incentive for the states and peoples of the region to govern responsibly and move beyond the ethnic conflict of the past. The most recent example of such diplomacy involved Serbia and Kosovo, which exchanged envoys this week—a major breakthough in light of the hostility that has prevailed since Kosovo separated from Serbia after the 1999 war. Kosovo went on to declare independence in 2008. Although the Serbian government has not agreed to recognize an independent Kosovo, pressure from the EU and the allure of eventual membership in the EU did succeed in convincing Belgrade to move toward an interim solution that facilitates normalization between Serbia and Kosovo.
U.S. diplomacy still remains important, even if the EU is in the lead. Bosnia is in a fragile state, and Washington has been playing a central role in trying to convince Bosnian Muslims, Croats, and Serbs to undertake the constitutional reforms needed to produce a more functional government. Macedonia was largely successful in avoiding the widespread violence that occurred elsewhere. But the country needs to continue investing in improved relations across communal boundary lines, ensuring that ethnic Albanians are economically and socially integrated into Macedonian society. The United States remains a player in Macedonia and throughout the region, relying on its diplomatic presence as well as its commercial engagement to advance reconciliation and promote social stability.