Statement to the House of Representatives International Relations Subcommittee on Europe
by William L. Nash
Major General, USA, (Ret.)
Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Preventive Action
Council on Foreign Relations
Thank you for inviting me to address this hearing of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Europe. It comes at a critical moment for the Balkans, less than a month after Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic’s assassination in Serbia and little more than a week after the resignation of the Bosnian Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency amid scandals surrounding illegal arms exports to Iraq and alleged spying incidents. Today I wish to talk briefly about the current conditions in, and the challenges facing, the Balkan region, and to review some of the findings and recommendations in the Council on Foreign Relations’ recent independent task force report, Balkans 2010. I ask that the full text of the Balkans 2010 report be entered in to the record, and would like to note that the report is available at the Council on Foreign Relations’ website, at cfr.org. Unless otherwise noted, the report reflects the consensus views of task force members. I should clarify at the outset that when I say "Balkans," I am referring primarily to the states of the former Yugoslavia, with the exception of Slovenia.
The Balkan violence of the 1990s has run its course. With democratic governments in all of the former Yugoslav republics and regionwide ambitions to join the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), there is no longer a risk of major war between states. The Dayton Agreement ended the brutal war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and continues to provide both a framework for that country to move toward Europe and the means to root out the ethnic separatism that still holds it back. In Kosovo, the repression of the ethnic Albanians has ended and work is well underway in rebuilding that damaged society. Slobodan Milosevic, the primary architect of the decade’s violence, is on trial for his crimes at the international tribunal in The Hague. Across the states and regions of the former Yugoslavia, democratic governments share a common ambition to join the European Union and NATO.
But work remains, and there are three areas from our report that I would like to emphasize. The first is the absolute necessity of confronting the politico-criminal syndicates that are endangering the development of democracy and free markets across the Balkans. The second and related point is the importance of building the rule of law, both civil and criminal, in the region. And the third is the essential reform of the international presence in the Balkans.
I’ll start with the politico-criminal syndicates. In the course of working on the Balkans 2010 report, it became clear that many task force members considered the organized criminal groups to be the single greatest threat to regional stability, in large part because the groups’ survival depends on crushing the effort to introduce transparency, accountability, and moderation into the political and economic systems of the state. The assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic, attributed to an organized crime network with strong ties to former president Slobodan Milosevic’s regime, tragically illustrates the scope and power of these groups, which include criminal profiteers in alliance with hardline politicians, unreformed agents of the police and security services, and corrupt members of the judiciary.
Since the Prime Minister’s murder, there has been a high-profile and wide-ranging effort in Serbia to break the grip of these syndicates, and this effort was rightly praised by Secretary of State Powell during his recent visit to Belgrade. However, this sort of concerted effort against politico-criminal syndicates is needed beyond Serbia. In fact, a principal recommendation of the Balkans 2010 task force was the implementation of vigorous campaigns aimed at crippling the politico-criminal syndicates that threaten internal and regional security. The task force recommended that these campaigns be a cooperative effort involving international actors and local forces, and that they be launched first in Bosnia and Kosovo, where the international presence is greatest. Now that Serbia has taken the initiative against these groups, it is all the more important that authorities in other areas, including the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia and the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), follow suit with targeted campaigns against the individuals and groups associated with the illegal intersection of government and financial power. The United States should firmly support these efforts. Simply put, reform won’t stick so long as these politico-criminal groups are flourishing.
The second major issue I want to address is the importance of building the rule of law. First, you can’t talk about building the rule of law in the region without reiterating the absolute necessity of arresting war criminals, especially Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, and sending them to The Hague. I was heartened that Secretary of State Powell strongly encouraged Serbia’s new Prime Minister, Zoran Zivkovic, to continue cooperation with the Hague Tribunal during his recent trip to Belgrade, and even more so that Mr. Zivkovic pledged on April 7th to fulfill Serbia’s obligations to the Court. I also believe that conditionality remains the best stick we have to ensure that progress on this front continues, so long as the conditions are set in broad terms, with time limits sufficiently liberal to allow local actors some leeway in achieving the required standards. Inflexible and arbitrary cut-off dates can be counterproductive when substantial progress toward the required standards is underway. But when there is continuous failure to abide by conditions, there must be a willingness to halt funding to demonstrate the consequences of inaction
But rule of law is about more than bringing war criminals to justice. It means a legal system in which justice is administered openly and fairly according to prescribed statutes and regulations, individuals and organizations are held accountable, judges are impartial, minority rights are protected, and legitimate rulings are enforced. It encompasses both criminal and civil law: the latter is crucial for economic development, and economic development, in turn, is crucial to any hope for a successful, stable future for the Balkans. Indeed, strengthening the rule of law in both civil and criminal spheres is vital for achieving progress on other fronts in the region, as Secretary of State Powell rightly pointed out when he linked the extradition of war criminals with success against organized crime and the implementation of military reform.
Finally, I want to focus on the role and structure of the international presence in the region, in particular the current and future roles of the United States and the European Union vis- à- vis the Balkans. By this I mean two things: ensuring that the European Union and NATO are the primary agents of international influence in the Balkans over the coming decade; and restructuring the current international presence to eliminate independent policymaking by ad hoc structures and transferring those responsibilities to permanent European or responsible local institutions.
The guiding principle for the task force’s work was that the Balkans’ future lies in Europe - both formally, in terms of integration into European structures and institutions, and informally, in terms of shared norms and interests. If Europe is the goal, then Europe has to be the path, albeit with strong U.S. support and interests. Accordingly, the task force argued that the EU’s plan for the region - the Stabilization and Association Process - is, in conjunction with NATO’s Partnership for Peace program and Membership Action Plan, the best tool for putting the Balkan states on the path to full integration with western Europe by 2010.
The Balkans represent both a testing ground for the capability of the EU as well as an opportunity for the development of a new type of collaboration between the United States and Europe, which could eventually become a template for future trans-Atlantic cooperation. While it is in America’s interest to encourage the Balkan states’ efforts to change - especially by using its influence in NATO to ensure a stable security situation and to guide military reform - it is also in America’s interest to recognize and support the EU’s lead in setting standards and providing assistance, and to help the EU stay the course and keep it accountable for its end of the deal.
This is not to say that the United States can pull up stakes and leave the Balkans to the Europeans. In fact, there are elements of American involvement that are unmatched by Europe and will remain crucial in the region, including the U.S.’s unique political clout and its ability to speak with one voice. There are approximately 1,800 U.S. troops in Bosnia and 2,400 in Kosovo, drawn down significantly from previous highs but still necessary to help keep the peace and signal the U.S.’s ongoing commitment. Nor am I saying that the United States cannot stick up for its principles, interests, or methods - such as the use of conditionality - where those may diverge from our allies. Rather, the crucial point is that, while continued American engagement remains necessary for the Balkan states to achieve the stability that will make them productive partners, the current challenges facing the United States from areas other than the Balkans means that it is in the U.S. interest to take a supporting, rather than dominant role in Balkans reconstruction.
In terms of the structure of the international presence: in the interest of time I won’t say much about that here, except that the current structure of international bodies in the region is inefficient and requires streamlining, and furthermore that the ultimate goal for the international presence is eventually to dismantle the ad hoc structures and transfer that authority to permanent European institutions or, preferably, competent local institutions. I refer you to the task force report for a more detailed discussion.
I again thank the Committee for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today and, more particularly, for keeping a focus on the Balkans at a time when it is not at the forefront of world affairs. It is this long-term commitment by the U.S. and its allies that has been the foundation for the remarkable transformation of this region. Until recently, I never thought I’d have to defend the idea that staying the course and finishing a job is a necessary part of any international intervention. But we would not be at this juncture, discussing the fine points of completing the institution building of these fledgling democracies, if we had not gone through these often messy, complicated, but worthwhile tasks. Thank you.