Macedonia: End of the Beginning or Beginning of the End?

Article excerpt

"In this part of the world it is difficult to find the true path between reason and emotion, myth and reality. This is the burden of the Balkans, which prevents us from becoming truly European."

--Kiro Gligorov First President of the Republic of Macedonia

Following the horrific events of 11 September 2001, the security dilemma of the former Yugoslavia virtually vanished before the eyes of many policymakers. Understandably, the United States and Europe felt compelled to divert resources away from the region and into their mutual struggle against global terrorism. Yet for more than a decade, the Balkans presented the West with one of its greatest strategic and policy challenges. The prosecution and aftermath of four violent conflicts there--including the first military intervention by NATO--consumed billions of dollars and involved exhaustive diplomatic and regional initiatives.

The Balkans no longer constitute a primary foreign policy challenge; this does not mean, however, that the international community can afford to look in all directions other than Southeast Europe. The region itself is in a period of difficult, painful transition, and stands the chance of rapidly succumbing to transnational criminal influences and becoming a "black hole" of terrorism such as happened in Afghanistan, which became not a sponsor of terrorism but rather a terrorist-sponsored state. Even as halting progress toward representative government and institution-building takes place in Croatia, Serbia, and Kosovo, internal corruption, black-market activities, and illegal arms shipments threaten the stability of the region. When $25 can buy anyone a real, not a counterfeit, passport, the area has increasingly become attractive to those who easily escape the notice of already overstretched internal security forces. Nowhere has this security dilemma entered a more crucial period than in Macedonia.

To be sure, the first year of the 21st century was not kind to Macedonia. Although admitted as an "associate member" of the European Union in April 2001--with the mutually proclaimed expectation of eventual EU membership--and a member of the so-called "Vilnius Nine" seeking membership in the next enlargement round of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Macedonia (as well as Albania) was widely regarded as having little to absolutely no chance of securing NATO membership during the Prague summit of 2002. (1) Yet among this group of nine ex-communist states seeking NATO membership (widely seen as less restrictive than EU criteria for membership), such alliance and institutional membership was believed to be absolutely critical for both long-term security and to attract direct foreign investment in struggling economies.

Within Macedonia itself, an ethnic Albanian insurgency under the rubric of the National Liberation Army (NLA) came perilously close to paralyzing the nation in a state of political and civil gridlock; equally, the leaders of NATO, the European Union, and the United States seemed unclear about what--if any--course of action was best to take regarding the fate of this tiny ex-republic of the former Yugoslavia. (2) Ultimately, even the ethnic governing coalition within Macedonia, formed in May 2001 and proclaimed a "national unity government," appeared incapable of agreement on central, critical issues. One informed observer caustically remarked, only days after the unity government's formation, that "this government has nothing to do with genuine democracy ... [and] is too weak and fragile to undertake any serious reform in the country." (3) By the end of 2001, the coalition government had disintegrated and the nation drifted, once again, toward dissolution.

In this article, we argue that Macedonia's future is essential to the European security architecture. Whether or not Macedonia survives will largely be dependent on "external" forces and actors. …