Preventing Balkan Conflict: The Role of Euroatlantic Institutions

By Simon, Jeffrey | Strategic Forum, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Preventing Balkan Conflict: The Role of Euroatlantic Institutions


Simon, Jeffrey, Strategic Forum


Key Points

Despite 15 years of international peacekeeping and security assistance, the West Balkans are still beset with major security challenges that will severely test the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) in 2007.

Bosnia-Herzegovina still requires the presence of NATO and EU police and peacekeepers and, along with newly independent Montenegro, needs help in building basic institutions. The same is true for Kosovo. As the United Nations addresses Kosovo's "final status," Kosovar and Serbian interethnic relations will likely grow more unstable, possibly with ripple effects in Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Among the instruments for enhancing Balkan stability today are NATO's Partnership for Peace and the EU's Stabilization and Association Agreements, along with an array of subregional organizations promoting cooperation.

NATO and EU members--Hungary, Slovenia, and Greece, along with Romania and Bulgaria, who joined the EU in January 2007--now provide a core for coordinating NATO and EU programs in promoting West Balkan security sector reform, encouraging regional collaboration, and providing a credible roadmap for Euro-Atlantic integration.

Expanding the Southeast European Defense Ministerial and Civil-Military Emergency Planning Council for Southeastern Europe membership to include all West Balkan states and broadening their coverage to include interior ministers (police and border guards) would create the necessary conditions for advancing Balkan regional cooperation in a Southeast European Homeland Defense Ministerial. Such a union of defense and interior ministers would work with the Southeast European Cooperation Initiative to provide opportunities for West Balkan states to move beyond stabilization toward integration.

These stabilization efforts and institutional developments are cause for optimism but no guarantee of success. A NATO-EU Balkan strategy that aims at effective and well-integrated national, regional, and sub-regional capacity-building efforts will be a vital ingredient in forestalling future conflict.

Balkans in Perspective

Since the end of the Cold War, the Balkan region has presented major security challenges to the United States and Europe. The instability and weak governance of the region remain an important concern in the post-9/11 period. Balkan regional tensions erupted in several wars resulting from the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia in 1991. After a slow initial response from Europe and confronted by an inadequate United Nations (UN) effort in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), the United States convinced the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to initiate a decade-long peacekeeping mission to safeguard implementation of the Dayton Accords. Then, in an effort to halt a humanitarian catastrophe stemming from ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, NATO engaged in an air campaign against Serbia and another major peacekeeping operation in Kosovo. (1)

The Yugoslav wars during the 1990s reinforced the view that Europe was unable to handle its own security challenges and that the European Union (EU) needed to improve its military capabilities and be able to deploy forces outside its borders. In 1999, the EU launched its European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) with a Helsinki Headline Goal that called for a European Union Force (EUFOR) of 60,000 troops to deploy within 60 days for up to 12 months to focus on the so-called Petersberg Tasks comprising humanitarian, peacekeeping, and crisis-management missions. EU governments also agreed to support major new efforts to better integrate their competencies in civil society, security sector reform, and military operations to enhance postconflict stabilization, security transition, and reconstruction operations.

Looming Challenges

Despite successful stabilization efforts and institutional advances of the past decade, Balkan regional conflicts and the risk of state failure, which receded into the background after 9/11, are likely to reemerge as challenges requiring renewed attention from the United States and Europe. …

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