US Policy in the Balkans: From Containment to Strategic Reengagement
F. Stephen Larrabee
During the Cold War the United States (US) strategic attention in Europe was focused primarily on the Central Front. Southern Europe and the Balkans were regarded as of secondary importance. The end of the Cold War has changed not only the character but also the locus of US strategic concerns. Today, the major challenges in Europe -- and to US interests in Europe -- lie increasingly in the south, especially in the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean. 1 As former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke has noted,
The Southern Balkans and Aegean are becoming increasingly important to Western and US interests since the end of the Cold War. Conflict or instability in these regions can impact directly on the stability of Central Europe, and tensions between Greece and Turkey can weaken the ability of NATO to provide a foundation for the expansion of European institutions. 2
The Balkans in particular have emerged as a major US security concern; 3 Bosnia has been -- and remains -- a major US preoccupation. In addition, Kosovo and Macedonia are potential flashpoints. A crisis in either could spill over into the Southern Balkans, drawing in Greece and Turkey -- two NATO allies -- and could directly engage broader US interests.
Moreover, Greece and Turkey remain at odds over Cyprus and the Aegean. As long as these differences remain unresolved, there is a danger that some incident could spark a conflict, as almost happened in January-February 1996