Balkan Marshall Plan

Article excerpt

The more you look at countries in various stages of recovery from the Cold War, the more the Marshall Plan looks like a true miracle. After World War II, Europe lay in ruins, literally, not metaphorically. Continent-wide devastation then rivaled what we see only in Grozny or Kosovo. Within 10 years, however, much of Europe was economically on its feet again. By comparison, the post-communist world has experienced nothing like the same rebound; this despite the fact that the money has been kept flowing from the West for a decade.

Consider this: According to the authors of a new study published by the Council on Foreign Relations, "Promoting Sustainable Economies in the Balkans," "If the amount of international aid is calculated as a percentage of the GDP [gross domestic product] of the countries in the region, the international community has already committed far more than what was involved in reconstructing post-World War II Europe." This is nothing short of amazing.

The point is that a Marshall Plan is worth only what you make of it. Beneficiaries half a century ago of the $13.5 billion in American aid had democratic and financial institutions to build on, which makes a world of difference.

Take the example of Kosovo today. Last fall, Joly Dixon, deputy special United Nations representative in Kosovo, said in a report to the World Bank that he had had to start from less than scratch, trying to create a financial infrastructure: "In Kosovo, as in Alice's Wonderland, it's necessary to run faster and faster to stay in place," he said. Adding to the surreal nature of his job, Mr. Dixon had to dig into his own savings to open the U.N. office in Pristina. Funds promised by the European Union had not materialized so he was bankrolling it himself, including housing, travel expenses for his team and a mobile phone bill of $1,000 a month.

Things haven't improved much since then. Last week it was reported that Bernard Kouchner, head of the U.N.-led civilian administration, was close to despair over Kosovo's economic standstill and political chaos. This is nothing new, though. Mr. Kouchner seems to have been close to resigning ever since he got the job. The head of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, has promised to bring the Balkans under the "European roof," but so far, that has been quite a leaky affair.

In the Balkans right now, we have another disaster in the making unless something happens, and fast. The American public - and therefore the U.S. Congress - will have only limited patience with military commitments and funding requests in the absence of positive results. Disillusion will also fester in the relationship between the United States and Europe, which is evolving in new directions as Europe searches for a more assertive foreign policy role in the transatlantic relationship. Having undertaken the task of Balkan reconstruction, Europe must deliver or risk losing the strategic objective of Balkan peace as well as credibility as a partner for the United States. …