Richard BENYON (United Kingdom)
06 September 2017
The Western Balkans remains an area of special concern for NATO, which first engaged militarily in the region during the early stages of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992 and later during the Kosovo conflict. There has been a sustained effort to the support the government of the regions to consolidate fragile democracies and build market economies capable of flourishing in a European and global framework. But over the past 15 years, the countries of the Western Balkans have undergone a very difficult and, in several cases, only partial transition from socialist toward market economies and from authoritarian toward more plural governance systems. They have done so under exceedingly difficult conditions characterized by political, ethnic and sectarian tensions and war, redrawn borders, the emergence of new states and new institutions, and persistent problems of poor governance, political instability, opportunist interventions by outside powers, and widespread corruption. Both the European Union and NATO, their member countries, as well as a host of other international actors have played roles in supporting peace and stability in the region, including backing for post-conflict development, economic transition and extending the promise, not yet fully consummated, of integration in Euro-Atlantic structures.
The report suggests that the global financial crisis, Europe’s current identity crisis and uncertainties about U.S. foreign policy priorities have all contributed to a dangerous political vacuum and economic uncertainty in the Western Balkans. This has not only set back economic growth and development, but has also slowed much needed economic and political reform Economic crisis also seems to have opened the door for anti-EU populist and nationalist movements to challenge both difficult reforms and, in some cases, the very notion of advancing toward EU and NATO membership. This uncertainty has created a fertile environment for those opposed to Western integration including outside actors like Russia. The report surveys the situation in several Western Balkan countries and concludes that both the EU and the United States need to refocus on the region to demonstrate that the Euro-Atlantic option is both real and beneficial.