Stability in the Balkans has always been a priority in U.S. policy

BUDVA – In the Balkans, the United States’ desire for stability often conflicts with normative aspirations for democratization and liberalization of the region. Nevertheless, stability in the region has always been a priority in U.S. policy, as noted by participants in the panel discussion titled Balancing Acts: The US Approach to Stability in the Western Balkans at the 2BS Forum.

Political scientist Jasmin Mujanović commented on U.S. policy toward the Western Balkans, which is also the topic of the fourth panel at today’s 2BS Forum. He stated that stability in this region has always been a priority for the United States.

This is the paradigm through which all US presidents analyze developments in this area. Regarding the actual consequences, we need to be a bit more critical. Stability and democracy, stability and liberalism do not always go hand in hand. In the Balkans, the U.S. desire for stability often conflicts with normative aspirations for democratization and liberalization of this region. We see this in US relations with official Belgrade, Mujanović believes.

He also states that Belgrade is the most important strategic partner of the United States in the Balkans, even more so than some NATO allies.

We saw that in the Zvečan municipality, several KFOR soldiers were injured, and what followed were sanctions against Kosovo. This is a strange reaction and very clearly suggests to us that it is very important for this administration to have good relations with Vučić, more important than having good relations with Podgorica, Sarajevo, or Kosovo, Mujanović asserts.

Mujanović argues that Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo are democratic states, while he claims, Serbia is not.

In Serbia, one man makes the decisions, while in other countries in the region, we have democratic regimes. For example, no matter what Bosnia and Herzegovina is like, it is more democratic than Serbia, Mujanović notes.

Edward Joseph, a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, discussing the events in Kosovo, says that the world changed in February of the previous year, but the Balkans did not.

Why is that so? We need an answer to that question. Why are the West and Europe stronger, and why is the Balkans so weak? Joseph questioned.

He says that the masks have fallen, and now it is clear that Serbian leader Aleksandar Vučić made a mistake in the context of the recent events in Kosovo.

The US made a mistake and failed to make a connection between the war in Ukraine and the conflict in the Balkans. You heard Ambassador Reinke; this war is a threat to Europe and the West, and the Balkans are part of that world, he stated. He adds that the problem in the context of US influence in the Balkans is a neglected issue related to Putinism in Bulgaria and its stance toward North Macedonia.

Miodrag Vlahović, President of the Montenegrin Helsinki Committee, said that the U.S. policy of appeasement towards Aleksandar Vučić’s regime has been ongoing for 12 years and has not yielded results.

The policy of appeasement is a legitimate diplomatic practice, but it is used for specific reasons over a short period. The reasons are that you often want individuals or institutions to behave differently, and in this way, you alert them that what they are doing is not the best. An example of this is the carrot-and-stick policy. But even that carrot, when given for too long, loses its meaning. So, it is problematic if you appease and indulge the regime in Belgrade, personified by Vučić, for 12 years, Vlahović said.

Such diplomatic engagement, according to Vlahović, can have a policy of appeasement.

But when you appease for 12 years and nothing positive happens, it’s not stagnation, it’s regression, then it’s a legitimate question why they insist on that policy because it is counterproductive, Vlahović assessed.

Jasmin Mujanović believes that America is an ideological force and a good ally for small countries aspiring to ideological liberalization.

People I’m in contact with believe that the US is pursuing an ideological idealistic normative policy towards the region and not a harsh realpolitik. At this moment, it means that the most idealistic options that exist are for two strategic countries, BiH and Kosovo, to get real approval and support for their Atlantic initiatives. The story of enlargement by 2030 is an empty story, there will be nothing of that sort, and all smart people here are aware of it, but the enlargement of the Atlantic alliance by that date is entirely legitimate and why shouldn’t that be an American and Euro-Atlantic goal, rather than wasting time on frozen European processes until there is a real political transformation in the EU and only then in the Western Balkans, Mujanović stated.