Events

A Congressional View of U.S. Policy in the Balkans

February 12, 2002 // 11:00pm

Summary of the East European Studies meeting with Robert Hand, Senior Analyst, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The U.S. Congress, often an easy target for criticism especially when it comes to foreign policy, is and remains influenced by a multitude of factors in developing policy on the Balkans. These include but are not limited to: a strong sense of partisanship; ethnic constituencies; a soft-spot for the underdog; strong links to human rights, the humanitarian assistance community, or the military; and, a need for clearly-defined criteria for U.S. involvement.

As Robert Hand points out, Congress however, can only guide the course of foreign policy development, as was the case with Yugoslavia's violent demise, it cannot lead. The actual formulation of foreign policy remains and must reside in the domain of the executive branch.

Over the past two years, Congress has become less active on the Balkans, even while the conflict in Macedonia exploded. The events of September 11th re-enforced but did not start this trend. Beginning with the Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the conflict in Bosnia in 1995, an overall sense of "Balkan fatigue" with the region set in, underscoring the belief that direct U.S. involvement in the region is an extremely expensive undertaking begun very late in the process and one which has not brought real and tangible successes. September 11th sealed the fate of Southeastern Europe as an area of less priority for the United States. While the region has not been abandoned, attention has obviously shifted to the new threat to stability - terrorism.

There are, however, six areas where the Congress could once again voice its views on U.S. policy toward the Balkans. First and top priority for Congress on Balkan policy is troop withdrawals, which again underscores the belief that Balkan peacekeeping has gone from a burden the U.S. had to bear to a luxury we can no longer afford.

Congress is also expected to uphold the prevalent view on burden-sharing vis-a-vis the Europeans, welcoming recent European leadership responsibilities in Macedonia, Kosovo, and Bosnia. If EU leadership flounders, as it has in the past, or if U.S. participation is thwarted, however, Congress again may issue calls for U.S. leadership in the region.

Another issue expected to receive priority is democratic assistance. The President's FY2003 Budget has a 20 percent ($126 million) across the board reduction in assistance to Eastern Europe and the Baltic States under the SEED Act. Hand suggested that some Members of Congress could voice displeasure with such a drastic cut, preferring to see SEED money redirected to countries that continue to need it.

Connected to the debate over assistance funds, Congress is expected to push hard on tying assistance to conditionality measures, especially in the case of Yugoslavia which, after the fall of Milosevic in October 2000, became the biggest recipient in the region, despite overall regional cuts. Congress is expected to link continued assistance to Yugoslavia to full cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, the ending of Yugoslav support for the military forces of the Republika Srpska (since the 1995 Dayton Accords, an entity within Bosnia-Herzegovina), and progress on minority rights. A top priority for Congress will be the apprehension of war criminals.

Congress is also expected to voice opinion on the degree to which the Administration continues to uphold human rights performance as a factor in developing bilateral relations.

Overall, there is a general trend in the U.S. Congress, away from a focus on specific countries to focus on broader, cross-boundary issues such as organized crime.

In the Balkans, troop reductions and democratic assistance issues will likely rank highest on the agenda, but there is also the danger, Robert Hand cautioned, that some members of Congress could try to push status resolution for Kosovo and Montenegro.

 

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