Events

The Impact of U.S. Policy on the Balkans

June 19, 2002 // 12:00pm1:00pm

Summary of the East European Studies discussion with Steven Meyer, a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University, DC.

In examining the period from 1990 to the present day, Steven Meyer, a 23-year CIA veteran who was deputy of the administration's Balkan Task Force for five years in the 1990s, provided a cutting critique of U.S. policy in the Balkans. Though he divided the period into four distinct sections, Meyer described America's overall engagement as consisting of incoherent policy, conflicting signs, a legacy of confusion, and an arrogance demonstrated in the U.S. playing the role of an imperial overseer. He attributes America's dismal legacy primarily to the fact that U.S. Balkan policy was never really driven by issues in the Balkans themselves and that the Balkans were never the most important point for any administration (the Balkans were always viewed in relation to NATO credibility and European security); the moralism and expansionism that emerged in the transition from Bush I to Clinton; the mistaken belief that democratic procedures, institutions, and free markets were viewed as the universal panacea for the Balkans' ills; and, the misguided leadership of the U.S. government.

The four periods of U.S. policy in the Balkans upon which Meyer concentrated included the following: 1) "Unengaged Engagement" from 1990 - mid-1994, when the first Bush administration's policy shifted from demanding that Yugoslavia stay together to accepting the breakup of Yugoslavia into multiple nations. 2) "Decisive Engagement" from mid-1994 - 1995, when Bosnia was the defining focus and ethnic separation became an "accepted principle." 3) "Inertial Engagement" from 1995-1996, when Clinton changed the rules for defining success from time-based measures to benchmarks and created the danger of dragging on involvement with no end in sight. 4) "Disengagement" from 2000 to the present, starting with the transition from Clinton to Bush II, characterized by the lack of a formulated, coherent policy and the continuing decline of U.S. force levels in the region.

Meyer identified terrorism as our most important issue in the region today and argued that this problem alone is reason enough to stay engaged, in general. Two types of terrorism are present in the Balkans - terrorism limited to the region, such as the Albanian and Serb violence in Kosovo, and terrorism that reaches outside of the Balkans. It is this second form of terrorism that causes concern for the U.S., as every terrorist group in the region appears to be linked in some fashion with fundamental Islamic terrorists - particularly ties between Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to elements in Bosnia (it is known that bin Laden has a Bosnian passport). Terrorism is prevalent here in large part because the groups can play on both the ethnic conflicts of the region and the lack of established institutions and procedures.

Meyer stated that U.S. gradual withdrawal from the region is inevitable and it is a good thing that more of the burden is being shifted to the Europeans. However, Meyer cautioned that before the U.S. completely withdraws from the Balkans, four specific areas must be addressed: 1) recognition that the borders are not sacrosanct and accept the possibility that they may shift to conform more to ethnic realities. 2) Encouragement of political realignment and settlement before economic reconstruction. 3) Allowing the Balkans to become a European undertaking. 4) Stopping the hectoring of those in the region about democracy and the Hague War Crimes Tribunal.

 

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