A New Role for ‘Civilian Power’ in the Balkan Region

by Theodore Couloumbis and Aristotle Tziampiris[1]

(“Kathimerini”, English Edition, 6 August, 2002)

Our central proposition is that one of the key contributing factors to the wars of Yugoslav succession was the end of the Cold War, which removed the Soviet bloc as a balancing and intervening variable affecting the Balkan puzzle. Following the Warsaw Pact’s dissolution, the chances that Soviet power would take advantage of a Yugoslav partition to gain an exit to the Adriatic Sea were reduced to a minimum. It is not, therefore, unreasonable to assume that autonomist and pro-independence movements in the Balkans proceeded to escalate their separatist efforts hoping that disproportionate Serbian responses (and here Slobodan Milosevic rushed to oblige) would lead the West, and especially the United States, to intervene militarily, thus freezing new a status quo on the ground.

With the shifting of American attention, following 9/11, to Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East and Central Asia, revisionist elements in the Balkans will probably revise their premises. Absent the United States (which stands for ready and mobile military power), the gap will be filled by the European Union whose comparative advantage is economic and diplomatic power. Military power presupposes conditional sanctions and attendant interventions, while economic power employs conditional rewards linking trade, aid and investment policies to the cooperative behavior of recipient states and entities.

Andrew Moravcsik, in a short and thought-provoking article, has argued that analysts should not underestimate the European Union’s capacity to influence world events.[2] He calls Europe’s capacity to influence outcomes ‘civilian power’ and he agrees with Dominique Moisi’s ironic statement to the effect that ‘the US fights, the Europeans fund and the UN feeds.’[3]

Among Moravcsik’s arguments to support his thesis are the following: a. Serbia-Montenegro is holding together because of Javier Solana’s (the EU’s) position that accession to the EU and partition are just incompatible; b. the EU’s development assistance in toto is four times greater than that of the United States; c. at the request of the US, the EU has provided over $3.5 billion in aid to the Palestinian Authority; d. EU members contribute ten times as many troops in peacekeeping operations throughout the globe compared to the US, including a share of 84% in Kosovo and just over 50% in Afghanistan. In short, the Moravcsik argument is that ‘half a century from now, we may find that Europe’s brand of “soft” leadership [will have] tramped America’s military dominance.’[4]

If one accepts (and we do) the Moravcsik thesis, a number of implications for the Balkan region can be projected: Accession to the EU and NATO will be earned through a long-term process of adjustments and reforms. However, of particular significance would be the announcement of a specific timetable concerning accession prospects. A definite and public presentation of the needed reforms, stages and timeframes leading to EU and NATO membership would arm the forces advocating reform and modernization with a potent combination of credibility and incentives, thus accelerating transition efforts in the entire region.

The remaining great political questions in the Balkans should also be addressed sequentially, if not concurrently. The international community’s (hopefully not the EU’s) current attitude of letting ‘sleeping dogs lie’ is unsustainable in the long run, although the current regional situation is probably not sufficiently mature to require immediate and drastic actions. Needed, as we just suggested, is a strategy reinforcing transitions to democracy and accessions to the EU and NATO. In such an endeavor, the peoples of the Balkans and their elected representatives must be consulted actively and constantly. Otherwise, resentment and disagreements that will ensue could prove counter-productive, if not catastrophic.

Decisions on the final status of Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia-Montenegro and FYROM ought to take into consideration historical rivalries, recent traumatic conflicts and the sheer interconnectedness of most Balkan problems. Any forceful change of borders will likely result in increasing instability and policy failures. This contingency, however, still leaves open to doubt the status of certain Balkan territories. A clearer indication of the international community’s intentions concerning when and under what provisions any change in status (especially in the case of Kosovo) would be effected, could reduce uncertainties, discourage irredentist forces and strengthen reforms.

The clarification of provisional constitutional situations will also assist efforts to combat local criminal activities that are often transnational in nature and effectively exploit political uncertainties and the existence of legal ‘gray zones’. It is a given that crime derives most of its potency from the very weakness of Balkan states. Hence, this weakness must also be addressed.

In the final analysis, the international community, even given its most sincere and altruistic intentions, cannot permanently and comprehensively solve the problems in the Balkans. This task belongs to the region’s peoples and to their elected governments.

[1]Theodore Couloumbis is Professor of International Relations at the University of Athens and General Director of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). Aristotle Tziampiris is Lecturer of International Relations at the International and European Studies Department of the University of Piraeus and Research Fellow at ELIAMEP.

[2]See Andrew Moravcsik, “The Quiet Superpower, Newsweek, 17 June 2002.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.


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