When U.S. President Joe Biden spent the first 100 days in office, it seemed that his administration was putting foreign policy at the bottom of its priority agenda to focus on domestic issues. But perhaps the success of his vaccination campaign could give the president the opportunity to focus more on foreign policy in the months leading up to the epidemic.
Although Biden appears to be focused on starting a new deal with Iran and ending America’s “perpetual war” in Afghanistan, one area where he can win a simple foreign policy is the Balkans. Unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, this is the part of Europe where American military intervention in the 1990s was considered a success.
Three decades ago, the Balkans caught the attention of then-Senator Biden. He was a staunch critic of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s victorious war and actively supported US military action in both Bosnia and Kosovo. Because of this, the election of Biden last November was widely celebrated in both countries and brought high expectations for the region to be newly joined by the United States.
While other states in the former Yugoslavia have moved forward with the integration of the European Union and NATO, Bosnia and Kosovo have lagged behind. Croatia is a member of both. Northern Macedonia recently joined NATO when talks with the EU are expected to begin soon. Montenegro has also become a NATO member and is currently in talks with the European Union. Serbia is adamant that it will stay away from NATO, but it is moving forward through membership talks with the EU.
This dynamic has effectively left Bosnia in the near future without any clear path to the EU or NATO. The chances of Kosovo joining any one are currently even more remote. On the left of the massacre, there are concerns that Bosnia could be plunged into a state of confusion by ethnic tensions, and that Kosovo’s development would stall without a clear roadmap for EU and NATO membership.
Much of this has to do with the fact that for more than a decade, the region has been neglected by subsequent U.S. administrations. Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, pursued an incoherent foreign policy that yielded no interesting results. A White House summit with Serbian and Kosovo leaders last September failed to address the most pressing issue for the two countries: recognition of Kosovo’s independence.
By taking decisive action in Kosovo and Bosnia, Biden could correct the consequences of the neglect and inadequate policies of its predecessors, where the United States has largely gained a positive image.
He should follow two principles. First, Biden could push for the finalization of NATO expansion in Southeast Europe. Kosovo is keen to join the alliance and Bosnia has made some progress despite domestic political obstacles. One of its entities, the Bosnia and Herzegovina Federation Federation, is largely in favor of joining NATO, and most of the political leaders of other organizations – Republica Sripaska – are actively opposed.
But that was not always the case. Just over a decade ago, the then Bosnian president’s Serb member Nebozia Radmanov sent a letter to NATO expressing Bosnia’s commitment to become a full member of the alliance. The change that has taken place since 2009 is that with the decline of American diplomacy, Bosnian Serb leaders have officially taken a more anti-NATO and pro-Russian stance. Despite public opposition to Bosnia’s NATO membership, Bosnian Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodic has highlighted the country’s growing cooperation with the alliance by participating in the US-led Defender Europe 2021 exercise.
In fact, Bosnia’s decision to commit to NATO membership is a formal policy with the support of Bosnian Serb leaders. The country’s recent 2011-2020 Foreign Policy Strategy reaffirmed that “continuity of NATO-related policies remains a priority for Bosnian institutions.”
The Biden administration should push for faster tracking of Bosnia and Kosovo joining NATO. It will give both countries a sense of a bright future and help them firmly anchor in the Atlantic Alliance. American political, military and economic investment in Bosnia and Kosovo over the past two decades will be protected.
Ethnic leaders, deeply involved in the Bosnian organization’s ineffective response to the epidemic, have turned horrendous, drawing public attention away from widespread corruption and gross disability, and inciting violence. The hope that a decade ago that EU and NATO membership could add to the tensions created at the Dayton Peace Accord has led to a general feeling of frustration. Rapid tracking Bosnia’s NATO entry could now prevent the country from turning into another European frozen conflict.
Progress in Kosovo’s NATO bid is likely to initiate reform and development for the new European state, which has long struggled with socio-economic stagnation. It could also rekindle tensions with Serbia and allay fears that tensions could rise further in the ethnically mixed region of the north. By pushing for Kosovo’s NATO integration, the Biden administration will send a clear signal to Belgrade that Kosovo will move forward at full normalcy. It could help Serbia fully recognize its neighbor and normalize relations.
Second, the United States should press the EU to provide a clear membership prospect for Bosnia and Kosovo. Bosnia is further ahead in the process of joining the EU and it is crucial to give the country the status of a candidate for membership to remove it from its current unemployment. It will give Bosnia valuable momentum for political and economic reform that Bosnian politicians will not, and more importantly, it will gain access to more EU funds to invest in much-needed educational, health and infrastructure projects.
Progress on EU accession is also crucial for Kosovo. Serbia is far ahead of its neighbor in the negotiation process and if it joins soon, it could block Kosovo’s membership bid. American pressure to increase EU incentives for Kosovo in the form of candidate rankings will help further adjust to the current situation and ensure its membership. Kosovo’s candidate status will similarly fund both reform and infrastructural EU but will pressure politicians to take more serious steps to fight corruption and economic underdevelopment.
In short, the Biden administration is in a unique position to firmly anchor itself in the Baldan Atlantic Alliance and to secure peace in this volatile part of Europe. Both states have small populations and their integration into the NATO region will be effective. Biden can help accelerate their integration into the EU which will help in the political and economic development of these countries.
A policy-making opportunity in this direction will be presented at the NATO Summit in Brussels on 14 June. The success of such a foreign policy for the 4th President of the United States will be based on easy access, acceptance of responsibilities in his first term, and a permanent legacy.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the author and his editorial position on Al Jazeera.