Obama’s foreign policy in the Balkans – Continuity through change

Obama’s foreign policy in the Balkans – Continuity through change 
Tirana Times - http://tiranatimes.com/

By Albert Rakipi 

Before they get around to thinking about South Eastern Europe, President Obama and his foreign affairs team will most certainly have a series of international issues to tackle, which will not only dominate the foreign policy agenda, but will, to a substantial degree, define the success of the new US Administration. Without doubt, such issues as Afghanistan, US relations with Russia, trans-Atlantic relations, the regional conflicts beginning with The Middle East, and alike, will constitute top priority slots on the agenda of foreign policy of the new Administration. This immediate agenda of strategic importance to the US Administration, leaves very little space for the remainder of the foreign policy issues or for regions, such as for example South East Europe. Conversely, just as South East Europe cannot be center stage in this agenda of the new US Government, neither should it be marginalized entirely, for at least three reasons. Reason One is that the absence of any focus on South East Europe by the new government could question an American investment spanning the last two decades in the Balkans. Reason Two is that US relations with South East Europe are an important part of trans-Atlantic relations and cannot be ignored. Reason Three is that South East Europe is also an important component of US-Russia relations, or of Europe’s relations with Russia, particularly in view of such issues as energy (and much more important the securitization of both sources of energy and transports route,) as well as Russia’s tendency to again hanker after its spheres of influence. 

Apart from the economy, there are growing expectations for President Obama and his new Administration in foreign policy too. Although significant changes are expected on a number of crucial issues of present day international politics, it is still difficult to declare that Obama’s foreign policy will be a radical departure from President Bush’s foreign policy. South East Europe and the Western Balkans will be regions where substantial policy changes of the new US Administration are not expected. It is quite on the cards that Obama’s foreign policy in the Balkans will be a policy of continuity. And if there are changes, more than an ideological stand of the Obama Administration, these changes will be instigated by the recent developments in the Balkans. The potential expansion of NATO throughout the Balkans, with Albania and Croatia joining, constitutes a strategic investment as far as the region’s stability and security are concerned. The fundamental problem the International Community and the USA will come up against in the Balkans will be the very weak state of some of the countries which are crucial to regional stability. For example, Bosnia is not a unitary and functioning state. Kosova is a weak State and the European Union has not been capable of curtailing the efforts by Serbia to make the new State of Kosova fail. Moreover, if there were one State in the Balkans which really needed NATO membership, this was FYROM. FYROM’s failure to join NATO was not only because of the name issue and relations with Greece. Some governments of the region “discovered” that it is more than possible to increase internal support quotas and remain in power, by reverting back to nationalist contexts, nationalist spirit and platforms. 

The attention, presence and intervention of the United States of America have been decisive to security and stability in the Balkans. At a time when the Obama Administration faces a serious economic crisis and a number of similarly critical issues in international politics, it would be naïve and nonrealistic to expect an enhancement of the American interest and investment towards the Balkan region. In spite of this, however, the reduction of the USA interest and presence in the Balkans could seriously put into question the level of stability achieved thus far.