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Future of the Balkans and U.S. Policy Concerns

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Publication Date: May 2009

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL32136

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Abstract:

The United States, its allies, and local leaders have achieved substantial successes in the Balkans since the mid-1990s. The wars in the region have ended, and all of the countries are undertaking political and economic reforms at home and orienting their foreign policies toward Euro-Atlantic institutions. However, difficult challenges remain, including resolving issues of political status, especially the status of Kosovo; breaking up the power of political-criminal groups; enforcing the rule of law; bringing war criminals to justice; and reforming the economies of the region.

The current goal of the international community in the Balkans is to stabilize the region in a way that is self-sustaining and does not require direct intervention by NATO-led forces and international civilian officials. Relatedly, the United States is seeking to reduce the costs of its commitments to the region, in part due to competing U.S. and international priorities, such as the war on terrorism, and efforts to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, which have placed strains on U.S. resources. SFOR and KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Kosovo, have been rapidly reduced, raising the question what impact the withdrawals will have on the region's stability. In December 2004, SFOR's mission was concluded and the European Union took over peacekeeping duties in Bosnia. A few hundred U.S. troops remain in Bosnia to assist Bosnian defense reforms and fight terrorism. Largescale anti-Serb riots in Kosovo in March 2004 called into question the adequacy of KFOR and U.N. efforts to promote security and stability in Kosovo.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the war on terrorism has been the United States' main foreign policy priority, including in the Balkans. Before September 11, Al Qaeda supporters operated from Bosnia and Albania. However, the Administration has said that these countries and others in the region have "actively supported" the war on terrorism, shutting down terrorist front organizations and seizing their assets. Although their efforts are hampered by the weakness of local government institutions, U.S. anti-terrorism efforts in the Balkans are aided by U.S. military and intelligence assets in the region, as well as a reservoir of good will among local Muslims of all ethnic groups.

Congress has played an important role in shaping U.S. Balkans policy. Some Members supported Clinton Administration efforts to intervene to stop the fighting in the region, while others were opposed. Members were leery of an open-ended commitment to the region and sought to contain these costs through adoption of benchmarks and limiting U.S. aid and troop levels to the region to about 15% of the amounts provided by all countries. The end of the wars in the Balkans and the shift in U.S. priorities in the wake of the September 11 attacks has moved the Balkans to the periphery of congressional concerns, at least when compared to the situation in the 1990s. However, in recent years, Congress has continued to have an impact on such issues as Kosovo's future status and conditioning some U.S. aid to Serbia on cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The second session of the 109th Congress may consider legislation on these topics.

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