Wesley K. Clark: The Balkans on the verge of the blast again

Wesley K. Clark: The Balkans on the verge of the blast again

 The former North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supreme commander, the US Retired General Wesley K. Clark has warned that the Western Balkans may blast again.

Through an article, published in The Washington Post, Clark has commissioned the United States and the European Union to act to prevent this blast.

"More than two decades have passed since I collaborated with Richard Holbrooke and our team to negotiate the end of the war in Bosnia. NATO got mobilized and then acted to stop the ethnic cleansing from Serbs in Kosovo, "Clark wrote.

"Today, three Western Balkan countries (Croatia, Albania and Slovenia) have become members of NATO. Croatia and Slovenia have joined the European Union. Kosovo is now an independent state. Most Americans and Europeans have fixed in their minds that the brutal conflict is a solved problem," said the retired general.

"Unfortunately, that is not true at all. Persistent political conflicts about the ethno-religious nature of these countries are constantly threatening to turn into national and regional crises, making the region a key target for intervention by foreign powers." wrote former NATO commander.

"A bad mix of bad governance, economic stagnation, and weak democratic institutions has left a small but important minority, prey to recruitment by violent jihadists. All of this opens the region to exploitation by terrorist organizations, and foreign invasion, including Russia, China and Turkey," Clark underlined.

"Worse, the region is suffering from the negligence of democracies that have been crucial in stopping the wars in Yugoslavia. Believing that the Balkans' democratic future is in the EU, the United States has largely handed to Brussels the responsibility for the political, institutional and economic development of the region. However, the political inertia within the EU has kept Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia waiting. And, while the United States and Europe are sleeping, other powers are acting." Clark warned.

"The Kremlin is constantly increasing its influence. Russians are working to boost anti-EU and anti-NATO sentiment. They are supporting extremist groups (one of whom is being investigated in Bosnia for alleged paramilitary activities) and are distributing military aid to them. The Kremlin has also thrown gasoline into the flames of ethnic divisions through misinformation campaigns that force the orthodox populations against Muslims, intentionally pushing the tensions that led to Yugoslav wars in the 90s of the last century."
"Meanwhile, Turkey and the Gulf states are investing heavily in the Western Balkans. Turkey is the third largest investor in Bosnia, and the leader of the leading Bosnian Muslim party travels regularly to Istanbul to photograph with the increasingly authoritarian Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan." Clark's article continues.

"Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors have focused their contributions on supporting religious organizations, building new mosques, and providing religious guidance to local imams. The strict Wahhab Islamic interpretation, which is often the basis of such training, has little to do with the moderate tradition that has been practiced in the Balkans for centuries, and is considered a factor for the growth of fundamentalism in the region."

"About 1,000 foreign fighters (mostly from Kosovo and Bosnia) have fought for the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Although the number of foreign fighters from the Balkans is continuing to decline, the environments in which these individuals have been radicalized, and the weakness of recruitment among segments of the population continues to be a concern. The problem of reintegration of foreign fighters, returning to their country, poses an even more complex challenge."

"China is also trying to extend its influence to the region. Beijing is expected to provide the massive capital investment needed to carry out highly needed infrastructure projects in the Balkans. But, as we have seen in Africa, such investments always come with something in the background." he warned.

"It is clear that the United States and Europe must remain engaged in the Western Balkans - with a special emphasis on strengthening democratic institutions, so that governments can address the needs of their citizens." Clark wrote.

"A free trade zone in the Western Balkans, proposed by regional leaders, may be a step in the right direction. But such an initiative should not be seen as a substitute for the possible guarantees that NATO and the EU would offer. A serious roadmap for EU membership would provide the countries of the region with the impetus needed to make the necessary political and economic reforms, to increase their co-operation, and to address increasing interethnic tensions.

"Of course, such efforts have to provide popular support for success - a challenge in a region where the population remains significantly disrupted in attitudes towards institutions such as NATO."

"However, according to a recent poll, although Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims are divided over many issues, they are united in their opposition to the Islamic State, and in their desire to address economic problems. NATO membership would be easier to be sold to ethnic Serbs in the region (who tend to be pro-Russian and anti-NATO) if membership would be offered to help strengthen regional stability." he wrote

"We have many tools available to avoid the near destabilization of the Western Balkans. Let's make sure we do not hurt the extraordinary investment we have made in this sensitive region, and renew our commitment to helping new democracies achieve their full potential." writes Clark.
Wesley K. Clark: The Balkans on the verge of the blast again Wesley K. Clark: The Balkans on the verge of the blast again Wednesday, April 11, 2018 Rating: 5
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