Over the centuries, attempts to draw the geographic boundaries of states (political entities) so that they coincide with those of nations (communities of people) have caused substantial problems in the Balkans. The principal reason for Yugoslavia's dissolution has been various ethnic groups' fears of being minorities in a state. The fear of slipping into minority can have lethal consequences. This phenomenon helped propel Slovenian independence, led to civil war in Croatia and Bosnia, and still threatens Macedonia. The post-World War II Balkans found temporary order in the imposition of communist regimes in Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Romania. With the revolutions of 1989­1991 ethnic, religious, social, and economic fissures resurfaced in the former Yugoslavia and may spill over into the Balkans as a whole.

Background and Trends

It is by no means certain that the forces of modernization and democratization will bring the Balkan states into the Western community of stable, democratic, and prosperous states. Events in the former Yugoslavia, and the Bosnian crisis in particular, call attention to:

Secretary of Defense William Perry and a group of journalists walk across the bridge over the Sava River during his visit to Bosnia, January 1996.

The Dayton Accords: A Framework for Regional Stability?

The Dayton Accords were essentially imposed on the three warring factions in Bosnia (Croats, Serbs, and Muslims) following a combination of economic and military pressures against Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs, respectively, and the promise of political and economic rewards for Croatia and for Bosnia's Muslims and Croats. The accords attempt to strike a balance between the Bosnian Serb and Croat preference for partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, followed by union with their ethnic counterparts in Serbia and Croatia, and the Muslim preference for a unified, multi-ethnic state. They establish the framework for a loose confederation of two constituent entities, a Serbian republic and a Muslim-Croat Federation, each controlling roughly half of the country. A national presidency, parliament, and judiciary will be based on proportional representation from the three communities but will require extraordinary majorities to enact all key decisions. The national government's powers will be limited initially to foreign affairs, but subsequent negotiations among the communities will consider expanding the scope of government authority.

In sum, there are two elements to the Dayton Accords dilemma. First is the practical problem of the separation of people, forces, and territory. Second is the more "ideological" problem of returning people to their original areas and integrating communities into a common political order. The problem is that they wanted to separate, but they do not want to reintegrate. Therefore, the second part of the Dayton Accords will be much more difficult to implement than the first.

Military Disengagement Has Fared Well So Far

The NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR), with nearly 60,000 troops, including 17,000 from the U.S., took over peacekeeping duties from the United Nations in December 1995. It has successfully implemented the military provisions of the peace agreement. The feared quagmire that would result in numerous casualties did not materialize in 1996, as IFOR's clearly defined mission, impartiality, and willingness to use military power secured compliance and deterred would-be assailants. A rogue challenge to IFOR, although possible given the highly charged political atmosphere and the ragged chain of command among the three combatant armies, is unlikely so long as IFOR continues to be seen as strong and impartial and does not substantively expand its mandate to include nation-state building, aggressive pursuit of those wanted for war crime, and other activities that would indicate mission creep, increase its exposure, and compromise its neutrality. The military situation could quickly deteriorate, however, if IFOR's U.S. contingent departs abruptly at the end of 1996 without provision for an adequate follow-on force. The Dayton Accords charge the three ethnic groups with a series of stringent political obligations that will seriously test the peace among them for several years.

Ethnic Boundaries and Separatist Impulses

Although a few displaced persons have returned to their respective ethnic enclaves, more people have become refugees since the accords, with the exodus of some 60,000 Serbs from Sarajevo being the most glaring example. The short-sighted policies of all three communities' leaders have left Sarajevo a Muslim city rather than a multi-ethnic exemplar. And this pattern is likely to be repeated elsewhere, making ethnic separation complete.

Interethnic relations are only modestly better within the Muslim-Croat Federation. Nearly three years after its inception and nearly one year since the Dayton Accords reaffirmed its existence, the Federation remains essentially a shell encompassing separate Muslim and Croat entities that often intimidate and exclude one another's citizens. That is particularly true in Mostar, the putative seat of the Federation, which is nominally governed by a Muslim-Croat Council elected in July 1996 but which consists of hard-core nationalists on both sides. Only after a second, post-Dayton summit among Contact Group officials, Slobodan Milosevic, Franjo Tudjman, and Bosnian acting president Ejup Janic did the Federation begin to establish ethnically based cantons, customs and tax collection agencies, and a defense law that set up a ministry of defense and a joint military command. But backpedaling typically follows such commitments and, the Federation apparatus is likely to remain very weak. Mostar is important because a good resolution there would open doors to solutions throughout the Federation. Unfortunately, events suggest that this is not happening.

Although the September elections were peaceful, the hardening of ethnic boundaries and separatist impulses resulted in the reaffirmation of Bosnia's divisions rather than commencing the reintegration of its three ethnic communities as the Dayton Accords had intended. The requisite conditions for free and fair elections for national, cantonal, and municipal offices, as well as for the assemblies of the Federation and the Republic were conspicuously absent. In addition, the political environment remained highly polarized between and within the two communities, guarantees for freedom of movement and association were weak, ruling political parties hampered the emergence and campaigning of rivals, and the press and broadcast media in all three communities encountered obstacles in reporting the news. As a result, the three dominant ultranationalist parties swept the election and will control Bosnia's emerging political institutions at all levels and the power of each to veto legislation will make for prolonged gridlock.

Delays in setting up nationwide political, economic, and social institutions are likely to make the daunting task of rebuilding Bosnia's shattered economy and infrastructure even more difficult because donor countries and multilateral institutions will begin to lose interest. Furthermore, the rebuilding effort must contend with a per capita income that is one-fourth of its prewar level and industrial production of merely 10 percent of the prewar level. As of mid-1996, nearly 50 percent of Bosnia's prewar population of 4.6 million are refugees, and 75 percent are unemployed. After some hesitation, two donor conferences hosted by the EU and the World Bank garnered pledges of more than $1.8 billion (of which the U.S. share is $832 million) toward reconstruction costs that the World Bank estimates will exceed $5 billion ($3.7 billion for the Federation and $1.4 billion for the Serbs) by the end of the 1990s and tens of billions of dollars over the longer term.

Potential Flashpoints


The Dayton Accords and IFOR have stopped the fighting temporarily. But the multi-ethnic, confederal state called for in the accords, and possibly a permanent peace, will remain elusive because the war exacerbated ethnic hatred and the three communities all field well-armed forces. In addition, the accords are ambivalent on the core issue of whether Bosnia will be essentially divided or unified, and the major foreign powers are similarly ambivalent about the efficacy of their involvement in the Bosnian imbroglio.

Bosnia and Herzegovina at the time of the Dayton Accords

Note: Since the Dayton Accords in September 1995,
the situation on the ground has changed
(e.g., the UN is not likely to administer Serajevo).

The Threat of Sectarianism in Bosnia Still Reigns

Persuading Muslims, Croats, and Serbs to rebuild Bosnia's polity and economy is likely to prove far more difficult as ultranationalist leaders exploit war-related ethnic hatred and mistrust. Under these circumstances, progress on a more lasting peace settlement entailing democratization, reconstruction, and reconciliation is likely to be slow and uneven. At best, the Bosnian protagonists will remain engaged owing to war weariness, pressure from the five-power Contact Group managing the peace process (the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany and Russia), and the grudging willingness of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to rein in their Bosnian clients as a means of ending their own countries' isolation.

Bosnian Serbs, who are determined as ever to live apart from Croats and Muslims, are making every effort to slow or derail the aspects of the Dayton Accords that would create a loosely unified Bosnia, while focusing tenaciously on those establishing a separate Serb republic. De facto Serb leaders and indicted war criminals Radovan Karadjic and General Ratko Mladic, for example, continue to preach separatism and intolerance: in March 1996 they urged Sarajevo's Serbs to flee the city rather than live under Muslim rule, and in April, Bosnian Serbs refused to take part in a fund-raising conference as part of an all-Bosnia delegation, thereby foregoing several hundred million dollars in reconstruction aid.

Bosnian Croats, too, are dominated by hard-core nationalists, such as Kresimir Zubak and Dario Kordic, who are wary not only of their Bosnian Serb arch-rivals but also of their erstwhile Muslim partners, against whom the Croats fought a
vicious war within the broader Bosnian conflict. Croats have employed a scorched-earth approach when carrying out mandated territorial transfers to the Serbs. They have also hung on stubbornly to their self-declared state and are making only a minimal effort to lend viability to the Muslim-Croat Federation.

The Muslims, long considered to be the eventual core of a reunified and multi-ethnic Bosnia, also are opting for sectarianism. President Alija Izetbegovic's increasingly Islamic-oriented Party of Democratic Action is transforming the Muslim part of Bosnia into an Islamic-oriented, one-party state. Party leaders have ousted from their ranks the secular faction led by former prime minister Haris Siladjic, which favors a multi-ethnic Bosnia, and co-opted senior military leaders with appointments to high party posts. Their parochialism is evident as well in the virtual exclusion of Serbs and Croats from Sarajevo's municipal council, the purging of remaining Serb and Croat officers from key military posts, and, most important, the subtle encouragement of an exodus by Serbs from Sarajevo's suburbs before the area's return to Federation control. Muslims, too, are making few efforts to help the viability of the Federation with the Croats, preferring to govern through the central government, over which they exercise near total control. They also have forged a foreign policy with a decidedly Muslim cast, including strong ties to their military benefactor Iran and a reluctance to expel the remaining Iranian fighters from their military's ranks, though the United States has demanded they do so before the U.S. will begin a promised program to train and arm Federation forces to even the balance with Serb forces.

The Return of Refugees Will Be Problematic

Widespread clashes could follow strict implementation of the Dayton Accords' call for freedom of movement and for all refugees to either return to their homes or receive adequate compensation. To Serbs, and Croats to a lesser extent, this provision is tantamount to nullifying their gains on the battlefield, since the great majority of refugees are Muslims. For the same reason, the Muslims are likely to press for its full implementation. In fact, all three sides continue to set up illegal checkpoints and will likely continue to deny opposing ethnic groups freedom of movement and access to their former homes. The Muslims in particular may try to exploit these provisions to regain several strategic towns, such as Doboj and Brcko in northern Bosnia, while urging Muslims still in Serb territory to resist Serb pressure to leave. This obstructionism has led to escalating clashes between rival civilian groups that could eventually draw in their respective military forces and embroil IFOR or any successor to IFOR.

The Election Process Could Present Trouble

The national elections, held in September 1996, might have provoked widespread violence and put foreign election monitors and IFOR troops at risk. The major hurdle was the Dayton Accords' clause requiring refugees and displaced persons (roughly half of Bosnia's electorate of two million) to vote, as a general rule, in their prewar places of residence. Though intended to be a linchpin of Bosnia's political reintegration, the clause if fully implemented threatened to derail the elections. The question was "resolved" by establishing voter centers in refugee locales and in peripheral "border zones".

Violence was avoided when the election commission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe accommodated the wishes of parties to the Dayton Accords. Voters were asked to cast ballots for candidates where they currently reside despite initial Muslim protests, and strict enforcement measures were taken by IFOR. Some refugees were allowed to return to their homes. The elections were relatively peaceful, but the elected governments and parliaments are almost certain to come under the sway of ultranationalists, quickly experience gridlock, and ultimately provoke violent confrontations.

The Issue of Brcko Could Hinder Progress

Another flashpoint in Bosnia is the strategic northern town of Brcko. The Serbs see it as the key to securing the five-kilometer Posavina Corridor connecting the two parts of their republic. The Muslims want to keep the city for that reason and because it is a gateway to the Danube River basin countries to the north. The issue nearly derailed the Dayton peace conference and is set to be settled through arbitration by December 1996. Alija Izebegovitch has vowed to take Brcko by force, while Serb forces are arrayed to defend it. Unless the arbitration commission can protect the interests of both sides, one or both may resort to military force. If that happens, the large portion of U.S. forces stationed in and around Brcko could be dragged into the conflict.

The Pursuit of War Criminals Could Endanger the Peace

The United Nations International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, established in 1993, indicted seventy-one Bosnians, most of them Serbs, by late 1996. These actions could prove to be a flashpoint if IFOR tries to hunt the suspects down in earnest. The Serbs, Croats, and Muslims all believe fervently in the righteousness of their cause in the Bosnia conflict and have rallied around their leaders, including Serb leaders Karadjic and especially Mladic, whom Serbs consider a war hero rather than a war criminal. Although Milosevic, Tudjman, and Izetbegovic have agreed to cooperate with the tribunal and have handed over a few of those indicted, such as Bosnian Croat General Tihimor Blaskic, any attempts by IFOR to seize top Serb leaders would encounter forceful resistance. And subsequent televised trials could further damage relations and increase the risks to IFOR and other foreign personnel in Bosnia. Recent charges by Fikret Abdic and the Bosnia Serbs against Izetbegovic may exacerbate the problem.

The Arming of the Muslim-Croat Forces Is a Delicate Operation

The U.S. plan to train and equip the Muslim-Croat Federation's army, within the limits imposed by the arms control portion of the peace agreement, as a way of creating a balance with Serb forces could just as likely set off an arms race, compromise IFOR's neutrality, and renew a split between Washington and NATO's European members, most of whom have serious reservations about the efficacy of arming Federation forces. The goal is to create a stable military through balance, then to exit. The United States began implementing the plan after Serbia, Croatia, and the Bosnian factions agreed in June 1996 to an arms ratio of 5:2:2 for Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia respectively. The Muslim-Croat Federation receives two-thirds of Bosnia's total and Bosnian Serbs the rest. The U.S. also made the plan contingent on the Bosnian government's willingness to expel the 1,000­2,000 Iranians who fought alongside the Muslims during the conflict, as well as a Muslim agreement to a joint military command and integration of their army as part of the Federation's defense law, enacted in July 1996. The United States will contribute $100 million to the project but hopes to maintain a semblance of impartiality for itself and IFOR by mobilizing foreign contributions and training, mainly from Turkey and other Muslim states. Also, private U.S. contractors will be used instead of U.S. military or civilian government personnel.

Although potentially stabilizing, the leveling of the military playing field may tempt the Muslims to try to reclaim more land, particularly because they may already have military parity through their army's superior numbers and clandestine arms purchases and production. Croats and Muslims may also turn such weapons on each other if their uneasy partnership collapses. Bosnian Serbs and Belgrade, for their part, will view the U.S.-sponsored effort as a hostile act and cooperate less with IFOR and the Dayton-implementation process. They will also try to maintain their military edge through domestic production of weapons and arms purchases, the latter made easier by a Russian decision to sell arms to countries in the former Yugoslavia. And the Europeans will continue to worry about having in their midst an increasingly armed Muslim entity with strong ties to Iran and other Muslim states.

The Federation Remains a Volatile Union

The Muslim-Croat Federation is a forced marriage of convenience and therefore inherently unstable. The forces that divide Muslims and Croats from Serbs--differing histories, religions, and economic and territorial aspirations, as well as the recent brutal conflict--also divide Muslims from Croats. Yet, while the separation of the Federation and the Serb Republic has helped them achieve a modicum of stability in their relations, Muslims and Croats must settle many unresolved issues that could easily lead to renewed conflict between them. Disintegration of the Federation would cause a major outbreak of fighting, particularly in central Bosnia, that would endanger IFOR and spell the end of the Dayton Accords and a unified Bosnian state. For this reason the U.S. launched the Federation Forum in April 1996. Its second high level meeting in May led to an agreement on the Federation Defense Laws.

What If the Serbs Seek to Join Greater Serbia?

Although Bosnian Serbs, and especially Belgrade, have temporarily jettisoned their drive for union in the face of strong resistance from Muslims, Croats, and the international community, a number of untoward developments could revive the push for unification. Certainly, a breakup of the Muslim-Croat Federation would be a likely catalyst, especially if it were to lead to renewed fighting among all three communities. The emergence in Russia of a communist or nationalist regime willing to take on the Serbs' cause and make them a client state could serve the same function. Ultimately, it would be almost impossible to stop the Serbs; Belgrade rather than the Bosnian Serbs would have the final say on whether to opt again for a Greater Serbia, and Milosevic's calculations would be influenced more by the political costs to himself and the economic and military price for Serbia than by the wishes of Bosnian Serb leaders.

Ethnic Albanians in Macedonia

Source: Endowment for International Peace, Tracking Nuclear Proliferation, 1995.


Constitutionally, Kosovo (an autonomous province of Serbia) maintained the status of an autonomous region of Yugoslavia. Ethnic Albanians (Kosovars) make up approximately two million (90 percent) of Kosovo's total population; Serbs comprise the remaining 10 percent.

Kosovo has a deep historical significance for Serbia because of the 1389 battle at Kosovo's Field of Blackbirds. Although the Battle of Kosovo ended in a Turkish victory and the collapse of Serbia, it has long been the rallying point for Serbian nationalism.

During the early 1980s, the Serbs began to restrict the rights of the Kosovar majority in Kosovo. After a wave of unrest in 1989, Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic unconstitutionally revoked Kosovo's autonomous status, and since 1990 the Serbs have expanded repression by driving Kosovars from their jobs and government positions and shutting down Kosovo's Albanian school system. Denied the fundamental rights of citizenship, many Kosovars already have fled Serbia, and those remaining have formed their own underground government, led by Ibrahim Rugova of the Democratic Alliance of Kosovars (LDK) Party.

Since 1992 tension has run high, as the Serbs maintain their domination through military force. According to some estimates, as many as 40,000 regular military troops and 30,000 paramilitary and police forces are stationed in Kosovo. The result has been a modified system of apartheid in which two societies share the same territory in virtual isolation from each other.

Milosevic has acted cautiously as a result of a U.S. battalion's participation in the UN Protection Force and the warnings by Presidents Bush and Clinton that civil war in Kosovo could lead to a U.S.-Serbian confrontation. Though Milosevic has reined in ultranationalist paramilitary leaders, he has recently limited humanitarian assistance to Kosovo from nongovernmental organizations (e.g., the International Red Cross and Catholic Relief). And Rugova faces increasing pressure from Kosovar radicals, such as Rexhep Qosa and Nevzat Halik, who see no results from his moderate policies.

U.S. Army soldiers of Task Force Able Sentry set out on patrol near Skopje, Macedonia.

Ethnic Albanians in Western Europe have provided economic assistance to Kosovo, and many in Albania and Macedonia have provided arms to their Kosovar brethren. If violence were to break out, many Kosovars would be slaughtered and an estimated 400,000 or more would flee. Massive refugee flows would have drastic consequences for Serbia's neighbors. Though many Kosovars could flee to Albania, where planning for large refugee flows presents major problems, the majority are likely to escape to Macedonia, where President Kiro Gligorov cannot even publicly discuss plans for refugees because it would destabilize the government. Since its refugee planning is inadequate and its resources are nonexistent, Macedonia could not accept many refugees. Their movement to safety in the West therefore would likely continue south toward Greece, although some would arm themselves and return to fight Serbs in Kosovo.

A failure by the U.S. and its EU and NATO partners to deal with the military and humanitarian aspects of the crisis at that point could lead to a worst-case scenario in which the Serbs move into northern Macedonia to search for and destroy renegade Kosovars, and the Greeks prevent Kosovar refugees from entering Greece. Since Macedonia has no ability to resist, Bulgaria would probably intervene to protect Macedonians, whom they consider ethnically related, and Albania would send volunteers and weapons to assist Albanians in Macedonia. Turkey would likely respond by taking action against Greece in Macedonia or in the Aegean Islands, which would destroy NATO's southern flank and create a crisis within the alliance.


Macedonia's emergence as an independent state generates many internal dilemmas and creates external problems as well. In Macedonia, and in the Balkans generally, the simmering tensions between ethnic Albanians and Slavs, and possibly Greeks and Turks, could turn violent. Macedonia is geopolitically important because, if a conflict were to begin there, an expanded Balkan war would be difficult to prevent and contain.

After the Balkan wars and the 1913 Bucharest peace treaty, Macedonia was divided into three parts, with the current state of Macedonia coming under Serbian rule. During World War II, the Macedonian Republic was proclaimed a constituent republic of Yugoslavia. Macedonia, an independent, multi-ethnic state of two million people, declared its independence from Yugoslavia in September 1991. As of 1996, roughly 65 percent of the population consists of Slavic Macedonians, and 20­35 percent of ethnic Albanian Muslims. The Muslims have one of the highest demographic growth rates in the world--almost 3.5 percent per year.

The challenge of nation-state building is so daunting in Macedonia that the viability of the state is in question. One indication of internal tension is the government's claim that Albanians make up only 22 percent of the population, while Albanians claim to make up 35­40 percent. At stake is the issue of state legitimacy. Though Albanians hold 21 of the parliament's 120 seats and 5 ministerial positions in the moderate Gligorov government coalition, they are underrepresented in the Army and virtually excluded from local police forces and local government.

This disparity has been accentuated by neighboring Albania's claims that one million Albanians live in Macedonia and two million Albanians live under Serbian domination in Kosovo. The Albanian government believes that the Macedonian constitution and census discriminate against Albanians. Until 1996, Tirana supported extreme nationalists in the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP). Political activities among Albanians in the states of Albania, Macedonia, and Serbia (Kosovo) have obstructed Macedonian nation-state-building efforts.

Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)

Macedonia's questionable economic viability further complicates the equation. Since 70 percent of Macedonia's trade was with the remaining parts of Yugoslavia, the sanctions against Serbia closed off Macedonia's northern border and significantly disrupted the economy. Agricultural products could not find export markets, and industry and construction have been particularly hard hit.

In February 1994, Greece sealed off Macedonia's southern access through the port of Thessaloniki because of disagreements with Macedonia about its name (which is the same as that of a Greek province) and flag (which contains the Thessaloniki Battle Star of Vergina). As a result, Macedonia's traditional north-south lines of communication were disrupted, with disastrous consequences for the state's economy and viability. Finally, in November 1995 the two countries signed a UN-sponsored accord and established normal bilateral trade and diplomatic ties.

Albania, recognizing the benefit of stability and a moderate government in Macedonia, has opened the port of Durres to facilitate the flow of goods from the west through Albania to Macedonia and has been less vocal in its support of the Taci faction. Similarly, Macedonia has become critically dependent on commerce traveling to Bulgaria and Turkey. If the west-east trade route is not improved so that it remains viable and can handle the demands of ever-more traffic, Macedonia will lose its lifeline.

But Macedonia's large ethnic minority is unreconciled to its meager share of political and economic power and government posts, and the Slav majority is just as determined to remain dominant. Radicals in both communities keep up the pressure on the teetering multi-ethnic coalition government, despite the improvement in Greek-Macedonian relations and in economic conditions following the lifting of the Greek economic embargo. Assassination attempts against key leaders, mob violence, or another economic downturn could bring tensions to a boiling point. If economic difficulties result in unrest, the government could divide along ethnic lines, producing serious conflict. Serbs, Greeks, and others could seize the opportunity to fill the vacuum unless an international force prevents them.

U.S. Interests and Approach

Net Assessment

In 1996, the worst of the turmoil was probably over in the former Yugoslavia, and the region's protagonists most likely will not soon again resort to all-out war. Moreover, Bosnia's destruction and the suffering of its people set a sobering and lasting example of the folly of such conflict among neighboring peoples--such as the Kosovars, Macedonians, Albanians, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Greeks, and Turks. Still, the ethnic furies unleashed in the region by the Cold War's end and the aftermath of Yugoslavia's breakup will create recurring bouts of ethnic unrest, military confrontation, and occasional clashes. That will be especially likely in Bosnia but could also happen in Serbia's Kosovo region and between ethnic Albanians and the Slav majority in Macedonia. Any of these events would put U.S. and other NATO forces in the region at risk. Dealing with that risk and the issues at stake in the Balkans also may sorely test Contact Group and trans-Atlantic unity on questions such as the future of IFOR, the controversial U.S. policy of arming and training Muslim-Croat Federation forces, and the extent to which the United States should press compliance with the Dayton Accords.

U.S. Interests

The United States' main interests regarding the Balkan States are the following:

Stability and Respect for Humanitarian Values throughout the Balkans

The U.S. has an interest in upholding minimal standards of human rights, including the prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity that shock U.S. public opinion. More generally, the U.S. has an interest in promoting full observance of human rights, religious tolerance, and democracy, as a means over the long run to a stable community of peaceful nations. To this end, the U.S. has taken the position that it has an interest in preventing the partition of Bosnia along ethnic lines, through the establishment of the multi-ethnic state envisaged in the Dayton Accords.

Containing Ethnic Conflicts to within the Borders of One State

In the event that the U.S. is not able to successfully achieve its interest in preventing armed conflict among ethnic groups, the U.S. has a security interest in seeing that any such ethnic conflict is contained within the borders of one state. Bad as may be an ethnic conflict within one state, there is the grave risk that such a conflict could set off a wider war that could involve U.S. allies supporting opposing sides. One example of what could happen would be an ethnic conflict in Kosovo. That could lead to a conflict with Serbia over support to Kosovar insurgents and to refugee flows that could undermine the viability of Macedonia, draw in Albania, and exacerbate the Greek-Turkish situation.

Preserving the Unity and Effectiveness of the Western Alliance

The U.S. has a strong interest in sustaining NATO's reputation as an effective security organization and as an institution binding together Europe and North America. IFOR's role in Bosnia has put NATO's prestige on the line. Indeed, if IFOR fails, Bosnia implodes, and war engulfs other Balkan states, NATO's future may come into question and U.S. ties to Europe would be significantly eroded. This interest argues for developing a common European and U.S. position and for limiting the NATO role to tasks that can be demonstrably accomplished. That may conflict with the interest in establishing a viable Bosnian confederation.

U.S. Air Force technicians place explosives in a bunker near Tuzla Air Base, Bosnia and Herzegovina, during Operation Joint Endeavor.

U.S. Approach

Insisting on a viable Bosnian confederation is likely to entail high costs in funds, a continued military presence, and possible renewed friction with NATO allies. Hence, the chances for the confederation's survival will be very low. The costs of the U.S. IFOR deployment already have exceeded expectations, owing to a number of unforeseen developments, and are likely to grow, as will costs for civilian reconstruction. The Europeans long have been skeptical of the U.S. effort to hold Bosnia together and of Washington's embrace of the Muslims, which they believe helped scuttle earlier, European-sponsored programs that called for three loosely-tied entities. Although they have accepted the Dayton Accords, the Europeans will be reluctant to bear the costs of full implementation, particularly in the unlikely event that U.S. forces withdraw from IFOR and the Europeans again stand alone. This situation could set the stage for yet another NATO crisis that could spill over into other security issues and could adversely affect U.S. relations with Moscow, as Russian views on Bosnia are closer to those of the Europeans than to those of the United States. Except for the possibility of greater friction with Turkey and other Muslim countries, the costs of reinterpreting the Dayton Accords, either formally or de facto, to provide for a looser association of the three communities would be lower than insisting on confederation, and the chances for a more narrowly defined success would be higher. Settling on a looser association may speed up a final settlement, pave the way for a reduced military presence and reconstruction bill, and keep relations with the Europeans on an even keel. However, even this less ambitious scenario would require a continued NATO presence for several years and still might not prevent the resumption of at least limited hostilities.

Dealing with a civil war in Macedonia would most likely entail changes in force structure and equipment (e.g., deciding whether to involve heavy armored units, as in Bosnia, or light units), and would involve the U.S. in peace enforcement. It also would need to deal with larger refugee populations from Kosovo.

The United States can also help stabilize Albanian-Slav relations and the relations of both groups with NATO allies Greece and Turkey.

The challenge for the United States in the Balkans is to:

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