An American Headache Remedy

U.S. soldier monitors Kosovo's northeastern border (Photo: AFP).

Reacting to speculation that a new division of the Balkans is underway, U.S. ambassador to Croatia William Montgomery said that he has had to deny it every six months since being stationed in the Balkans. The information about the planned division was linked this time to some kind of conference at the Balkans Institute in Washington, D.C. According to reports, the gathering was held in March, and the participants included Henry Kissinger and [Lord] David Owen [former British foreign secretary and assistant to Cyrus Vance in mediating among the parties in Bosnia] who presented a new plan for the division of the Balkans. Some of the newspapers in Belgrade published maps of the division plans, claiming that they got them from participants in the conference.

Such a conference never took place nor is there any indication that any similar gathering attended by Henry Kissinger and Lord Owen was held in the past two or three months.

This strange report caused a mild tremor in the Bush administration. First, officials were perplexed that such a conference could have been held without anyone knowing about it. After discovering that it was a hoax, they started thinking about the concept of dividing the territories. The Bush administration was intrigued by the reactions from Europe: With the exception of Lord Owen, who has for some time been speaking of the need for a new Berlin congress that would establish new borders in the Balkans, the American administration was faced with negative reactions from its allies.

It is interesting that Washington is drawn to this kind of solution, all the more since several people in key positions in the new administration favor it and a majority support the withdrawal of American troops from the Balkans. John Bolton, the undersecretary of state, is among the most influential advocates of a new division of the Balkans. Since 1994 he has publicly supported this plan, which says that Bosnia would be divided between Serbia, Croatia, and a narrow Muslim region. Before he was appointed to his new post, he supported the plan for the division of Kosovo under which Serbia would have kept northern Kosovo and the rest of the region would have become independent or part of Albania. Since becoming undersecretary, Bolton has made no public statements about the Balkans.

It is widely known that the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, fully supports the withdrawal of American troops from the Balkans. It is less known that his attitude is widely accepted among the leaders of the Bush administration. At the very start of the new administration, Rumsfeld and the majority of his assistants in the Pentagon supported the withdrawal of troops from the Balkans as a shock therapy for Europe and the Balkans. There is a consensus among Rumsfeld, [Secretary of State Colin] Powell, and [National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice that a withdrawal should be gradual and take two to three years.

A month ago, when one of Bush’s foreign policy advisers on Europe was asked to describe American foreign policy toward the Balkans, he stated clearly: “Currently we have two orphans in the region, Bosnia and Kosovo. These orphans are dependent on the United States and Europe. Without our help, they would not be able to survive. Our wish is that soon these orphans become dependent only on Europe. Some people in Congress now want the United States to take responsibility for Macedonia and Montenegro. We have had enough of the dependent states, and we do not want additional headaches.”

The key foreign policy toward the Balkans is based on eliminating these headaches and responsibilities for the security of the region as soon as possible. In order for that to happen, the members of the entire Bush administration understand that they need to persuade Europe to take full responsibility for the region. This means that the United States cannot make any extreme or abrupt move and needs to be patient to achieve the wanted results. Once it is understood that this is the only important goal of American foreign policy toward the Balkans, it becomes clear that the Bush administration is ready to consider and take into serious account every option that would facilitate and speed up a U.S. withdrawal from the Balkans. This means that all options are on the table, from the division of the territory up to the recognition of new independent states. The only unacceptable thing for this administration is a status quo.

It is clear that President Bush and especially Powell do not intend to continue with the “nation building” started by the Clinton administration. Powell’s statements in the past few weeks have sent a clear message with regard to American foreign policy and the ambitions of the Bush administration to break with the old policy of the United States as global police. This could be concluded when Powell said that the United States needs to be a much more modest power and, in relation to the Middle East, that it “does not want to put pressure on any side in the conflict to accept a solution that is unacceptable to it, which would have to be implemented by force and which would bind America to be that force. America can only help in establishing peace if the conflicting parties want this; and it is up to them to agree how they will live with each other.”

America is still defining its foreign policy, particularly regarding the Balkans. The Bush administration has only recently filled positions on Europe and the Balkans in the State Department and the Pentagon. These people will need another four to six months to get acquainted with the problems in the former Yugoslavia. When we add to this that the Democrats took over the Senate and that Sen. [Joseph R.] Biden, the chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, has already announced that he would organize a hearing on U.S. policy in the Balkans, it becomes clear that we cannot expect major changes.

Only after four to six months will we see the real intentions of President Bush and his administration.