Friday, February 5, 2010

Dennis Blair - Events in the Balkans will again pose the principal challenges to stability in Europe in 2010

Dennis C. Blair, Director of National Intelligence - Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Events in the Balkans will again pose the principal challenges to stability in Europe in 2010. Bosnia-Herzegovina’s (BiH) continuing uneasy inter-ethnic condominium and the issue of the Serb minority in Kosovo, particularly in northern Kosovo, remain sources of tension requiring Western diplomatic and security engagement. We assess that the US and Europe retain significant influence in the Western Balkans. The nature of their engagement including the ability of Washington, Brussels, and key EU members states to work together and present a common front—will importantly influence the region’s future course.

I remain concerned about Bosnia’s future stability. While neither widespread violence nor a formal break-up of the state appears imminent, ethnic agendas still dominate the political process and reforms have stalled because of wrangling among the three main ethnic groups. The sides failed to agree on legal changes proposed jointly by the EU and the US at the end of 2009, undercutting efforts to strengthen the central government so that it is capable of taking the country into NATO and the EU. Bosnian Serb leaders seek to reverse some reforms, warn of legal challenges to the authority of the international community, and assert their right to eventually hold a referendum on secession, all of which is contributing to growing interethnic tensions. This dynamic appears likely to continue, as Bosnia’s leaders will harden their positions to appeal to their nationalist constituents ahead of elections this fall.

More than 60 nations, including 22 of 27 EU members, have recognized the state of Kosovo, but in the coming years Pristina will remain dependent on the international community for economic and development assistance as well as for diplomatic and potentially security support to further consolidate its statehood. Much of the Serb population still looks to Belgrade and is resisting integration into Kosovo’s institutions, though this appears to be slowly changing in Kosovo’s south. Kosovo government influence in the Serb-majority area in the north of Kosovo is extremely weak. NATO’s presence, although reduced, is still needed to deter violence, and its mentoring of the nascent Kosovo Security Force is crucial to the force’s effectiveness and democratic development.

Serbia’s leaders espouse a European future and President Tadic desires quick progress toward Serbian EU membership, but Belgrade shows no sign of accepting Kosovo’s independence or accepting constructively. Belgrade appears to be awaiting an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice on the legality of Pristina’s declaration of independence— expected mid-year—before determining how to advance its claim on Kosovo. Serbia frequently turns to Moscow for political backing and economic support.

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