It has been more than two decades since I worked with Richard Holbrooke and our team to negotiate an end to the war in Bosnia. NATO deployed and then acted to halt Serb ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, notes Wesley K. Clark, a former NATO supreme allied commander, and a senior fellow at the UCLA Burkle Center for International. Today, three western Balkan states (Croatia, Albania and Slovenia) have become members of NATO. Croatia and Slovenia have joined the European Union. Kosovo is now an independent nation. Most Americans and Europeans have mentally filed away that brutal conflict as a problem solved. Sadly, this is far from true, he writes for the Washington Post:
Lingering political conflicts over the ethno-religious character of these nations consistently threaten to metastasize into national and regional crises, making the region a prime target for meddling by foreign powers. A combustible mix of poor governance, economic stagnation and weak democratic institutions has left a small yet significant minority vulnerable to recruitment by violent extremists. All of this leaves the region ripe for exploitation by terrorist organizations and meddling by outsiders, including Russia, China and Turkey.
To make matters worse, the region is suffering from neglect by democracies that were instrumental in bringing the Yugoslav wars to an end….The Kremlin is steadily increasing its influence. ..The Kremlin has also fanned the flames of ethnic division through disinformation campaigns that pit Orthodox Christian populations against Muslims, stoking tensions that fueled the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s…
“We can ensure that the billions in taxpayer dollars invested in this region are not wasted by supporting the work of democracy development implementers such as the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute,” adds Clark, a former board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. “We’ve seen the continued importance of this kind of work with initiatives such as a newly established task force on counterextremism, which is helping lawmakers in Bosnia adapt to the ever-shifting challenge of violent extremism.”