President Trump’s First Foreign Policy Crisis: Balkan War Drums Beat Again
Vladimir Putin views Western intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo as an affront to the Slavic Orthodox world—and he plans on revenge
In the decade-and-a-half of war in far-flung places since the 9/11 attacks on our country, it’s easy to forget how much time Western spies, soldiers and diplomats spent in the 1990s trying to save the Balkans from themselves. After Yugoslavia collapsed in 1991, leaving violence and turmoil in its wake, it fell to NATO, led by the United States, to sort out that ugly mess. Now, a generation later, the temporary solutions Washington crafted are coming apart, and war may be returning to Europe’s unstable Southeast.
First, Bosnia-Hercegovina, which got the lion’s share of media attention back in the 1990s—by no means all of it accurate—has limped along as a half-failed state for the last two decades. Mired in crime and corruption, not to mention a serious problem with Islamic extremism, Bosnia is ailing politically, economically and socially. The strange, jury-rigged arrangement hashed out by President Bill Clinton in Dayton, Ohio, in late 1995 to keep Bosnia together after that country’s terrible civil war, was never meant to be more than a short-term solution.
Yet Bosnia is still stuck with the Dayton system, with its weak state in Sarajevo, and much power devolved to two pseudo-state entities: the mostly Muslim Federation (with a dwindling Croatian minority) and the Serbian Republic—Republika Srpska to the natives. This awkward arrangement leaves nobody content. It’s too much power devolution for Muslims, not enough for Serbs, and the Croats resent not having their own, third entity. Dayton brought short-term peace but assured that nobody’s Balkan porridge would ever be quite right for the long haul.