Conference focuses on stability in the Balkans
STUTTGART, Germany — After the former Yugoslavia unraveled in the early 1990s, thousands of troops from the U.S. and other countries deployed over the next 10 years to stabilize the war-ravaged region.
The fight continues, only now to help the resulting offshoots stand strong as sovereign nations.
“We don’t want to see those 10 years of investment in dollars and U.S. troops to go to waste,” said Army Col. Michael P. Anderson, co-chair of the Southeast Europe Clearinghouse, which recently concluded its third conference.
Representatives from 30 nations, mostly from Europe, met in Zagreb, Croatia, to compare notes on helping the five targeted-states — Croatia, Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia and Montenegro.
The aims were military: the Swiss offered help in mountain training, Nordic nations said they could train peacekeepers. Securing munitions and organizing militaries were also on the agenda.
In the future, the five nations hopefully will stand strongly on their own, said Anderson, Europe Division chief of the U.S. European Command’s Strategy, Plans and Policy Directorate. Coordinating aid through the clearinghouse, he said, was one way to help.
“The five are not integrated into Europe as we’d like,” Anderson said, noting the five are not members of the European Union, though they are nestled among EU members Greece,, Hungary, Austria and Italy and EU aspirants Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.
“We [want] these nations to be full members of the Europe-North American community,” Anderson said.
Europe and America in recent years have not always agreed on global politics, Anderson said, pointing to discord over Iraq, weapons sales to China, and the Kyoto Protocol climate accord.
But over the Western Balkans, he said, there is consensus.
“They all have a common objective, in that it is a job unfinished,” Anderson said. “It is truly in Europe’s backyard. And (the clearinghouse) works.”
The informal atmosphere, he said, as opposed to NATO’s bureaucratic ways, enables the small group to achieve tangible results, and big donor states such as the U.S. to easily see where their money is being spent.
“It’s a great example of America and Europe working together, and there are not a lot of examples lately,” Anderson said.
A list of about 170 needs was drawn up at the three-day conference, according to Slavko Delalut, head of the Slovenia defense ministry’s International Relations Department, Bilateral Cooperation Division.
A follow-up conference is planned for June.
“The destiny of all these [nations], which are part of Europe, is not to be an isolated island,” Delalut said. “If we can encourage some democratic changes in some of those countries, I think this a big improvement, although there are still some obstacles.”
For example, in the Kosovo region of Serbia and Montenegro, about 17,000 foreign troops are stationed to help keep the peace.
“In the current situation, the presence of the international community is a necessity,” Latatut said. “But sometime in the future, we will succeed to establish democratic institutions to live in peace and cooperation with their neighbors.”