Why Europe is stuck in the Balkans

Gerhard Sporl has a fascinating piece in Der Spiegel looking at the EU’s open-ended project in the Balkans, particularly Bosnia: In the Balkans, the EU is trying to pursue a policy that the United States has just abandoned: nation building. Inzko’s task is to transform this odd, artificial nation [Bosnia] of four million people into ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
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Portuguese soldiers who are members of EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia guard an area during a search in the western Bosnian town of Banja Luka, on March 12, 2009. EU forces in Bosnia launched a pre-dawn raid today on the home of a Serb linked to fugitive genocide suspect Ratko Mladic, European Union peacekeepers said. The raid came on the 67th birthday of Mladic, who is wanted for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity for his role as Bosnian Serb military chief in the former Yugoslav republic's 1992-1995 conflict. AFP PHOTO/MILAN RADULOVIC (Photo credit should read MILAN RADULOVIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Gerhard Sporl has a fascinating piece in Der Spiegel looking at the EU’s open-ended project in the Balkans, particularly Bosnia:

In the Balkans, the EU is trying to pursue a policy that the United States has just abandoned: nation building. Inzko’s task is to transform this odd, artificial nation [Bosnia] of four million people into a constitutional state, a market economy and a parliamentary democracy. But while control of Iraq will gradually be handed over to that country’s elite, the nations that have been created in the Balkans, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, remain deeply dependent on the armies of officials, soldiers and skilled personnel brought in by international organizations. There is no timetable for the gradual transfer of power to national governments. In other words, Europe has no exit strategy. 

As a result, these artificial constructs remain dependent on their creators indefinitely. But dependency leads to addiction. Dependency creates the very things it is intended to stamp out, such as corruption. When a prime minister in Sarajevo died unexpectedly a few years ago, it was discovered that he had €20 million ($28 million) in his bank accounts — despite a monthly salary of just €1,000 ($1,400). But corruption is not just endemic among the domestic elite. In Kosovo, members of international organizations apparently siphoned off €60 million ($84 million) in funds during the construction of an airport and several power stations.

Dependency also makes people greedy. Even if it arises in the name of humanity, it prolongs the maladies it is intended to combat. And dependency is a good excuse, both for the dependants and the well-intentioned global community. The dependants claim that they would like to govern themselves, but are not permitted to do so. The global community cites the lack of experience in democracy as justification for extending its stay. This provisional arrangement gradually turns into a permanent state of affairs.

It’s interesting that Sporl chose to use Iraq as his parallel, rather than Afghanistan, where the United States is engaged in a much more ambitious and comprehensive nation-building project without a fixed timetable.

The analogy is a thin one but comparing the Balkans the United States’ two recent nation-building efforts does reveal an intersting catch-22 about these operations. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. has been forced to maintain its presence years after the conventional war ended because of unacceptable levels of violence. In Bosnia and Kosovo, European governments have had little incentive to pull their people out precisely because there’s been so little post-war violence.

MILAN RADULOVIC/AFP/Getty Images

Joshua Keating is a former associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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