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Remembering Holbrooke and Bosnia

Richard Holbrooke, described by President Obama as a "true giant of American foreign policy," has died following heart surgery. He was only 69, but his career covered nearly fifty years. From 1993-1994, he was the US Ambassador to Germany and founded the American Academy in Berlin.

Ambassador Holbrooke died on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, which was the biggest of his many accomplishments and ended more than three years of bloody war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

NATO published a three-part mini video documentary "From Peacekeeping To Partnership":

Part I: Building Peace tells of NATO's gradual engagement in support of United Nations' efforts to end the Bosnian War (1992-1995) and the deployment of its first peacekeeping force in December 1995. NATO's mission continued for nine years until responsibility for security was handed over to the European Union in December 2004. 

Part II: Reforming the Military shows how NATO's support for essential defence reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina has helped downsize the armed forces and turn them into a single military force under state-level control. Progress made allowed the country to join NATO's Partnership for Peace in 2006.

Part III: The Road to Integration highlights the country's deepening partnership with NATO and provides an insight into the challenges ahead on the road to the country's possible membership of the Alliance.

Richard Holbrooke's book about Bosnia "To End a War" (Amazon.com, Amazon.de) is my favorite foreign policy memoir. It is so well written that it reads like a good thriller. I was very inspired when I read his book during my Political Science studies in the late 90s. Richard Holbrooke was an inspiration to many other German students as well.

Progress in the Balkans

There has been a lot of positive news coming out the Balkans recently. Some of the highlights include:

(1) Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina will soon be approved for visa-free travel to Europe. According to a recent EU report, the two countries have made significant progress and could be cleared for unrestricted travel in the Schengen area as soon as October.


(2) Two weeks ago, Croatian president Ivo Josipovic apologized for his country's role in the Bosnian wars. The apology followed Serbia's apology for the Srebenica massacre one month ago. Serbian President Boris Tadic has taken a decidedly more conciliatory tone, promising to work towards reconciliation between the nations in the region.


(3) In a historic summit, presidents from Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia met in Istanbul this weekend and agreed to intensify efforts to resolve border disputes and encourage greater regional cooperation. The meeting was an unprecedented show of cooperation between BiH and Serbia, and the presidents emphasized their desire to continue the cooperation in the future.


(4) NATO continues its tentative expansion into the Balkans with Bosnia being offered a Membership Action Plan (MAP) during the recent summit of NATO ministers. Significantly, Serbia has stated it supports Bosnia's NATO aspirations. NATO also discussed "militarily disengaging" from the country, removing the remaining peacekeepers.


All is not perfect in the Balkans of course. Serbian fugitive Mladic remains at large, unrest continues in Kosovo, and significant minorities in Croatia and Serbia continue to vociferously deny any wrongdoing in the Balkan wars. But all things considered, there are many reasons to be optimistic. Personally, I believe the lure of membership in the European Union and NATO are valuable catalysts in motivating the needed reforms. The progress in the Balkans is incremental and slow but it is substantive. That should offer some assurance to NATO officials struggling with Afghanistan and to EU supporters wondering about the long-term relevancy of the Union.

The Obama Administration's Engagement of Europe

President Obama has made "an unprecedented three trips to Europe during his first six months in office (including heavy lifts in Turkey and Russia)," writes Damon Wilson, Director of the Atlantic Council's International Security Program. Yet, most of his praise goes to Vice-President Biden, who flew four times over the Atlantic to make major policy announcements:

He proclaimed the Russia reset policy in Munich and previewed the administration's AFPAK review at NATO - and tackled the toughest issue on the continent: how to advance a Europe whole and free that includes the Balkans and Europe's East.  He has advanced a vision for Europe that has long enjoyed bipartisan support, but over which many, including some in the administration, have cooled as we've hit more difficult tests with Ukraine and Georgia.

Wilson concludes that Biden's four trips have helped define the Obama Administration's policy toward Europe. Moreover, rather than repudiating George W. Bush's Freedom Agenda, "Biden is rebranding it to ensure that its objectives in Europe sustain bipartisan support." Is it too early to evaluate this "rebranding" or the new administration's policy in general?

NATO foreign ministers meeting press round-up

NATO foreign ministers gathered in Brussels on December 2 for a two-day meeting.  The full final communiqué released by NATO can be found here

The ministerial focused primarily on the future of NATO enlargement (particularly Ukraine and Georgia), US plans for missile defense in Europe, relations with Russia (strongly related to the previous two issues), and ongoing operations (mostly on Afghanistan and to a lesser degree Kosovo). Here is a roundup of articles that address the key outcomes of the ministerial:

Continue reading "NATO foreign ministers meeting press round-up"

Sleepwalking Into Another Balkan Crisis

Paddy Ashdown and Richard Holbrooke in The Guardian:

Almost exactly 13 years ago, American leadership brought an end to Bosnia's three-and-a-half-year war through the Dayton peace agreement. Today the country is in real danger of collapse. As in 1995, resolve and transatlantic unity are needed if we are not to sleepwalk into another crisis.