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By Nenad N. Bach | Published  12/15/2002 | Politics | Unrated

Hrvatski Vjesnik (Australia) - The New Generation

English Supplement

6 December 2002

The Serb arms for Iraq scandal and a Balkan crimeconference in London have revealed the ongoing failureof international policy in the South East Europeregion, especially in regard to Croatia. Dogmaticregional policies based on apparent nostalgia for theformer Yugoslavia have not only been an abjectfailure, but could in fact pave the way for criminalactivity and further security concerns for theinternational community. A rethink is required.

The Serbian firms Orao in Bosnia-Herzegovina andYugoimport in Serbia have been doing business withIraq; supplying Iraq with weapons in what appears tobe an extensive trade. Furthermore, there are concernsthat information provided by the Yugoslav military onthe NATO Kosovo campaign has assisted the Iraqimilitary in dealing with US and British aircraftenforcing the no-fly zone. General Wesley Clark, thecommander of the Kosovo campaign has expressedparticular concern over this.

He is right to be concerned; for Serbia can still dodamage. NATO currently has a regional policy for the"Balkans" as outlined by Lord Robertson in his speechon 24 June. Unbeknownst to many, Serbia has a key rolein formulating this policy by being a full member ofNATO's two key policy committee's on the matter; theSouth East Europe Security Steering Group (SEEGROUP)and the South East Europe Common Assessment Paper onRegional Security Challenges and Opportunities(SEECAP). No doubt the Serb military now have a betterinsight into NATO - and thus US/UK - military thinkingthan they did before.

Given the Serb's role in arming Iraq, and thepossibility of war involving US/UK forces, it is nonetoo intelligent to have the Serb military at thecentre of NATO policy making. Serbia should beunceremoniously jettisoned from SEEGROUP and SEECAP.

As can be seen, regional military thinking is not inthe West's interest. But despite the failures of theprevious two Yugoslav states, the dogma that dictatesthat the ex-Yugoslav countries should be re-united insome way is strong.

The International Crisis Group (ICG), which hasinfluence on policy making, builds on such dogma inits latest report on Macedonia. ICG advises both theEU and NATO to turn Macedonia into some kind ofregional security centre. The Krivolak militarytraining centre is proposed as a possible regionaltraining centre. No doubt the recent Macedonianinitiative on training centres with Albania andCroatia was largely inspired by this ICG idea.

Part of the rationale for making Macedonia thisregional security centre is that Yugo-nostalgic dogmaagain. ICG says, ".. unlike Bulgarians or Romanians,most Macedonians can communicate with Serbs, Croatsand Bosnians in their own language, and have otherbonds and more frequent contacts with their formercountrymen."

Serbia has proved itself to be an unreliable securitypartner; they have been arming Saddam Hussein. The ICGhave themselves done a report on this; but dogma getsin the way of the obvious conclusion that "regionalcooperation" may assist countries such as Serbia thatare in league with states like Iraq.

Indeed, for the project of creating a West Balkanstructure of some kind, Serb transgressions areroutinely overlooked. So far, Serbia has not faced anyreal sanctions over the arms scandal; in fact theCouncil of Europe's delay in admitting Serbia isprimarily about the lack of speed in adopting a newconstitution with Montenegro, rather than suchtrifling matters as arming Saddam Hussein orsheltering war criminals such as Ratko Mladic.

Indeed, the British Foreign Office's sanctions againstCroatia for not handing over General Bobetko to TheHague - whilst leaving Serbia alone for worse - lookmore hypocritical and foolish than ever. It certainlyis not in the British interest; Serbia suppliesmilitary aid to Iraq, whom British troops may end upin a war with whilst Croatia stops such aid byimpounding the Boka Star, the ship carrying militarysupplies to Iraq. Who is Britain's real ally here?

Then we have Balkan organised crime. A recentconference in London - reported all over the world -was held to discuss the matter. British Home SecretaryDavid Blunkett stated that "The Balkans have becomethe gateway to Europe for organised criminals". TheIndependent reported that Albanian crime gangs aretaking over London's vice trade. Furthermore, it wasreported that Bosnia-Herzegovina was a major transitroute for illegal immigration.

Remarkably, EU regional policy will facilitate allthis crime.

As I written before, the EU has a Stabilisation andAssociation Process, which involves all members of theformer Yugoslavia minus Slovenia plus Albania - the"West Balkans". Articles 11-14 of the Stabilisationand Association Agreement (SAA) Croatia signed withthe EU clearly state that agreements must be madebetween the SAA that includes matters such as: a freetrade area, mutual concessions concerning the movementof workers and capital. All of which will assist armsdealers, illegal immigration rackets, terrorists, vicegangs and any other organised crime racket you canthink of.

Bizarrely, Croatia appears to be going along withthis. At the recent NATO summit, Croatia agreed towork closely with Albania and Macedonia - damagingCroatia's image no end - in the future. The Albanianpresident called for "free movement of people". TheCroatian presidential adviser Tomislav Jakic said thatthe countries would jointly seek to abolish currentvisa restrictions. Given Croatia's far superioreconomy to the other SAA states, the movement ofpeople will be a strictly one way process.

Currently, Croats are not featuring in the headlines.It is not Croat gangs that running prostitutionrackets in London. It is not Croats dominating thearming of Saddam Hussein. Yet, by forcing a defacto"open borders" policy onto Croatia in relation to itsneighbours, Croatia will not only suffer the effectsof crime gangs, but these people will have a newjumping off point into Europe. The internationalcommunity no doubt will provide some assistance inpreventing criminals from moving into the EU, but thefact is with more opportunities provided for criminalsto move into Croatia, there will be that many morecoming into the EU.

Further, Croatian association with the "West Balkans"will do Croatia damage; fewer people will wish toinvest in country associated with politically unstableSerbia and Macedonia. It may even effect tourism.Image is all; Croatia may be relatively crime free butby being closely associated with the crime ridden"Balkans" tourists may start going elsewhere. Animpoverished Croatia will be less able to combatcrime, again not in the West's interest.

The international community must abandon its regionalpolicy at once. These countries should be treatedindividually on their merits. By insisting on somekind of federation in the region, criminal activitywill be the main beneficiary. Criminals will be ableto extend themselves far more into Croatia -and thusinto the neighbouring EU. Dogma thus takes precedenceover reality, with abysmal results.

The international community's regional policy in SouthEast Europe is a disaster for the future. It currentlyhelps countries such as Serbia to arm dubious statessuch as Iraq, and it will help Balkan crime gangs toflourish in Western Europe. The effect on thecountries of the region will be disastrous.

But is sanity prevailing? As I conclude this, it isreported that in Vienna, the EU commissioner forenlargement, Guenther Verheugan, has stated thatCroatia under no criteria belongs to the WesternBalkans and should be excluded from it. Further,Croatia should be viewed as a possible candidate forthe second round of enlargement. The Austrianchancellor is agreeable on this as well.

Croatia is likely to apply for EU candidate status; aWall Street Journal article pointed out that thiswould force the EU to choose between individualaccession to the EU or the West Balkans as a group.The EU and the international community should useCroatia's application as an opportunity to quietlyditch the whole regional cooperation/West Balkansconcept.

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