» (E) Europe's Battle of Wills in the Balkans
|(E) Europe's Battle of Wills in the Balkans
|By Nenad N. Bach |
(E) Europe's Battle of Wills in the Balkans
This curious item just flopped into my inbox. It correctly recognises the French mentality. As far as I am aware, the UK does not give a toss either way. Indeed, given Croatian-USA military links, the UK is a possible ally in all this (as the article says in its 'proxy' remarks). But! it seems Zagreb takes the French view, so such possibilities with the USA/UK cannot be explored. The possibilities for Croatian success are there, painfully within reach... and being ignored.
Europe's Battle of Wills in the Balkans
Stratfor 6 March 2002
As Europe looks to unify its foreign and defense policy, the first test will be in the Balkans, where historical allegiances run deep. A geopolitical tug-of-war between Europe's two major powers -- Germany and France -- will make unity hard to come by in the region. Germany will likely win the battle for influence, but at the cost of regional stability.
Several European papers reported March 4 that a French Army captain in Bosnia helped tip off former Bosnian Serb leader and alleged war criminal Radovan Karadzic about a NATO capture operation Feb. 28. NATO officials dismissed the report as "pure speculation" March 5, though the alliance has begun an inquiry, the New York Times reports.
The allegation -- even if erroneous -- casts a pall over attempts by the European Union to formulate a coherent foreign policy in the Balkans. It also highlights a complicated dynamic in which various players -- including the United States, Germany, France, Great Britain and Turkey -- pursue various and often contradictory goals in the region. With the United States committed to disengaging from the Balkans, Germany will emerge as the dominant power in there and, by extension, in European defense policy.
Even with Germany at the helm, a lack of European unity could tempt some ethnic groups to exploit policy divisions, hoping to destabilize the region again to their advantage. This could put Europe's two main powers, France and Germany, directly at odds -- hardly a recipe for unity.
Historically, the Balkans have been a bellwether for European security issues. That has not changed: Today, the region is both an example of the need for greater security cooperation in Europe and evidence of the national priorities that make such cooperation so difficult.
The current struggle for influence over the region is rooted in history. Germany has always been closer to Croatia and Slovenia, and former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's early recognition of their break from Yugoslavia helped to precipitate the Balkan wars of the 1990s. France has historically been aligned with the Serbs and the region's orthodox Slavs.
This history makes the allegation of a French officer leaking capture plans to the Bosnian Serbs more believable than would otherwise be the case. This does not mean the accusation is true -- or even if it is, that the officer acted with either the knowledge or complicity of French intelligence or government officials.
It does, however, fuel the view that French policy is biased in favor of the Serbs, as do other recent incidents. In December, a French officer was convicted of treason for leaking NATO's bombing plans targeting Belgrade during the Kosovo crisis. The officer said he was acting on orders from French intelligence, but Paris claimed he acted alone. Also, a spokesman for a French peacekeeping contingent in the region was removed from duties in 1998 after leaking details of two earlier operations to capture Karadzic, the BBC reported March 4.
The facts in the most recent case are sketchy. Several European papers cited an unnamed U.S. diplomat as saying that British intelligence intercepted a cell phone call from a French Army captain to a Bosnian policeman early Feb. 28. The captain reportedly warned him to "pay attention to Foca," the town were the operation was launched. This message was passed on to Karadzic's bodyguards, allowing him to sneak across the border into Montenegro just as a NATO peacekeeping force prepared to launch the capture mission.
The NATO alliance's swift move to defuse the situation and quash the allegations is not surprising. The United States is eager to finally hand the Balkan quagmire over to Europe so it can pursue the broader war against international terrorism. Though this war will certainly intersect with the Balkans -- requiring distinct U.S. intelligence operations -- Washington does not want its forces or resources tied down in Europe's backyard.
Theoretically, Washington's desire creates an opportunity for the EU to spread its foreign policy wings. Both Spain, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana are pushing to have the EU take over NATO's current mission in Macedonia. This would allow the EU to put teeth into its Union-wide security policy by actually deploying joint military forces.
In reality, Europe is probably not prepared to take over peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. Europe's credibility as an objective overseer is low in the region, and incidents like the botched Karadzic operation undermine that credibility further. These problems will be exacerbated by the structure of a European defense force that is still based as much on balancing national representation as on functionality. Will a Macedonian trust a German-led force? Will a Kosovar Albanian trust a French-led force? Historical allegiances will make it difficult for Europe to act as one.
More important, Balkan states are themselves tools of a bigger geopolitical game between the major European players.
Germany is seeking to reassert itself at the center of Europe, and the Balkans play a big part in that strategy. It is an area where Germany can expand its military reach without frightening either itself or its neighbors. Berlin also would like to build on its ties with Slovenia, Croatia, Albania, Bosnia and Bulgaria to pull both southern and eastern Europe under its wing as the EU expands. Berlin has several tools to entice Balkan governments: access to Europe's largest market, huge amounts of aid and investment, military training, weapons and technology. It is also much more closely connected to Balkan trade routes than France or the United Kingdom.
France, by comparison, is relatively powerless, but it is not ready to cede the Balkans to German domination. Therefore it must rely on its historical linkages and clever diplomacy to maintain power. Paris will look to Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Romania to help counterbalance German ambitions.
As a result, Germany and France are likely to be on the opposite sides of any number of regional policy issues.
Other powers are at work here as well. Though it is far enough removed in geographic terms to get too involved in the Balkans, Britain likely will continue to serve as the U.S. proxy in the region. Washington's goals align more closely with those of Germany than of France, and so will London's.
Though Russia has tight historical connections to Serbia, it has lost sway in the Balkans over the last half-decade. Not only is it no longer in a position to team up with France, it is much more concerned about developing closer economic ties to Europe through Germany. Yugoslavia is simply not a high geopolitical priority for Russia anymore.
Turkey, meanwhile, perpetually seeks to make itself indispensable to Europe. It has cultural and religious connections with Albania and Bosnia that it may use as leverage to become more involved in European policy. Turkey will become an increasingly important player in the Balkans.
A Balkan tug-of-war between France and Germany could lead to even greater regional instability, with ethnic groups seeking to take advantage of the divide. History has too clearly demonstrated the damage that a small spark in the Balkan tinderbox can do. However, it may take another real crisis before European leaders truly begin to act in concert in this region.
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