CEAS New Report - BASIC INSTINCT: The Case for More NATO in The Western Balkans

The Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS) from Belgrade, Serbia, has published the Study: BASIC INSTINCT- The Case for More NATO in The Western Balkans. The Study is a result of a yearlong research conducted under the CEAS project Continued Fulfillment of IPAP Commitments – Stepping Closer to NATO, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) from the USA.  

The Study particularly addresses issues common to all countries of the Western Balkans: incomplete security sector reforms; constitutionally or otherwise embedded solutions that propel an illiberal politicization of ethnicities; internationally led or sponsored processes that may serve short-term goals, but are implemented in a way that undermines the separation of powers, strengthening of independent institutions and decision-making processes in already poorly governed countries of the Region, and incomplete transitional justice processes. 

The current geopolitical environment, characterized by a revisionist Russia, chaos in Syria, a refugee and migration crises in Europe and the Western Balkans, increasing terrorist threats worldwide, internal disputes within the European Union, and an unprecedented political environment in the United States, as well as China ante portas, have all captured the world’s attention. As a result, the United States’ policy towards the Western Balkans is on auto pilot, and across the broad, international actors has lowered their standards and hopes for the region for the sake of stability. Hence, “stabilitocracy,” is the new buzz word linked to the region.

“Stabilitocracy” does not guarantee stability, even in a calm and predictable geopolitical environment. If the past few years can serve as a guide, the future of the Western Balkans can be described as the continued suppression of democratic processes by authoritarian leaders, albeit under the guise of liberal labels. “Stabilitocracy” in times of non-democratic and hostile influences produces homegrown little green man of a different kind.
The Study argues that those issues could in the end, if not properly addressed bring the process of the democratization of the Region and its deeper integration into Euro-Atlantic structures to a halt. Furthermore, all these issues create a fertile ground for non-democratic and hostile hybrid and conventional obstructive actions conducted by state or non-state actors.

All the current regional governments formally profess the desire to join Euro-Atlantic structures or to cooperate closely (Serbia with NATO), and are in some kind of contractual obligation or integration process. Their basic instinct towards progress and stability is still kicking in, albeit weakly. But there is a lack of determination by the political West to use its own strengths and commitment to declared values to set the region on a proper course: towards democracy. NATO and the member States, along with the EU, should have a lead in this endeavor.

The Western Balkans, in one way or another, suffers all of the above mention maladies, and then some. These cannot be fixed by the countries of the region alone, even if the ruling elite had a sincere commitment to democracy and regional cooperation. In such a situation, they are not reliable partners to the West even for ad hoc anti-terrorism, anti-corruption, migration control, and other related projects. The only way to help the region and reduce the risk of spillover of negative effects is a return to our best and basic instincts: democracy as the most secure and durable form of governance.