The remainder of 2005 is regarded as a critical period for making progress in resolving the final status of Kosovo, the southern Serbian province that has been under United Nations administration since 1999.
The international community is in the midst of evaluating whether Kosovo should be put on a path that could lead to independence. A determination on whether to move forward will be made in the next few months. The territory's 90 percent Albanian population wants full independence, something opposed by Serbia. Steven Meyer, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst now a professor at Washington's National Defense University, says with the United States focused on bigger security issues in Afghanistan and Iraq, wants to pull back from its decade long military involvement in the Balkans.
"The Bush administration, clearly, by its own admission, wants out of this part of the world," said Mr. Meyer. "They want to turn it over to the Europeans. They've said that many times. And there is an interesting undelie to that. And that is, we turn this over to someone else. We don't turn it over to the people in the region. We turn it over to the west Europeans. So, once again, what we're talking about is we're turning from one great power sitting on the region to another great power sitting on the region."
Phillip Henderson, Washington director of the German Marshall Fund, which is playing a policy advocacy role in the Balkans, has a more positive assessment. He believes it is possible to craft a settlement that would be grudgingly accepted by both Kosovo's Albanian population and Belgrade. Mr. Henderson says the most important incentive Europe can offer the Balkans is the prospect of eventual membership in the European Union.
"Some sort of measured independence for Kosovo with a strong international monitoring or a strong international presence sustained over the medium term is both necessary and likely," said Mr. Henderson. "I think it will only become clear once the European Union sorts out its own internal problems, what their posture ends up being towards having the appetite for further enlargement."
Even though French and Dutch rejection of the proposed European Union constitution has called ambitious EU plans to extend membership to the entire Balkan region into question, it does seem likely that Bulgaria and Romania will enter the EU by 2008. Mr. Henderson believes that development will offer strong encouragement to the western Balkans.
"I view the Balkans as including not just the western Balkans where look at the former Yugoslavia and all the problems there, but including Romania and Bulgaria. And certainly those are two success stories that can have positive influence beyond their borders," he added.
While there is some optimism concerning Kosovo, there is little hope that nearby Bosnia-Herzegovina will soon become a viable nation. Since an accord reached in Dayton, Ohio ten years ago ended ethnic warfare there, Bosnia has remained a divided state under international control. Serbs, Muslims and Croats are no longer fighting, but relations between the ethnic groups remain difficult. Steven Meyer of the National Defense University says Bosnia suffers from not having a government that is able to impose its authority and remains dependent on international assistance.
"So when you look at a lot of the dynamics-social, military, economic, political-there is very little integration within Bosnia as a state. It remains, in my opinion, one of the colossal failures of American diplomacy," noted Mr. Meyer.
Next door, Serbia itself is still recovering from the wars associated with its former leader Slobodan Milosevic, who is on trial for war crimes in the Hague. The democratic reformers who currently lead Serbia speak only tentatively of Serbia's responsibility for the wars that tore apart Yugoslavia. While the government of Vojislav Kostunica has significantly boosted cooperation with the Hague war crimes tribunal and turned over several indictees, it still has not apprehended Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb general thought to be responsible for the murder of at least seven thousand Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica exactly ten years ago.
General Mladic is believed to have eluded capture thus far, in part, because he has been protected by elements of the Serbian army. Serbian leaders have been told by the United States and the European Union that Serbia will not fully be accepted into the community of nations until the perpetrators of the Srebrenic massacre are brought to justice.