The Council on Foreign Relations, an influential non-governmental organization in the United States, is calling for increased U.S. and European Union aid for the Balkans.
The council's Balkans Task Force says in a new report the Balkans remain a powder keg of ethnic tension and criminality three years after the war in Kosovo. It says that high unemployment, government corruption and ethnic tension in Bosnia, Serbia including Kosovo, and Macedonia threaten to destabilize all of southern Europe. The report entitled, Balkans 2010, was prepared by a group led by former U.S. army general Edward Meyer.
The report says that without more assistance, the Balkans will increasingly become a haven for drug traffickers, people smugglers and Islamic militants. Task force member and former State Department advisor James O'Brien says eventual membership in the European Union is a powerful motivator for economic and democratic reform.
"That is the greatest political selling point for reformers at home," he said. "And it is also an institution that has demonstrated over 25 years its ability to reach out to societies that are poor, riven, corrupt, etcetera, and bring them into an extremely wealthy and successful club."
The United States, says the report, will have spent at least $8 billion on military operations and $2 billion on economic aid in the Balkans between now and 2010. Fifty thousand American troops, mainly in Bosnia and Kosovo, are part of the NATO force in the Balkans. Most economic aid to the region comes from the European Union. Task force member O'Brien says Balkan nations want closer relations with the United States.
"Countries don't want a relationship just with their immediate neighbors. They've got histories with those neighbors," he said. "They don't trust them that much. They want a relationship with the United States because we are the indispensable country. And the way that they get that institutionally is by having a relationship through NATO."
NATO has just agreed to admit Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania in the Balkans. Albania, Macedonia, and Croatia are pressing to be included in the next wave of NATO expansion.