The United States remains committed to helping the western Balkans on their path to Euro-Atlantic integration. It is the best means of ensuring long-term peace, stability, and prosperity in the region. The western Balkans, said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon, is a critical part of Europe. It is impossible to speak of a Europe that is whole, free, democratic, and at peace without having resolved unfinished business in this region.
While challenges remain, there has been significant progress in many Balkan countries. Slovenia joined the European Union, or EU, in 2004; Albania and Croatia joined NATO in 2009; and Croatia was recently invited to join the EU in 2013. Kosovo is nearing the fourth anniversary of its independence and continues to progress as a multi-ethnic democracy. Montenegro, only five years after it obtained independence, already has EU candidacy status and is a full participant in NATO’s Membership Action Plan.
Serbia has a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU and has taken some notable steps towards achieving candidacy status, including the arrests of Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic.
Progress has been lacking most notably in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Assistant Secretary Gordon said the country has not moved in the right direction over the last five years. There has been a dangerous rise in nationalist rhetoric, as well as challenges to state institutions and the Dayton agreement. In addition, the reform process needed for NATO and EU accession has stalled. Bosnia's political leaders have been too willing to stoke ethnic fears and to place their personal political interests over the needs of the people they are supposed to represent.
Assistant Secretary Gordon called on Bosnian leaders to set aside sectarian and political interests and to form a new state government. Leaders must also demonstrate their willingness to abide by the decisions of state institutions, he said. Furthermore, Bosnia and Herzegovina must introduce governmental reforms necessary for eventual EU and NATO membership.
The United States is committed to integrating the western Balkans into the Euro-Atlantic community. The EU and NATO provide the best framework for peace, prosperity, and stability in Europe.