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South Slavic: November 22, 2001


22 November 2001, Volume 3, Number 39

IS U.S. POLICY TOWARDS FORMER YUGOSLAVIA CHANGING?

Part I. Part II will appear on 29 November.

This edition of Radio Most (Bridge) is presented by Omer Karabeg. His guests are Professor Radovan Vukadinovic, who has taught political science in Zagreb and at Florida State University, and Vatroslav Vekaric, who is director of the Institute for the International Relations and Economics in Belgrade.

RFE/RL: After the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the U.S. government has begun viewing its international relations through the prism of the fight against terrorism. What does this mean for the former Yugoslav countries? Will American policy towards the region remain the same, or there will be some changes (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 September 2001)?

Radovan Vukadinovic: It is probably too soon to speak about changes.... As far as Southeastern Europe is concerned, including the former Yugoslav region, U.S. policy will mostly be interested in stability. It does not want any more troubles in that big region connecting the East and the West.

I think that an American and Western cordon sanitaire has been installed around this region. The coordinates are fixed and no one can change them. No one should try to change borders or set up new states....

Vatroslav Vekaric: I do not think that America will wish to abandon its global role as leading superpower. Isolationism -- which is no stranger to American traditions and political culture -- will not prevail.

Many analysts are comparing the latest terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center's twin towers with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Undoubtedly there are some similarities, in spite of many differences. In both of these cases, the attacks were unexpected. They were carried out by stealth, took very many American lives, and rattled Americans' sense of security and illusions about their own invulnerability.

The Pearl Harbor attack prompted the U.S. to enter World War II, which was an American global engagement. If we stick to that historical analogy, then it is clear that the U.S. will not become isolationist after the 11 September attacks. I do not expect any sudden shift of American policy.

Of course, there will be some reorientation and redefinition of priorities in U.S. policy. This is how one should understand the future American position regarding the region of former Yugoslavia.

Bearing in mind that the conflicts in that region have reached their final phase, that they are abating, and that the Bush administration has never indicated that this region is considered a priority -- unlike the previous administration -- a decrease of interest in the region of former Yugoslavia might become evident. That could have certain political and economic consequences, but I do not think that we should expect any sudden change.

RFE/RL: Mr. Vukadinovic, do you expect the U.S. to start gradually withdrawing their troops from the region of former Yugoslavia, namely from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo?

Radovan Vukadinovic: ...Soon after taking office, President Bush showed that he did not intend to make any big or radical withdrawal of the U.S. troops from this region. One might speak of a certain reduction in troop strength, or about part of the U.S. military contingent leaving Bosnia-Herzegovina or Kosovo, but a total withdrawal is out of the question.

Finally, if you think about the U.S. military bases from Aviano, to Tuzla, to Kosovo -- then you will realize that they will be entrenched there for a long time.

Vatroslav Vekaric: I agree with my colleague Vukadinovic that there is a possibility of a cut in U.S. troop strength in this region. There have been indications in that direction. If that happens, the pressure on Europe to take on a greater political and military role will increase...as well as to bear the biggest share of the costs of NATO troops in the Balkans.

RFE/RL: Some people think that the United States has lost interest in seeing indicted war criminals from the former Yugoslav region end up in The Hague. According to them, Karadzic and Mladic can breathe more easily now. Do you agree?

Radovan Vukadinovic: ...One should not forget that America is a big power, both militarily and economically. This is why America is able to deal with problems in Central Asia without neglecting problems in other regions.

I do not see why America would give up demanding that Karadzic, Mladic, Gotovina, and other indicted war criminals end up in The Hague. I stress that American and other Western politics are interested in seeing this region stabilized and will do what they think necessary to that end.

Vatroslav Vekaric: I do not expect any change in America's attitude towards the extradition of indicted war criminals. There is one common thread in all statements by American politicians after 11 September, from President Bush to other top government and congressional officials: they stress that America will defend its values. Bearing in mind that the Hague tribunal is, in a manner of speaking, the result of American efforts, I cannot see why the Americans would now change their attitude regarding that institution.

That is one thing. The other thing is that if bringing to trial those indicted for war crimes is considered necessary for the stabilization of the region -- which it probably is -- then I see no reason why the Americans would give up their strong support for the Hague tribunal.

Finally, we have to accept that -- no matter what people think or say -- the Hague tribunal is an autonomous institution whose task is important for the people living in this region. This is why one can hardly believe that the U.S. would give up on it.

RFE/RL: Do you think that the Americans will change their policy towards Kosovo?

Radovan Vukadinovic: As far as Kosovo is concerned, I do not think that America is in a hurry to find a permanent solution for that region. After all, U.S. policy has always taken its time in this respect.

The U.S. administration has always felt that this problem could be temporarily resolved under the formula "a democratic Yugoslavia with a democratic Montenegro and a democratic Kosovo" -- while a permanent solution for Kosovo is put off for a few years. If the U.S. operations in Central Asia last for a while, Washington will not want any changes in the Balkans that might upset stability. On the other hand, if the conflict in Central Asia winds down, then the Kosovo issue will begin to be resolved in phases, the way it was originally foreseen. That means a solution that would satisfy the Kosovo Albanians.

Vatroslav Vekaric: I am not sure that America does have a comprehensive solution for the Kosovo problem right now. The Kosovo problem has been frozen in its present form, which is that of an international protectorate.

The question is whether changes in American policy after 11 September might influence Washington's attitude towards Kosovo and in what way. First, I think that in this new situation, we must expect an increased role by Russia in the Balkans, which will be the result of a greater American tolerance towards Russia in a variety of ways.

Russia's firm support for the antiterrorist coalition led by the United States has certainly had its price. The price will probably be of an economic nature, but it will also mean an increased American understanding for Russia's role in the world.

Russia wants to re-establish its international position, and we all know that the Balkans have always been one of the most interesting regions for Russia. Bearing that in mind, I think that America will show a little more understanding for Russian arguments regarding Kosovo as well (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 March and 28 September 2001).

It is well-known that the Russians have repeatedly told the Americans that some Albanian groups have terrorist connections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2001). I think that this sort of Russian argument will in the future be met with American understanding, which could lead to some breakthroughs for Serbia and Yugoslavia. As far as independence for Kosovo is concerned, I think that none of the major foreign players is seriously advocating that option at this moment.

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