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The Western Balkans: Waiting At NATO's Door

Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia want to join de Hoop Scheffer's alliance As NATO's June Istanbul summit draws closer, the countries of the western Balkans have again made their wishes for closer ties to the alliance known.

Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia seek an invitation to join
NATO or at least a clear timetable for doing so. They were somewhat
disappointed by the November 2002 Prague summit, at which they
received encouragement to pursue their goal of membership in close
cooperation with each other but no timetable.

In May 2003, the three countries were buoyed in their hopes
by the founding of the U.S.-Adriatic Partnership Charter, which aims
at preparing them for NATO membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 9
May, and 23 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002).
President George W. Bush said at the time that the agreement reflects
both Washington's determination to integrate the three states
into the Euro-Atlantic community and their commitment to NATO values
and principles.

On 19 and 20 May 2004, the foreign ministers of Albania,
Croatia, and Macedonia -- Kastriot Islami, Miomir Zuzul, and Ilinka
Mitreva, respectively -- discussed their countries' future
cooperation within the framework of the charter. During a joint press
conference on 20 May, the ministers said they hope they will receive
a clear signal in Istanbul that their countries will be included in
the next round of NATO enlargement.
The countries of the western Balkans are clearly proceeding at different speeds on the path to Euro-Atlantic integration.

The German agency dpa quoted unnamed "international experts" as saying,
however, that it is doubtful that the three countries will be
seriously considered for NATO membership before 2007. It is not clear
what effect, if any, such disappointing news will have on the three
countries' respective political scenes. Croatia hopes to join the
EU in 2007, but Macedonia and especially Albania can scarcely expect
EU membership at such an early date (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March
2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2004).

At the Skopje press conference, Mitreva nonetheless stressed
that much has been achieved in the field of military cooperation,
adding that the three countries are particularly determined to fight
terrorism and organized crime. She announced that Albania, Croatia,
and Macedonia plan to send a joint military medical team to

Mitreva also said the three countries will support Bosnia-Herzegovina and
Serbia and Montenegro in their efforts to join NATO's Partnership
for Peace program. These two countries lag considerably behind
Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia in their efforts at integration into
Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Serbia and Montenegro's primary problem has been the slow
pace of reform aimed at establishing clear civilian control over a
slimmed-down military and eliminating persons tainted by war crimes
from the officer corps. Its government also needs to improve its
cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal.

After meeting with his colleagues from Macedonia, Croatia,
and Albania in Skopje, Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister
Vuk Draskovic said on 20 May that he hopes that his country and
Bosnia will be admitted to the Partnership for Peace program in
Istanbul. He stressed, however, that Belgrade must meet its
obligations to the tribunal if it wants to join the program.
Draskovic nonetheless argued that his country already has better
relations with NATO than do some unspecified members of the
Partnership for Peace program.

Bosnia is often regarded as a dysfunctional state in which
the two entities hold more power than the central authority. It needs
to continue reforms aimed at establishing a unified, smaller military
under civilian control, and especially to arrest indicted war
criminals. The authorities of the Republika Srpska have yet to
apprehend a single Hague indictee.

It already seems clear that Bosnia has few hopes for
Istanbul. High Representative Paddy Ashdown and British Foreign
Secretary Jack Straw said in London on 20 May that failure to meet
its obligations to the tribunal is Bosnia's main obstacle to
joining Partnership for Peace. The two men added that Bosnia's
chances of being admitted to the program at the summit are slim
unless there is a serious improvement in Bosnia's cooperation
with the tribunal in the meantime.

In Bijeljina, Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic
said that the Republika Srpska and its people will face "big
problems" unless war crimes indictees there turn themselves in to the
tribunal. He called on indictees to show their patriotism by giving
themselves up.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also indicated
in Brussels on 24 May that it is unlikely that Bosnia will be invited
to join Partnership for Peace in Istanbul. While noting Bosnia's
progress in reforming its military structures, he suggested
cooperation with the tribunal remains the main sticking point.

The countries of the western Balkans are clearly proceeding
at different speeds on the path to Euro-Atlantic integration. How
quickly they do so -- and if they do so -- depends largely on
themselves (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 August 2003).