MS Risk Blog

NATO’s position of power could be undermined if peace is not maintained in the Balkans

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The Balkans have a rich history of conflict. Starting in 1804 when Serbs revolted against the Ottomans with support from their ancient ally Russia, the Serbian Revolution kicked off almost 200 years of sporadic conflict. Borders have moved considerably since those early years but what has remained is pockets of ethnicities being ruled over by others all of whom want their own slice of the region. All of these actors also have their more powerful friends who try to keep the peace and if necessary, apply pressure to those in the region who might undermine the fragile harmony.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put yet more pressure on maintaining peace in the region as a spill-over war would have terrible consequences for everyone involved. With such high tensions between ethnicities and a history of racially motivated genocides, a war returning to the Balkans would have disastrous consequences. Therefore, it is in the best interests of all to maintain peace. However, the Balkan states aren’t the only actors involved in the region.

Tensions between NATO and Russia are evident, and this is seen very clearly in the Balkans. Russia supplies weapons and other military equipment to Serbia and both Russia and Serbia have close ties to Milorad Dodik’s secessionist government in Bosnia. On the other hand, the US supplies weapons and military equipment to Croatia to directly counteract any disparity in military power in the region. NATO also use military bases in the region to maintain military presence. Albania and North Macedonia are also part of NATO’s membership action plan with Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro aspiring to join NATO’s partnership for peace program.

One notable difference on each sides’ view of the region is their individual stance on Kosovo. Russia and Serbia do not recognise the breakaway ethnic Albanian state and in doing so have caused reasons for tension and violence. The US and their allies, mostly, recognise Kosovo as an independent sovereign state, which, while it remains independent of Serbia, is a success for NATO.

However, while NATO is trying to grip onto peace in the Balkans, Russia’s war in Ukraine aims to undermine that peace. Russian president Vladimir Putin has proclaimed his desire to see Kosovo fail, and if it does fail, it will undermine NATO’s power to protect the sovereignty of vulnerable states against Russian foreign tactics. Should Russia manage to take the whole of Ukraine and set up a friendly government, their eyes would no doubt look to more locations in which friendly administrations could be planted to undermine NATO support in Europe.

Albin Kurti, Kosovo’s prime minister, has spoken about his desires for Kosovo to join NATO as soon as possible with it being in NATO’s best interest to accommodate this desire for peace in the region. However, Russia’s threatening stance on Sweden and Finland’s recent statement of intent to join NATO only adds danger to Kosovo should they follow suit. Not only does Russia have reason to want Kosovo to remain out of NATO but Serbia stands to lose the most as Serbian rhetoric against Kosovo independence remains strong. Add to this Milorad Dodik’s Republika Srpska trying to secede the institutions of Bosnia and the region becomes a more dangerous place as factions begin to form and groups try to regain their lost territories or seek out their own chunk of land.

NATO must show that they can withstand external pressures from Russia to undermine their past treaties created to keep peace. The Balkan states must see that NATO bears the power to fend off threats in the region and protect Balkan sovereignties from foreign aggression in order to maintain NATO’s strong position in Europe against Russia and her allies.