When Washington Think Tanks Call for ‘Action’ in the Balkans, Expect Trouble
Any time two prestige think tanks in Washington issue a report calling for US “action” in any region of the world, hold onto your hat – you can be sure that trouble is a-brewing. That’s doubly true if the call relates to the Balkans, the place where in the 1990s the post-Cold War pattern was set for American wars of choice and then taken on the road to Iraq, Libya, and Syria.
‘Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been engaged in the Western Balkans to ensure a Europe that is “whole, free and at peace” and a reliable partner for dealing with global challenges. Our goal has been to stabilize the Balkans, and to enhance security throughout Europe, through the integration of the Western Balkans into trans-Atlantic structures. We have succeeded only in part. Although the Western Balkans are better off now than they were in the 1990s, they are stagnating and risk instability as a result of three factors: deficient internal governance and weak economies, continuing tense relations between ethnic groups and neighboring states, and the malign influence of outside forces.’
One is reminded of the famous quip by Mary McCarthy about Lillian Hellman: “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’
Perhaps that’s too harsh. Not every word in the summary paragraph is false. There is indeed a region in Europe known as the Balkans, and as the report notes, some countries lie in the western part of it: “Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.” (Wait, there’s some fibbing here too. Kosovo is not a country, it’s an occupied province of Serbia. Nobody is quite sure what exactly Bosnia-Herzegovina is supposed to be. Why no Croatia, is it located in another part of Europe now?)
Each sentence in the summary encapsulates a deception further elaborated in the main report. The following is a handy sentence-by-sentence explanation in normal, straightforward English:
‘Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been engaged in the Western Balkans to ensure a Europe that is “whole, free and at peace” and a reliable partner for dealing with global challenges.’
The phrase “whole, free and at peace” is ideological claptrap. It is reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s claims of advancing “peace, progress, and socialism.” No one can say precisely what the words really mean but they’re meant to evoke a favorable psychological and emotional response, especially – and ironically – the “peace” reference common to both formulations.
The current phrase seemingly originated in 1989, even before the reunification of Germany or the breakups of Yugoslavia and the USSR, in remarks by George Bush the Elder, but only as “Europe whole and free.” The Orwellian addition of the words “and at peace” evidently occurred in 2001 under the peace-loving, NATO-expanding, and Iraq-invading Bush the Younger.
Still, how does the expression relate to the United States’ being a “reliable partner for dealing with global challenges”? As summarized in 2014 by the Atlantic Council, another top-flight Washington think tank:
‘In 1989, with Central and Eastern Europe still dominated by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact alliance, President George H. W. Bush, addressed the citizens of then-divided Germany with his vision for Europe’s future. He foresaw a united continent, built on a foundation of lasting security and shared values of democracy, freedom, and prosperity. That vision of a “Europe Whole and Free” became a cornerstone of President Bill Clinton’s foreign policy and of NATO’s “open door” policy for membership. At its 1999 Washington summit, NATO swept aside much of Europe’s Cold War division by welcoming three former foes – Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary – to the Alliance. Five years later [under George H.W. Bush], Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia joined NATO in the broadest enlargement of its history. In 2009 [under Barack Obama], the Alliance welcomed Albania and Croatia as members. [JGJ: Now, under Donald Trump add Montenegro in 2017.]
‘In 1993, the European Union established its “Copenhagen criteria,” the principles under which it would welcome new members, unifying most of the continent. This paved the way for the transformation of Central and Eastern Europe toward democracy, the rule of law, respect for fundamental human rights, and market economies. Austria, Finland, and Sweden joined the EU in 1995, followed on May 1, 2004 by eight Central and Eastern European countries (the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia), and two Mediterranean countries (Malta and Cyprus). Bulgaria and Romania became EU member states in 2007, and Croatia in 2013.’
In other words, the phrase that never leaves the lips of establishment figures of both parties, from Bush 41 down to the present day, almost exclusively means one thing: expansion of NATO and the European Union. The corollary is isolation, exclusion, vilification, and encirclement of Russia.
‘Our goal has been to stabilize the Balkans, and to enhance security throughout Europe, through the integration of the Western Balkans into trans-Atlantic structures.’
If tearing apart Yugoslavia by unilateral recognitions (Slovenia and Croatia, 1991; Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1992) and illegally bombing Serbia (1999) are examples of efforts to “stabilize” the Balkans, one shudders to think what a goal to destabilize would look like.
The report also warns that “Kosovo and Bosnia have been recruiting grounds for radical groups in Syria and Iraq, and a potential staging area for radical incursions in Western Europe.” There’s no hint that the presence of these “radical groups” (What kind? Buddhist? Rastafarian?) has anything to do with earlier US/NATO/EU efforts to “stabilize” the areas in question by arming and funding jihadist fighters, including those affiliated with al-Qaeda.
As for “trans-Atlantic structures” (a rough equivalent of another ideological buzzword, “Euro-Atlantic integration”), we’re back again to the inexorable expansion of NATO and the EU. It seems the goal of stabilization boils down to little more than making sure every country in the region eventually is under secure lock and key as a member of at least one and preferably both of the Brussels-based bureaucracies.
Throughout the report, puzzlingly little attention is given to another certified Goodthink word, democracy. Perhaps that’s because no regard is given to what people in the region really think or whether or not they want to join NATO or the EU under the conditions demanded. For example, despite polls showing pro-NATO sentiment in Montenegro was at best a bare majority, and more probably the minority position, the corrupt administration of Milo Đukanović in Podgorica and the NATO countries insisted on ramming membership through without risking a popular referendum. The same contempt for democracy is shown in the report’s recommendation that the unelected so-called “High Representative” of Somebody or Other should autocratically “use his powers to intervene, to include drafting and promulgating” a new election law for Bosnia-Herzegovina whether the benighted locals like it or not.
Regarding Serbia, the report states: “NATO membership should remain an option for
Serbia, but any U.S. expectations must be tempered by the historical legacy of NATO’s military operations in the region, as well as the likelihood of vociferous Russian opposition.” As euphemisms go, “the historical legacy of NATO’s military operations in the region” as a stand-in for “people resenting the aggressive alliance that bombed them” is hard to beat. Still, Serbs no doubt would be banging on NATO’s door if not for the machinations of those nasty Russians.
As for the EU, the report urges the US to support Belgrade’s accession “while supporting the E.U.’s position that new members comply with its Russia policy and that Serbia will not join unless it recognizes Kosovo.” Translation: Just roll over and die, and you’re in... maybe.
‘We have succeeded only in part. [JGJ: Such humility!] Although the Western Balkans are better off now than they were in the 1990s, they are stagnating and risk instability as a result of three factors: deficient internal governance and weak economies, continuing tense relations between ethnic groups and neighboring states, and the malign influence of outside forces.’
Here it’s time to cut to the chase: “malign influence of outside forces” means Russia, Russia, Russia. The entire region, Serbia included, would long since have happily been absorbed by the NATO-EU Borg if not for Moscow’s malign meddling:
‘The U.S. and the E.U. should counter Russian interference by (i) re-affirming the continued opportunity for Western Balkan countries to join the E.U., NATO, or both, (ii) countering Russian media manipulation with objective alternative sources of information, and support for independent media [JGJ: Like those “independent” media controlled by western governments and George Soros fronts, one presumes], (iii) advancing the region’s cooperation with NATO and E.U. efforts to promote cyber-security [JGJ: You can never have too much NATO and EU!], and (iv) analyzing the extent to which other energy sources, including U.S. liquefied gas (LNG), can serve as exceptional alternatives to Russian energy [JGJ: According to the report, cheap Russian energy is a “potential threat to some countries in the region” providing “an opportunity for significant economic leverage” that could be “abused to achieve Russian geopolitical desires,” while by contrast expensive US energy is strictly nonpolitical].’
To sum up, “action” means intensification of the same policies that not only have made a wreck of the Balkans for a quarter of a century but now have brought us a new Cold War and the renewed threat of another world war. But the only warning for American and western policy identified in the report is the “dangers of continued inaction” – we just haven’t been aggressive enough!
Get ready for that to change.
Alright, though – so what? This is just a report from a couple of nongovernmental, independent think tanks. Why does it matter?
In Washington think tanks are far more dangerous than the kind of tanks that have gun turrets and caterpillar tracks. No less than the other organs of power, such as government agencies and the obedient corporate media, think tanks are an integral part of the governing establishment. Like government contractors (who provide a significant portion of think tank funding), think tanks almost exclusively represent the views of a few hundred certified “experts” sharing a remarkable uniformity of opinion regardless of party affiliation. These experts, who inhabit a closed loop of Executive Branch departments and agencies, Congress, media, contactors, think tanks, and NGOs, are responsible for the generation of policy initiatives and their implementation. It should also be noted that many of the most prominent NGOs themselves receive significant funding from government agencies and could more properly be termed “quasi-nongovernmental,” or QuaNGOs.
The people who play key roles in the government and purportedly nongovernmental sectors like think tanks not only think alike, in many cases they are in fact the very same people who have simply switched positions within what could best be understood as a single, hybrid public-private entity that in recent years has come to be known as the Deep State. These sources of expert views also overwhelmingly dominate the content of news and information (for example, serving as media “talking heads” or publishing commentaries), ensuring that what the public sees, hears, and reads is in accord with the analytical papers issued by think tanks, Congressional reports, and official press releases. The result is a closed loop that is almost completely impervious to views regarded as “outside the mainstream” because they do not originate in or accord with the incestuous “consensus” that exists inside the loop.
In short, think tanks like those cited above are an integral part of the ruling apparatus. Their policy recommendations in reports like “Time for Action in the Western Balkans” will be seriously heeded and put into action by the official organs of government. In fact, those recommendations very likely were solicited by the latter precisely for the purpose of providing rationales for a course of action already decided upon.