The ongoing conflicts in Israel and Ukraine have captured the attention of Western powers, diverting their focus from another pressing geopolitical issue that poses a serious security threat to the Balkans and Europe as a whole. The escalating tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have largely slipped under the radar of Western media, according to Leon Hartwell, a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). In an email interview with CNBC, Hartwell emphasized the need for heightened vigilance and attention to this simmering conflict.
The Struggle of Prioritization
Providing constant attention to ongoing conflicts while monitoring other strategically significant risks presents a major challenge for policymakers. As new conflicts emerge on the global stage, the capacity to effectively manage preexisting conflicts is inherently strained. Diplomatic and military resources are limited, requiring states to make calculated choices about where to direct their efforts. The geopolitical rivalries in the Western Balkans, consisting of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Serbia, amplify this challenge.
A Pivotal Juncture
The tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have been steadily increasing in recent years, with a deadly shootout in the northern Kosovan village of Banjska marking a significant turning point. This incident alarmed U.S. and European officials, who expressed deep concern over the violence and the unprecedented military buildup. The Balkan region has always been a powder keg, where minor incidents can swiftly escalate into broader conflicts. It is imperative to understand that what happens in the Balkans does not stay in the Balkans, as history has demonstrated.
The Consequences of Limited Resources
With limited diplomatic and military bandwidth, the United States, European Union (EU), and United Kingdom (U.K.) face the difficult task of responding to conflicts of strategic interest in multiple regions. Choices must be made regarding the allocation of resources, and these decisions will inevitably lead to negative consequences for certain areas. The fragile situation in the Western Balkans underscores the urgency of committing sufficient resources to prevent further destabilization.
A Warning from the European Council on Foreign Relations
Senior policy fellows at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) issued a warning last month, echoing the concerns expressed by Leon Hartwell. They emphasized that resolving the dispute between Kosovo and Serbia is no longer just a political matter but a serious security issue for the region and Europe as a whole. Stability or further escalation of violence is at stake, and it is crucial for the U.S. and EU to acknowledge Belgrade’s role in destabilizing Kosovo and adopt a robust approach to counter it.
NATO has maintained a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo since 1999, following a violent conflict between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs. In response to the September incident, NATO deployed additional peacekeeping troops to the region, while Serbia strengthened its military presence along the border with Kosovo. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move that Serbia vehemently rejected, leading to simmering tensions exacerbated by the election of nationalist leaders in both countries. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has denied any intention of going to war with Kosovo, as it would be counterproductive to Serbia’s aspirations of joining the EU.
The Balkans, despite their relative size, demand a strategic commitment from the United States, EU, and U.K. A collaborative approach among these powers has proven to make a significant difference in the region. By recognizing the importance of this geopolitical hotspot and allocating the necessary resources, Western powers can effectively address the escalating tensions between Serbia and Kosovo and mitigate the potential security risks it poses to Europe.
The Western Balkans is facing a complex and delicate situation with the escalating tensions between Serbia and Kosovo. While the focus of Western powers may currently be drawn elsewhere, it is crucial not to overlook the significance and potential security threats posed by this conflict. By prioritizing and allocating adequate resources to address these challenges, Western powers can better safeguard the stability and security of both the Balkans and Europe as a whole.