Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in a marathon presidential race, but the euphoria of victory will not last long. Biden is inheriting the presidency with a myriad of challenges at home and abroad. The election results proved that America is as divided as ever, the pandemic is far from over, and many foreign relationships need mending.
The last four tumultuous years of Trump’s foreign policy have had strong repercussions worldwide. Biden faces a long list of foreign policy challenges, and it will be difficult to restore America’s role globally and revitalize alliances.
Biden will need to focus on Europe, the US’ most important ally. Progress in Europe could re-strengthen the Euro-Atlantic bond and demonstrate America’s indispensable role in global affairs.
One particular region in Europe is still vulnerable and has a long way to go with respect to EU integration: the Western Balkans. Biden is cognizant of the region’s complexities, visiting several times during his political career. He played a diplomatic role during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and supported the NATO intervention in Kosovo to topple Slobodan Milosevic’s regime.
The incoming Biden administration must allocate some of its focus to this region and maintain momentum until concrete progress is made.
Strengthening the damaged relationship with Europe will mean delivering on important foreign policy challenges together. As part of this reconciliation, the Western Balkans represents an excellent opportunity for Biden to work with Europe to help resolve regional challenges and improve the region’s democratic standards.
Maintaining a Clear Path to EU Integration
The European Union has suffered from enlargement fatigue, and member states and their citizens have grown skeptical about welcoming new countries into the bloc. Despite this trend, the Biden administration should continue advancing the likelihood of EU integration by motivating the Western Balkan countries to strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law.
The Western Balkans remains the only region in Europe that is not part of the bloc. Ensuring that EU integration remains on track is critical to securing a promising future for the region. The region is of immense political and symbolic importance to the EU. As German foreign minister Heiko Maas has said, “Without the Western Balkans, the European project is unfinished.”
Thwarting the Influence of External Authoritarian Regimes
Russia and China are the primary countries attempting to influence the politics of the Western Balkans and contribute to democratic backsliding. Russia has historically been involved, and China has started to take advantage of the region’s poor investment climate by offering large loans.
Excluding Serbia, all Western Balkan countries have made it clear that their aspirations are rooted in the Euro-Atlantic relationship. Serbia continues to maintain its path towards EU membership while receiving major investments from China and cooperating with Russia in the area of defense.
Biden should take a proactive approach to counterbalance such authoritarian influences in the region. In particular, Biden must display a commitment to European allies that the US is ready to support societal and institutional resilience in response to attempts to undermine the region.
Pushing for a Final, Comprehensive Kosovo-Serbia Agreement
The EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia launched in 2011 has failed to produce a comprehensive peace deal. The EU has flagged the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue as a top priority for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and has appointed a special envoy.
President Trump directed his attention to Kosovo and Serbia towards the end of his presidency in hopes of achieving a quick deal to boost his reelection prospects. During this process, Trump appointed a special presidential envoy who engaged in a separate set of negotiations, circumventing the EU, and creating confusion throughout the process.
Biden has the opportunity to reverse Trump’s destabilizing approach and put an end to dual-track negotiations. Only close US-EU cooperation can produce the needed synergy to finalize normalization between Kosovo and Serbia.
A final settlement to the Kosovo-Serbia dispute is imperative to regional stability, and the US has an important role to play.
Supporting Constitutional Reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Dayton Accords peace agreement helped end the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, dividing the country into two political entities with a tripartite presidency representing the three largest ethnic groups: Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs.
There are significant differences between these groups, making it impossible to bring about any meaningful change to Bosnian society. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s constitution has resulted in a dysfunctional society and a divided country some 25 years after the war.
The Dayton Accords were negotiated in the US, and only America can change it. In close collaboration with the EU, the US can push for meaningful dialogue between all three major communities in Bosnia and create a path towards constitutional reform that will allow the country to function normally and pave the way for integration into the Euro-Atlantic alliance.
Although the Western Balkans is a plausible case for Biden to deliver on foreign policy, it will be challenging. Close US-EU cooperation is a prerequisite for success in the region.
Consequently, Biden has to rebuild trust with EU member states and revitalize alliances to increase the effectiveness of his foreign policy. Only in this way can he push for meaningful democratic change and resolve the region’s most pressing issues.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.