Foreign Affairs, a renowned American foreign policy journal, recently published an article under the title Dysfunction in the Balkans, written by Timothy Less. In this article the author offers his advice to the new American Administration, suggesting it to abandon the policy of support to the territorial integrity of the states created in the process of dissolution of the former Yugoslavia.
Timothy Less advocates a total redesign of the existing state boundaries in the Balkans, on the basis of a rather problematic assertion that the multiethnic states in the Balkans (such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia) proved to be dysfunctional, whereas the ethnically homogenous states (such as Croatia, Albania and Serbia) proved to be prosperous. Also, the author claims that the peoples in the Balkans, having lost any desire for the multiethnic status quo, predominantly share the aim to finally accomplish the imagined monoethnic greater state projects – so-called Greater Serbia, Greater Croatia and Greater Albania.
According to Less’ design, the imagined Greater Serbia should encompass the existing Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina (that is, 49% of the Bosnian territory), but also the whole of the internationally recognized Republic of Montenegro, the Greater Croatia should encompass a future Croatian entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Greater Albania should encompass both Kosovo and the western part of Macedonia. All these territorial redesigns, Less claims, would eventually bring about a lasting peace and stability in the region. The question is, to what extent are these proposals founded in the geopolitical reality of the Balkans, or representative of particular interest groups, for whom the author only acts as a spokesperson, aiming to accomplish their own geopolitical projects, regardless of the price to be paid by the peoples of the Balkans?
First, let us take a look at the author’s professional background. According to his official biographies, Timothy Less was the head of the British diplomatic office in Banja Luka, the capital of the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was also the political secretary of the British Embassy in Skopje, Macedonia. Now he runs a consulting agency called Nova Europa, having officially left the British diplomatic service. What is striking at first glance is the fact that he served as a diplomat exactly in those two states which are, according to his analysis, the most desirable candidates for dissolution.
Let us remind ourselves that the British foreign policy, since the 1990s, has occasionally but unambiguously advocated the creation of the imagined monoethnic greater states – Greater Serbia, Greater Croatia and Greater Albania – as a supposed path towards lasting stability in the Balkans. In that context, one can’t help but think that this diplomat, having served in Banja Luka and Skopje, might have acted as an informal adviser to those very political forces, such as the Serbian and Albanian separatists, who should be the most active participants in the realization of those greater state projects. And ever since he left the diplomatic service, Timothy Less has regularly published articles in which he ‘foresees’, that is, invites new ethnic conflicts and ethnic divisions in the Balkans.
In the aforementioned Foreign Affairs article he is attempting to persuade the new American Administration to adopt the policy of completing the greater state projects in the region. Ironically, Less makes these attempts now in order to prevent all those ethnic wars that he himself has been announcing, i.e. inviting and advocating for all these years. Both inviting ethnic conflicts in order to implement the greater state projects in the Balkans, and then advocating their completion in order to allegedly bring the stability back to the region, represent geopolitical projections designed by a relatively influential part of the British foreign policy establishment. In that context, the role of so-called ‘independent experts’, such as Timothy Less, is to persuade the world that such projections can be ‘the only credible solution’.
However, his solutions are as credible as he is independent. For example, Less claims that multiethnic states, in which the aforementioned national projects have remained unaccomplished, are the main impediment to stability in the Balkans. However, this is a simple fallacy. The very concept of completed ethnonational states has only led towards perpetual instability wherever applied, because such ethnonational territories cannot be created without violence, i.e., without ethnic cleansing and wars. The strategy of ‘solving national issues’ has always led, both in the Balkans and elsewhere, only towards permanent instability, never towards final stability. What is particularly interesting, the winners in the World War I advocated the creation of a united national state of the Southern Slavs, in accordance with the doctrine of national self-determination promoted at the Peace Conference in Versailles. Some seventy years later, the same great powers accepted, and sometimes advocated, the dissolution of that very state in the name of self-determination of some other national states, since all the former Yugoslav republics, with the exception of Bosnia-Herzegovina, had been constituted as national states. And now, their spokespersons, like Less, advocate a dissolution of most of these states in order to complete some greater state projects – of course, again in the name of national self-determination. Therefore, national self-determination is obviously an arbitrary category’s that changes in accordance with current geopolitical interests of the big players, not those small ones whose ‘problems of national self-determination’ are allegedly being solved.
However, before we reject Less’ proposal as a mere list of the author’s wishes, let us consider the relevance of Foreign Affairs in international political circles and how much this article can really influence future actions of the new American Administration. Foreign Affairs is published by the body called the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), whose membership from its inception consisted of senior politicians, secretaries of state, directors of CIA, bankers, academics, lawyers and senior media figures. This body was conceived and founded in 1921 as a common Anglo-American project, as the embodiment of the so-called special relationship between the United States and Great Britain, which had been created during the World War I and has continued to the present day. In this sense, there can hardly be a journal in the entire world with greater political influence, comparable only with the influence of the CFR itself.
Therefore, the geopolitical manifesto written by Timothy Less must be taken with utmost seriousness, because it certainly reflects the interests of some influential circles within the Anglo-American foreign policy establishment. Bearing in mind all the public support that Hillary Clinton enjoyed during her presidential campaign from the people gathered around Foreign Affairs, it is reasonable to assume that she would probably adopt Less’ suggestions. However, it is less likely that the newly-elected President of the United States, Donald Trump, who did not enjoy even slightest support from these circles, will be so naive as to adopt the strategy of completion of greater state projects presented in Foreign Affairs as his own strategy and a vision that can contribute to peace and stability in any part of the world. For, if that happens, we shall face not only new ethnic conflicts in the Balkans, but also a lasting instability in the rest of the world.
*Graduate of the London School of Economics, Prof. Zlatko Hadžidedić is a prominent thinker, prolific author of numerous books, and indispensable political figure of the former Yugoslav socio-political space in 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.