Redefining US foreign policy and interests in south-eastern Europe

Dr. George Voskopoulos
June 25, 2008

For almost half a century of Cold War antagonism US foreign policy played a catalytic role in keeping allies together and providing sound and much required leadership. Joseph Nye rightly suggested that for “almost five decades, the containment of Soviet power provided a North Star to guide American foreign policy”. Washington was the provider of military means, organization patterns and operational structure in order to safeguard what was conventionally termed western values. The transatlantic axis was built on common values, democracy, market economy and provision of a reliable casus foederis vis-à-vis NATO members.

The existence of the Soviet Union made it easy for the US to overlay a number of national interests of its allies, as was the case with Greece and its objections to the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Macedonia by Tito. The common goal of deterring the Soviet Union became the first priority of the Atlantic Alliance and as a result Greek foreign policy was formulated within procrustean logic under the impact of groupthink practices. In effect Greece sacrificed its national interest and jeopardized its security by not externalizing its objections to the creation of a state-nation. That is a state, bureaucracy and a political apparatus that meant to be the womb of the con-struction of a nation.

American foreign policy in south-eastern Europe has been centered on democratization, inclusion and incorporation strategies. Under this spectrum EU and NATO membership became national goals of local players wishing to join the euro-Atlantic core. This goal had to overlay a number of inherent systemic deficiencies of the Bal-kan subordinate system.

The Balkan Peninsula has been an immature security sub-system dominated by historical suspiciousness, irredentist claims and the Great Idea. Eventually the Balkans have operated as a Hobbesian microcosm of eternal conflict and threats to the territo-rial status quo.

During the early transitional phase US interests focused on supporting democracy, market economy and eventually integration of those countries that qualified into the euro-Atlantic core. This was a noble policy on the part of a leader. Yet, at times, US foreign policy choices were considered a non-facilitating factor in rehabilitating intra-Balkan relations. Above all it externalized the gap between values, commitments and adopted policies. In practice the adopted US foreign policy in the region decon-structed the normative, regulatory logic of American involvement and US operating as a stability parameter providing eufunctional policies. Current policies are charac-terized by inconsistency with macrostrategic aims.

In the case of the Greece-FYROM dispute American policy appears to endorse the view that post-Cold War Balkan nationalism has been defined “new and legitimate”. Yet the problem with this conceptual, even idealistic approach to nationalism is that is fails to provide a “ceiling” of legitimacy that would allow analysts and foreign policy-makers to draw a line between “legitimate” and “non-legitimate” nationalism [1]. Practically this demands a distinction between aggressive, revisionist and defensive nationalism. Again in the case of the Greece-FYROM dispute the international behaviour of both sides was labelled “nationalistic” thus failing to provide the real motives behind this clash of national interests. Such a conceptual approach overlays the fact that nationalism may arise “from the desire of a group of people to transform even to create a national identity, when such is not developed or even non-existent” [2].

The second issue regarding the value-adopted policy gap refers to the application of the very basics of democracy and the application of the rule of law. Recent elections in FYROM dramatically exposed this lag, a fact nominally and practically acknowledged by American officials. In essence the Greece-FYROM dispute concerns a conflict between a democracy (Greece), which, despite deficiencies characterising western liberal democracies (corruption, accountability, transparency) is qualitatively distinct from lees mature democracies (FYROM).

Under the above spectrum US foreign policy should focus on the democratization process of FYROM and the support of those who envisage inter-state relations outside the outdated zero-sum policy prism. This should be the first priority of the next American administration, the nominal and essential aim of next American president. However, democratic consolidation and transition cannot take place under the impact of setting deadlines. Eventually such a policy would limit the margins of policy adjustment of the next administration and commit it to a pseudo-conflict resolution framework.

Today´s decisions should not undermine future policies and set a “fait accomplit”, as perpetuation of irredentist claims endangers the security of a NATO ally and turn the Balkans into a dysfunctional and unstable state system. The power gap between Greece and FYROM is by no means a defining criterion of choosing sides. S. Economides rightly pointed out “the unacceptability, in modern international relations, of any form of irredentist claim irrespective of the relative power positions of the states involved”.[3]

In the case of the Greek-FYROM dispute the above depicts the popular notion and the over-simplifying conventional wisdom of a number of State Department officials. Weakness should not become the means of legitimising expansionist goals, even if they arise from the longing of a nation to establish its own national identity.

A cautious policy on the part of the US should set clear targets. First, support of the territorial status quo, second marginalisation of centrifugal political and nationalistic forces operating as systemic destabilisers and third formulation of policy choices based on the allies´ security needs.

NATO and the EU have set clear membership prerequisites that have to be applied unconditionally. Prospective members need to adjust to these normative rules of inter-state relations or set alternative national goals. This is a matter of a cost-gain ratio analysis on the part of political elites trying to solve the national interest equation.

1] See Pettifer James, “Greek political culture and foreign policy”, in Featherstone K. & Ifantis K. (eds.), Europe in Change, Greece in a Changing Europe, Manchester University Press, (Manchester, 1996), p. 21

2] See George Voskopoulos, English-Greek Armed Forced Glossary of Strategic & Military Terms, Mediapress, Athens, 1998, pp. 88-89. Definition drawn from William M., International Relations in the Twentieth Century, A Reader, Macmillan, (London, 1989.)

3] See S. Economides, “The Balkan Agenda: Security and regionalism in the New Europe”, Centre for Defence Studies, Brassey´s, 1992, p.107.

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