About the Author: Tom Countryman serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Central European Affairs. He previously served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs.
It is not unusual, as a U.S. diplomat, to begin a new job and find oneself in familiar territory. Since taking the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Central European Affairs two weeks ago, that is what I have experienced. Returning to work on a region I know and admire is a great opportunity, but it has been even more thrilling as I take stock of just how far the Western Balkan states have come in the last 10 years.
Secretary Clinton traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Serbia this week to reiterate the U.S. government's deep and long-term commitment to the future of Balkan states. Her visit comes at a historic and critical time for the region -- 15 years after the Dayton Accords established peace in the region and 10 years after democratic forces brought about the fall of the Milosevic regime. Since then, the Balkan region has made tremendous progress. But our work is not done -- during her visit, the Secretary affirmed to the citizens of these countries that the United States remains committed to achieving our common goal of full Euro-Atlantic integration for all the states of the region and a stable, prosperous future for their citizens.
I've joined a team of remarkable people in Washington and in the field who intimately know the region and are dedicated to working with the people of the Balkans as they strengthen regional cooperation and move beyond the tragic events of the 1990s. We just witnessed elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and as the new government develops, as the Secretary told students in Sarajevo, we stand ready to help this state's leaders find a path forward to implement necessary reforms. It was a particularly poignant moment for me when the Secretary opened our new embassy compound in Sarajevo and dedicated the street outside to Robert C. Frasure, who died during the siege of Sarajevo in 1995, a model of the U.S. diplomat's dedication to improving the prospects for countries around the world.
Perhaps the best visual example of progress in the region was the Secretary's visit to Gracanica, just outside Pristina, where she met with ethnic Serb mayors of newly decentralized Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo. This would not be possible without a clear commitment from all in the region to reconciliation and stability. This is why the anticipated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia is so important. Direct, constructive dialogue in the spirit of good neighborly relations will allow Kosovo and Serbia to resolve technical issues of great import to the daily lives of their citizens. And this will not only clear the path forward for further consolidation of Kosovo's young democracy, but open the door for a prosperous Euro-Atlantic future for all the Balkan states.
In the last 15 years, the European Union has also grown as a significant force for good in the region. I look around the region and see Croatia on the cusp of EU membership and other states already beginning the accession process. Albania and Croatia are the two newest members of NATO; Montenegro has a Membership Action Plan, and Macedonia will be invited to join the Alliance once a resolution to the name issue is found.
The European Union remains a strong partner to keep all the states of the region on the right path to further consolidate their democratic institutions, strengthen their economies, and fight corruption and organized crime that plagues the entire region. The United States and European Union have worked together successfully for over a decade to move the Balkans beyond the divisive mindset that tore apart the region in the 1990s. As the Secretary said during her trip, it is the credible prospects for membership in NATO and the EU that provide the best incentives for states in the region to continue these important reforms and promote regional cooperation.
Ultimately, of course, the decision to move forward in implementing these reforms and achieving Euro-Atlantic integration lies with the leadership and the people of the Western Balkans. To me, one of the most promising developments of the last decade is the understanding and acceptance among countries in the region that their prospects rise and fall together. This has encouraged regional cooperation and ethnic reconciliation. As the countries of the Western Balkans make the hard choices necessary for reform, the United States stands with them. I look forward to contributing my part to that work.
You can follow the Secretary's travel here.