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Serbia-Kosovo: The Legacy of Western Foreign Policy

The Yugoslav wars in the 90s resulted in widespread, ethnic bloodshed, particularly among Serbs and Bosniak Muslims. The aftermath of the wars has left tensions simmering on high in the former Yugoslavia, with Serbs especially feeling hard done by what they view as the partitioning of the Serbian state by America and its Western allies.

Kosovo’s debut as an independent nation in 2008 has separated Serbia’s previously southernmost province with a hard border. While creating a separate state for Serbia’s Albanian minority, the forcible redrawing of borders on the European continent has induced lasting consequences for the region.  

Before the Yugoslav wars, Kosovo remained a part of Serbia, existing within the wider framework of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Today, Kosovo exists at the behest of the West, who proved to be the ultimate victors of the Yugoslav wars after NATO intervened decisively on the side of the Kosovar separatists, despite never receiving authorization from the United Nations.

The creation of Kosovo resulted in festering resentment among Serbians that persists to this day, with incidents of ethnic violence between the two states being a recurring theme. This nation-building exercise has achieved less than desirable results for the United States within the last thirty years.

U.S. efforts to mold the framework of various regions around the globe have resulted in instability more often than not, barring coalition efforts throughout the 2010s to quell the spread of the Islamic State.  

Though controversial, NATO air power played a major role in bringing the Yugoslav wars to an end. However, the foreign policy that followed can be criticized for excessively punishing the Serbs for their involvement in the conflict. While America and its allies effectively redrew Europe’s borders on behalf of the region’s ethnic-majority Albanian population, the same treatment was not afforded to Bosnia’s orthodox Serbs, who constitute 32.7% of Bosnia’s total population.  

It is then unsurprising that today, Serbia harbors broad anti-western sentiments. The legacy of Western foreign policy in the Balkans has pushed Serbia even closer to Russia. The two nations share a mutual, conservative orthodox culture that expresses shared grievances over American meddling.

Whether in Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq or the Balkans, the particular brand of foreign policy deployed by the U.S. over the last thirty years has a proven track record of intrusive and ill-conceived attempts at coercive nation-building. While American intervention was pivotal in bringing an end to the bloodshed, how Serbia was treated in the aftermath echoes the inflammatory conditions imposed upon the Germans following the end of the First World War.

It remains to be seen whether the consequences of Western foreign policy in the Balkans will lead to Serbia’s own Treaty of Versailles. As we move forward in the 21st century, America would be best served internalizing the crucial lessons taught through over-exuberant foreign policy in the last three decades. 

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