Clark began his text in the Washington Post with the reminder that it has been more than 20 years since he talked with Richard Holbrooke about ending the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina so NATO could stop the ethnic cleansing on Kosovo.
- Today, three Western Balkan countries (Croatia, Albania, and Slovenia) have become NATO members. Croatia and Slovenia have become members of the EU. Kosovo is now an independent nation - Clark wrote, adding that most Americans and Europeans now think that brutal conflicts in the Balkans are a thing of the past.
- Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. The constant political conflicts of ethnoreligious character constantly threatened to grow into an international crisis, which would make the region the primary target of foreign powers to blend in - Clark said.
Being burdened with weak state institutions, economic stagnation, and unresolved democracy, the Balkan is the object of the interest of violent jihadists seeking recruits for terrorist organizations, but also dirty games run by Russia, Turkey, and China.
- To make things worse, the region is suffering from the neglect of democracy which was used to bring wars in former Yugoslavia to an end. Believing that the democratic future of Balkans lies in the membership of EU, the USA handed over the responsibility for Balkans to Brussels. However, EU inertia left Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia in the long waiting line. And while the US and the EU are sleeping, others are acting - Clark said.
According to his words, Kremlin started increasing its influence on Balkans a long time ago, working to increase anti-EU and anti-NATO attitudes. Besides that, Clark continues, Russians are supporting the extremist groups, they are fueling the fire and they are inciting orthodox population against the Muslims, consciously causing the growth of tensions which already caused wars in the area of former Yugoslavia in the nineties.
- In the meantime, Turkey and the Gulf countries are investing heavily in the Western Balkans. Turkey is the third largest foreign investor in Bosnia, and the head of the leading Bosnian political party goes regularly to Istanbul and meets with the increasingly authoritarian leader Erdogan - the former commander of NATO said.
He also mentions that Saudi Arabia provides significantly a lot of money which is spent on building mosques, but also it is used to give instructions to local imams. Clark also notes that out of 1.000 foreign fighters who came to the Islamic state, most of them came from Kosovo and Bosnia.
China is also there, which is seriously making its way on Balkans, through the initiative "one belt, one road", Clark said. "So, it is clear, USA and EU have to stay dedicated to the Western Balkans", Wesley Clark said.
- A serious plan to include Balkans and EU should encourage the states of that region to implement the necessary economic and political reforms, to increase cooperation and to resolve growing interethnic tensions. Of course, they have to have the support of the citizens in those activities, in order to implement them. That is a challenge for the region which is sharply divided in attitudes toward institutions like NATO - he said.
He said that the membership in NATO to Serbs, who are much more sympathetic to Russia and they are against the alliance, could be acceptable if it is connected with the stability of the entire region.
- We have a lot of instruments at our disposal to divert Balkans from crawling pace towards instability. To ensure that the huge investment we made in the turbulent region doesn't collapse. We have to renew our commitment to the success of the Western Balkans. We must help the shivering democracies of the region to reach their full potential - concluded Wesley Clark in an authorial text for "Washington Post".
(Telegraf.co.uk / Tanjug)