What if America leaves?

The Implications of a Possible US Withdrawal from the Western Balkans for Serbia's Foreign Policy Dynamics

Recent intensified efforts in Serbian-American relations are a very positive development for both countries. However, an extreme, but not necessarily unrealistic scenario in which the USA politically withdraws from the region and leaves it to European powers, cannot be overlooked. This scenario would significantly change the context and maneuvering space of Serbia's foreign policy.

Shifts in US Foreign Policy: A Focus on Asia Amidst Diminishing Presence Elsewhere

Over the last three decades, America's role in shaping the political landscape of the Western Balkans has been undeniable. Yet, this level of influence isn't unique to just this region; America has been a dominant force in several other areas worldwide. However, there's a noticeable trend of America pulling back from these regions, creating potentially risky voids.

This trend is evident from the complete withdrawal from Afghanistan to a more restrained approach in the Middle East amidst conflicts affecting the free flow of goods, a stark contrast to the full-scale military responses America might have deployed two decades ago. In Ukraine, while there was initial significant support, Congress has not maintained the same level of proactive engagement as seen in the early days of the conflict, reflecting a broader strategy of cautious engagement over the decisive interventions characteristic of America's past foreign policy. Simultaneously, America's focus has intensified towards committing to the "Free and Open Indo-Pacific", an initiative that has bipartisan support. This strategic shift indicates a significant reevaluation of America's role on the world stage, prioritizing new geopolitical interests and challenges in Asia, and impacting international stability and the balance of power.

The Strategic Pivot: Serbia's Foreign Policy Reorientation Towards the West

Serbia pursues a policy that balances between multiple great powers. The main triangle typically lies along the EU- USA-Russia line, with support from China. Since the beginning of the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine, Serbia has distanced itself from Russia, now balancing on the USA-EU (Germany and France, primarily) line, with support from China, which is far away but remains relevant.

As America reassesses its global engagements, it's crucial to recognize that withdrawing its influence risks compromising its own interests, which do not necessarily always align with those of the EU or specific European countries.

The US's current stance allows for a more adaptable approach in addressing the challenges facing the Western Balkans. A diminished American presence in the region risks emboldening the roles of Russia and China as they stand to fill the emerging void, gaining significant influence. This shift occurs as some European countries, traditionally less flexible in their approach towards the Balkans, may not fully align with the nuanced needs of the region.

Forging a New Economic and Security Paradigm: The US-Serbia Partnership

Regional

In the uneventful American exit from the Western Balkans, Serbia will emerge as the leader in the region. As such, it’ll have to be not only the guarantor of stability but also as the principal partner for the United States in ensuring the region's security and prosperity.

For the Open Balkan initiative to fully realize its vision of fostering economic interdependence and enhancing regional security, it's critical for the entire region to come on board. Structured to weave a tight economic lattice similar to that of the European Union, with the hopes of joining this same Union, the initiative aims at building a framework where mutual economic dependencies significantly lower security risks and tensions. American support is pivotal in this context, not just as an endorsement but as a driving force in encouraging the entire Western Balkans region's engagement. Such a unified approach, backed by the U.S., would not only strengthen the initiative's foundation but also align with US strategic interests in ensuring long-term stability and prosperity in the Western Balkans, making the region a model of economic cohesion and security. It's only with this level of cohesion, security, and mutual economic interdependence that the U.S. can comfortably transition to a more background role, having facilitated a self-sustaining, stable environment in the Balkans.

Continental

To keep America engaged in Europe, enhancing economic ties and leveraging historical relationships with nations wary of both Western Europe and Russia is key. Countries in the Intermarium, such as the Baltic states, Poland, the Visegrád Group countries, Romania, and Bulgaria, alongside Ukraine, share a strategic interest in maintaining a strong U.S. presence to counterbalance Russian influence and contentious EU policies. These nations, seeking stability and autonomy, already have stable relations with the U.S., providing a foundation for deeper cooperation.

For Serbia, building closer connections with these Central and Eastern European countries could pave the way for stronger U.S. ties. This approach aligns with U.S. interests in promoting stability and strengthening the transatlantic bond. Supporting Serbia's integration into initiatives like the Three Seas Initiative could serve this dual purpose, reinforcing Serbia's role in Europe and underscoring the importance of a united, prosperous continent.

Global

Integrating Serbia into U.S.-founded economic frameworks, such as the IMEC Corridor, is crucial for bridging the gap between Serbia and the United States. This connection would not only strengthen Serbia's ties to the U.S. but also embed it within vital supply chains, mutually benefiting both nations. Specifically, the IMEC Corridor represents a concrete opportunity to enhance economic collaboration between the U.S. and Serbia, elevating Serbia's position in the global economic arena while securing a dependable ally for the U.S. in the region.


Petar Čekerevac



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