06 May 2024

2023 witnessed a significant return of violent confrontations in northern Kosovo. The incidents sounded an alarm bell to Western leaders about the seriousness of the persistent challenges in the Western Balkans. The absence of normalised relations between Belgrade and Pristina sows the threat of serious conflict with potential regional implications. Allies responded to the escalation in violence in Kosovo by reinforcing their KFOR mission, which included more heavily armed forces adapted to handle the changing security dynamics. 

Political paralysis in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) also has latent potential to break down the Dayton Agreement, which has held a tenuous peace between the principal constituent peoples of the country for almost 30 years. The High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina warned recently of “an unprecedented level of attacks” against the post-war settlement, principally by the Republika Srpska (RS), which is amplifying threats to secede from BiH all together. 

In a region in which almost all states and territories look west for a Euro-Atlantic future, recalcitrant issue sets in Kosovo and BiH must refocus significant Allied attention: Allies must come to terms with the potential for broader destabilisation these challenges pose. A stalled Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and charged political paralysis in BiH prevent the advancement of Serbia, BiH, and Kosovo’s EU accession processes; remains the principal factor for regional instability; blocks efficient regional economic integration and underwrites criminal networks’ exploitation of the regions’ weak institutions for the trafficking of arms, drugs and people.

Further complicating the issues are the inroads presented by the persistence of corruption and weak state institutions for Russian and Chinese influence – while each has different goals in their respective regional influence, they are aligned in their broader counter-West efforts, which includes the splintering of Allied consensus and blocking the consolidation of the Euro Atlantic.

This report highlights the root causes and current drivers of the region’s main security challenges and advocates for greater attention to the resolution of the Belgrade-Pristina dispute and increased political attention to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political stalemate. The key means to doing so are via renewed efforts to facilitate EU expansion in the region. NATO Allies must also realise their view on the region has to change: KFOR must receive more support and Allies must find new ways and means to expand their military cooperation with the region to help turn the tide of a regional security dynamic headed in the wrong direction at a challenging time in Euro-Atlantic security.