According to articles in several influential US strategic magazines, the US Government is finalizing plans for the relocation of the entirety of its military forces stationed in Germany to new bases in the Balkans: to Serbia and Montenegro, Bulgaria and Romania. This move has deep political, strategic and economic implications, particularly for the formalization of political discord within NATO that could either lead to the diminishment of the union’s scope, or to a major change of course in its activities.
In essence, this move reflects the continued and deepening divergence of what American Minister of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently called "old Europe" (i.e. western Europe) from the US and what he proclaimed to be "the new Europe", largely composed of those central European former members of the Eastern Bloc, located on the western and southwestern periphery of the Warsaw Pact.
Strategically speaking, this would create a new geopolitical bloc – a "new NATO" of sorts – strategically reoriented towards the Middle East and the Caucusus, the east Mediterranean and Maghreb (the countries of North Africa).
Interestingly enough, Croatia has signaled its disinterest in the stationing of American bases on its territories. Far from a principled stance however, it instead foresees negotiating a separate military agreement with Germany, on the basis of which it would permanently extend hospitality to German military forces for the first time since the short-lived fascist (Nazi) "Independent Republic of Croatia" (IRC, 1941 – 1945).
The Croatian Government has chosen to position itself strategically and to throw its fate in with a European Union headed by Germany. Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro and Romania are leaning more towards the US, as well as a more broadly-based conception of the EU than the version proposing German leadership. The Czech Republic – which thus far has not played a role in any of the political negotiations regarding American bases – nonetheless remains one of the key pillars of American designs on Europe, and is soon likely to become the focus of American investments and diplomatic efforts.
The plan under negotiation also foresees the relocation of air and naval bases, as these are key to the transportation of land forces. Based on proposed plans emerging from the negotiations: a) the Danube will represent a key artery for the transportation of military resources from western to eastern Europe, and b) Bulgaria, according to recent press reports, is negotiating for the installation of an airbase in the vicinity of Varna, near the airport which the US air force has already used for air transportation to the Middle East during the war on Iraq. Varna also houses the North Zone of the Bulgarian navy headquarters, as well as an air force station at sea.
This relocation will have serious economic consequences for Germany, as well as for Serbia and Montenegro, Bulgaria and Romania.
To date, the majority of USECOM (US command for Europe) military forces, 65,000 soldiers in total, are stationed in Germany. It is expected that up to 40 000 soldiers could, in the near future, be stationed in the Balkans. This would provide a significant economic injection to ailing local economies, quite apart from accompanying investments in the development of infrastructure (and the additional economic spin-offs of air and navy base personnel). At the same time, the German economy itself would suffer a significant loss.
However, no less significant is the fact that the stationing of American forces in the Balkans would seek to ensure a certain level of American political support, and, in a sense, military protection to those countries. It would also act as a compensation of sorts for the recent shift in Turkey’s relationship towards the EU, NATO and the USA, which is a casualty of the war in Iraq. To a certain extent, the stationing of American forces further east would reduce their dependence on Turkey, and would also significantly reduce the costs of American military installations by shifting expenditures away from the higher prices of the German economy.
Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and Montenegro, remains a major historical hub of the Balkans and this part of Europe. Post-Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) today is a country with one name but two different passports, a country which has neither a coat of arms, a flag, nor a national anthem. Those who currently hold power in this new country are called "the Opposition." As of yet, no one knows and it remains unclear who in the Opposition works for the Government, or who the President of this union of countries is. As a result, this new state union (which came into existence on February 4th of this year) has acquired another name by which it has come to be popularly known among its people: "the state of Absurdistan."
Absurdistan’s heads of state have started to prepare the Serbian public for a highly unpopular move, which they plan to make in the very near future. It involves the signing of a bilateral agreement with the US that would ensure the non-extradition of US citizens to the permanent International Criminal Court. In the Balkans, such agreements have already been signed by Romania (which, in turn, became a member of NATO), Bosnia and Herzegovina (not considered a sovereign state), Macedonia and Albania. Croatia and Slovenia are resisting such agreements for the time being.
In Absurdistan, there is no one left to offer resistance: former president Kostunica opposed while he could (prior to having his position eliminated under the new state union), public opinion is something that is generally considered unimportant here, and the present governments in Belgrade and Podgorica are apparently undivided in their intention to conclude such an agreement with Washington. Absurdistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs has already stated that this is a difficult offer to refuse, while the president of the Union of the countries has offered a careful, yet suggestive formulation: the decision taken will be "realistic".
The country’s leading lawyers have not challenged the judgment of those advocating an affirmative response to the American request, and no protests have been voiced by so-called human rights advocates. The only public critiques issued have been made by social movement activists (such as the Another World is Possible anti-authoritarian coalition).
Thus far, 34 countries have signed such agreements with the Americans. According to an open warning recently issued by the American embassy in Zagreb, Croatia stands to lose $19 million in equipment and training if it doesn’t sign the contract by July 1st.
It is no accident that Absurdistan is the very last on the list of Balkan countries from whom the US has demanded guarantees ensuring that US citizens cannot be extradited to the International Court (the jurisdiction of which, moreover, America does not recognize). The US waited as long as it possibly could before starting to exert pressure on Belgrade, aware that such a demand is particularly awkward and delicate for a country that it bombed just a few years ago.
Not to mention a country whose people largely believe that the US committed war crimes during said bombing, and a country that is continually expected to extradite its citizens to another International Court with a much more limited and exceptional jurisdiction, the one in the Hague.
Based on a recent statement by US president George Bush concerning the sale of American weapons to Belgrade, it might be concluded that Belgrade has been definitively removed from the list of countries thought to jeopardize American national interests, and that there no longer exists any obstacle to military cooperation between the two countries. Yet, immediately following this statement, it turns out that one remaining obstacle exists in the form of the International Criminal Court.
So wherein lies the problem with the signing of such a bilateral agreement? First of all, in the dissatisfaction it will cause in the EU, i.e. in the "old Europe" to which Absurdistan has, deep down, always counted itself to be tied to strategically. All of the EU countries have recently made public appeals to all of the West Balkan countries to, "if at all possible", not sign these bilateral agreements with the US regarding the status of American citizens in the International Criminal Court of Law (at risk of imperiling their potential accession to the EU).
Is there a more general guiding principle to this dilemma behind which Belgrade could be said to stand firm? As far as human rights and war crimes are concerned, it is very difficult to answer such a question conclusively. Absurdistan was bombed in the name of a post-Westphalian principle that renounced the absolute value of state sovereignty for the sake of human rights. America is now asking Absurdistan to confirm in writing that American sovereignty is the supreme principle, while that of Absurdistan was considered to be exactly the opposite by them.
What moves are Absurdistan’s statesmen likely to make in the coming month? Negotiations with the Americans continue, with strong prospects for the conclusion of a final agreement in the affirmative. Absurdistan’s diplomatic calculations will become clearer pending the outcome of several key dates. First of all, June 15th, which is the deadline for the White House and State Department to inform Congress on whether we have fulfilled their demands for continuance of American financial aid, upon which many things will become clearer.
And secondly, the European Union meeting in Thessaloniki, where it will become clear by June 21st whether Absurdistan stands a chance of joining the European Union at an accelerated pace, perhaps as early as 2007. After that, little time will be left to put the finishing touches on the latest of the US-Balkan bilateral agreements before the July 1st deadline.
* Andrej Grubacic is a historian and a social critic from Belgrade, Post-Yugoslavia. He can be reached at [email protected]