The primary idea of founding NATO after the World War II was the security of its members, so that over time, this security would create a stable environment that provides the most favorable conditions for economic growth, and thus an enviable living standard. Out of NATO’s 30 current members, many are among the most developed countries in the world, such as the United States of America, Great Britain, Germany, Norway, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, France, Denmark, Belgium and Canada.
On the other hand, the only three Balkan countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo, are still not NATO members, and they are at the bottom of the list in terms of economic development in Europe. Being outside the security umbrella of the strongest military alliance in the world, these countries are unable to attract great foreign investors who would invest their capital and accelerate economic development. Although all three countries have been slowed down or stopped from joining NATO, due to Serbia’s position and attitude towards its neighbors, most citizens and politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo support joining the North Atlantic Alliance.
Serbia’s official position is military neutrality, with a clear public statements that it does not want membership in the Alliance, that further on formally justifies being bombed by the NATO in 1999. However, behind such policy is the strong Russian influence on the political leadership in Belgrade, that is stopping expansion and Alliance’s strengthening in this part of the world. Regardless of the official neutral position, Serbia closely cooperates with the strongest military bloc in the world through the Partnership for Peace program (PfP).
When it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the majority of citizens and political options are in favor of NATO joining. If a state referendum is called, it is estimated that two thirds of the population would approve accession. However, in decision making process in the Presidency and Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina, obstructions are coming from the parties who are part of the government, and they are coming from the Bosnian entity of RS. Using the right of veto and entity voting, accession to the Alliance is slowed down and stopped. Politics from Banja Luka publicly expresses opposition to the membership, adopting decisions of military neutrality in entity parliament although the entity does not have jurisdiction over defense issue. Time has shown, that only strong pressure from the Western allies on those who obstruct processes is able to produce progress which cannot be achieved in democratic way.
The situation with Kosovo is somewhat different, primarily due to the unresolved mutual relationship with Serbia, which is further reflected in all international activities of the country, as well as its membership in multilateral organizations. NATO is present in Kosovo through its KFOR security forces. Even though, it cannot currently be a member of this organization, Kosovo is practically under full NATO control. On the other hand, some NATO members have not yet recognized Kosovo, since it is sensitive issue for them. Therefore, there is no consensus at the level of the Alliance to initiate the process of Kosovo’s accession. It is important to emphasize that there is an absolute majority of citizens and politicians in Kosovo who support accession to the North Atlantic Alliance.
In addition to the mentioned political obstacles for further NATO expansion in the Balkans, the citizens of these three countries are insufficiently informed about all advantages of joining the Alliance. Many media under the influence of anti-Western policies play a crucial role in placing negative information about the European Union, the United States and NATO. Creating such a public environment is conducive to political manipulation creating a repulsive attitude for any integration with the West. Citizens can hardly get informed about the facts of economic progress that a NATO membership brings, as well as overall prosperity, rising living standards, building infrastructure, better health and education.
In the last 20 years, all countries that were in the final stage of joining the Alliance have already marked an enviable growth in foreign investment. The very certainty of joining NATO brought economic progress. Despite the smaller oscillations with investments, which used to appear in some countries after accession, membership brought security and stable economic growth to all. Just before Slovakia’s accession to NATO, the increase in foreign investment was about 318%, while in Slovenia it was 148.7%. The increase in investment in Romania reached 166.29%, in Bulgaria 47.5%, while Lithuania had investment growth close to 290%. Latvia recorded a 90% increase in foreign investment. Also, it has not happened so far that a war was fought on the territory of some of the members, nor did the members go to war with each other.
When it comes to the Balkans, these indicators should be a sufficient reason for every country’s aspiration for NATO entering. The economic systems of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo have been weakened due to a lack of meaningful investments and greater economic dynamics. Such weakened economic systems cannot absorb the surplus of labor force, so these countries are rapidly losing young generations who are mainly moving in those countries that are NATO members.
At the moment, despite all stagnations, Bosnia and Herzegovina is one step before full membership. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s entry into the NATO would be a historic milestone for stability and prosperity, not only for Bosnia and Herzegovina, but for the entire Balkans. If the strategic interest of the European Union is stability and peace, then the Balkans outside Euro-Atlantic integration is a danger to that stability. Therefore, the first step should be to use the existing legal framework of cooperation between NATO and Bosnia and Herzegovina and rapidly, without additional conditions, accept this country as a member. Such decision would permanently stop the aspirations of those political forces that speak publicly about the secession of territory, changing the borders and annexation to the other states. By accepting Bosnia and Herzegovina under secure mantle of the Alliance, would mean that one more country would permanently get out of the influence of those political forces that are obstructing region’s Euro Atlantic integration. The enlargement of the European Union and NATO to the Balkans, protects not only the Balkans, but the entire Europe. Due to all these facts, Bosnia and Herzegovina is much more than an additional member of NATO. On several occasions history has shown that instability of Bosnia and Herzegovina can seriously endanger peace in the region and the world. Such a development was not happening due to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ability to influence great geopolitical shifting by itself, but because of the interests of the great powers that were refracting on its soil, as well as today.