The Common Good
September-October 1999

A Marshall Plan for the Balkans

by David Cortright | September-October 1999

The price of a Marshall Plan for the Balkans would be less than the costs of indefinite military occupation.

As NATO governments begin the reconstruction of Kosovo, they should take lessons from the Marshall Plan that followed World War II. In the late 1940s the United States invested massively in rebuilding war-torn Europe, helping both allies and former enemies recover economically and become functioning democracies. The strategy was a success that laid the foundation for prosperity and cooperation and helped secure the peace in Western Europe for more than 50 years. No less an effort is needed now to bring lasting peace and security to Southeast Europe.

The present situation in Kosovo is more an armed truce than a genuine peace. As long as NATO troops remain, war between Serbs and Albanians can be prevented. But the underlying grievances that sparked the conflict have not been resolved. Similar conditions prevail in Bosnia, where approximately 35,000 troops prevent renewed carnage, but where Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims remain bitterly divided. Martin Luther King Jr. said that peace is more than the absence of war; it is the presence of justice. By that standard the Balkans are a long way from peace.

It is no accident that the Balkan wars have raged in the poorest parts of Europe. Conflicts over resources, jobs, and economic opportunity have been at the heart of the region’s troubles. Building a just peace will require addressing these issues and lifting the region out of relative poverty. The promise of economic assistance and integration into the European community can be offered as incentives to encourage human rights and multi-ethnic cooperation. The goal of U.S. and European strategy should be to create prosperous, democratic, open societies throughout the Balkans—to build communities where people trade rather than invade, where commerce, communication, and interdependence gradually break down the animosities that have so often fueled armed conflict in the region.

The first requirement is a U.N.-administered program of humanitarian assistance for returning Kosovar refugees and vulnerable populations in Yugoslavia and surrounding countries. This must be followed by a large scale, multi-year aid and reconstruction program for the region’s battered infrastructure and crippled economies. Economic assistance should be designed not only to rebuild war-related damage but to create the conditions for renewed economic development and interdependence.

Because the conflicts in the Balkans are interconnected, and the economies of the region were once closely knit, it is important to view the region as an integrated whole and to develop an aid program that applies to the entire area. Economic assistance should be offered not only to Kosovo but to Albania, Serbia, and all the republics of the region.

President Clinton has said that no aid will go to Serbia while Slobodan Milosevic remains in office. This is a short-sighted and vindictive strategy that could impede rather than encourage the democratic transition in Serbia. Milosevic is facing mounting opposition at home, from the Serbian Orthodox Church, street demonstrators, and even army reservists. His days in office are numbered. The question is not Milosevic but who will come after him and how democratic forces within Serbia can be strengthened. Denying aid and refusing to rebuild bridges only isolates Western-oriented political forces and strengthens the hand of arch-nationalists.

A smarter strategy is to use economic assistance to reduce state control over the economy and empower opposition forces. To avoid benefiting Milosevic, aid should be targeted to cities that are controlled by opposition parties. Recipients should include private firms with ties to the West, religious organizations, independent media, human rights groups, and humanitarian and educational agencies. If recipient groups violate human rights or democratic norms, aid could be suspended. Otherwise assistance should flow freely to Serbia and the entire region as a means of improving economic conditions and elevating standards of political behavior.

The price of the proposed Balkan assistance program will be large but affordable. The costs of reconstructing Kosovo and repairing war damage in the region have been estimated at $30 billion or more. Development assistance for Albania, Montenegro, and other republics will require additional billions. By comparison, from 1948 through 1951 the United States spent $90 billion in current dollars on the Marshall Plan. Today our economy is larger and wealthier, and our prosperous European allies can contribute substantially as well.

The price of a Marshall Plan for the Balkans would be less than the costs of indefinite military occupation or the losses that would occur in future wars. By making a commitment now to build the economic foundations of peace, the United States and its European partners can reduce the likelihood of renewed warfare and hasten the day when NATO forces safely leave the region. A strategy of economic assistance and political engagement can help to win the struggle for justice and human rights in Southeast Europe.

DAVID CORTRIGHT is president of the Fourth Freedom Forum in Indiana and editor of The Price of Peace: Incentives and International Conflict Prevention (Roman & Littlefield, 1997).

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