Analysis

Central European leaders gathered in Bucharest on September 17 to discuss ways in which to deepen regional economic integration and send a clear message of their desire to see the region play a greater role on the world stage.

“We are here today [not only] because we are part of the European Union and NATO,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said, but also because “we want to be a significant player. We would like Central Europe to be a developed, well-integrated, and structured part of the Euro-Atlantic world.”

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis hosted the third summit and first business forum of the Three Seas Initiative in Bucharest on September 17-18. The initiative brings together twelve European Union (EU) member states from the area that borders the Baltic, Adriatic, and Black Seas, to discuss common infrastructure and development programs to jumpstart the region’s economy.

A no vote would be a win for extreme nationalists and Russia

While much of the United States was focused on uppercase Fear (the book) and lowercase fear (the hurricane), Defense Secretary James Mattis was going about business as usual, making the United States safer and stronger (we’ll get to more competitive in another column).  On September 17, he touched down in Macedonia to reaffirm US support for NATO and Macedonia’s bid for membership

More importantly, Mattis sent a strong signal to the world that Washington still stands firmly behind international institutions based on acceptance of common democratic principles and the free market.  His visit drew attention to Macedonia’s bid for membership—a vote of confidence in collective security. It is the requirement for NATO’s collective security that all countries aspiring to membership resolve internal conflicts as well as those with their neighbors.  Expanding NATO brings peace and stability—the key rationale for becoming a member.  This is even more compelling for the Balkan states, which experienced ethnic and interstate wars as recently as about two decades ago.  Indeed, I was in the Macedonian capital of Skopje in August celebrating the anniversary of the signing of the Ohrid Agreement in 2001, which brought an end to ethnic war in Macedonia between Slavic and Albanian fighters.

Lord George Robertson, former NATO secretary general, on the importance of voting ‘yes’ in Macedonia’s September 30 referendum

The anniversary this year of the end of the First World War should, if we needed it, be a reminder of how important the Balkans have been to our past and why we would be alert to their relevance for today.

The way in which that region affected us dramatically and shockingly in the last few centuries should be a wake-up call to pay a lot more attention today.

In today’s world there may be more tinder-box regions than the Balkans capturing the headlines but complacency in the face of danger is the gravest crime politicians can commit.
On September 17 and 18, the third annual summit of the Three Seas Initiative, a regional cooperation project between twelve Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries situated between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas, will take place in Bucharest. The meeting comes as the Initiative – which aims to boost Central European trade, energy, and infrastructure cooperation and integrate a new North-South infrastructure corridor into the European economy – faces an array of obstacles from interested foreign powers and internal disagreements. CEE leaders must use the summit as an opportunity to overcome these challenges if the project is to meet its lofty goals, rather than disappearing as a weak attempt amidst the whirl of conflicting global agendas.
In the early hours of September 12, 2001, as the world was coming to grips with the enormity of the events of the day before, US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was busy working the phones. She discussed with the United States’ NATO allies the possibility of doing something never done before in the history of the Alliance: the invocation of Article 5 on collective defense.

Daniel Fried was working at the National Security Council and in Rice’s office at the time. He recalls Rice’s conversation with her French counterpart. “We need this,” she said.

By the evening of September 12, less than twenty-four hours after al Qaeda terrorists hijacked and crashed commercial airliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, the allies invoked Article 5 in an act of solidarity with the United States. Then NATO Secretary General George Robertson informed United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan of the Alliance's decision.
On September 8, the Republic of Macedonia celebrates its Independence Day, marking twenty-seven years since it declared independence from Yugoslavia. On September 30, citizens will vote in a referendum to ratify a name-deal with Greece, that will see the country renamed to “the Republic of North Macedonia,” hopefully ending a decades-long disagreement with Greece and paving the way for Macedonia’s accession to the European Union and NATO.

But Macedonia is about more than NATO expansion or naming disputes. Here’s a look at this small Balkan country that is now grabbing headlines.
While the story of 3.5 million Syrian refugees pouring into Turkey and the European Union has captured the world’s attention in recent years, those displaced souls weren’t the first to flee war, tyranny, and oppression, and they won’t be the last. With inhospitable temperatures across North Africa and Central Asia, constant war and conflict in Middle East hot spots, and the advance of authoritarian regimes, today’s refugees don’t represent a temporary conundrum, but rather a new normal of European life.

This was the consistent message during my recent trip through the Atlantic Council’s Millennium Fellowship to the migrant-heavy region spanning from Gaziantep, Turkey, just thirty miles from the Syrian border, to the coastal escape of Çeşme on the Aegean Sea, to the Greek island of Lesbos, a major transit point for asylum seekers, and then to the country’s capital itself, the birthplace of Athenian democracy. High-level government officials, non-governmental organization leaders, and citizens repeated the refrain: there’s no end in sight to the mass influx. For instance, even if the Syrian war ended tomorrow, whether through negotiated solution or the forced removal of Bashar al-Assad from power, the problem will persist for decades to come.
The Swedish elections on September 9 could set the country on a path to joining NATO as a full member. Opinion polls do not show a clear winner in the elections. Neither the center-left Red-Green coalition government, that has run the country for the past four years, nor the main opposition center-right bloc has a commanding lead. However, if the four-party opposition bloc—consisting of the Conservatives, the Liberals, the Center Party, and the Christian Democrats—wins it will likely steer Sweden toward NATO membership.
First, a caveat: the public knows little of what happened in the one-on-one meeting (happily, there was reportedly an American interpreter present) or the larger plenary meeting.

Second, some bad things that did not happen, at least not as far as we know: US President Donald J. Trump did not offer to recognize Crimea as part of Russia. He did not suspend American military exercises in Poland or the Baltic States. He did not promise to lift sanctions (which he couldn’t do anyway, because Congress passed legislation blocking just that). He did not appear to accept the Russian narrative of NATO as a destabilizing factor in Europe best abolished.
The illusion that British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government had come up with something resembling a workable Brexit plan after months of uncertainty over the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) lasted little more than two days.

On July 6, it appeared May had won support of her cabinet for some much-needed clarity on the British government’s Brexit approach. For a moment, even the most ardent Brexiteers seemed to fall in line with her softer Brexit plan. 

By July 9, that hint of clarity had been blown away by a rebellion within her cabinet.


    

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