Western Balkans in a leaderless world disorder


The contemporary global disorder is a result of the West’s (led by the U.S.) loss of leadership vision, leading to a crisis in the liberal international order. This crisis is marked by various interconnected factors that challenge stability and prosperity. Amid this context, the “Western Balkans” – a political term given by the EU – region finds itself at a critical juncture, grappling with unique vulnerabilities that may result in an implosion.

The current shattered global disorder is a consequence of the crisis in the liberal international order. The erosion of multilateralism, rising nationalism, economic inequality, backlash against globalization, and most importantly, the loss of trust in democracy, are critical factors contributing to the current global crisis. Furthermore, the war in Ukraine has the potential to escalate into a global conflict if rationality does not prevail.

Within this fractured world context, the Western Balkans faces a unique set of challenges. It must navigate the indecisiveness of the West, as well as the predatory nature of the East, primarily led by Russia and China. This struggle has resulted in weak institutions, economic disparities, social divisions and escalating security risks that may lead to implosion. These vulnerabilities hinder regional stability, impede economic development and pose obstacles to integration and cooperation. Additionally, the region possesses its own liabilities that fuel regional impatience and economic stagnation, further increasing the risk of implosion.

Reason and result

The current global disorder, characterized by wars, rapid inflation rates and economic stagnation, results from the West’s loss of leadership vision. After World War II, primarily, the U.S. set forth a vision for a better tomorrow. The liberal international order became the platform to realize this vision, with many countries aligning themselves with the West to secure a prosperous future. This is one of the main reasons why the U.S. dominated with its soft power, although it merits a separate analysis.

Regarding geopolitical rivalries, many observers have scrutinized Russia and China’s global capacity to challenge the West. At the same time, it was argued that both countries were not strong enough to challenge the West during their recovery from the world wars. Yet, the real explanation lies in one of the most critical leadership skills – setting the vision. After the Cold War, the West, compared to the East, set the vision for a prosperous future and offered hope to many countries to work for mutual benefit. It is undeniable that neither Russia nor China could dominate the global arena then, nor are they capable of doing so today. The Cold War serves as a good benchmark to measure the East’s capability to wage war against the West. The ongoing war in Ukraine serves as a reminder that countries still possess the ability to engage in warfare. However, the critical question remains: Who can assume the leadership role in today’s world?

In this context, the entity that assumes global leadership and presents a clear vision will be instrumental in shaping the future world order. Others will either follow suit or conform accordingly. Considering the current priorities and approaches of Russia and China in the realm of geopolitical competition, it is imperative for the West to reclaim its leadership role and establish a new vision without delay.

Furthermore, Türkiye occupies a unique geographical position that positions it to play a leadership role or serve as a leading example. It serves as a crucial bridge between two continents, making it a significant factor in maintaining a delicate balance between the West and the East. Türkiye has proven to be an allied partner while effectively cooperating and fostering critical relationships with the Middle East, Asia and the Caucasus.

The global system has undergone rapid changes in the last century, and today, we find ourselves living in what remains of the liberal international order. The mismanagement of this order by Western leaders and politicians, who lack accountability, has given rise to populism, inequalities, forced migration and various other challenges. Great powers have become predatory, while middle states attempt to balance safeguarding their national interests with those of the great powers. Small states, on the other hand, seem to have run out of options and are obliged to comply with great power politics, risking involvement in wars. The ongoing situation in Ukraine serves as a perfect example. Therefore, the critical question remains: How can major powers be controlled to prevent reckless actions?

Stabilitocracy and prosperity

The unfortunate label “Western Balkans,” bestowed upon the region by the EU, is a direct consequence of the crisis facing the liberal international order. While the Western powers did manage to establish peace in the area during the 1990s, they fell short in providing long-term sustainable solutions that would ensure ongoing prosperity. As time passed, the Dayton Accords, initially aimed at securing peace, gradually became outdated. This outcome was predictable, given that the agreement was not designed to foster prosperity. The status of Kosovo’s recognition as an independent state remains unchanged. The primary objective in the Balkans was to maintain peace rather than pursue strategic and sustainable solutions that promote the rule of law, cultivate a democratic culture, and foster economic prosperity.

On the one hand, the Western powers profess their dedication to integrating the Western Balkans into the EU. On the other hand, regional politicians echo similar sentiments. However, neither side has taken tangible steps or assumed responsibility to fulfill their respective obligations. Concrete actions are necessary to address the outstanding challenges and complete the tasks at hand.

Over time, the region has transitioned into a state of “stabilitocracy” instead of democracy. As long as peace is maintained, the EU and the U.S. have either intentionally or unintentionally tolerated various politicians and their regimes, as highlighted by the Clingendael Institute in their research report. Stabilitocracy is a regime with significant shortcomings in democratic governance, but it enjoys external (the EU and the U.S.) legitimacy due to its perceived stability. This model allows the same corrupt political elites to hold on to power while the EU and the U.S. offer silent or unintentional support. Many regional politicians have learned to speak the “EU language,” but very few have taken concrete steps toward implementing real reforms. This governance model has become deeply entrenched in the political culture of the contemporary Western Balkans, fostering corruption, lack of transparency, and limited rule of law, which undermine public trust and hinder economic development. To promote stability, attract investments, and ensure the region’s resilience, it is crucial to strengthen institutions, enhance accountability, and combat corruption.

To break this vicious cycle, countries in the western part of the Balkans should shift their focus from pursuing EU integration as a pipedream and instead concentrate on initiatives that promote internal and regional development. This task requires fostering the values of states and enforcing principles that contribute to building a prosperous future. Simultaneously, the global West needs to reclaim its leadership role and set a new vision, not only for the Balkans but also for the sake of global peace and development.

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