The danger posed by political dysfunction and economic stagnation in these four countries is real. The region’s location along terrorism and arms-smuggling routes means that further instability could pose a threat to European and global security. Economically, the long shadow of socialism and the weight of a dominant public sector burden these countries’ transitions to a sustainable market economy, which is further corroded by corruption. Ineffective governance hinders forward momentum. Externally, foreign influences could lead to political instability, and uncertainty about the viability of the European Union may diminish the allure of membership as a catalyst for reform.
Yet, each country boasts vibrant and well-educated youth and the desire to make changes conducive to market economies and a liberal democratic order. Religion in the region is both an opportunity and a threat. The secular practice of Islam in Kosovo and BiH can be a counterpoint to Islamic extremism worldwide. However, the manipulation of religion by both internal and external actors in all countries could be destabilizing, contributing either to renewed conflict or as a platform for international terrorism.
The challenge for the United States is to help harness the region’s potential before the negative factors overwhelm it. It is better to address signs of instability now with strategic actions and interventions than to deal with a potentially violent crisis in the future. With focus and funding, this is an achievable task, and one that could once again be a success story for U.S. foreign policy.