In Other News – Stability in the Balkans is Threatened & More – 1/14/2022

January 14, 2022

Putin’s continued gamesmanship threatens stability in the Balkans. In the aftermath of the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, a fragile peace has held in Bosnia Herzegovina under the Dayton Accords, but last fall tensions increased among the country’s multi-ethnic leaders and Putin is now adding fuel to the fire. Under the Dayton Accords, the Republika Srpska (Serbian), and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Croatian and Bosnian) share leadership of the country, but in October, Milorad Dodik, the Serb-Bosnian leader who has been cultivating a friendship with Putin, called for Bosnian secession and announced that Republika Srpska would withdraw from the country’s armed forces as well as key judicial and taxation bodies. Republika Srpska then passed a law obliging the local authorities not to cooperate with national institutions attempting to implement state-level law.

Last Sunday, on the “Day of the Serbian Republic” that’s been proclaimed unconstitutional in Bosnia and Herzegovina due to its association with the bloody ethnic conflicts in the 1990s, Putin visibly demonstrated his support of the Serbian cause. At the celebration, Russian ambassador Igor Kalabuhov was prominently seated next to Milorad Dodik. Moscow’s public celebration of an independent Republika Srpska deliberately undermines the Dayton Accords, and by extension NATO and the EU. Further, Moscow’s endorsement of Dodik, while simultaneously sending troops to Kazakhstan to violently curb social protest, puts real weight behind his words and once again demonstrates how far he’ll go to test NATO’s resolve. But in a tinderbox like the Balkans, Putin’s actions could unleash forces that neither NATO nor Putin will be able to control.

China’s global, soft power efforts expand but are undermined but non-democratic and hard power actions. Since President Xi assumed power nearly a decade ago, Beijing has concertedly increased its global soft power efforts everywhere from Chile to Israel. Just last week China’s Foreign Minister took a whirlwind tour of Eritrea, Kenya, and Comoros to further encourage economic partnerships and cooperation, pledging China’s continued vaccine distribution in Africa. In December, one of Beijing’s first Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects was completed with the inauguration of the Laos-China Railway. Although there are real fears that BRI projects could be a “debt trap” for developing nations, vaccines and railways build goodwill and connections, as do the numerous Chinese cultural and educational programs that we’re seeing sprout up around the world.

But while Beijing may be advancing components of its soft power strategy, it’s failing in one key area. According to scholar Joseph Nye who first coined the term “soft power” in 1990, soft power comes from three primary sources: a nation’s culture, policies, and political values. Policies here can be seen as legitimate when they are framed with an awareness of another country’s interest, and China’s been heavily working this angle in Pakistan, Latin America, and Africa. Beijing’s weak spot lies with its political values which are overtly undemocratic at a time of heightened global attention.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen companies from Tesla to Intel criticized heavily for any association with business in China’s Xinjiang province, the area where China’s minority Muslim population has been subject to human rights abuses. And companies are increasingly pressured to make sure that their supply chain is free from any abusive practices. Further, in addition to lacking in a value system that could strengthen its soft power efforts, Beijing’s consistent use of hard power in places like the South China Sea and Indian border, as well as the economic punishment it served to Australia, inevitably makes partners know that they are dealing with a wolf in sheep’s clothing.