Libya and Afghanistan seem to get all the headlines about NATO these days. But lately, I've been thinking and working on the Balkans. We need to make sure that the Balkan ghosts of violence from the 1990s don't reappear.
The key NATO mission in the Balkans, of course, is Kosovo. At one time, NATO and our coalition partners had 50,000 troops stationed there in the early part of the last decade. When I arrived here in 2009, we still had over 15,000 troops from 32 nations maintaining a "safe and secure environment."
Over the past two years, we've been able to draw that down to our current level of just over 5,000. We've seen the Kosovo Security Force build up and take over a variety of duties related to emergency response, humanitarian assistance, and so forth. Dialog has been underway between Kosovo and Serbia.
Yet the past week has been troubling, in that we've seen a flare-up of tensions in the north of Kosovo, where a large percentage of the population is ethnically Serbian and maintains close links to that country. We've seen shootings, the death of a Kosovo police officer, fires, and road-blocks.
Working closely with the European Union mission (called EULEX), our NATO and coalition forces (KFOR) have managed to ensure an uneasy peace which has held so far. But this is a matter of real concern.
Political discussions between Serbia and Kosovo continue, and the border tensions are at the center of the dialog. It is important for NATO and coalition forces to maintain a safe and secure environment so the political entities involved (Serbia, Kosovo, EU, various national embassies) can work toward peaceful solutions.
While the Balkans have been an overall success story for NATO (after all, well over 100,000 people were killed during ethnic violence in the 1990s), we all need to stay engaged to make sure the region doesn't fall backward.
NATO and our coalition partners in Kosovo are committed to ensuring we move forward with stability and minimal violence.
Adm. James Stavridis
Commander, U.S. European Command and
Supreme Allied Commander, Europe