Will a new Marshall Plan work in Balkans?

Western leaders meet today to discuss rebuilding effort, but integrating region with rest of Europe will be hard.

Western leaders today are looking beyond the smoking ruins of Kosovo and Serbia toward what they hope will be a historic breakthrough for the war-torn Balkans region of Europe.

But how to get there? How to bring together the many warring factions in Europe's poorest corner?

One means being debated today at a Sarajevo summit of some 40 leaders that includes President Clinton comes right out of the history books.

Modeled after the Marshall Plan after World War II, it would funnel resources and manpower into Southeast Europe in an effort to steer the area toward prosperity, democracy, and closer ties to its neighbors.

The president's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, says: "We have a really historic opportunity after Kosovo to bring these nations into Europe ... to help build a Europe that is undivided, democratic, and at peace for the first time in history."

Obviously, it won't be easy. For thousands of years, the Balkans have been a crossroads of competing interests, cultures, and ambitions. Greeks, Turks, Romans, Germans, and other great civilizations have fought for its territory and people.

Yet with the rest of Europe drawing closer together, and help from the United States and other nations, this could be a turning point. Or so the Clinton White House suggests.

Diplomats are looking to the post-World War II era for guidance. That was a time when passions and hatreds ran high - and yet with the help of outside assistance, the Continent has healed and prospered since 1945.

History of aid in Europe

After World War II, when the Continent lay in ruins and its people were near starvation, the United States provided $13 billion in food, raw materials, and technical assistance. The aid, known as the Marshall Plan, revived Europe, in large part because it required the Europeans themselves to find ways to work with each other after two world wars as enemies. As a result, the foundation was laid for today's European Union - one of America's biggest trading partners.

The Clinton administration views today's summit as the start of a mini-Marshall Plan for southeast Europe - but one in which Western Europe assumes most of the costs, and international financial institutions and the private sector also play major roles.

Like the Marshall Plan, there is the requirement that the region itself seize its destiny, and enact the kind of economic and democratic reforms that will encourage trade and investment, and could eventually lead to membership in all the major "clubs" - the European Union, NATO, and the World Trade Organization.

"It's important to bring Southeast Europe into the economic mainstream. If you marginalize it, it's going to be a problem," says Thomas Henriksen, a foreign-policy expert at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

History appears to bear this out, not just in the case of postwar Europe, but in post cold -war Europe, in which Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary are well on their way to integration with Western Europe, and are already NATO members.

Still, there's no end to the challenges of integration - as wobbly Russia attests. If a country can't make the economic and democratic transition needed for trade and investment, it won't get it.

And that's one of the greatest concerns about southeast Europe: Can it live up to its end of the "stability pact," as the integration plan is called, and follow through on the economic and political reforms required for cooperation with the West?

Southeast Europe is still struggling with the transition from communism to capitalism - something that postwar Europe did not have to contend with.

The potential

Additionally, there's great economic diversity among this little band of countries, with Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovenia way ahead of nations like Albania.

Croatia is well into the computer age; Bosnia is still struggling to rebuild its war-torn infrastructure - not to mention Kosovo. And Serbia remains a thorn in the side of the region. Western leaders hope that by isolating Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic - who was not invited to the Sarajevo summit - he will eventually be ousted.

But the Balkans stability pact, first outlined at the 50th NATO anniversary in Washington this spring, will require real commitment from those outside the region, reminds Ivo Daalder, a Balkans expert at the Brookings Institution here.

At the summit, Clinton is expected to announce new initiatives to encourage trade and investment. This week, international donors promised $2.1 billion, including a $500 million pledge from the US just for Kosovo. The region as will require billions more, analysts say.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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