BFP Exclusive – Biden’s Balkan Sphere of Influence

"We will not recognize any nation having a sphere of influence." ---- Joe Biden, 2009

The above quote is taken from the speech the US vice-president Joe Biden delivered at the 45th Munich Security Forum held in February 2009.[1] At the same time, Biden also promised that the newly-elected Obama administration would close the "detention facility" at Guantanamo Bay. This broken promise makes a curious commentary on the title of his autobiography Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics published by Random House (the publishing company known for publishing the US politicians' self-flattering narratives) two years earlier,[2] and it is far from being the only unkept promise in the political career that spans more than 40 years.

Still, one can take the statement on Guantanamo as the paradigmatic example of the wide gap between the public image Biden has sought to project and the reality of the manner and effects of his political activities. Moreover, if one takes seriously the semantic linkage established in the autobiography's title between "promises to keep" and "life & politics" and considers how Biden has "kept" promises over the years, it then appears plausible to conclude that, for him, both life and politics have been the playground of half-truths and open lies, where misinformation and disinformation could easily be substituted for objective, truthful accounts and where the flights of rhetoric could be used to hide the reality of abject and nondemocratic activities. In other words, in his discourse and in his actions, Biden has embodied the spirit and deeds of the US foreign policy both in its Cold War and post-Cold War incarnations. The fancy words which cover up daggers and torture chambers, wars which masquerade as peace, and imperial dictates presented as free sovereign national decisions.

In this respect, the quoted statement on the spheres of influence becomes especially relevant as it flies in the face of Biden's own extensive imperial interventions in the Balkan region. Biden explicitly states that the US will not tolerate any nation's sphere of influence, except of course its own, which, for propagandistic and ideological reasons, will not be spoken of as such. In the official narrative, the US is portrayed as a democratic republic partnering with other world nations on an equal footing in addressing global concerns. At the same time, according to this narrative, only empires are supposed to have spheres of influence and build up a network of client states and eagerly obedient local elites, and the US is not an empire. That is also the gist of the deceptive logic of Biden's statement.

However, Biden's Balkan interventions, which will be analyzed in this article, show that, in this region of the world, not only has the US behaved in an imperial way, but it has also sought to re-mold the entire region in such a way as to make it into a militarized bulwark for securing its imperial political, economic and ideological interests in more or less direct confrontation with other imperial powers. And by this I mean not only the confrontation with the "usual suspects" of Russia and China, but also with the current "partners", such as Germany and Turkey. Biden has been a key figure in this long-term imperial undertaking.

Biden's 2009 Balkan Tour

Even though, as a US senator, Biden has been involved in shaping the geopolitical dynamic of the Balkan region for more than three decades, his policy positions and points of view acquired a much broader significance in the region after his election to the position of the vice-president. He immediately sought to capitalize on his newly acquired influence and visited the selected Balkan countries several months after the election, in May 2009. He was the first US vice-president to visit the Balkans since the radical political re-structuring of Central and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. At the time, Biden's visit was the subject of analysis by two perceptive and well-informed Balkan observers: Paul Mitchell and Nebojsa Malic.

Mitchell argued that Biden's visit to Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo had to do with the belief of the key US decision makers that the EU policies in the Balkans had failed to bring about the results most conducive to the long-term US interests.[3] First, even though the autonomous province of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in February 2008 and was promptly recognized by the US and its puppet regimes in the Balkans (Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia), the resolution of the problems between Serbia and Kosovo was far from the political horizon. In fact, no less than five EU countries did not recognized Kosovo's independence and this was seen as a major let-down by the European "partners".

The issues related to Kosovo's independence remain unresolved to this day, and this in fact is one of the main reasons for Biden's intensive and constant pressure on the government of Serbia, no matter which political party is in power. Whether the reins of power are held by the Democratic party (DS) as was the case during Biden's visit, or by the currently ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), the US demands have remained the same: recognize Kosovo as an independent state, even though it is well known that the majority of your citizens are against that policy. As I will show in the last section of the article, the first US visit of the Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vučić, which is taking place as I write these lines, has been organized primarily to push this agenda forward.

Secondly, according to Mitchell, the political situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina has also left much to be desired from the US imperial perspective. Almost 15 years after the Dayton Peace Accords, signed under the shadow of NATO military intervention against the Bosnian Serbs, its first out-of-area openly violent engagement since the end of the Cold War, the country was paralyzed by ethnically polarized institutions, politically motivated corruption, the terror of mafia-like and extremist groups, and the all-around poverty and despair. Biden's aim in Bosnia was to push for the centralization of the country as if the top-down approach, implemented by foreigners, could bring about even the semblance of long-term stability and peace. Mitchell's conclusion, which remains valid to this day, as the matters in Bosnia not only did not improve, but actually got much worse since 2009, is that the most basic cause for the existing political and social instability in Bosnia, and in the Balkans more generally, is to be found in the engineered disintegration of Yugoslavia, planned and supported by the imperialist West, most extensively by Germany and the US-dominated NATO. However, Mitchell's proposed solution, that is, his call for the establishment of the "United Socialist States of the Balkans", while being noble and well-meaning, remains very much utopian. Still, this is not to say that there are no organized political forces in the Balkans, recognizing the perfidious imperialist agenda of divide et impera and working toward the overcoming of ethnic and religious tensions and enabling the much needed reconciliation. In fact, their strength is growing and the US-NATO recent activities in the region have been intended precisely to nip them in the bud.

The tone of Nebojsa Malic's article on Biden's visit was more harshly critical and openly

polemical than Mitchell's.[4] Malic cited several Biden's public statements which could be interpreted as a deeply held prejudice against the Serbs and also underscored Biden's perception of Serbia through the lenses of the Cold War struggle against the USSR. For instance, in an op-ed published in The Financial Times in 2007, Biden directly accused Russia of having "the habit of fostering weak, subservient governments in formerly communist states" and manipulating them via its "oil and gas diplomacy".[5] This statement represents a manipulative distortion of the facts on the ground. The 'real' facts are that the vast majority of these states are now firmly under the US control within NATO, while its dominant US-installed political elites share with Biden the stereotypical, essentially racist view of Russia as a "threat" to European civilization (the notion which in itself is highly amorphous).

Just like Mitchell, Malic also saw the explicit purpose of Biden's visit to pressure Serbia into making concessions regarding both Kosovo and its support for the Serbs in Bosnia. In light of the failures of the US policies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Middle East, Biden, according to Malic, was "desperately seeking success" and the Balkan region appeared to be most suited to demonstrate that success. After all, the US has been able to place an important military base in Kosovo and has pulled into NATO most of the Balkan countries which were once components of the socialist Yugoslavia. In addition, those Balkan populations which resisted the imperial plans were, Malic claimed, subject to being "demonized, bullied, bombed, and occupied". Still, Malic contended that Biden would ultimately be unsuccessful, no matter how hard he pressed. This view has proven to be correct, but, as I will show, Biden's imperial interventions in the period since 2009 have lost neither their insistence nor their force.

Biden's Balkans since 2009

The Financial Times being Biden's favorite means of expressing his view on the Balkans, he published another op-ed there in 2013.[6] The occasion was Croatia's entrance into the EU. Biden painted a rosy picture of what the Balkan countries can expect from the membership in NATO and the EU. He ignored the fact that most people in the Balkans are economically and socially worse off today than before the break-up of Yugoslavia. He talked about leaving the past behind and looking toward the bright future as if the past wrongs and injustices could be forgotten and would not re-emerge, leading to more death and destruction, unless they were dealt with firmly and openly, instead of being pushed under the rhetorical and political rug. The ethnically-based neoliberal Balkan states are all potential ticking bombs because the basic social pact between the political class and the population is non-existent and the regime corruption and arbitrary violence are rampant.

Biden also harped on the vision of Europe "whole, free, and at peace" conveniently repressing the fact that having Europe at peace is against the interests of the US military-industrial complex which would go bankrupt if the Europeans quit buying large quantities of the US-produced military hardware and intelligence software (in addition to feeding a veritable army of the lobbyists and think-tankers both in Washington and Brussels). This is also the motive behind the constant US calls for the European NATO members to raise their defense expenditure to 2% of the GDP, while also spending 20% of that money on new weapons and military technologies. In fact, the entire post-Cold War political discourse in Central and Eastern Europe has been chillingly "securitized" under the direct US influence, security being understood in terms of the number of military planes and missile defense systems, instead of the number of kindergartens, schools, and hospitals. This is why it is nothing else but hypocritical cynicism to speak of a European peace while making a European war inevitable.

In this op-ed, Biden importantly admitted that he was in close contact with the leaders of the Balkan countries. In fact, he has been a close friend with some of the most egregious violators of human and political rights among them, such as, for instance, the long-time Montenegrin authoritarian strongman, the prime minister Milo Djukanović. During his last year visit to the US, Djukanović not only met with Biden, but also publicly spoke about their two-decade long friendship.[7] Neither Biden nor anybody from his staff denied these qualifications. Obviously, Biden is comfortable with these kinds of "friends" so long, of course, as they implement the imperial dictates. In this respect, he will not have any trouble with Djukanović who has fashioned himself into the instrument of the US foreign policy in the Balkans. In return, he has been granted an open mandate to do whatever he pleases to the citizens of the country he has illegitimately ruled over for the last 25 years. No "color revolution" is in store for him, there will no Biden's blessings nor Victoria Nuland's cookies for the protesters in the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica, even though Djukanović's abuses mirror those of Milošević, Shevardnadze, and Yanukovych.

The most recent and most important Biden's Balkan imperial engagement is trying to influence and sway the Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vučić to do the US bidding on the issues of Kosovo and Bosnia. A long-time friend of Vučić, Djukanović seems to have been an important liaison between the two. As I reported in an earlier BFP article, Biden and Vučić first met during this year's Munich Security Conference. At that time, Vučić was invited by Biden to visit Washington. That visit is taking place as I write these lines (June 2 - June 4, 2015). It is particularly revealing to analyze the interview Vučić has given while standing not far from the White House. He appears to be elated that he has received the open and undivided support of the US political Establishment. At one point, he even explicitly says that "with American help, everything will be easier."[8] This is true only if one is a neoliberal, puppet-like politician who is more interesting in servicing the imperial goals than in the well-being of one's own people. In fact, this is the main reason that, during the interview, Vučić pointedly mentioned the US praise for the austerity policies his government has implemented since coming to power last year. This comes as no surprise as Vučić has made himself known for his sharp critique of the SYRIZA government in Greece.[9]

However, another question altogether is how the majority of Serbian citizens will react to Vučić's attempts to re-write the recent political history of the Balkans, especially since the memories of NATO bombing in which more than a thousand civilians lost their lives are not as easily erased and forgotten as Biden and his Balkan camarilla of marionettes would like them to be. The consequences of the bombing still seriously affect not only the economic opportunities, but also even the basic health of the Serbia's population.

In the last election, Vučić's party (in the coalition with several minor parties) received more than 48% of the vote and now holds an absolute majority in the Serbian Parliament.[10] However, in light of Vučić's recent foreign and economic policy decisions, it is doubtful whether he would be able to match this success in the next election. This might open the Serbian political space for the authentically progressive, people-oriented parties and politicians.

Hence Biden may soon be forced to groom another group of imperial foot soldiers for the political offices in the Balkans. But this time around the voices of resistance and rebellion of the colonized populations may prove difficult to subdue.

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Filip Kovacevic, Boiling Frogs Post contributing author and analyst, is a geopolitical author, university professor and the chairman of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro. He received his BA and PhD in political science in the US and was a visiting professor at St. Petersburg State University in Russia for two years. He is the author of seven books, dozens of academic articles. He has been invited to lecture throughout the EU, Balkans, ex-USSR and the US. He currently resides in San Francisco, and can be contacted at


[1] See also my earlier BFP article on this year's Munich Security Forum,












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