Ruolo delle organizzazioni internazionali nella sicurezza dei Balcani occidentali

Role of International Organizations in the Security of the Western Balkans

27.10.2023

Arian Kadriu*

Shpendim Oxha**

 

Role of International Organizations in the Security of the Western Balkans***

 

Italian title:Ruolo delle organizzazioni internazionali nella sicurezza dei Balcani occidentali

DOI: 10.26350/18277942_000148

 

Summary: 1. Introduction. 2. Materials and Methods. 3. Results. 4. Discussion. 5. Conclusions.

 

  1. Introduction

 

The issue of the role and place of international organisations in maintaining security is a relevant topic in modern research. This issue concerns the effectiveness of these organisations in maintaining peace and preventing conflicts. The Western Balkans region has long been a major source of tension and instability. This was especially apparent during the collapse of Yugoslavia and the series of military conflicts that accompanied this process. The existential threat of war spreading beyond the Balkans forced international organisations to respond to this issue. However, with the end of military conflicts, security problems did not become less pressing for the region. Among the new Balkan states, some were able to reform quickly and integrate into the European community, such as Slovenia and Croatia. Others, known as the Western Balkan Six (WB6) countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro – have been burdened by the problems that arose from the Yugoslav wars. As a result, there is a growing interest in the role of international organisations in stabilising the region and overcoming the consequences of wars for these countries.

Current theories explain international organizations' involvement in the Balkans as a process of promoting democratic consolidation after conflict. Yet the varying outcomes across Balkan states suggest complex, conditional effects of cooperation that existing perspectives do not fully capture. This study aims to determine under what conditions cooperation between international organizations and local actors enables or constrains the establishment of regional security. It relates cooperation outcomes to the structural conditions posed by past conflicts as well as the motivations and agency of local elites.

By exploring this puzzle through an analysis of cooperation strategies between international organizations and Balkan partners, the study seeks to refine theoretical perspectives on the effectiveness of international interventions in post-conflict settings. The Western Balkan case also offers broader insights into the conditions under which troubled regions can transition into security communities[1][2].

This issue gained the attention of many modern researchers of security in the Western Balkans region. For most of them, the problem of security and peace in the region is closely linked to the issue of integration of the Western Balkans into the world community. Researcher on geostrategic competition M. Vulovich[3] notes that full membership in the European Union (EU) is the most rational option for the integration of the countries of the region into international organisations. However, the attitude of individual countries to this direction is characterised by varying degrees of motivation. This is reflected in the implementation of reforms and foreign policy positions. All Western Balkan countries, except Kosovo, are members of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Albania, Montenegro, and North Macedonia are also NATO members. This creates a significant differentiation between the countries in terms of their involvement in international organisations. The most difficult situation is that of Kosovo, which is forced to rely on the influence of international institutions or direct partnerships as a guarantee of security.

Transatlantic security expert O. Dursun-Özkanca[4] notes that transatlantic integration is becoming a priority in the integration of the region’s countries into international structures. Given the region’s complicated past and existing disagreements, such as between Serbia and Kosovo, joining the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) can be the key to lasting peace. Therefore, this integration direction is becoming a prerequisite for further accession to the EU. At the same time, the same factor restrains the influence of external players such as China, Russia, and Turkey, which significantly destabilise security in the region.

S. Devetak[5] notes the inconsistency of the EU’s policy towards the Western Balkans. Integration should be a process supported by both sides. However, the EU should demonstrate the irreversibility of European integration, which should stimulate the development of the countries of the region as a zone of peace, security, and economic stability. Reconciliation should be an essential component of the integration process. The assistance of other international organisations that cover the entire region can be of considerable help in ensuring the reconciliation component[6].

Expert R. Mastrorocco[7] notes the positive impact of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on the development of civil society and reconciliation. There are still challenges in the form of the lack of strong ties between certain groups and local authorities, lack of legitimacy due to dependence on external assistance, and sometimes politicisation due to ethnicity. The OSCE has provided mechanisms to strengthen regional stability and activate various civil society groups in ethnic communities. In particular, the OSCE’s involvement has helped to increase the transparency of reconciliation procedures and the achievement of transitional justice through programmes to monitor war crime trials. In general, the OSCE helps to transform the social and political context of the Western Balkans through the development of civil society and regional networks.

Well-known researchers of security issues in the Balkans R. Cruise and S. Grillot[8] also emphasise the achievement of long-term and stable security in the region through civil society structures. Following their opinion, international security programmes should focus not only on building elite institutions but also on the internal development of communities and connections between individuals. This approach prevails in modern studies on the security of the Western Balkans by Ö. Binici[9] and H. Larsen[10]. Their research aimed to examine the role and involvement of international organisations such as the EU and NATO in maintaining security and stability in the region.

 

2. Materials and methods

 

The study analysed current publications on the security of the Western Balkans and the involvement of various international organisations in this area. The research focuses on the current security problems in the region and the dynamics of the involvement of various international organisations. Considering the significant number of published materials and studies on this topic, the focus was on the activities of international organisations in the Western Balkans region, which are the subject of the study. The current security problems of the countries of the region and the role of international organisations in addressing them are the subjects of the study. The selection of methods is determined by the purpose, subject and object of this study. The research methods included information analysis, historical-typological and historical-comparative methods, and comparative analysis of modern research and expert assessments.

Using the information analysis method of the most recent publications on the topic, the range of existing security problems in the Western Balkans was determined. This helped to identify the existing challenges to stability in the region and the international organisations that cooperate with them. Using the historical and typological method, the main groups of causes and phenomena that threaten to destabilise the countries of the Balkan region were identified among the data obtained. This allowed to identify the main types of threats and challenges to security that international organisations should consider. Using the historical and comparative method, the author identifies the main approaches of international organisations to the main types of threats to the security of the countries of the region and ways to address them at the present stage. This method allowed to identify the main strategies of international organisations for maintaining peace and security in the Balkans, as well as to consider how approaches have changed. Using the comparative analysis of modern research and expert assessments, the author identified the achievements and failures of certain strategies of international organisations to strengthen security and maintain peace in the Western Balkans region. This helped to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of international organisations’ security activities.

Additionally, some methods of political science research were used to qualitatively assess the role of international organisations in maintaining the stability of the Western Balkans. Institutional, systemic and structural-functional methods[11]. The institutional method allowed to consider the activities of international organisations in the region as the activity of institutions with their specifics and patterns[12]. The systemic method expanded the vision of international organisations as integral mechanisms that interacted with various actors in international relations[13]. The structural-functional method allowed to determine the importance of certain actions of international organisations in the context of security challenges[14].

The research was based on materials from the latest publications on security issues in the Western Balkans[15]. In addition, current reports of analysts and experts on security in the region and existing risks, which were created to monitor certain research centres cooperating with the organisations under study, were used for the analysis[16]. These materials contain theoretical and practical data on the role of international organisations in achieving stability for the countries of the Western Balkans region[17]. The compiled set of research materials allowed to provide a generalised[18] and objective assessment of the activities of international organisations in maintaining stability[19].

 

3. Security Context and Dynamics in the Western Balkans

 

The Western Balkans region, geographically located in the south-eastern part of Europe, has historically been at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. In the past, the region was a cultural hotspot and a frontier between the West and the East, the Christian and Islamic worlds[20]. The Western Balkans’ long history under the influence of the Ottoman Empire led to a very diverse ethnocultural situation in the region, which created the basis for modern conflicts. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the region remained politically and culturally divided, which rendered it a cause of tension and a potential threat to the continent’s security[21]. That is why the Balkans became one of the battlegrounds of the First World War. One of the outcomes of the war was the political unification of most of the Western Balkans into a single entity – the Kingdom comprising Serbian, Croatian, and Slovenian territories, which in October 1929 became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Despite this political unification, deep-seated divisions persisted along ethnic and religious lines, a reality that became starkly evident during the Second World War. Following the war and the subsequent abolishment of the monarchy, the region transitioned into a communist state known as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), adopting a federal structure. However, the SFRY was not immune to the longstanding ethnocultural complexities of the region[22].

It's critical to recognize that the conflicts leading to the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the late twentieth century were the result of a complex interplay of factors, not solely attributable to the political dynamics within the federal structure, such as the prominent role of Serbs in political institutions. This multifaceted situation encompassed a range of issues including, but not limited to, historical grievances, economic disparities, nationalist ideologies, and external geopolitical influences. These factors collectively contributed to igniting and perpetuating a series of civil wars and ethnic conflicts, ultimately leading to the fragmentation of Yugoslavia into separate states – Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Kosovo.

This understanding underscores the importance of a comprehensive approach to examining the intricate web of causes behind the Yugoslav wars, moving beyond simplistic explanations to embrace the complexity of the region's historical and socio-political landscape[23].

Several brutal military conflicts in the Western Balkans region, which could spread to neighbouring European countries, forced the international community to respond. One of the first measures was the establishment of a UN peacekeeping mission, which operated in Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina from 1992-1995. Later, the peacekeepers’ activities were also extended to the territory of North Macedonia and Kosovo. During the same period, under a UN Security Council mandate, NATO forces were also involved in crisis management and humanitarian assistance. In many cases, NATO forces supported peacekeepers. In 1995-1999, international peacekeeping units were reorganised under the command of NATO Command. Following the research of the intervention of international organisations, such as the UN and NATO, the establishment of peacekeeping missions helped prevent an irreversible humanitarian catastrophe in the region and reduce the number of war victims. NATO’s intervention at the final stage of the Yugoslav wars in 1999 was particularly effective, as it helped to stop the fighting between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo[24]. The deployment of UN peacekeepers to the region stopped further bloodshed. NATO’s mediation also prevented the escalation of the conflict in North Macedonia related to the separatism of the Albanian minority. It is this event that is associated with the end of the wars in the Balkans that accompanied the collapse of the former Yugoslavia[25]. As a result of prolonged conflicts, the region was divided politically, economically, and culturally. This situation made it impossible to restore stability at the regional level, including through the establishment of an extensive network of ties between the new states. The post-war crisis increased the importance and influence of international organisations in improving the humanitarian situation and creating a secure environment.

However, the end of the war and the stabilisation achieved, including the mediation of international organisations such as the UN, EU, NATO, and peacekeepers, did not reduce security risks in the region[26]. Following experts, at the current stage, the Western Balkan countries face several challenges that could pose a potential threat of renewed conflicts[27]. First, the separatist movement in Bosnia and Herzegovina threatens its territorial integrity. This weakens the compromise reached by the 1995 Dayton Agreement between the country’s ethnic groups. One of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s constituent entities, Respublika Srpska, is taking potentially dangerous steps in this direction. Another potential security threat is the difficult relationship between Serbia and Kosovo. Since declaring independence in 2008, Kosovo has been seeking international recognition and moving towards Euro-Atlantic integration. Serbia has an adamant position on the independence of the area, which it considers part of its territory. The situation between the two countries is complicated by uncertainty over the governance of Kosovo’s Serb-majority areas. The dispute between them hinders the process of European integration of both countries. The situation in Montenegro is also quite tense, where society is polarised over internal political issues[28]. Currently, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the issue of Kosovo’s recognition are the biggest challenges to the stability of the region. These problems are related to the attitude of the Serbian minority to coexistence with other ethnic communities within the new countries. In both cases, Serbia’s position is contradictory, oscillating between constructive cooperation to improve the situation of the Serbian minority or a hard-line rejection of compromise.

These potential threats add up to internal problems that the Western Balkan countries cannot cope with on their own. Ineffective governance, slow reforms, slow economic development, corruption, and ambivalent attitudes of political elites towards European integration[29]. These problems pose a challenge to the possibility of the Western Balkan countries joining the EU. At the current stage, influential EU countries consider the accession of these countries undesirable due to the high risks associated with security and economic stability. After the integration wave of 2004-2013, the most stable Slovenia and Croatia joined the EU. Before joining, both countries managed to become NATO members in 2004 and 2009, respectively. However, the process of integration of the rest of the Western Balkans countries was put on hold between 2004 and 2012 (Figure 1). The reason for this, in addition to the fears of EU member states, is the internal development trends in the region that threaten their security and stability. These include an insufficient level of market economy, corruption, low living standards, and violations of the rule of law and democratic norms[30]. These negative aspects are especially inherent in the largest and most influential country in the region – Serbia[31]. Its position is inconsistent and shaky both in terms of the purpose and ways of cooperation with international organisations. The example of Serbia also has an impact on neighbouring countries in the region, which either follow Belgrade’s position or depend on reaching a compromise with the Serbian government. An example is Kosovo’s efforts to achieve recognition of its independence and begin its path of integration.

Under these circumstances, the role of international organisations, such as the EU and NATO, plays an important role as a factor in stabilising the Western Balkans[32]. Since the end of the Yugoslav wars, the EU has seen the integration of the region to stabilise the region. The prospect of European integration created an incentive and internal precondition for strengthening democracy, and legal institutions, maintaining peace and overcoming the causes of past conflicts among future candidate countries[33]. However, the ambiguity of the terms and criteria for assessing the integration movement is causing frustration among political elites and society in the region. These sentiments are one of the main sources of Euroscepticism among the Balkan communities.

Figure 1. Chronological chart of the dynamics of Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkan countries

Note: MAP – Membership Action Plan to join NATO.

Source: compiled by the authors based on[34].

 

In comparison to European integration, joining NATO is more successful. From the perspective of maintaining peace and stability and resolving past conflicts, cooperation with this international organisation looks more promising for the Western Balkans. Albania joined in 2009, followed by Montenegro and North Macedonia in 2017 and 2020. Among them, it is the latter that has the highest dynamics of Euro-Atlantic integration activity. Between 2017 and 2019, Macedonia addressed a longstanding dispute with Greece regarding its name and identity, a disagreement that had been impeding its NATO membership process. The resolution of this dispute, marked by the country's renaming to North Macedonia, was a significant step forward. However, it's important to acknowledge that North Macedonia has navigated complex relations not only with Greece but also with Bulgaria. Additionally, the country has experienced internal challenges, particularly involving its substantial Albanian minority. These internal tensions, significant enough to warrant the Ohrid Agreement and initiatives such as EUFOR Concordia and EUPOL PROXIMA, highlight the nuanced nature of ethnic and national relations within North Macedonia.

Despite these challenges, North Macedonia's NATO accession has opened doors for further European integration. The journey towards EU membership, however, has been met with hurdles, including France's critical stance on EU enlargement and Bulgaria's claims regarding the cultural and historical origins of the Macedonian people. These factors have somewhat slowed down the negotiation process, although North Macedonia's prospects for joining the EU still appear relatively promising compared to other nations in the region.

The experiences of North Macedonia, along with Slovenia and Croatia, underscore a pattern in the region: NATO membership tends to precede and potentially facilitate European integration. This progression is linked to the requirement for NATO aspirants to resolve existing territorial disputes and conflicts, positioning them as more stable and secure partners within the European community[35].

The example of North Macedonia, as well as Slovenia and Croatia earlier, shows that prior NATO membership increases the chances of accelerating European integration. This pattern is rather transparent, as the process of joining the Alliance obliges the candidate state to resolve past territorial disputes and conflicts. Joining the organisation is a kind of guarantee of stability and security of this country for the European community.

Experts note that at the current stage, the Western Balkan countries face several challenges securitized by nationalist political actors that could pose a potential threat of renewed conflicts. These include the separatist rhetoric of Bosnian Serb leaders that threatens Bosnia and Herzegovina's territorial integrity and challenges the compromise reached by the 1995 Dayton Agreement. Meanwhile, Serbia has refused to recognize Kosovo's independence since its 2008 declaration, opposing Kosovo's efforts to gain international recognition and integration. The issue of northern Kosovo, inhabited by a Serb minority, remains a flashpoint politicized by both sides. Additionally, societal polarization in Montenegro over internal political issues poses risks, though experts assess the potential for conflict as relatively low compared to tensions tied to unresolved nationalism[36].

The situation of the three Western Balkan countries, which for several reasons cannot use the NATO membership scenario on their way to the EU, is much more complicated. These countries are Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo.

Serbia has a complicated history of relations with NATO, burdened by the memory of the Yugoslav wars, in particular the bombing of its territory during the military operation "Allied Force" from 24 March to 10 June 1999. Influenced by this factor, Serbian society is biased against the possibility of their country’s membership in NATO. Based on opinion polls, only 11% of Serbs support the country’s possible NATO membership, while 77% are strongly against it. In addition, Western countries and NATO are often blamed for Kosovo’s secession from Serbia. As a result, Serbia, as a militarily neutral country since 2007, is prone to negative attitudes towards Western institutions and NATO[37]. This bias often pushes Serbia to pursue a risky foreign policy with Russia and China, which can indirectly affect the stability of the Western Balkans. Nevertheless, the country cooperates with NATO under the Partnership for Peace programme, although it does not consider joining in the future[38]. Serbia’s complicated relations with the North Atlantic Alliance and risky relations with authoritarian countries as a counterweight to Western democracies pose several challenges to the stability of the region. First, negative attitudes towards NATO hinder cooperation and create uncertainty about the final resolution of old conflicts. The Euro-Atlantic integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo depends indirectly or directly on Serbia’s position on NATO. Moreover, Serbia’s attempts to find partners outside the EU and NATO increase the risk of illiberal countries’ influence in the Western Balkans.

Bosnia and Herzegovina have serious internal contradictions that keep the country from joining NATO, which could play a role in strengthening security. The main reason for this is the unstable nature of the federal structure, which unites two main entities, the Bosnian Federation and Respublika Srpska, into one state. The latter is trying to expand its autonomy, not ruling out the possibility of separation[39]. The state is decentralised and governed by a presidency consisting of three people representing Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs. Each has veto power. The institution of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina provides additional stability to the political system of the state. His main function was to oversee compliance with the 1995 Dayton Agreement, which ensured peace in the country. EU and NATO mediation plays an important role in maintaining security in Bosnia and Herzegovina[40].

The potential for escalation of these tensions is held in check by the presence of international security missions, including NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR) and the EU's peacekeeping force EUFOR ALTHEA in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) also continues to operate across Kosovo, maintaining security and stability. These ongoing missions underscore that the Western Balkans remains dependent on international organizations to manage security threats and prevent potential conflict triggers. Their presence shapes threat perceptions and provides reassurances amid enduring disputes tied to unresolved nationalism and uncertain commitments to Euro-Atlantic integration across the region.

In particular, the EU peacekeeping mission consisting of 600 military personnel continues to operate in the country. The mission’s mandate was extended by a decision of the UN Security Council in November 2021. In 2022, after Russia invaded Ukraine, fears of destabilisation in the Balkans erupted. As a result, the number of peacekeepers was increased to 1,100 troops. Beyond its primary mandate of maintaining security, EULEX has been actively involved in strengthening Kosovo's legal and judicial systems, fighting corruption, and enhancing the rule of law. These efforts are crucial for establishing a foundation of stability and governance that supports long-term peace and security[41].

These missions collectively underscore the Western Balkans' reliance on international organizations to manage and mitigate security threats. Their presence not only deters potential conflict triggers but also shapes the regional security perceptions. They provide a layer of reassurance in an area still grappling with the challenges of unresolved nationalism and the complexities of Euro-Atlantic integration. Their ongoing activities, ranging from peacekeeping and conflict prevention to legal and institutional reforms, play a significant role in shaping the regional dynamics and guiding the Western Balkans towards a more stable and secure future.

The risk of Respublika Srpska’s separation or civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina is currently low. Nevertheless, tensions continue to exist between the entities of the federation, which periodically provokes crises. At the same time, experts note that a potential armed conflict will be smaller than during the last war in the 1990s[42]. This is facilitated by the disarmament and demilitarisation policy that has been implemented in the country under the supervision of UN and EU peacekeeping observation missions. However, Respublika Srpska is still influenced by the legacy of the Yugoslav wars. This pushes it to take an unconstructive stance towards the Bosnian and Croat communities, which is why the federation’s cooperation with international organisations is blocked and depends on the veto of the Serb representative.

The case of Kosovo is more complicated and unresolved. The country is still in an uncertain status. Serbia still does not recognise Kosovo’s independence and is making diplomatic efforts to block this process in the international arena. As a result, Kosovo still cannot become a member of the United Nations. All attempts are blocked by the permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia and China, who support Serbian demands. Kosovo is the only country in the Western Balkans that still does not have visa liberalisation with the EU, despite the completion of the necessary procedures[43]. The lack of recognition and the dispute with Serbia block Kosovo’s opportunities for Euro-Atlantic integration. Kosovo’s public is interested in this process, which can ensure the country’s security and stability for a long time, but it is still difficult to achieve[44]. Several scenarios for a possible solution were considered under EU mediation. Recognition of Kosovo’s independence by Serbia in exchange for accelerated EU membership. Expansion of the autonomy of the Serbian minority in Kosovo. A possible exchange of territories between the two countries. However, these compromise scenarios proved unacceptable to the parties. Serbia uses its influence on the Serbian minority in Kosovo, which is concentrated mainly in the northern border areas, to create periodic tensions that create risks of destabilisation[45]. Kosovo’s Serb minority is poorly involved in the country’s political life, which Serbia uses to make manipulative claims about its protection. One of the most recent outbreaks of tension arose over the issue of the extension of Kosovo-issued licence plates to areas inhabited by the Serbian minority in 2021-2022. The risk of confrontation was averted thanks to the terms of the 1999 Kumanovo Agreement, which prohibits the movement of Serbian troops into or near Kosovo without NATO’s permission. Also, NATO peacekeeping forces, which are part of the Kosovo Rapid Reaction Force (KFOR), played a role in deterring the conflict. The dispute between Serbia and Kosovo is under control, with both sides refraining from violence due to the presence of peacekeepers. However, further prolongation of the dispute creates risks of intervention by third powers, such as Russia or China, which are interested in the conflict between Serbia and the EU. From the perspective of long-term stability in the region, the EU and NATO are interested in resolving the Kosovo status dispute[46]. The uncertainty of Kosovo’s status and the dispute with Serbia is the biggest security risk in the region at the present stage. A potential compromise is the simultaneous European integration of both countries. However, the mutually exclusive demands on each other making it impossible to reach a compromise in the short term. International organisations still act as intermediaries for dialogue with the other side. This is a natural consequence of past conflict.

Albania, like North Macedonia, is an EU candidate. The country also has no territorial disputes or conflicts with its neighbours. This significantly increases Albania’s prospects for Euro-Atlantic integration[47]. However, corruption and problems with the rule of law pose risks to stability, hindering the prospects for rapid accession to the EU. These are common problems that are inherent in the development of all countries in the region. They are one of the consequences of late reforms and development complications after military conflicts.

As such, the security of the Western Balkan countries at the present stage is linked to the processes of European integration, which will stabilise the region for a long time. EU membership is a means of finally overcoming the negative consequences of the Yugoslav wars in the region. At the same time, this process has proved insufficiently effective in overcoming the internal risks to stability inherent in most countries of the region. Euro-Atlantic integration was seen as a mechanism for achieving security, with NATO or EU membership as a reward for countries that had implemented reforms, achieved stable development, and had no internal conflicts or territorial disputes. This approach proved to be flawed due to its conditional universality. As a result, some countries in the Western Balkans, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, have unresolved problems that pose a risk of potential conflict. Kosovo is in a state of uncertainty due to the lack of international recognition of its independence and its dispute with Serbia over this. Albania and Montenegro are more stable and NATO members, but their European integration is hampered by unresolved problems of corruption and the rule of law. North Macedonia has made the most progress in European integration to date, but its efforts are subject to scepticism from neighbouring EU member states and internal problems common to the region. Uneven development, weak democratic institutions, and the memory of past conflicts keep the presence of international observer missions from the OSCE and EU and NATO peacekeepers operating under a UN mandate.

 

  1. Discussion

 

The security and long-term stability of the Western Balkans region remains a challenge for the international community. In the academic literature and expert reports, there are different approaches to the role of international organisations, such as the EU and NATO, in maintaining security in the region. There are different assessments of the effectiveness of their involvement in solving regional problems or setting strategic priorities for current activities.

In the study by S. Grillot et al.[48], which examined how the EU and NATO’s involvement contributes to the development of regional security, the focus was on the role of international organisations. In particular, in trust building, mutual understanding and peaceful conflict resolution. This was one of the urgent needs of the countries of the region after the end of the wars that accompanied Yugoslavia’s collapse. International organisations actively participated in supporting the activities of peacekeepers and investments for the reconstruction of the Western Balkans. This should have encouraged the Balkan countries to seek integration into the European community and the North Atlantic Alliance to become part of a developed security system. Although the experts concluded that international organisations could not single-handedly create a security community where it had been destroyed by past conflict, they still believed that they should play a leading role in this process. In their view, the EU and NATO can contribute to the development of stability in post-conflict societies, including at the local level. In their work, the researchers focused on the role of international institutions, paying less attention to social transformations within the Balkan communities. The study of the problem at the current stage shows that the approach described by the researchers demonstrated the insufficiency of developing ties only between the countries of the Western Balkans and international organisations. Dependence on integration has pushed to the back burner the development of a regional security community and cooperation between the Balkan countries, which should have built trust in the post-conflict reconstruction of relations. Local communities are still vulnerable to the long-term effects of the conflicts, which impede effective communication and interaction. The controversial and slow development of Bosnia and Herzegovina is an illustrative example. Ethnic tensions persist in the society and contradictions over the historical memory of the past war. As a result, the linear model of cooperation between international organisations and individual countries in the region has not proved to be sufficiently universal.

Ö. Binici[49] in his article analysed the prospects for the region’s integration in the context of growing crisis challenges for the EU both from within and from outside. The period he described was a time of upheaval for the EU, with migration, Euroscepticism, economic turmoil, and destabilising actions by regional powers such as Russia and Turkey. These factors had an impact on the EU’s foreign policy towards enlargement, primarily towards the Balkan states. The researcher devoted special attention to the EU’s policy towards Kosovo, the most problematic part of the Western Balkans. He noted that European institutions faced difficulties in engaging pro-Europeans and yet were sceptical of membership prospects for countries in integration. After Kosovo declared independence, the EU’s policy towards the country continued to be developed through mechanisms and criteria developed by institutional structures led by the European Commission and other supranational agencies, which did not depend on the problem of non-recognition of Kosovo by other countries. This allowed to facilitate the EU’s dialogue with Kosovo and Serbia – separately with each country. Author approached the problem from the point of view of neo-functionalism and consideration of the activities of institutional structures. His approach allowed him to give a broad description of the integration processes between the Balkan countries, including Kosovo, and the EU. However, he focused less on the changes in the EU’s enlargement strategy towards the Western Balkans and the internal factors in the countries of the region that have encouraged or blocked the development of their integration. The results of the study show that today there are problems not only in the policies of international organisations but also in the policies of the Balkan countries. First and foremost, there is political ambivalence, balancing between democratic and authoritarian tendencies, problems with corruption and lack of respect for the rule of law, etc., which are inherent in all countries of the region to varying degrees. At the same time, they have different degrees of reform, which requires the EU to differentiate its approaches to them. To this end, the criteria for assessing reform progress should be revised and the timing of possible stages of integration should be clarified.

J. Juvan[50], in his article examined the mechanisms for assisting the countries of the region in political and economic transformations aimed at supporting reforms in the region. In particular, the author devoted special attention to comprehensive solutions to prevent conflicts and maintain stability with the assistance of international organisations. He emphasised that in the past, international organisations had underestimated the maturation of conflicts in Yugoslavia, ignoring early warnings from experts. Therefore, in his opinion, there is a need to understand the priorities of the reform and security concept for international organisations to implement. Following him, these include legal and social reforms with the support of European institutions. A new stable model for the region can be achieved through the functioning of the rule of law, modernisation of public administration, communication with businesses on fiscal policy and supervisory institutions, and opening and protecting the competitiveness of the labour force, which will create effective social, healthcare and pension systems necessary for the functioning of an active civil society. The transformation can be carried out based on the existing assistance of international organisations and EU-targeted programmes. Author studied the problem of integration of the Balkan countries with the EU and NATO through cooperation and the leading role of institutions in the modernisation of the region. His approach was to accelerate integration through urgent reforms with the support of international organisations. The study of the problem at the current stage shows that countries receive sufficient incentives for reforms, but they are not always effective due to contradictory trends in the internal development of the Balkan countries. Following the results, this is largely caused by the lingering effects of the Yugoslav wars and the lack of regional cooperation between countries that build their relations with neighbours based on the experience of past conflicts and lack of trust in the communities. The main challenges to the region’s security are now related to unstable political and economic development. Today, the Balkan communities themselves should be interested in quick and effective reforms that can accelerate European integration and improve internal stability, without waiting for positive assessments from international organisations or EU accession as a reward for transformation.

O. Dursun-Ozkanja[51], in her discussion paper analysed the current prospects of Euro-Atlantic integration for the countries of the region. Given the geostrategic position of the region and its recent conflict past, she argued that joining NATO acts as an accelerator of the possibility of joining the EU. The author concluded that the prospect of NATO membership promotes technical and military reforms, while cooperation with the EU promotes political and economic modernisation. Thus, the tandem of the two international organisations helps to keep the Balkan countries interested in integration in times of crises within the EU regarding further enlargement. It is crucial to prevent a vacuum and negative influence of third countries on the Western Balkans, which could lead to destabilisation. The region still faces high risks of irredentism and separatism. International organisations must follow through on their commitments and strategies to integrate the region in the near term. To this end, the EU and NATO should improve the coordination of their efforts to resolve outstanding issues and resume the enlargement process. Euro-Atlantic integration and enlargement policy are the means to preserve stability and peace and establish democracy in the Western Balkans. The researcher approached the study of the problem from the standpoint of studying political institutions and activities of international organisations, revealing their achievements and current problems. The internal development of the Balkan countries and its controversial impact were not the focus of her study. Her merit was the statement of the need for a more effective integration strategy on the part of the EU, as well as the mistakes made concerning the countries of the region. As the results of the study show, the loss of integration momentum and the Balkan countries’ disappointment with the prospects of accelerated accession led to the conservation of political development trends. Reforms and modernisation have been too slow to strengthen security in the region. This has led to continued tensions around Bosnia and Herzegovina and disputes between Serbia and Kosovo. The persistence of potential sources of the conflict contributed to increased attention to security issues in the region, fuelled by a crisis of confidence and the memory of recent wars. This contributed to the effective integration of Albania, Montenegro, and North Macedonia into NATO. At the same time, Serbia’s negative attitude towards the North Atlantic Alliance, due to its position during the Yugoslav wars, excludes this country from strengthening its security by joining NATO. In addition, the attitude of Serbia and Serbian minorities, at the present stage, still makes cooperation with the Alliance difficult for Bosnia and Herzegovina and blocks this possibility for Kosovo.

A group of Western Balkan experts, W. Zweers et al.[52] in their report for the Netherlands Institute of International Affairs (Klingendael), assessed the impact of Chinese investment on the dynamics of political and economic processes in the region considering the prospects for European integration. The authors focused on the influence of Chinese finance in shaping the position of the Balkan countries towards the EU and the emergence of contradictions. Serbia was particularly interested in strengthening political and economic ties with China, seeking to use them to balance Euro-Atlantic influences. At the same time, foreign direct investment and large-scale lending from China increased economic risks for the Western Balkans. This has led to the countries of the region deviating from EU standards, slowing down reforms, and increasing corruption risks. It also disrupted the mechanisms of socialisation and the conditions through which the EU tried to restore local cooperation in the region. The experts concluded that the EU cannot offset the influence of China, which will remain a significant partner for the Balkan economies. However, it is possible to develop tools and conditions for attracting Chinese investment to the region so that it does not pose risks to macroeconomic stability and the European integration prospects of the Western Balkans[53]. In their report, the experts focused on the economic aspects of the EU’s cooperation with the countries of the region and their development trends related to the impact of Chinese direct investment. To a lesser extent, they highlighted the specifics of the economic policies of the EU and the Western Balkans. Following the results of the study, the factor of foreign investment and the growing influence of such countries as China, Russia and Turkey in the region exacerbates the problems with democracy, reforms and the risks of destabilisation that remain relevant. However, the source of these problems lies within the Balkan communities. Corruption, lack of respect for democratic standards and the rule of law, uneven economic development, and social problems, which are the main internal destabilising factors and obstacles to integration at present, have their roots in the aftermath of the Yugoslav wars and slow and inconsistent reforms. An effective solution to them is to accelerate integration, which requires a more differentiated strategy for the region by the EU, as well as a return to reform and cooperation by the Balkan countries, which will allow for greater access to European investment.

The problem of economic development and foreign investment in the context of the stability of the Western Balkans remains one of the most acute for the region. Serbian researchers N. Šekarić and V. Lazić[54] in their study examined the issue of energy imports to the region and the possibility of creating an energy cluster. The economies of the Western Balkan countries depend on energy, which is why there is a need to diversify sources. Turkey is the main supplier of energy to the region, which puts it in an exceptional position but increases the threat to the energy security of the Balkan countries. The region is of particular importance because it is in the middle of a triangle of three major energy actors – the EU, Russia, and Turkey. The authors conclude that the Western Balkans can benefit from the competition between them by improving their energy security. Serbia could benefit from joint projects to transit gas from Russia and Turkey. At the same time, this could lead to strengthening not only the economic but also the political influence of these states in the Western Balkans. Despite their reservations about aspects related to security and the growing influence of third countries in the region, researchers considered these projects exclusively in the economic sphere. Serbia’s interest and benefits from energy transit made the assessments more subjective. Instead, the risks of these projects to regional stability and further alienation from the EU were seen as less significant compared to the possible economic progress. Today, the results of the study indicate that the security factor should play a greater role in the strategies of international organisations towards the Western Balkans and the policies of local governments. At the current stage, economic projects involving Russia and Turkey are increasing their influence in the region, while leaving the problem of diversifying energy imports unresolved. This increases risks to the economic stability and security of the Balkan countries and slows down or worsens the possibilities of cooperation with the EU and NATO, which creates strategic risks for further integration.

In this regard, the Western Balkan countries are returning to the awareness of the need for long-term security guarantees. O. Anastasakis[55], in his article points out that the European security crisis has influenced a change in the perception of the need for international organisations and integration in the region. The author compared the current security crisis to the conflicts that accompanied Yugoslavia’s collapse. In addition, he examined the Balkan countries’ ties with Euro-Atlantic institutions and explored the repercussions of the security crisis for the Western Balkans and the growing risks to the region in the event of a proxy hybrid confrontation between the West and Russia. The researcher concluded that the security crisis in Europe will have an indirect impact on the Western Balkans. Security challenges may divide the countries of the region in terms of their stance and military resources. In addition, diplomatic pressure, disinformation, and ethnic tensions may increase to change the balance[56][57]. Against this backdrop, Albania and North Macedonia will step up their efforts towards European integration. Serbia, on the other hand, stayed away from supporting regional unity and has taken a non-constructive stance on security issues concerning Euro-Atlantic institutions. The EU and NATO should closely monitor the impact of the crisis on the stability of the Western Balkans, strengthen coordination in solving problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and normalise relations between Serbia and Kosovo[58]. In his study, the researcher focused on the response of international organisations to the crisis in the context of measures to be taken for the stability of the region. He rightly pointed out the resonance of the current security crisis and the past of the Western Balkans, where there are disputes that could create a risk of conflict. However, less attention has been paid to analysing the impact of the crisis on the Balkan countries and their responses outside of cooperation with Euro-Atlantic structures. It is this aspect that may determine the motivation and further impact of the intensification of integration aspirations of the countries of the region. As the results of the study indicate, NATO’s role in the security of the Western Balkans is increasing. Albania and North Macedonia, which are members of the organisation, are also considering joining the EU soon. This strengthens the trend towards the restoration of effective reforms and democratic standards in the internal politics of the Balkan countries. In turn, this strengthens the Euro-Atlantic vector of the region’s development through cooperation and integration with international organisations to achieve stability and sustainable development of the Western Balkans.

As such, the analysis of academic literature and expert assessments shows that international organisations are highly involved in supporting regional stability. Most studies focus on the activities of international institutions or the conditions they impose on the Balkan countries for reform. To a lesser extent, internal processes within certain countries of the region, which are a reaction to the EU and NATO political strategies, are covered. One of the key problems is the lack of regional cooperation and trust between the Balkan countries. They rely more on direct support from the EU and NATO to solve their security and development problems than on joint projects with their neighbours in the region. The negative consequence of this orientation has been a reliance on rapid integration, which has left several the region’s problems, such as corruption and low development standards, unresolved. The absence of an effective EU strategy for the region has increased Euroscepticism in the Balkan communities, contributing to the slowdown in reforms. The search for solutions to social and economic problems is pushing the Balkan countries towards risky projects and foreign investment, which increases the influence of authoritarian states in the region, worsens the conditions for cooperation with international organisations, and increases security risks. At the same time, the challenges of destabilisation are increasing the desire of some countries in the region to return to reforms and Euro-Atlantic integration to strengthen their security.

 

5. Conclusions

 

The research found that cooperation outcomes between international organizations and Western Balkan partners demonstrate conditional effects in establishing regional security. Where local elites displayed commitment to democratic reforms and overcoming the legacy of past conflicts, integration and security community-building was achievable as in the cases of Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia. However, hesitancy among local leaders to fully embrace political reconciliation and good neighborly relations constrained international cooperation's effectiveness and progress, reflected in the enduring disputes hampering Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo. Together, with post-communist Albania, they formed a group of six Western Balkan countries. However, the cessation of hostilities did not diminish the further role of international organisations in the development of the new states. During this period, the recovery of the Western Balkans region was linked to Euro-Atlantic integration as a mechanism for establishing lasting peace. It is established that the integration of the new countries into the EU was to restore the lost cultural unity and economic ties in the region. Political instability and a lack of reforms in the Western Balkan countries prevented the expected rapid European integration. As a result, this process was put on hold for a long time. The accession of new countries to NATO proved to be more effective. This was in their security interests and became part of the policy of stabilising the Western Balkans. These findings refine perspectives on the establishment of security communities after conflict, highlighting the continued importance of local agency and structural conditions alongside international organization efforts to shape cooperation impacts. The results caution against linear assumptions that cooperation with Euro-Atlantic institutions will automatically consolidate democracy and resolve nationalism. Sustainable regional stability in the Western Balkans remains contingent on motivating reforms that transcend ethnicized politics and the lingering grievances of recent wars. The prospects for further study include assessing the impact of international organizations on regional cooperation initiatives between Western Balkan countries themselves, beyond cooperation with Euro-Atlantic institutions. Additional research could also explore how policy strategies are shaped by evolving threat perceptions and security priorities amid enduring nationalism in the region.

 

Abstract: The research's significance lies in exploring how Euro-Atlantic integration can foster a secure environment and address the lingering effects of prolonged conflicts in the Western Balkans.The research aims to determine the impact and nature of cooperation between international organisations and the Balkan countries in maintaining stability. To achieve this goal the analysis, historical-typological and historical-comparative methods were used to characterise the approaches of the Balkan countries and international organisations to cooperate in the field of security and sustainable development. The study also used comparative analysis methods and institutional, systemic, and structural-functional methods of political science, which allowed comparing the peculiarities of integration and cooperation of international organisations concerning individual countries of the Western Balkans. The study identified the preconditions and peculiarities of cooperation between international organisations and the countries of the region. Their intervention amid the Yugoslav wars prevented further escalation of the conflict and contributed to the recovery of the region. Security in the Western Balkans required strengthening through European community expansion, but progress was hindered by challenges tied to modernization and democratic transformation. Active integration efforts often resurged during heightened security threats, underscoring the significance of security matters for both international organizations and Balkan nations.

 

Key Words:European integration; stability; security; peace issues; regional conflicts; Yugoslav wars.

 

 


*UBT-College (kadriuarian29@gmail.com).

** UBT-College (shpendim.oxha@proton.me).

*** Il contributo è stato sottoposto a double blind peer review.

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