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Unveiling the complexities of foreign policices in the Western Balkans to interested youth from the region and abroad

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On October 19, 2023, the second topic in the series of our Regional News Cafe webinars was “International Relations and Foreign Policy Analysis of Western Balkan Countries” led by distinguished scholar in the field, Full Professor Dejan Jović.

The event garnered substantial interest, with 18 enthusiastic young participants coming from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, the Philippines, the United States, and Serbia, and delved into the intricate dynamics of foreign policy in the Western Balkan region. Professor Jović gave a thorough introduction to international policy and questioned the widely held notion that economic interests are the primary drivers of foreign policy by highlighting the importance of ideas and identities as forces that shape international interactions.

The differentiation made by Professor Jović between foreign and domestic policy was one of the highlights of her presentation. Professor Jović debunked the popular belief that political parties unite for the sake of national interest in foreign policy, emphasizing that, given that nations frequently present diverse identities and goals on the international scene, foreign policy can in fact be an issue of dispute. Professor Jović leaned on Henry Kissinger’s expertise to emphasize that a nation’s status as a great power doesn’t solely rely on a grand foreign policy vision but on its ability to prioritize and engage strategically with specific international issues.

He further emphasized the need for states to accurately assess their own power and that of their competitors when crafting foreign policy strategies. Professor Jović gave insightful explanations of the strategies used by smaller states to improve their reputation abroad. These strategies ranged from specializing in specific policies or markets to joining international organizations, relying on powerful sponsor nations, and adopting a low-profile approach to avoid antagonizing potential allies.

The webinar also delved into the unique challenges faced by states unexpectedly created following the collapse of others, as well as nations aspiring to attain statehood but encountering substantial obstacles in doing so. In the context of the Western Balkans, it was noted that the region was initially envisioned as a waiting room for EU accession, but the transformation has been sluggish, leading to its classification as the Western Balkans. This situation has fostered a cycle in which non-European influences continue to impact the area.

In closing, Professor Jović shared insightful recommendations for the EU’s approach to the Western Balkans. To help the region integrate into the larger European framework, these recommendations included the need to remove veto powers for new members, treat the Western Balkans as a single entity, eliminate veto powers for non-EU countries, and speed up the integration of non-EU countries. They also suggested taking a more strategic stance given the region’s proximity to Asia and the Middle East.

This insightful webinar gave young politicians and activists a thorough examination of the complexities and challenges that define foreign policy in the Western Balkans, ultimately providing valuable perspectives and recommendations for the future. After the first 45-minute lecture, participants had a lot of questions about the topic, so the conversation continued for another 45 minutes.

In the months to come, we hope you’ll tune in for more engaging Regional News Cafe webinars where we’ll continue to explore contemporary and important topics.

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