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The Transatlantic Alliance and the Western Balkans: Regional Challenges and Options for a Common EU

Amid a growing number of foreign policy rifts between the United States and the European Union, the Western Balkans remains one region where the new US administration has identified an opportunity for close cooperation with Brussels.

Yet while the United States and European Union remain committed to a number of common policy objectives in the Western Balkans, they frequently disagree on how best to achieve them.

Especially in the most vulnerable states, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), an overarching EU-US approach has not yet been developed and agreed upon. Differences include whether to use political tools such as sanctions to deter challenges to BiH's sovereignty and territorial integrity. There is also a disagreement about the timing and sequencing of critical reforms needed to remove bottlenecks in the governance system and move BiH closer to EU and NATO membership.

Many Balkans watchers recall Lord Ashdown’s tenure as High Representative and EU Special Representative to BiH as a time when the Europeans and Americans worked well together in developing and executing a common strategy. As European political leaders convene in Sofia for the Western Balkan Summit, we will talk about the past and present challenges to transatlantic cooperation in the Western Balkans and how these might be overcome. The timing for such a discussion is critical, given the renewed secessionist threats in the region and the need for a joint US and EU response to grapple with this challenge.

Rt Hon Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon GCMG KBE PC was born in New Delhi on 27 February 1941, the eldest of 7 children. Ashdown served as a Royal Marines Officer from 1959 to 1972 before joining the British Foreign Service. He first ran for office as a Liberal candidate in 1976 and was elected leader of the Liberal Democrats in 1988. He was made a Knight of the British Empire (KBE) in 2000 and a peer in 2001. Between 2002 and 2006 Ashdown served as High Representative and EU Special Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina. He continues to serve as a Member of the House of Lords.

The author of numerous articles on foreign affairs and politics, he has published nine books, including two volumes of Diaries, a book on peacekeeping, a best-selling memoir and three historical narratives based around the French resistance in World War II. He was recently commissioned by Collins to write his tenth book, A German Tragedy – the story of the German Resistance to Hitler during the Second World War. In 2016, he was made a Companion of Honour (CH) by her Majesty, reflecting his contribution both to politics and to the world of literature. He serves on the Board of and the Advisory Boards of Silverline and G3.

Ms. Marsaili Fraser worked with international missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2000 until 2016, most recently as head of the EU Special Representative's political department, seconded by the UK government's Stabilisation's Unit. She has worked in other countries in the region and was a political advisor to Paddy Ashdown when he was High Representative in Sarajevo. She is a member of the board of Remembering Srebrenica Scotland and has published work on postwar political relations between Croatia and the Bosnian Croats and Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs. She holds degrees from the University of Oxford, the Central European University and the European University Institute. She is currently working on a comparative study of power-sharing in Bosnia and Northern Ireland.

Mr. James O’Brien is the Vice Chair of Albright Stonebridge Group (ASG). He has served two US administrations as special presidential envoy, securing the release of Americans held hostage abroad and overseeing US policy planning toward the Balkans. He has been senior advisor to the US Secretary of State and served as the principal deputy director of policy planning at the State Department. He worked to end armed conflicts in Europe, helped develop non-proliferation initiatives after the Cold War, negotiated environmental agreements, and supported initiatives to investigate and prosecute persons responsible for war crimes.

Dr. Majda Ruge is a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS. Previously, she was a research fellow at the Gulf Research Centre based in Jeddah/Geneva/Cambridge. From 2012 to 2014, she was a lecturer at the Otto-Suhr-Institute at the Free University of Berlin in the field of international relations and nationalism. Dr. Ruge has worked in management and advisory capacities for the Delegation of the European Commission to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the OSCE Mission to BiH between 2001-2005. She holds degrees from the European University Institute (Ph.D., 2011 and M.A., 2006), Central European University in Budapest (M.A. in International Relations and European Studies, 2001) and Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, GA (B.A. in International Relations, Summa Cum Laude, 2000).

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