American policies in the Balkans over the past decade have come to embody all that is wrong with the fundamental assumptions of the decisionmakers in Washington. A thorough revision of those policies would be an important step toward a more pragmatic American strategy in world affairs based on the national interest.

This is no longer an isolated view. Increasing numbers of foreign-policy specialists and public-affairs analysts think that recent changes in Yugoslavia present the United States with an opportunity to revise its approach. The Rockford Institute took the initiative to assemble them and to allow them to air their opinions, aware that, in the absence of specific alternative proposals, the outgoing national security team’s prejudices and bureaucratic inertia may spill over to the new administration. The result was a conference held on November 14, 2000. Besides our own host team, the panel included experts from the World Bank, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, Deloitte & Touche, the Free Congress Foundation, and senior policy analysts and advisors from both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.

The overall consensus of the panelists and participants was that the United States’ failure to act promptly in adopting an evenhanded approach to the Balkans may cause a serious rift with the Europeans and reduce American leadership to a marginal role. To avoid future harm to its interests in the Balkans and elsewhere, the next administration should not base police on personalities. The previous policy toward Serbia—based on the personality of one man, Slobodan Milosevic—should not be replaced with the unrealistic notion that his removal will solve all regional problems.

A pragmatic foreign policy demands a reassessment of U.S. relations with Yugoslavia based on regional stability and development and on the promotion of American commercial interests. The departure from office of those responsible for the Clinton administration’s failures—notably Madeleine Albright, Richard Holbrooke, and President Clinton himself—should greatly improve the prospects for this reassessment.

The new foreign-policy team in Washington should give up the ongoing, open-ended, and ultimately futile “nationbuilding” mission in Kosovo. It should critically reexamine “humanitarian intervention” as both a concept and a policy, and recognize that it is counterproductive to challenge the notion of national sovereignty in the absence of a viable alternative. Any support for the idea of an independent Kosovo will further impair regional stability and damage American relations with our allies who are opposed to independence. The parties should work out a settlement for themselves, and the United States may offer its good offices in mediating negotiations—this time in the role of a genuinely honest broker acting in concert with its European allies in facilitating a solution, rather than trying to dictate one, as the Clinton administration was inclined to do.

The United States should cease all efforts to coerce the new government in Belgrade into surrendering persons indicted by The Hague Tribunal. Such efforts may result in more dangerous precedents, which—contrary to the American interest—are helping to establish a standing International Criminal Court (ICC), for which The Hague Tribunal for Yugoslavia and its counterpart for Rwanda are precursors. This point was reinforced by Yugoslavia’s President Vojislav Kostunica, whose videotaped message to the conference contained a pointed warning against international jurisdictions:

We know enough about the world to know that international politics can distort the idea of justice. Let me assure you: Anti-Serbianism is as common a prejudice in the Balkans as is anti-Americanism on the world stage. The essential case for justice, the need for it, is simply tills: that the human heart craves it. We accept that the judicial process should be an integral part of eventual reconciliation. But the instrumentalization of judicial retaliation can only postpone effective reconciliation and make it more difficult. If there is to be a supranational alternative, it could only be a world tribunal to which all members of the United Nations submit their jurisdiction and their sovereignty. I am not suggesting that the creation of such a body is desirable, let alone inevitable; I am simply stating a fact.

The panelists agreed that one solution would be to repatriate the tribunal’s functions to the Yugoslav successor states, including Serbia and Montenegro. In particular, the United States should regard as sufficient steps taken by the new authorities in Belgrade to hold their citizens criminally responsible for violations of domestic law. A supranational authority as a substitute for national sovereignty is unacceptable in principle and unenforceable in practice.

The conference concluded by recognizing that it is both possible and desirable to improve relations between the United States and Yugoslavia and to develop them on the basis of mutual respect, friendship, and common interest. The Milosevic regime was one obstacle to the development of such relations; the ideology of hegemonist interventionism that still prevails in America’s foreign-policy establishment is another. It is contrary to the authentic tradition of the American republic, to its true interests, and to the will of the American people. By revising its approach to Yugoslavia and developing truly evenhanded policies that will be free from ideological and special-interest pressures, the new administration will act in the true American interest, as well as in the interest of peace, stability, and prosperity in the Balkans.

By standing firm on the key issues that affect Serbia’s national interest, and especially by safeguarding its sovereignty vis-à-vis The Hague Tribunal and its territorial integrity with regard to Kosovo, the Kostunica government can also help promote new policies in Washington.

Through this conference, the Rockford Institute has made a modest contribution toward ending the imperial mindset that dominates America’s public discourse.