Serbia: Background and U.S. Relations Page: 2 of 18
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Serbia: Background and U.S. Relations
Following the conflicts in the late 1990s in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, the prospect of
membership in the Euro-Atlantic community and the active presence of the United States in the
Western Balkan region provided a level of stability that allowed most of the countries of the
region to pursue reform and adopt Western values. During this time, Slovenia and Croatia joined
the European Union (EU). These countries, along with Albania, also joined the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO). Montenegro became NATO's 29th member on June 3, 2017. Other
nations of the Balkans are at various stages on the path toward EU or NATO membership.
At the same time, however, many observers in Europe and the United States have been concerned
that the relative political stability of the Western Balkans, sometimes referred to as Europe's
"inner courtyard," has been shaken, as several of the countries have experienced governmental
crises involving illiberal political regimes, stagnating economies, high unemployment, and a large
exodus of people from the region. These events have raised alarms that the continuation of these
factors could provide a vacuum in which outside political interests, including Russia;
transnational crime; radicalization; and terrorism could flourish.
At the center of the Balkans lies Serbia, which occupies a key strategic juncture at the social,
political, and geographic crossroads between Eastern and Western Europe. Despite difficult
historical relations with its neighbors, its ongoing dispute with Kosovo, recent concerns over its
democratic development, and the desire to balance its aspirations toward the West with its
historical ties to Russia, Serbia is seen by some as more stable politically than some of its
neighbors. Serbia is also viewed by some as potentially the engine of economic growth for the
entire Balkan region. At the same time, Serbia is viewed by others as an important piece in the
geostrategic competition among the EU, the United States, and Russia in the Western Balkans.
U.S. relations with Serbia have been rocky at times due to U.S. interventions in the conflicts in
Bosnia and Kosovo, and the U.S. recognition of Kosovo's independence. Nevertheless, between
2001 and 2015, the United States provided close to $750 million in aid to Serbia to help stimulate
economic growth, strengthen the justice system, and promote good governance. Relations
between Washington and Belgrade have improved over the past several years and today appear to
be cordial. Despite the U.S. disagreement with Serbia over Kosovo's independence and the mixed
messages Washington believes Serbia sends over its relations with Moscow, the United States has
supported and continues to support Serbia's efforts to join the EU. At the same time, the United
States has sought to strengthen its own relationship with Serbia through deepening cooperation
based on mutual interests and respect. Because many Balkan watchers believe the EU's interest in
the Balkans has been distracted by its migration crisis and the beginning of negotiations with the
United Kingdom over its departure from the Union, many, in both Washington and the Balkans,
believe the United States needs to reinvigorate its former strategy of active engagement with the
Western Balkans, and in particular its relations with Serbia.
Congressional interest in Serbia (and Kosovo) dates to the 1991-1999 conflicts in the Western
Balkans, particularly between Serbia and Kosovo, when Congress was divided over the use of
U.S. military force in Kosovo. Over time, Congress has held several hearings on the Western
Balkans, with many Members supporting Kosovo's independence, the efforts at reconciliation
between Serbia and Kosovo, and EU membership for both countries, while others have expressed
skepticism about Serbia's relations with Russia or the viability of the Serbia-Kosovo coexistence.
This report provides a brief overview of Serbia and U.S. relations with Belgrade.
Congressional Research Service
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Morelli, Vincent L. Serbia: Background and U.S. Relations, report, September 19, 2017; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1042360/m1/2/?q=terrorism: accessed April 25, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.