If you think we have problems here in the U.S., just take a look across the pond.
The U.K. is leaving the European Union, messily, with the status of the Irish border still unsettled. The East Europeans are restless, with some seeing greener pastures to the east and President Vladimir Putin happily watching Russian influence surge again in Moscow’s old client states.
Italy and France are engaged in a diplomatic war of words — if not a hot conflict — as “yellow jacket” protesters and police continue to clash in the streets of Paris. Rome is thumbing its nose at Brussels on immigration and fiscal policy. Populist factions are surging and plotting to collaborate across borders ahead of the upcoming EU parliamentary elections.
The continent’s “liberals” brought this upon themselves, of course. Voters rarely take well to repression and condescension, no matter what the source.
Enter stage right, the Balkans, that ever-so-constant hotbed of, well, Balkanism, a region that seems to generate larger wars every few decades. The drums are beating again.
We’ve written about the agenda of George Soros and his allies to force a land-swap between Kosovo and Serbia, which the people in each country fear could violently stir centuries-old ethnic tensions. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said this was a very bad idea. However, in spite of these warnings, the misbegotten proposal plods on, pitting Orthodox Serbia against the Muslim (although mostly secular) Albanian ethnic populations.
For Russia’s attempts to counter NATO expansion, Serbia is most definitely a Kremlin red line. It will be interesting to see how far Mr. Putin will go to keep Serbian President Alexandar Vucic in the fold. Ordinary Serbians want to join the EU, but Mr. Vucic knows he will pay the consequences if he stiffs Moscow.
Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey is also stirring the pot, building mosques and attempting to win hearts and minds across the Balkans.
China is building infrastructure in the region wherever it can, using the tried-and-true method of loading up the host country with debt so Beijing can swoop in and take controls of ports, railroads and other vital infrastructure when the targeted governments default on their loans.
Kosovo is talking about building an army to protect from any future genocide. Meanwhile, terrorist fighters who went off to fight in the Middle Eastern wars trickle back home to their Balkan homes as the Islamic State caliphate crumbles. Syrian, Iranian and Iraqi refugees also are still making their way through the Balkans to Western Europe.
To make matters worse, the U.S. State Department is openly flouting the Trump administration’s goals in certain countries. The White House seems to be too overwhelmed to pay much attention to this tiny part of the world, but that could be changing as National Security Adviser John R. Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo get more engaged.
As all these clashing imperial visions vie for influence, access and territory, all it would take is a spark to start a real shooting war. No one needs reminding what the fatal shot that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria a century ago led to.
The world, starting with the Trump administration, would be well advised not to take its eye off the Balkans.
• L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, The New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached at LToddWood.com.