According to Natan Albahari at the Belgrade-based International and Security Affairs Centre, the Western Balkans are “no longer a priority for the United States and have not been already for some time.”
“There are currently so many other issues which are facing the United States in the foreign policy that the Western Balkans will probably not arrive on the desk of either president anytime soon,” Albahari said.
Earlier in the day, voters in the United States headed to the polling stations to choose the country’s 45th president.
“The victory of Hillary Clinton would represent a continuation of the current US policy on the Western Balkans. Victory of Donald Trump would certainly have significant consequences for the US foreign policy in general, but it is impossible to guess in which way it would affect the Western Balkans and Serbia. Perhaps the most significant change could be the reduction of US involvement and attention to the region,” Nikola Burazer from the Centre for Contemporary Politics said.
Similarly, Director of the Belgrade Center for Foreign Policy, Aleksandra Joksimovic, pointed out that Clinton’s political record allows to presume that she would continue the already-existing foreign policy toward the Western Balkans, while Trump’s political inexperience regarding the region would probably mean he also would not change the approach towards the region.
“Mr Trump has no political experience and it is difficult to find any statement regarding the region. Therefore it is unlikely that he would have any vision for further developments for Western Balkans policy. Contrary to him, Ms Clinton was involved during her husband’s mandate and as the State Secretary. She is very knowledgeable about the situation in the region and it is expected that her policy would be the policy of continuity,” Joksimovic said.
One of the main questions in the Western Balkans, experts have agreed, is the question of Kosovo and its status. To that point, according to Joksimovic, no remarkable change in the US approach should be expected.
“There would be no radical changes regarding the US foreign policy towards Kosovo.[Kosovo’s] independence is an irreversible process for the US. But there will be continued support for the process of normalization between Belgrade and Pristina,” Joksimovic said.
On the contrary, Burazer argued that “Trump’s victory could potentially lead to reduction of pressure on both sides involved in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue” and warned that such a scenario “could lead to more instability.”
According to Albahari, one reason for a fall in the US support for Kosovo might lie in Trump’s intention to boost cooperation with Russia in the global arena.
“Trump White House would probably continue dealing with Kosovo in line with the current policy. Unless the issue would come up with some sort of future negotiations with Russia, which Trump keeps indicating that he will negotiate and makes deals with Putin (we just don’t know about what), I don’t see Trump withdrawing America’s support for an independent Kosovo,” Albahari explained.
Furthermore, he also argued that, although unlikely, Clinton could lesser her support for Pristina, too.
“While a Clinton White House could be seen as taking a closer side with Pristina due to historical reasons, the current United States administration is rather disappointed with the Kosovo leadership and if Serbia maintains the current productive role and works as a partner with the US in the region, then Serbia will have a stronger hand in defending its interests in Kosovo in the run up to the (possible) resolving of the Kosovo issue,” Albagari noted.
He also pointed out that the Serbian government has been showing signs of preparing for Hilary Clinton’s victory.
“We can see that [Serbian] Prime Minister [Aleksandar] Vucic is preparing for a Clinton victory (via his visit to the Clinton Foundation and participating in a panel moderated by Bill Clinton) and maintaining his contacts in the future administration which is very important. If you want your policy agenda to be heard and you want to be able to defend your state’s interests, having a foot in the door in the White House is very important for that and I think we are going to see a much more balanced approach from a Clinton White House when the topic of the Western Balkans and Serbia do come up,” Albahari explained.
Yet, according to the surveys of the Serbian citizens’ preferences in the US election, the majority of Serbians would opt for Donald Trump if asked.
“The active role of the US during crisis and conflicts in the region in 90s was directly connected with the mandate of President Bill Clinton, so Clinton name is awaking some negative notions,” Joksimovic explained.
In addition to Clinton’s relation with Serbia in the past, Burazer noted, “populism and harsh rhetoric used by Donald Trump resonates well with the local electorate.”
Even more, Albahari pointed out, “Trump represents a manifestation of a strong masculine patriarchal leader, all characteristics which a majority of Serbians support and see as positive attributes.”
The country’s 58th quadrennial elections for president feature Trump and Clinton, as well as minor-party and independent candidates such as the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson, Jill Stein of the Green Party and independent Evan McMullin, who is on the ballot in only 11 states.