COMMENT: Europe's borderlands

By bne IntelliNews August 2, 2012

Stratfor -

The Western Balkans, a sub-region of the wider European borderlands, historically has been a power vacuum filled by larger states or empires. The end of World War I saw the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, the states that traditionally had dominated the Western Balkans. Serb-dominated Yugoslavia emerged from within the region to dominate the Western Balkans during the 20th century.

Twenty years after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the states of the Western Balkans - Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo - are back to the traditional model of being shaped less by internal dynamics and more by external powers: namely, the West, Turkey and Russia. The changing nature of these external powers, particularly the EU and Nato, but also Turkey and Russia, will be the force that drives the Western Balkans.

Outside powers

The critical driving force of geopolitics is the nation, regardless of whether the nation also takes the form of a nationstate. The European borderlands, which encompass Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Balkan Peninsula, is comprised of smaller, more numerous nations than Western Europe. Unfavourable geography largely explains this.

A lack of access to the sea, numerous internal mountain chains, insufficient natural barriers and proximity to Asian powers define the region. These factors have hampered the formation of powerful states in the region, providing an opportunity for outside powers to dominate the nearly two-dozen smaller states of the European borderlands.

The traditional external powers of the Western Balkans - Austria, Turkey and Russia - are not as active in the region as during their imperial phases, but they still have designs on the region the primary drivers behind the recent victory of Tomislav Nikolic - whose interest in EU accession is unclear - over Boris Tadic in the presidential elections. For its part, the EU is in no rush to admit Serbia given all of its internal economic and political woes.

In the security sphere, Serbia remains the strongest military power within the Western Balkans, but Nato countries like Croatia and Albania, which joined in 2009, surround Belgrade.

Military action initiated by Serbia against its Nato-shielded neighbours is unlikely in the short- to mid-term. The potential for instability and small-scale conflict remains in the region, particularly in Kosovo. But the degree to which these low-level conflicts become more serious depends less on Serbia than it does on the outside powers that have interests in Serbia and elsewhere in the Western Balkans.

Ultimately, the region revolves not around Serbia, but on the push and pull of outside powers. As a borderland, the external is primary. Right now, the main definer of the region is the EU. A decade ago it was Nato. Before then it was the US-Soviet confrontation, and before then it was Austria, Turkey and Russia, and so on.

The Western Balkans is a region that does not mould itself. It is moulded and remoulded on the broadest level, retaining its regional integrity to some extent. The era of Yugoslav primacy was the one period in which the Western Balkans were autonomous. The autonomy was imposed as a neutral zone between the two blocs of the Cold War, but the internal dynamic was shaped by Serbia. After 1991, Serbia was no longer the one to mould the region.

Therefore, as with most of the countries of the European borderlands, the region will be shaped more by external forces than by its internal dynamics. The Western Balkans cannot be seen as a self-enclosed geopolitical sphere, but as a borderland shaped by outside forces.

Related Articles

Macedonia kept on hold as Balkans edges towards EU goal

Clare Nuttall in Bucharest -   Macedonia’s EU accession progress remains stalled amid the country’s worst political crisis in 14 years, while most countries in the Southeast Europe region have ... more

Austria's Erste rides CEE recovery to swing to profit in Jan-Sep

bne IntelliNews - Erste Group Bank saw the continuing economic recovery across Central and Eastern Europe push its January-September financial results back into net profit of €764.2mn, the ... more

CEE leaders call for Nato troops to help deter Russian aggression

bne IntelliNews -   Central and Eastern European leaders blasted Russian "aggression" on November 4 and called for Nato to boost its presence in the region. The joint statement, issued at an ... more

Register here to continue reading this article and 2 more for free or 12 months full access inc. Magazine and Weekly Newspaper for just $119/year.

If you have already registered, enter the information below with the same email you used previously and you will be granted immediate access.

IntelliNews Pro subscribers click here

Thank you. Please complete your registration by confirming your email address. A confirmation email has been sent to the email address you provided.

Thank you for purchasing a bne IntelliNews subscription. We look forward to serving you as one of our paid subscribers. An email confirmation will be sent to the email address you have provided.

To continue viewing our content you need to complete the registration process.

Please look for an email that was sent to with the subject line "Confirmation bne IntelliNews access". This email will have instructions on how to complete registration process. Please check in your "Junk" folder in case this communication was misdirected in your email system.

If you have any questions please contact us at

Subscribe to bne IntelliNews website and magazine

Subscribe to bne IntelliNews website and monthly magazine, the leading source of business, economic and financial news and commentary in emerging markets.

Your subscription includes:
  • Full access to the bne content daily news and features on the website
  • Newsletters direct to your mailbox
  • Print and digital subscription to the monthly bne magazine
  • Digital subscription to the weekly bne newspaper

IntelliNews Pro subscribers click here

bne IntelliNews
$119 per year

All prices are in US dollars net of applicable taxes.

If you have any questions please contact us at

Register for free to read bne IntelliNews Magazine. You'll receive a free digital subscription.

If you have already registered, enter the information below with the same email you used previously and you will be granted immediate access.

Thank you. Please complete your registration by confirming your email address. The confirmation email has been sent to the email address you provided.

IntelliNews Pro offers daily news updates delivered to your inbox and in-depth data reports.
Get the emerging markets newswire that financial professionals trust.

"No day starts for my team without IntelliNews Pro" — UBS

Thank-you for requesting an IntelliNews Pro trial. Our team will be in contact with you shortly.