Mr. Speaker, the legacy of the Dayton Accords is something the Balkans are still coming to terms with. The scourge of war and ethnic division have for too long cast a shadow of these historic and beautiful nations.
For nearly 30 years, we have worked with our friends in the region to bring peace and reconciliation. We have learned many lessons and overcome many challenges.
We have achieved peace but it remains an uneasy peace that must be closely tended to. The United States took on the responsibility when it intervened in the Balkans during the 1990s to find a political solution that enables freedom and peace between neighbors.
We are not done with this responsibility. The Dayton Accords was an important agreement, but it was a flawed agreement. It did not solve all the region’s problems and even created a few new ones.
Peacekeepers remain in the Balkans to this day holding together the fragile agreement we constructed. If violence breaks out and if the region descends into chaos, It is our credibility that is damaged.
But worst, it will reopen old wounds that are nearly healed. It is vital to our interests that peace, freedom, and prosperity triumph in the Balkans.
Through Dayton we played a role in setting the current course, so have a stake in the region’s future. Having spent a lot of time in the region, I have developed a deep affection and admiration for the peoples of the Balkans.
I know them to be a proud, resilient, and strong-willed community—not unlike my fellow Texans. Specifically, I am proud to have forged a strong friendship with our Serbian partners as co-chair of the Serbia caucus.
In them I see hope for the future. At the time Dayton was brokered, the United States and Serbia were foes, with daunting disagreements about the future of the region. But today we are friends working towards closer ties and a stronger Transatlantic community.
I have seen that in Serbian President Vucic we have a partner for the future. He is committed to a Serbia living at peace with its neighbors. This includes moving his nation into the European Union and tackling the thorny issue of Kosovo.
We must show him our support. Of course, our warming ties with Serbia and the rest of the region have caught the notice of the Kremlin. Russia has always felt the Balkans was under its sphere of influence.
Dating back to the time of Soviet imperialism, Moscow has tried to force its will on the region. Vladimir Putin is trying desperately to upset the Balkan’s integration with the Euro-Atlantic community.
In 2016, Putin even tried to support a coup in Montenegro to prevent its ascension into NATO. The Kremlin’s meddling in the region continues to this day, where it is sponsoring an elaborate and extensive disinformation campaign across the Balkans.
Putin is hoping that by flooding the media in the region with lies, he can create division, unrest, and convince the people of the Balkans to move away from the West. The citizens of the region are freedom loving people yearning to join and prosper within the Euro-Atlantic alliance, rather than the tyranny and violence of Putin’s realm.
We need to take a more active role in thwarting Russia’s deceptions. Putin, however, is not the only threat to the region.
The rise of ISIS and migrant crisis has strained the resources of our Balkan friends. The threat of radicalization and returning foreign fighters is a shared threat which we must work together to combat.
To forge our partnership with the Balkan states and demonstrate our commitment to stability in the region, it is required that the United States be attentive to their security concerns as much as any of our allies in Europe.
Let us not forget that instability in the Balkans a hundred years ago sparked a course of events that led to two world wars, millions dead, and divided Europe. That is why it is crucial we remain steadfast partners to the Balkans.
The United States has a lot to offer to help guide the region towards a bright and peaceful future. We have an obligation because of Dayton to remain engaged and see that the problems of the past are overcome.
And that’s just the way it is.