1) As President of the Halyard Mission Foundation, you have worked closely with the US Embassy in Belgrade and with the highest levels of the Serbian government. Both the American and Serbian government have played large roles in the work of your NGO and the annual commemoration in Pranjani. From your perspective, what are other “non-conventional” ways in which Belgrade and Washington can deepen ties?
—The Halyard Mission Foundation focuses on commemorating the important story of the rescue of American airmen during World War Two. The Halyard rescue mission was an operation to rescue American airmen that were trapped behind enemy lines and was the largest of its kind during World War II. Approximately 500 American airmen were evacuated from improvised runways in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to U.S. airbases in Italy. The mission was a complete success due to the assistance of Serbian military forces and the Serbian population.
However this is not about a single story. The relationship between the United States and Serbia is based on a strong foundation of historic connection. This is the 140th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the US and Serbia, which are based on a solid historic foundation of shared experience and values.
This is just one of many stories which shows the strong historic connection between our two countries. This connection is significant because it is based on shared values, and therefore a strong foundation for building stronger ties between our two countries and two peoples. History is important to remember, but these stories, these connections provide us an opportunity to build connections between communities. The history is not just about important dates and events, but the individuals that took place in these events. Bringing families and communities together, not just remember, but build contemporary connections is an important way to improve the relations between our two nations.
2) Milorad Dodik joined you and your former colleagues, uniformed US military, at the recent commemoration of the Halyard Mission. It is not often he would appear on stage with American military officers. Many across Bosnia Herzegovina have strong opinions about the US military. You served 24 years with the US Air Force. The US military works from the D.I.M.E model – diplomacy, information, military and economics. A generation after Dayton, how is this model being utilized?
—The DIME model is often used to describe the instruments of national power and is one way to conceptualize the use of this power in relations between states. There is a debate that this construct is not comprehensive enough and some have added the additional instruments of finance, intelligence, and law (FIL). The concept was developed as a way to synchronize government efforts and incorporate a whole-of-government approach so that all the elements of national power can be applied to solving a problem. This allows for a unity of effort among government agencies, which is a logical approach.
Of course real life does not always fit into neat academic constructs. So often the result can be suboptimal use of resources and/or other inefficiencies. The key is to understand the local context and work toward finding common ground which makes it easier to build partnerships and eventually address the larger issues. Common history based on shared values is an excellent way to find common ground on which to build multiple approaches to deal with the complexities of relations.
3) You also help run the Balkan Security Network, a growing think tank which engages military and security stakeholders across the region. One of the initiatives is providing a platform for young journalists. The State Department 2020 Human Rights Report wrote that Serbia faces, “serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists.” Beyond your work, what more can be done to build a robust free press in the region?
—There is a lot of motivated talent in the region. Like professionals everywhere, they need training, mentoring, and experience. This is necessary for building a professional cohort anywhere in the world, but even more critical here. While the press is under pressure everywhere in the world, the media space is particularly challenging in Western Balkans. Of course there are many components that add to this complexity.
Providing training and education to journalists, sending them to seminars and classes in the West; none of this is alone sufficient. It is necessary to establish organizations that allow professionals to practice their trade. There is a need to not only train, but to provide a work-place where they can apply what they have learned. Many will say this is not enough, but it is essential. And sometimes it is important to focus on the basics.
4) In March, President Biden spelled out, “China, in particular, has rapidly become more assertive. It is the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system. Russia remains determined to enhance its global influence and play a disruptive role on the world stage. Both Beijing and Moscow have invested heavily in efforts meant to check U.S. strengths and prevent us from defending our interests and allies around the world.” There are numerous examples of Chinese and Russian activity and interests across the Balkans. To use President Biden’s term, what are the “US strengths” that could be more fully utilized for the largest impact?
–Part of the answer are the tradition elements of power we discussed earlier. Economic and military power are essential in establishing strong relations between states. Of course the strong US diplomatic presence is the foundation on which our strong connection to Serbia is based. However, I think it is important to remember the basics, we sometimes forget to tell our story, and that story is appealing. Who we are, and what has made us who we are as Americans. A large part of that story is based on the values that we share. The United States isn’t perfect, but we strive to be a good partner and we build that partnership based on the goals of improving stability and prosperity.
The impact of all the large national elements of power are multiplied by establishing trust and cooperation. This is done at the local level. So while the national levels of interaction are essential, we have to speak with the citizens of Serbia, to show them the US is a good partner and that we are committed to continue to building this partnership.
Above photo: Foundation for Defense of Democracies