Foreign Policy Briefing No. 30

U.S. Troops In Macedonia: Back Door To War?

Executive Summary

The continued presence of U.S. troops as a tripwire force in Macedonia is an increasingly risky venture. President Clinton’s apparent rationale for the deployment was to deter further Serb expansionism, thereby preventing the conflict in Bosnia from becoming a wider Balkan war. But the Macedonia mission places U.S. troops adjacent to Serbia’s restive, predominantly Albanian province of Kosovo. The outbreak of fighting in Kosovo, which could erupt at any time, would likely spill over the border into Macedonia, involving the American forces stationed there.

Moreover, Macedonia itself may be the target of expansionist ambitions of Albania, Bulgaria, and Greece as well as Serbia. The recent decision by Athens to impose an economic embargo against its northern neighbor is the latest manifestation of tension. Although Bosnia remains the most likely arena in which the United States could become entangled in a Balkan war, Clinton’s regional containment strategy—symbolized by the Macedonia deployment—also entails serious risks.

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Ted Galen Carpenter is director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and author of A Search for Enemies: America’s Alliances after the Cold War.