Turning on the news, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the many domestic issues in our country. The current battle between the legislative and executive branches aside, immigration, health care, education, compile a list of exigent issues that is quite lengthy. Unfortunately, due to the immense number and complexity of these issues, it is easy to focus inward on our nation’s affairs and disregard areas we have historically been engaged in abroad. Yet, with or without our participation, these problems remain.
Whether you agree with it or not, the United States has become the preeminent world power, with expansive global influence. It is important to note that this role has not been solely benevolent; we often gain strategic advantage by our partnerships and operations with our allies and nations around the world. Recently, the administration decided to remove U.S. troops from Syria, predominantly units that advised and supported groups directly combatting ISIS. This move led to outcry that we were abandoning brothers-in-arms, and that this maneuver would cause irreparable damage. Proponents countered that it is not the sole responsibility of the United States to consistently undertake the problems of other nations, especially considering our plethora of domestic issues (see above).
The Balkans are among the many areas around the world that present geopolitical tension. In terms of vulnerable regions, many of these nations – Serbia, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Bosnia – face immense pressure from both Russia and China. Recently, Serbia entered into an agreement with the Chinese company Huawei to install surveillance equipment in its capital city of Belgrade. Huawei is a company that has notoriously acted as an agent of the Chinese government, working to undermine governments around the world, including the United States. This program developed for Belgrade and named Safe City, works using cameras equipped with facial and license-plate recognition technology, allowing the government to track individuals and their movements. Although some may claim that this helps facilitate lower crime rates, pressure on both Serbia and Huawei have shown the lack of oversight and protection afforded to the methods used to harvest this data.
In other nations, such as Bosnia, Russia has attempted to undermine democratic elections by sowing dissent through social media, television and radio propaganda. These measures, found in most Balkan states, are used to help pull these nations back under the control of Russia ideologically. When examining these issues in nations that possess enormous levels of unemployment, it is difficult to not see these attempts as analogous to tactics used by radical fundamentalist organizations in the Middle East and northern Africa: exploiting poor, vulnerable populations with promises of lucrative alternatives.
I am aware that the United States cannot directly interject itself into every geopolitical issue that appears. However, these problems will still exist without our attention. Therefore, even if we do not agree over the value of helping nations become or remain democratic, it still behooves the self-preservation of the United States to combat these nefarious tactics used by Russia and China.
ZACK KRIZEL is a U.S. Air Force veteran from Utica who studies national security policy and constitutional law in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted through Managing Editor Tammie Sloup at firstname.lastname@example.org.