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Bilateral Relations Between U.S. and Croatia Keep Growing

By Chiara Vercellone

Given the multitude of security threats around the world; the growing divide between Russia and the West; disagreements between the Trump administration and the European Union; and lingering tensions in the Balkans, Croatia’s foreign affairs minister recently visited Washington to reaffirm the partnership between her young nation and the U.S.

On Sept. 12, Marija Pejčinović Burić, who also serves as Croatia’s deputy prime minister, arrived in Washington for an official meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. She also visited the Heritage Foundation to highlight the importance of maintaining the current momentum in U.S.-Croatia relations.

“[This partnership] is surely about our interests as a country, but it’s so fundamentally about our shared values forming a real and cohesive tissue intertwining Europe and America,” said Pejčinović Burić.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Croatian Foreign Affairs Minister Marija Pejčinović Burić at the State Department on Sept. 12. Photo by Michael Gross

Croatia is not only model of impressive economic and democratic growth for such a young country, but it also serves as a “focal point of some of the most important geopolitics in today’s world,” said James Jay Carafano, vice president of the Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation.

Croatia’s geostrategic location along the Adriatic Sea acts as a bridge between Western and Southeast Europe. As an active member of NATO, the EU and the U.N., Croatia has pledged promote stability, reconciliation and peace among its neighbors. Croatia is intimately familiar with the turbulence in that neighborhood. In 1991, it declared its independence from Yugoslavia, fighting a four-year war as part of the bloodshed that gripped the Balkans during the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Yet unlike many of its neighbors, Croatia today has prospered where others have not. A popular tourist destination, the country of 4 million boasts a vibrant, growing economy, strong health care and education systems, and stable government.

But it also must contend with instability on its borders, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, where ethnic divisions continue to flare, as well as Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, all of which have come under intense pressure by Russia to not move any closer to the EU or NATO.

Croatia wants to play a key role as a third party to avoid reigniting the sectarian hatreds that tore the region apart in the 1990s.

Croatia is a popular tourist attraction, which accounts for about 20 percent of its economy. Photo: Pixabay / Ivan Ivankovic

To that end, Croatia has acknowledged the importance of not neglecting international security matters, including President Donald Trump’s repeated demands that NATO members allocate more money to their defense spending. Croatia has reiterated its goal of raising future defense spending to 2% of the GDP by 2024, which would meet NATO’s objective.

Though Croatia maintains a vital security role in Europe and North America, it also has a presence in the Middle East, where a defense treaty with Israel was just signed. This treaty allows Croatia to obtain a squadron of used F-16D Barak fighter jets to replace the country’s outdated fleet of Soviet-Mikoyan Mig-21 aircrafts.

The new agreements with Israel will allow Croatia to start investing more in its defense programs. It will also open up a “new level of military cooperation with Israel, the U.S. and other nation allies, allowing Croatia to attain additional international recognition,” Pejčinović Burić said.

Croatia believes that in order to keep thriving, maintaining global and domestic security is an indispensable priority, especially as regional tensions keep rising. As such, Pejčinović Burić said she was thankful that the U.S. “is by far our primary and natural partner when it comes to dealing with these threats. By using all the political, economic and security instruments we have at our disposal we can accomplish this.”


Chiara Vercellone is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.




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