International Relations The Western Balkans
Janusz Bugajski
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 October 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0094


The term Western Balkan is both geographic and political. It was initially employed by US and European policymakers to describe the part of the Balkan Peninsula that remained outside of both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) since the early 1990s. It included all seven states that were formed during the collapse of Yugoslavia (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia) together with Albania, which was emerging from international isolation. During the 1990s, several of these emerging countries had experienced wars generated by nationalist politicians to establish “ethnically pure” territories and to restore or enlarge national statehood during the disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). Following the EU’s Thessaloniki Summit in June 2003, commitments were made to include all the Western Balkan states in the European Union, and since that time Slovenia (in 2004) and Croatia (in 2013) have become EU members. NATO also underscored its commitments to integrating the region, and Slovenia (in 2004), Croatia (in 2009), Albania (in 2009), and Montenegro (in 2017) all entered the alliance. The remaining states have experienced persistent problems in qualifying for EU and NATO entry. In many cases, reforms remain incomplete and some states confront prolonged disputes over governmental powers, administrative borders, and even their sovereign status. Incomplete, conflicted, or contested states present serious challenges for the region’s institutional absorption into both NATO and the EU.

Reference Materials

A variety of background reference material is available on the Western Balkan region, including its history, political evolution, and interethnic relations (Hupchick and Cox 2001). The most intense recent focus has been on the wars of Yugoslav succession during the 1990s and on the seven states that emerged from the crumbling multinational federation. Several of the reference sources for the Yugoslav wars and postwar developments are accessible online (Central Intelligence Agency; Central and Eastern European Online Library). Several independent nongovernmental organizations have provided consistent reporting and in-depth analysis on the Western Balkans since the collapse of Yugoslavia, including: International Crisis Group 1998, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. In addition, several media resources have reported on the wars of Yugoslavia (Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), BBC Monitoring International Reports, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty).

  • Amnesty International.

    Amnesty International compiled reports of human rights violations during the war. Reports include: Yugoslavia: Torture and Deliberate and Arbitrary Killings in War Zones (November 1991) and Yugoslavia: Further Reports of Torture and Deliberate and Arbitrary Killings in War Zones (March 1992).

  • BBC Monitoring International Reports.

    The BBC provided a valuable online archive on Yugoslav developments until 1997.

  • Books on Bosnia. London: Bosnian Institute.

    Books on Bosnia is a bibliography published by the Bosnian Institute in London and edited by Quintin Hoare and Noel Malcolm and provides one of the most comprehensive listings of books, with commentary, on all aspects of the Yugoslav crisis in the 1990s.

  • Central and Eastern European Online Library.

    The Central and Eastern European Online Library offers individual and institutional subscriptions to local and international journals and re-digitized documents on central, eastern, and southeastern Europe.

  • Central Intelligence Agency.

    The Central Intelligence Agency provides background map collections and the World Factbook includes factual data on each country.

  • Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS).

    The Foreign Broadcast Information Service supplied English-language translation services from the local Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav media during the 1990s. FBIS was absorbed by the Open Source Center in 2005.

  • Human Rights Watch.

    Human Rights Watch is an activist group that investigates and publicizes human rights violations around the world. Its material on Yugoslavia in the 1990s also includes recommendations for international responses to the abuses.

  • Hupchick, Dennis P., and Harold E. Cox. The Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of the Balkans. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

    The atlas includes fifty maps spanning Western Balkan history from the Byzantine era to the Kosovo crisis in 1999. The maps demonstrate the competing territorial claims in the region.

  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

    Radio Free Europe supplied detailed accounts and analysis of the wars in Yugoslavia and the immediate postwar years.

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