To The End Game In Kosovo
order to reach consensus among key international players
on the immediate way forward after Slobodan Milosevic's
capitulation in Kosovo, the decision on its final/future
status was deliberately left undecided. In retrospect,
that has proven counterproductive, as it has adversely
impacted on political developments in both Serbia
proper and Kosovo ever since.
About two years ago the Contact Group introduced
a policy with great fanfare, called "standards
before status." The basic idea was that clear
standards would be set in a number of areas, reviews
would periodically be carried out to measure progress
in meeting those standards, and when it was determined
that sufficient progress had indeed been met, talks
could begin on determining the future/final status
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has just named a
Special Envoy, Kai Eide, to carry out the review of
those standards. He is a highly qualified diplomat
with long experience in the region and I have no doubt
that the report itself will be accurate and probably
extremely critical of progress or lack thereof in
many key areas.
Nevertheless, it seems certain that whatever that
report says, the conclusion will be that it is time
to begin talks on final status. In other words, the
policy of "standards before status" has
been gently, but firmly put in the diplomatic trash
bin. This was clearly signaled in the remarks of Under
Secretary of State Burns to the U.S. Congress and
on his subsequent visit to the region. The basic reason
is that the international parties realized that meeting
those standards, no matter how loosely worded, would
probably take a decade or longer. No one was willing
to wait that time. Some, like Secretary of Defense
Rumsfeld want U.S. troops out of the Balkans (at least
the overwhelming majority of them) and see a decision
on Kosovo as permitting that to happen. Others genuinely
believe that failing to come to a decision is hampering
progress in Serbia proper and Kosovo. Others are simply
afraid that the Kosovar Albanian majority will become
increasingly disenchanted with the international community
and even violent if the status quo is maintained much
One can argue about the wisdom of moving ahead to
a conclusion, but regardless of the merits or lack
thereof, all parties in the region have noted the
fact that the international community has reversed
course on a key policy approach. This will give renewed
confidence to those opponents of the policies of the
international community not only in Kosovo, but Bosnia
and other places as well. They can now hope, with
some justification, that given time or changed circumstances,
policies, which now look carved in stone, may become
In expectation of the beginning of discussion on
final/future status in Kosovo, all parties have been
positioning themselves for the process:
---Kosovar Albanians have made it clear that the
only solution they will accept is unconditional independence
within the current borders of Kosovo.
---Belgrade has come up with a united position of
"more than autonomy, less than independence."
Virtually all Serbian politicians have called independence
for Kosovo "unacceptable."
---Members of the Contact Group have made statements
ruling out a return to the pre-1999 situation, ruling
out any union with neighboring states, and underscoring
the need to develop a multi-ethnic society. In a significant
change, at least of U.S. policy, they have also specifically
ruled out any sort of partition. Previously, the U.S.
position was to deliberately refuse to rule any options
out, concentrating on standards implementation instead.
I have very mixed emotions about this process. On
the one hand, I do agree that the entire region will
not be stabile until all outstanding questions such
as Kosovo, the future of Montenegro (independent or
part of Serbia and Montenegro), and revising Bosnia
so that its government can work effectively have been
decided. But it's not enough to simply move rapidly.
Both the process of coming to solutions and the actual
solutions themselves are critically important. Unless
these situations are all handled with extreme care
(particularly in the case of Kosovo), one can end
up destabilizing the region rather than stabilizing
Given the statements of the Contact Group, it seems
clear that the actual possible solutions are very
limited. In fact there are only four:
a) Unconditional Independence for Kosovo within
b) Conditional Independence, with the International
Community reserving certain powers for itself for
a period of time or leaving troops in place for a
time or some other variant. The idea would be to provide
protection to the minorities and overall security.
c) Independence for Kosovo as one of three equal members
along with Serbia and Montenegro in a Confederation
of the three states.
d) Adding Kosovo to the current Union of Serbia and
Montenegro as a third Republic.
If anyone has any doubt as to why some in the European
Union have been so concerned over the "Belgrade
Agreement" with Serbia and Montenegro, look no
further that items c and d above. They are deliberately
trying to keep those options open and worried that
the timing of the referendum on Montenegrin Independence
next year might make those options less viable.
No Serbian Politician will be willing to sign a
piece of paper agreeing to Kosovar Independence. One
only has to look at how former Foreign Minister Svilanovic
was treated for being part of the recent Balkan Commission
Report to understand that fact. I suspect that the
same is true for any Kosovar Albanian who would sign
any document that maintained any sort of tie with
Serbia proper. Consequently, regardless of the emphasis
now being put on discussion among all parties, including
Belgrade, in the end, the decision will have to be
imposed by the International Community. In so doing,
we need to be aware of the likelihood of one of two
equally unpalatable scenarios coming to fruition:
---A decision on final status that is perceived
as so unacceptable to the Serbs that it leads to an
exodus such as took place after Operation Storm in
Croatia in 1995 or in Sarajevo in 1996. This in turn
would dramatically increase the already strong nationalist
forces in Serbia and probably bring down any government
in place at that time. It would also guarantee years
of real hostility between Serbia and Kosovo.
---A decision on final status that is judged as
so unacceptable to the Kosovar Albanians that they
turn increasingly to violence directed against the
international community and the other ethnic groups.
In other words, they would begin a new guerrilla war.
Walking the tightrope between these two scenarios
will be extremely difficult. One key, for the Serb
reaction, is whether the Kosovo Serbs actually feel
secure in Kosovo in terms of their religion, culture,
education, and ties to Belgrade, and way of life.
It has been frustrating, therefore, to see that decentralization
in Kosovo has been deliberately stalled. This is simply
one more sign how on the issues really central to
the future of a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo, neither
the Kosovar Albanians nor UNMIK are willing to take
the steps needed to bring it about.
We also need to be clear that the challenges facing
Kosovo are enormous. The hatred, fear and suspicion
among the ethnic groups remains at an unacceptably
high levels. The economy is a genuine, full-blown
basket case with huge levels of unemployment, almost
no foreign investment, and a lack of resources that
would be the foundation for any economy. The key Albanian
political parties have no sign of being able to work
together constructively. If the international security
presence were to depart Kosovo today, there will be
severe outbreaks of violence with regional implications
within one week.
The implications of the above are that the international
presence in Kosovo under any circumstances, regardless
of the ultimate decision on status, will continue
to be large and influential for a long time to come.
The final decision, therefore, will have to take that
into account and will be a complex package of assurances,
assistance, carrots, and potential sticks so that
all parties will, however reluctantly, acquiesce.
The key - and absolutely essential - part of any
package deal has always been fast track admission
to the European Union for the region encompassing
Serbia proper and Kosovo. Obviously, significant financial
assistance from the EU under any such scenario would
also be required. Consequently, I am deeply concerned
over the ongoing crisis within the European Union.
Regardless of how many statements of reassurance one
now hears from EU representatives that all commitments
to the region will be kept, the reality is that no
one today can state with certainty what will happen
with the EU over the next few years. In the grand
scheme of EU relations, Kosovo becomes a minor issue
subject to the interaction of EU members such as France
and the UK.
This all reminds me of my boat, which happens to
have a broken fuel gauge. It seems that the future
of the region is in the EU boat and we are heading
for an extremely dangerous passage with rocks and
rapids galore. And we are not at all sure just how
much fuel we have in our tank.