Op-Ed: Where to Start With Europe

Where to Start With Europe

By Morton Abramowitz and Heather Hurlburt, The Washington Post, December 23, 2004

As President Bush begins a new year’s effort to rebuild ties with European allies, one good place to start would be in the heart of Europe, with Kosovo. Europe needs this festering problem resolved — and strong U.S. involvement to do it.

Kosovo is becoming increasingly dangerous. Five years of uncertainty about its future — in or out of Serbia — has left its U.N. overseers unable to foster economic development and, despite a series of democratic elections, unwilling to give the Kosovo government more power to run itself.

The result is enormous popular frustration, leading to new and ugly violence against Kosovo’s Serbs and renewed talk of unilateral action. A further complication is the possible Hague tribunal indictment, for alleged wartime atrocities against Serbs, of the newly named prime minister, war hero Ramush Haradinaj.  Sending him to the Hague could generate massive popular anger, leading to violence not just in Kosovo but also among Albanians across the border in fragile Macedonia.

The situation in Serbia continues to decline. Recent elections generated gains for extreme nationalists and produced a government that barely functions. Leading politicians are afraid to publicly accept an independent Kosovo, even while privately recognizing that Kosovo’s 2 million ethnic Albanians would make Serbia unviable. They have put forth a plan to gather Serbs in Kosovo’s north and east, apparently aiming to establish a strong basis for partitioning Kosovo. Kosovo’s Serbs, frightened by Albanian
violence and unwilling to accept Albanian rule, have come firmly under Belgrade’s thumb and refuse to participate in Kosovo’s political life.

Concern is growing that this spring the perception of international indifference or division will unleash more undesirable results: massive popular protests, pressure on Kosovo’s politicians to move on independence somehow and attempts by Kosovo’s hard men to use force to further their ends. Belgrade’s leaders see such violence as increasing the prospects for Kosovo’s partition, and they may want to use provocation to help matters along.

That would be tragic for the people of Kosovo and a great embarrassment to the West. Continued uncertainty over Kosovo’s future and over a possible flare-up in violence does more than just hold the region back economically; it brings into question the viability of multiethnic states, and  it particularly threatens fragile Macedonia and even Serbia with all its minorities. That is a distraction that neither Brussels nor Washington wants.

The present situation is a direct result of dawdling in Washington, New York and European capitals. For too long the difficulties of working out a Kosovo solution that would stick were just too painful to face. From 1999 on, all sides resorted to hoping something would turn up. When nothing did, they foisted a neocolonial administration on Kosovo and saddled its citizens with standards for government that were desirable but unrealistic — while offering little economic development and no reason to hope for a permanent solution.

Today it is the prospect of stalemate and renewed violence that is too painful to face. The United States usefully nudged the process along  this year by declaring that 2005 would be the crucial time for starting the resolution of Kosovo’s  status. Now the time has arrived.

Western countries and Russia — the so-called “contact group” — must work out both the tricky nature of a solution and the difficult process for getting there. A settlement must bite the bullet on independence, provide ironclad protection for Kosovo’s Serb population and offer Serbia a fast track toward membership in the European Union once it resolves the Kosovo problem. Any solution will also require the rest of the world to continue providing resources, troops and careful monitoring for years.

The process of reaching a solution will be equally difficult. The road to resolution will, at some point, have to traverse serious negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia, proceed through a balky and sovereignty obsessed U.N. Security Council, and, ultimately, be expressed in a final act or international conference.

Time was that the U.S. and European presence in the Balkans symbolized a robust commitment by NATO to defend its interests and values. Today, instead, that presence poses this serious question: If the United States and Europe can’t work more vigorously together to resolve conflicts in Europe, how can either hope to deal successfully with much larger conflicts outside Europe? President Bush should commit the United States, working with its European friends and allies, to thrash matters out on Kosovo this year.

Morton Abramowitz, former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. Heather Hurlburt wrote speeches about foreign policy for the Clinton administration and was deputy director of the International Crisis Group’s Washington office.


Op-Ed: A Defining Moment

A Defining Moment

By R. Bruce Hitchner and Paul R. Williams, The Baltimore Sun, March 23, 2004

FOUR YEARS AGO, the United Nations was charged with the responsibility of establishing a protectorate over Kosovo in order to facilitate “a political process” to determine the future of the Balkan province. The United Nations has failed in its mission, as the outbreak of ethnic violence across Kosovo and Serbia revealed.

Although the United States took the lead in the 1999 NATO intervention to protect Kosovar Albanians from the Serbian army, Washington has become distracted by the war on terrorism and handed over management of the conflict to the United Nations and the European Union. The U.S. disengagement risks squandering the immense political goodwill in Kosovo and missing an opportunity to bring about a lasting resolution of the conflict.

Ethnic violence and mistrust in Kosovo have festered because the United Nations has engaged in a series of halfway measures that are ostensibly intended to move toward final status negotiations but are little more than delaying tactics. That’s because neither the United Nations nor the EU wants to come to grips with the issue of Kosovo’s final status.

The most obvious example of these tactics is the so-called Standards Before Status policy, which requires the Kosovars to meet near-absolute standards on the rule of law, democratization and human rights. The provisional government of Kosovo cannot be expected to meet these lofty standards for many years. Indeed, it’s doubtful that most EU member states could meet all the requirements laid out in the document.

No less dubious is the so-called Kosovo-Serb dialogue. While these talks provide the pretense that progress is being made toward eventual negotiations on final status, they have achieved little to date, focusing on trivial issues such as harmonizing phone codes and license plates.

The United Nations and the EU have purposely delayed Kosovo’s final status because of a misplaced fear that independence for the province – the only viable option short of renewed conflict – would be vetoed by Russia and China in the U.N. Security Council and would threaten stability in Serbia and Bosnia. As the hostilities last week demonstrate, the imagined fears are being outpaced by realities.

To restore peace to Serbia and Kosovo, the United States must reassert its leadership in the region. The primary objective of a renewed U.S. initiative must be to halt the failed U.N. and EU approach of passive denial, which simply delays the resolution of crucial issues and fosters increasing animosity and tension among the Kosovars and Serbs.

The first step is to appoint a senior U.S. representative with the political credibility to command the respect of the Serbs and Kosovars. Then the United States should insist on a discontinuation of the meaningless Kosovo-Serb dialogue and replace it with a U.S.-led effort to determine the final status of Kosovo by summer.

The objective of the talks should be to provide for the emergence of an independent Kosovo by fall.

The United States should also encourage the EU to recognize an independent Montenegro. Only when Kosovo and Montenegro are separated from Serbia will Serbia be able to focus on the corruption and political stagnation at the core of the instability in the Balkans.

Once Kosovo is independent, the United States and the EU will be able to more effectively engage with Kosovar institutions to ensure protection of human and minority rights and the promotion of regional stability. So long as Kosovo is U.N.-run, the primary political actors cannot be held accountable and can have little control over destabilizing forces.

It is important that the Kosovo Protection Corps, an indigenous police force, be given greater responsibility to protect Kosovar civilians since it is the only security force that retains credibility among them.

Finally, the guiding principle for the United States should be to prevent the partition of Kosovo, which Serbian political leaders now publicly state is the primary objective, and which is tacitly welcomed by some Kosovars. Washington must also make clear that the independence of Kosovo should not be offset for Serbia by the partition of Bosnia.

Securing the independence of Kosovo and Montenegro is a long-overdue step in the political transformation of the Balkans. The longer this crucial step is delayed, the more volatile the region will become. We are at a defining moment in the history of the Balkans.

R. Bruce Hitchner is chairman of the Dayton Peace Accords Project at Tufts University. Paul R. Williams is the Rebecca Grazier Professor of Law and International Relations at American University.


Op-Ed: Europe in Control

Europe in Control

By James Hooper, The Washington Times, February 11, 1999

At the peace talks in Rambouillet, France, more is at stake than Kosovo’s future. Important NATO equities are on the line as well. Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic and his erstwhile Russian protectors have been joined by France and some Clinton administration officials in a de facto effort to constrain the alliance’s effectiveness.

While NATO threats and inducements brought the Serbians and Kosovo Albanians to the negotiating table, no NATO representatives are present at Rambouillet. There are no plans for NATO officials to participate in the talks, although they may be allowed into Rambouillet to integrate the anticipated diplomatic agreement with the NATO ground force planned for Kosovo.

Sources close to the Rambouillet talks confirm that the Kosovo Albanian delegation is deeply concerned about NATO’s absence, and has raised the matter with senior conference officials. Their concern is understandable since the prospect of obtaining a NATO ground presence in Kosovo including American troops induced the Kosovo Albanians to attend the talks. Their trust in NATO is reflected in their implicit acceptance of a three-year interim self-government agreement rather than independence. The ethnic Albanians rightly believe that only NATO can shield them from Serbian attacks that have already displaced over 600,000 Kosovo Albanians, destroyed more than 500 villages and over 20,000 homes, and left their economy, medical and educational systems in shambles.

NATO was the proximate cause for Serbian participation as well. Having bluffed the alliance successfully last June and October to avert air strikes, Mr. Milosevic worried that this time NATO might mean business; he fears NATO power but questions its resolve. The unwillingness of the allies to insist upon his presence at the talks has already projected weak resolve, and he knows NATO is unlikely to bomb without first removing the 1,000 unarmed and unprotected Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors from Kosovo. Serbian diplomacy at Rambouillet will seek to ensure that a NATO ground force deployed to Kosovo will find its hands so tied that it will become Serbia’s partner in keeping the Kosovo Albanians under control.

Russia is poised to acquire new and undeserved laurels. Moscow’s international stature as a legitimate Balkans player is enhanced by its official presence at the negotiating table. NATO is already counting on a Russian contribution to the peacekeeping force before Washington has even signed on. This will increase Moscow’s leverage in forestalling tough NATO action. Senior American officials are already patting themselves on the back for bringing Russia into the process, in theory mitigating Moscow’s hostility to NATO. But Russia pays no price for its inclusion, and Serbia gains an ally at the talks and on the ground.

The French are hardly concealing their objective of using the peace talks to transact unfinished Gaullist business: elbowing the Americans aside and demonstrating that the Europeans can handle big league European security problems largely on their own. Were this 1991, that aim might appear plausible. But eight years of European failures to deal effectively with Balkan wars undermine such pretensions.

The missing element at Rambouillet is American leadership. The administration wants a troop mission in Kosovo that is small, cheap, risk-free and short. Washington has already been reduced to cheerleading European efforts to shoulder their responsibilities at Rambouillet. President Clinton was supposed to agree to an American troop contingent for Kosovo by Feb. 1, but recoiled from a firm decision at the meeting with his senior national security advisers three days later. Administration officials have attempted to mask his indecisiveness by claiming that congressional support had been less than expected. This, despite that fact that key senators from across the political spectrum have publicly urged forceful U.S. intervention against Serbia and the inclusion of U.S. troops in Kosovo.

President Clinton’s reaffirmation of support for the credible threat of force against Serbia is less than fully reassuring. All of Mr. Milosevic’s wars have been fought in the gap between the threat and use of Western force. Kosovo has been no exception.

The absence of presidential leadership has left the field open to others in the administration and Europe to rewrite the NATO playbook. They want an agreement, and a NATO-plus-Russia peacekeeping force in Kosovo that will nudge NATO towards a weakened but more inclusive pan-European security forum. This would serve the vision of those seeking to dilute American power and responsibility in Europe.

Who would have predicted that Serbia, a third-rate Balkan power, could have achieved in less than 10 years what the Soviets failed to accomplish in over four decades? Keep that in mind when you listen to the self-congratulatory speeches about NATO’s brave new future at its 50th anniversary Washington summit celebration in April.

James Hooper is executive director of the Balkan Action Council in Washington, DC.


Op-Ed: Dayton Still Plays Part in Peace Process

Dayton Still Plays Part in Peace Process

By R. Bruce Hitchner, Dayton Daily News, December 20, 2000

Recently in Dayton, Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the Kosovar Albanians, and Pavel Jevremovic, the chief foreign-policy adviser of the new Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica, sat down at the same table with Richard Holbrooke, President Stjepan Mesic of Croatia, and Wolfgang Petritsch, the high representative of the foreign nations that enforce the Dayton Peace Accords.

The scene was a dinner at the Dayton Art Institute organized by the Dayton Peace Accords Project.

An insignificant event?

It was the first time since the end of the war in Kosovo that Serb and Kosovar Albanian representatives had met. Jevremovic was the highest-ranking Yugoslav official to visit the United States since the accords were signed. 
It was also the first meeting between the Croatian president and a senior member of the new Yugoslav government.

It happened in Dayton.

Earlier in the day at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Hope Hotel, a chorus of leaders from both the international community and Bosnia-Herzegovina broke with five years of official international policy in publicly acknowledging that the Dayton accords require some modification to facilitate their implementation.

Richard Holbrooke, the chief architect of the accords, put it succinctly: “We must not only implement (the accords) fully, we must seek to correct those flaws and defects which have become apparent over time.”
The change in policy was announced in Dayton.

At a Nov. 18 press conference attended by the international media, President Mesic of Croatia announced that his country supports a strong central government and a single army in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Five years ago his predecessor, Franjo Tudjman, even while signing the Dayton accords, still harbored plans to partition Bosnia between himself and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Mesic chose Dayton, not Zagreb, to announce this change in Croatian policy toward Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Kosovar Albanian leaders Rugova and Hashim Thaqi, in separate press conferences at the Hope Hotel on the same afternoon, called for Kosovo’s independence and the permanent presence of NATO forces in the region. In 1995, all discussion of Kosovo’s status was excluded from the peace negotiations. Five years later, the future of Kosovo had finally become part of the Dayton peace process.

President Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro, recovering from a broken neck caused by an automobile accident, chose to attend the Dayton conference to make a plea for his country’s right to determine its own future.

The future of Montenegro was a subject for discussion in Dayton.

Forty-eight hours before the fifth-anniversary conference began last month, the chief prosecutor of the war-crimes tribunal, Carla Del Ponte, decided to fly to Dayton to remind the international community of its responsibility – affirmed in the Dayton accords – to apprehend, indicted war criminals Milosevic, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.

Zlatko Lagumdzija, the head of the multiethnic Social Democratic Party in Bosnia-Herzegovina, told a Sarajevo newspaper upon his return from Dayton that “we must finally realize that Bosnia-Herzegovina is not only not the center of the world, but not the center of the region anymore. The conference demonstrated that if we are not capable of moving forward independently, we could lose any chance for progress.”

Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula summed up the significance of the Dayton conference: “Normally for diplomatic events, the various delegations gather at their own embassies and only come together briefly at receptions before the formal meetings. At Dayton, we were able to debate issues openly and candidly with a wide range of leaders, policy-makers, NGOs and then meet with them afterward to carry on discussions.”

For the people of the Balkans, Dayton is not only the place where the accords were signed, but where direct U.S. involvement in the region was formalized. Regional leaders know that if they or U.S. leaders speak in Dayton, Europe and the Balkans listen.

The Dayton Peace Accords Project’s annual commemoration of the accords has become something more than an observance of this city’s improbable contribution to peace in the heart of Europe.

As one U.S. State Department official put it, “It is now part of the peace process itself.’

R. Bruce Hitchner is chairman of the Dayton Peace Accords Project and director of the University of Dayton’s Center for International Programs.


Op-Ed: Staying Involved in Bosnia Makes Sense for America

Staying Involved in Bosnia Makes Sense for America

By R. Bruce Hitchner, Dayton Daily News

Should NATO forces, including U.S. troops, remain in Bosnia after June 1998, when the NATO Stabilization Force (SFOR) mandate ends?

That is the question being debated quietly but earnestly in Washington these days. At stake is not only peace in Bosnia and the viability of an expanded North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but also the moral underpinnings of American foreign policy.

Of late there has been growing sentiment in some quarters for an end to the U.S. military presence in Bosnia in June, followed by a negotiated partition of the country – in essence, an abandonment of the Dayton peace process.

The Dayton agreement has hardly been a perfect vehicle for building lasting peace in Bosnia. Among other things, it legitimized the wartime division of the country along ethnic lines. In addition, some of the key objectives of Dayton have not been achieved, notably the failure so far to arrest indicted war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, and the continuing inability of most refugees to return home.

Dayton has achieved its primary purpose of stopping the war and laying the groundwork for peace. But where do we go from here?

Let us consider first the question of withdrawing U.S. troops next June. It is possible that the departure of American forces alone from Bosnia would not in itself lead to renewed conflict. But what, then, of all those noble phrases about American leadership?

Indeed, we need only be reminded that it was not until the United States became directly involved in Bosnia that four years of bloody warfare and genocide were halted. While it is misguided to think Bosnia is a society of implacable ethnic hatreds (polls consistently show that an overwhelming majority of people want to live together in peace), reconciliation and recovery will take time, and the United States is the only power capable of ensuring the necessary conditions for the former to be achieved.

The partition of Bosnia also might appear advantageous for American strategic interests, since it would supposedly separate the warring parties into their own ethnically pure, sovereign states and thus eliminate the need for the presence of NATO forces. But what, then, of our cherished national interest in promoting justice and human rights around the globe?

I, for one, could not possibly see how we could explain to the world (and ourselves) that we had given up promoting ethic and cultural diversity, religious toleration, the rule of law and the right to live without fear because it did not jibe with our strategic interests.

The fact of the matter is that our strategic interests are well-served by staying the course in Bosnia. Indeed, the new ‘frontier’ of NATO extends from Poland to the Aegean Sea on a line that passes through Bosnia. To abandon Bosnia now would be counterproductive to our efforts to build lasting security and cooperation in Europe.

Finally, it is not enough to justify our continued presence in Bosnia in terms of our self-interest as a nation; we also must find solutions that will permit Bosnia to survive. Talk of ‘exit strategies’ without a search for solutions to the problems that face that country does not make for good policy and will certainly not get us out of Bosnia soon.

A possible first step, in my view, would be to consider whether a stage has been reached in which some improvements might be made to Dayton. Are we inexorably bound, for example, to the Dayton model of a Bosnian state comprising two hostile semi-sovereign ethnic entities, each with is own army? Or should we not perhaps begin to start moving in the direction of an undivided sovereign state of Bosnia? We might also ask whether ethnic identity is the only viable way to define citizenship in the Bosnia created by Dayton.

In the end, it is critical that we continue to pursue the process, however imperfect, begun here in Dayton. This is why we have invited Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, U.S. Ambassador Robert S. Gelbard, and Vice President Ejup Ganic of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina to speak at the Hope Hotel today, the second anniversary of the initialling of the Dayton Peace Accords.

Their presence in this city will, we hope, give strength to those who wish to see Bosnia survive, prosper and continue its rich historical tradition of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity.

R. BRUCE HITCHNER is the director of the Center for International Programs at the University of Dayton.