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.