Day: July 14, 2011

A Libya busman’s holiday

I’ve got a paper coming out on Libya over at the Council on Foreign Relations in the next couple of days, but I mosied over to the Carnegie Endowment this afternoon for a discussion on Libya’s post-Gaddafi transition featuring Esam Omiesh of the Libyan Emergency Task Force and Fadel Lamen of the American-Libyan Council, Carnegie’s Marina Ottaway in the chair.

Marina started off with a cautionary tone:  the transition has to be fast enough to provide the country with some semblance of order and governance, but not so fast that legitimacy is brought into in doubt.  The country was already devastated by the Gaddafi regime even before the fighting, which has now split it east and west.  The security forces are also divided.  Political agreements take time, elections are not urgent, but some sort of interim administration is necessary.

Esam outlined the process as currently foreseen by the Transitional National Council (TNC).  The goal is a united, constitutionally based, democratic Libya.  In the immediate future, the NTC hopes for a ceasefire and withdrawal of Gaddafi’s forces, creation of humanitarian “safe zones,” release of prisoners and removal from power of Gaddafi and his family.

The NTC thinks of itself as a temporary umbrella group, a hybrid executive and legislative body.  It has already expanded from the original 31 members to 60 and will need to expand further as more areas are liberated.  Tripoli will be a particular challenge.  Tribal cleavages will not be an issue in Libya, as so many foreigners seem to think.  Nor will ethnic differences emerge as important, as Berbers are thoroughly integrated and have been fighting with the rebels in the Nafusa moutains.

The NTC foresees a committee of 15 to write a new constitution within 45 days by a committee of 15, then approved in a referendum.  Legislative elections would follow in 4 months, with presidential elections 2 months later.  Fadel and Marina preferred a provisional constitution, subject to subsequent revision in an unspecified way.  The new constitution, it has already been decided, would cite Islam as “a” (not “the”) source of law.

All this would be done in line with international mandates and seeking international support through a reconstruction conference.  International nongovernmental organizations will be welcomed, provided they are well informed and seek the trust of the Libyans, and especially if they have Libyan American staff.  The NTC may negotiate with Gaddafi, but it will not agree to allow him or any of his family to remain in power.

Fadel, noting that Libya under Gaddafi was a stateless state, or worse a stateless autocracy, surveyed the key players.  The TNC, he said, is accepted as legitimate everywhere, as is its chair Judge Abdul Jalil.  There is controversy about some of its other members, and it does not always make good decisions, but it has served well so far.

Local councils have grown up in liberated areas as well as in Gaddafi-held territory, including Tripoli (where there are thought to be four).   They are the ones governing at the local level.  The February 17 coalition of lawyers and judges is influential.  A relatively moderate Muslim brotherhood seems to dominate the Islamists part of the political spectrum, at least for the moment.  Technocrats from the Gaddafi regime, military officers, militia leaders, “syndicates” (regime-sponsored guilds of lawyers, doctors, etc.), secular democrats will all have roles to play.

An international honest broker will be needed, but not Qatar or the Arab League.   The UN and EU will play important roles, but Fadel wants the U.S. not to lead only from behind.  There will be a real need in order to ensure security for Muslim and Arab peacekeeping boots on the ground.

My comment:  A lot of wishful thinking here, especially about the speed and ease of the transition.  But what’s a revolution without a bit of idealism and hope?  I’m not one to fault people for wanting a good outcome, moving quickly, and being inclusive.

The local councils are the real news here:  few conflict societies generate bodies of this sort with palpable legitimacy.  For some reason, Libya does.  It will be difficult but important to preserve them from the depredations of the foreign invasion of embassies and NGOs, who will want to hire away everyone in sight who speaks English or has a decent education.

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Let’s be practical

As I thought I might be giving a talk this week about the Balkans, I prepared the following text, which I would not want to see go unused. So here are my latest, but not very new, thoughts about the Balkans:

The Balkans are a region that produces more history than it can consume but also generates less future than its people would like.

There are two places that still merit attention in Washington. One is Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the state created at Dayton in 1995 is facing a serious partition challenge from Republika Srpska, its Serb-dominated half. The other is Kosovo, where a similar challenge arises from Serbia’s desire to hold on to the northern 11% of the country.

These are the last territorial issues in the Balkans, a region once wracked by ethnic claims. Either one might, if mishandled, generate instability and ethnic conflict, vitiating 15 years of progress. Not only Bosnia and Kosovo might be affected, but also Macedonia and Serbia, which has Muslim and Albanian-majority areas that will want whatever the Serbs get in Bosnia or Kosovo. We need to ensure that Pandora’s box remains closed.

That reassurance can no longer come only from the United States. Today, the European Union holds most of the leverage in the Balkans. The prospect of EU membership—now ensured for Croatia and not too far off for Montenegro—has become a major incentive for Balkan reform, where otherwise there is an inclination towards ethno-territorial breakdown.

We need the Europeans to secure stability in the Balkans, but they also need us. American-led interventions ended the Bosnian war as well as Yugoslav repression in Kosovo. Nowhere are Americans more appreciated than among Bosnian Muslims and Kosovars.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Let’s start with Bosnia. In the first 10 years after the Dayton agreements were signed, it made good progress with a lot of international tutelage. But Bosnia has stalled for the past five years, since rejection in 2006 of the April package of constitutional amendments. They failed to reach a two-thirds majority in the Bosnian parliament by just two votes. It was a setback from which Bosnia has still not recovered.

Since then, Milorad Dodik, now president of the Serb-controlled 49% of Bosnia, has set course to make his Serb entity as autonomous as possible, denying the validity of decisions by the internationally designated High Representative and challenging the authority of Sarajevo-based governing institutions and courts. His stated goal is independence for Republika Srpska, even if he has often stepped back from irreversible steps in that direction.  It is not an accident that Dodik has also been predicting that EU membership for Bosnia is 50 years in the future.

We need to recognize that Dodik is serious. His strategy is to maximize the separation of Republika Srpska from the Bosnian state so that he can, if political conditions ever permit, achieve independence in the future. This is essentially the same strategy that was pursued successfully by Milo Djukanovic in Montenegro, which became independent in 2006.

There is, however, a big difference between Montenegro and Republika Srpska, whose population today is overwhelmingly Serb because of an aggressive ethnic cleansing campaign during the Bosnian war. Montenegro gained the support of all but its Serb minority for independence and conducted a referendum under strict supervision of the international community. Dodik has no intention of allowing the return to Republika Srpska of its pre-war Muslim plurality. To the contrary, the RS is unwelcoming to Croat and Muslim returnees and maintains an atmosphere hostile to non-Serbs in its schools, press, governing institutions and social life. Ratko Mladic, now on trial in The Hague for genocide and crimes against humanity, is still a hero in Republika Srpska, which is funding his defense.

There is another difference in Bosnia:  secession of Republika Srpska would lead quickly to secession of at least some Croat-majority areas of Bosnia, leaving in central Bosnia the “green garden”:  a non-viable, rump Islamic state.  Neither Zagreb nor Belgrade would want to see the green garden planted in their midst, and it is hard to picture the Americans or Europeans liking the idea either.  Avoiding this outcome was a major motive for the Americans in supporting a united Bosnia in the 1990s; it is no less important in 2011.

If ever there is a referendum in Bosnia, it should be conducted in the entire country on a serious proposition:  do you want to live in a Bosnia that can qualify to become a member of the European Union?  I have no doubt at all that such a proposition would pass with a strong majority and silence most talk of secession.

The European Union approach to this problem has been accommodation. Dodik this spring scheduled a contentious referendum on the Bosnian court system and the High Representative that would have set a precedent for an independence referendum. The High Representative was prepared to annul the legal arrangements for the voting, something he can do as the referendum violated the Dayton agreements. Instead, the European Union, without telling the Americans, arranged to accommodate Dodik’s demand for discussions on the Bosnian court system, without consulting the Bosnian government.

I have rarely seen American diplomats more outraged, though they have largely kept their fury out of the public eye. Blind-siding the Americans—actually it is usually called sand-bagging in the bureaucratic world—no doubt gave Dodik a great deal of satisfaction, as it meant that the European Union came to him and met his demand for discussion of institutions belonging to the Bosnian state, without representatives of that state present.

So what we are seeing in Bosnia is obvious deterioration of the international consensus on how to handle Dodik’s determined and consistent efforts to gain the kind of autonomy that will make independence some day in the future possible.


I am pleased that we are not seeing the same thing in dealing with Kosovo, where the EU has been leading a dialogue effort between Belgrade and Pristina intended to resolve practical problems that would improve life for both Serbs and Albanians. Robert Cooper, who has led this effort on behalf of Brussels, has kept the Americans at the table and in the loop.

The dialogue has now produced its first modest results: agreements on mutual recognition of documents and license plates as well as provision by Serbia to Kosovo of copies of official records taken at the end of the NATO/Yugoslavia war. Other more far-reaching agreements are thought to be imminent. This illustrates clearly what can be achieved when the Americans and Europeans act together.

There is still, however, a long way to go. Belgrade has said it will never recognize an independent Kosovo, which is not a problem so long as it eventually lifts the Russian veto on its membership in the UN General Assembly. This it will have to do before Serbia can enter the EU, which will not want to accept a new Cyprus-like divided member. In fact, Serbia is under pressure to specify sooner rather than later on what territory it intends to apply EU laws and regulations—the acquis communitaire. It hopes to hold on to at least the part of Kosovo north of the Ibar river, which is contiguous with Serbia and is still governed by Belgrade. If it specifies all or part of Kosovo, Serbia won’t be taken seriously as a candidate for EU membership–it would be best if the EU can be convinced not to allow it candidacy status until it settles the issue of the north with Pristina.

The Serbian political leadership, even its more forward-looking and pro-European president Boris Tadic, has painted itself into a corner on Kosovo issues. Belgrade refuses to meet with Pristina officials who are clearly identified as such.  It needs to find its own way out of this cul-de-sac. I would suggest it work along this path: recognition not of Kosovo’s independence, but of the legitimacy of the Kosovo’s democratic institutions, with whose representatives it has already reached limited agreements.

Pristina could help this process if President Atifete Jahjaga would invite Tadic to visit Kosovo’s capital and pay a courtesy call. If he refuses, he embarrasses himself: why wouldn’t he call on the democratically legitimized president of a territory he claims is part of Serbia? If he accepts, we get past a silly hurdle that the Serbs have erected for themselves.

The American role

What is the American role in all of this? We need to do what we can to complete the state-building process in Bosnia and Kosovo so that American troops and civilians can turn their attention to more pressing matters.

Here are my relatively few recommendations for what the United States should still do in the Balkans:

1. Working with the EU, get Serbia to tell RS it will never be independent or part of Serbia and that Dodik needs to turn his attention to strengthening the Bosnian state so that it can become an EU member.

2. Urge Pristina to invite Tadic to visit.

3. In a joint statement with the EU, declare that Kosovo and Bosnia will not be divided and can only hope to enter the EU as states within their well-established borders.

Even the five members of the EU that have not recognized Kosovo’s sovereignty can, I believe, acknowledge that its independence will not be reversed and that partition of either Bosnia or Kosovo is a bad idea. If we expect Belgrade to be practical, we should expect ourselves to be practical as well.

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