Month: November 2011

The Balkans in Europe whole and free

My colleague here at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, Kurt Volker, testified earlier this month in the House on the Balkans.  Kurt and I don’t agree entirely on some policy points in his presentation, but I think the analysis was spot on and the policy recommendations–as would be expected from a former ambassador to NATO and principal deputy assistant secretary for Europe at the State Department–were well crafted in the broader context of Europe whole and free.  So I am delighted he has given me permission to post his written statement.  It is well worth a read for the Balkan-watchers (and inhabitants) among you.

Here are Kurt’s main policy points:

• In the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Dayton framework has stalled out. It is time to launch a new, major push from the international community to go beyond Dayton and establish lasting, effective governing structures – a Dayton Two. The Butmir process of a few years ago was a good effort, but ultimately did not succeed. We should go further.

There are plenty of positive forces for change in Bosnia today – from reformers and young people to civil society to businessmen and so forth. The conditions for progress have never been better. But the current political structures have guaranteed long-term divisions inside the country that play to the hands of nationalist and separatists. We should not close down the Office of the High Representative, or phase out the EU Force, until political structures are settled and functioning. So we should make a major push to settle these very issues.

• Likewise, we need a fresh push for political progress on Kosovo – in particular arrangements for Mitrovica in the north. Ethnic Serbs in southern Kosovo are well-protected and able to participate actively in society in Kosovo. There is no reason ethnic Serbs in the north could not do the same, but they are radicalized and held back. Criminal interests – both local and from Serbia proper – Serbian interior ministry police, and of course the nature of the Kosovo government and international community’s past engagement, have all played a role. But it has gotten worse with time, not better, and it is time to push for a more wide-reaching resolution.

Here, one needs also to push the European Union on its role. Despite years of history and the ruling of the International Court of Justice, five EU member states do not recognize Kosovo’s independence, as the United States and 22 other EU members have done. This serves to perpetuate the belief in Serbia, and in Mitrovica, that Kosovo’s independence can be un-done. It can’t. And neither can partitions or territory swaps solve Kosovo’s problems. Indeed, such steps would add new problems in the entire region. While no one can force any state to recognize another, the sooner the EU develops a stronger and more unified position, the sooner both sides in Kosovo can stop looking backward and start looking forward. With all the other problems Europe has to tackle right now, it makes no sense to continue contributing to this one.

• I want to add a word on Macedonia as well. In 2008, Macedonia was ready to be invited to join NATO, but there was no consensus within NATO to do so, because the name dispute with Greece was unresolved. Under the interim agreement of 1995, Greece had supported Macedonia’s participation in international organizations under the temporary name of “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.” But Greece broke with this practice when it came time to admit Macedonia to NATO. Since then, Macedonia itself has slid backwards on some reforms, and has ramped up its use of controversial symbols of ancient Macedonia as a means of rallying the public and distracting from other issues at home.

Macedonia should be a vibrant crossroads of the Balkans – linking Greece to the north and linking the Western Balkans to Greece and the Mediterranean. The current stand-off serves no one’s interests: Not Greece, not Macedonia, not Europe, not the people of the Balkans, and not the United States. For years, we have supported the UN lead in negotiating a possible solution to the name issue. All of the elements have been put on the table at one point or another. It is time for the U.S. and EU together to make a concerted effort to (a) re-assert the validity of the 1995 interim agreement and use of FYROM as a temporary name, which – with Greek agreement – would allow Macedonia to join NATO and progress toward the EU; and (b) simultaneously, launch a major political push, including with incentives and disincentives, in support of the UN process, to get both sides to a final settlement.

Where would I differ?

Mainly on Bosnia: I would not be able to tell the Secretary of State that she should risk another failure like Butmir. Dayton 2 is much more likely to lead in a more ethnic nationalist direction, which is the wrong one in my view.

On Kosovo, only in nuance: I think we should make resolution of Kosovo issues–at least of the north–a condition for Serbia’s EU candidacy, which should not go ahead December 9 unless there is a clear and irreversible Belgrade commitment to cooperate in reintegrating the north with the rest of Kosovo.

On Macedonia, not at all: the interim accord is the way to go.  I understand an International Court of Justice decision on this is due December 5. Let’s hope it is clear and unequivocal in Skopje’s favor.

Thank you, Kurt for a terrific overview!

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Even bad elections may beat none at all

While some worry that an “undemocratic party” will win Egypt’s parliamentary elections and others worry about violence and irregularities in presidential and parliamentary elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), it appears that the voting in both countries Monday and Tuesday went off unexpectedly well.

That is a low bar.  There were lots of problems of course–names missing from voter rolls, missing, confusing and inaccurate ballots, campaigning too near polling places, paying for votes–but violence was relatively minor and people were clearly enjoying the opportunity to register their preferences.  We of course have to await the considered judgment of observers, and there are several more rounds to go, but it is looking as if this first phase of elections in Egypt will be credible.  DRC is less certain.  Four opposition presidential candidates have already rejected the results, but Kabila’s main opponent, Etienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba, has not yet spoken.  He seems still to harbor hopes of winning.

If it happens, something like credible elections in these two countries would be excellent news, whoever wins.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt certainly advocates things I find distasteful, including applications of sharia that are blatant violations of human rights.  But that does not really make them undemocratic.  It wasn’t so long ago in the United States that politicians regularly advocated segregation, which we now recognize as a blatant human rights violation.  I shouldn’t even mention capital punishment.

DRC President Joseph Kabila, who is likely to win the first-past-the-post contest in DRC for a second term, is also not my kind of guy.  In office for 10 years, he has not managed to move DRC from its unenviable position at the very bottom of the development scale.  But what counts now is not the results but the process, which for the first time is being administered by the DRCers themselves.  If the population believes the election was even remotely acceptable, that would be a big step forward.

I’m not keen on elections as a way of solving problems.  Egypt will have just as many next week as it had last week, as will DRC.  But as a marker of change, and an opportunity for citizens to participate and express their preferences, elections have virtue.  Just look at Burma:  its grossly unfree and unfair elections in 2010 have opened the door to reforms that were unthinkable only a few years before.  Even bad elections may beat none at all.

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The third law of holes

The first, well known, is that when you are in a hole, stop digging.  The second, less known, is to fill it in to keep it from becoming a hazard.

The third:  a hole not filled in will cause more damage in the future than it would cause if you took care of it now.

Europe needs to keep the third law in mind as December approaches.  That is when the European Union, already facing an existential challenge from the euro crisis, is to decide on Serbia’s candidacy for membership.  The EU can choose to ignore what is going on in northern Kosovo, where local Serbs are insisting on remaining part of Serbia, and go ahead with candidacy.  Or it can insist on a clear and enforceable commitment by Belgrade to accept integration of the north with the rest of Kosovo, in accordance with the Ahtisaari plan.  If it fails to do the latter, it will be violating the third law of holes.

Europe does not need another candidate for membership in this difficult moment.  Serbia has done well in meeting many EU requirements since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic, but Serbia’s small population and its aging demographic make it a marginal addition to the Union, at best.  At worst, it could become a financial burden on the other 27 or 28 members (Croatia is already slated to become the 28th). While certainly not a candidate for the euro zone, Serbia’s economic performance is not going to contribute much to European vitality:  the latest IMF projection is 2% growth in 2011 with 11.3% increase in consumer prices.  Next year the IMF is projecting 3% growth and 4.3% increase in prices, which sounds unlikely in both dimensions.

The counter-argument is this:  getting Serbia irreversibly on track for EU membership will ensure that problems like Kosovo and Belgrade’s relationship with independence-minded Republika Srpska (the Serb-controlled 49 per cent of Bosnia and Herzegovina) fade rather than grow. These issues will evaporate as Serbia gets closer to EU membership.  Besides, Serbia has parliamentary elections next year.  It would be better if Boris Tadić’s pro-Europe Democratic Party were to win once again.  Giving Serbia EU candidacy will help.

I repeat these arguments for the sake of completeness.  I don’t know of any evidence that they are true.  Tadić has had more than ample opportunity to choose Europe over Kosovo, something he has steadfastly refused to do.  Maybe someone with less tarnished nationalist credentials would be able to accept what everyone knows:  Kosovo is lost.  But this unsubstantiated pro-Tadić reasoning  provides ample justification for kicking the can down the road, which is where most of the 27 EU members would like to see it.  They don’t have any stomach for worrying about additional bits of Balkan real estate when their common currency is on the verge of going down the drain.

I am hoping that there is at least one EU member that will see the situation differently and invoke the third law of holes.  This is one of those odd situations–like the Dutch insistence on turning Ratko Mladić over to the Hague Tribunal–when a single EU member can have a profound impact by standing on principle.  That’s what the third law of holes requires.

I know you are wondering:  no, there is no fourth law of holes.  That’s it!

PS:  I’ve corrected in the above text a mistake in the original that said presidential elections will occur next year.  In fact, parliamentary elections will occur next year (the rumored date is May 5–certainly there is no reason to rush candidacy for that deadline) and presidential elections will occur in 2013.

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Showing up is half an election

Egypt’s first post-Mubarak election, run according to astoundingly complex rules, looks as if it passed its first test today: a lot of people showed up.  There will surely be lots of reports of abuses and improprieties, and there are several more rounds to go in the effort to choose members of a parliament whose only clear responsibility is to choose a committee to write a new constitution.  But the big turnout will validate the decision of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to proceed despite continuing protests against military rule and complaints about the electoral system.  Many Egyptians don’t like the instability that deprives the country of foreign tourists and weakens an already struggling economy.  They voted with their feet today.

One tweep opined before the election:  “…losing an election is far more politically advantageous than boycotting them.”  Unfortunately, some of our dear democratic friends in Egypt seem to have decided the opposite.  Even if they did not boycott, they spent far too much time and energy trying to get people to demonstrations in Tahrir square against the military’s blatant efforts to insulate itself from civilian control rather than getting out the vote and trying to make the elections go their way.

Their fear is that the military is establishing a regime in which it will remain above and apart from civilian authority, unaccountable and protective of its privileges.  Many of the most determined demonstrators also fear that remnants of Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) or the Muslim Brotherhood’s newly organized Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) will do well in the elections.  That will almost surely be the case for the FJP, which has the advantage of a well-ensconced infrastructure, great discipline and a history of determined opposition to a regime that fell less than a year ago.

It is difficult to say you are in favor of pushing the military out of power and at the same time oppose the elections that are a prerequisite for pushing the military out of power.  It is time for secularist democrats to realize that organization and coherence count.  They are unlikely to win big in any event, but they would surely do better if they focused more on grassroots organizing and less on challenging the SCAF in the piazza.  That will be especially important for the presidential elections next year, where fortunately the main protagonists appear to be from the moderate middle of the political spectrum.

Democracy is a long-term game:  showing up is half an election, but an election is just a moment in a decade-long transition.  The important thing is to put in place a mechanism that people regard as legitimate and useful, one that can be used many times in the future.  It will be great for Egypt if these elections lead in that direction.


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Getting ready for post-Assad Syria

While my enthusiasm for nonviolent revolution in Syria has not waned, some of the best pieces of the past week have focused on the risks involved.

International Crisis Group (ICG) weighed in with an analysis of where things might go wrong:

  • the fate of the Alawite community;
  • the connection between Syria and Lebanon;
  • the nature and implications of heightened international
  • the long-term impact of the protest movement’s growing
    militarisation; and
  • the legacy of creeping social, economic and institutional

Patrick Seale offered a more generic warning of civil war and a far-fetched (or is it imaginative?) proposal for BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) mediation to avoid it (with thanks to Carne Ross for tweeting it).

Meanwhile, back at the Arab League they imposed in principle serious sanctions on Syria, including a ban on transactions with its central bank as well as travel by regime big shots and a halt to Arab development projects in Syria.  As usual, some of the important stuff is not mentioned.  Commercial air transportation with Syria will continue, assets in the Gulf have not been frozen, and neighbors Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan have not committed to complying with the sanctions, which will probably be implemented slowly and incompletely.  Even if all were willing, the regime would find ways of taking advantage of sanctions to enrich its least savory characters.

One other thing is also certain:  the longer it takes to get rid of Assad, the more difficult the transition to a democratic regime will be.  No one can pretend that the Syrian National Council (SNC) is yet ready to govern, even if Libya and France have recognized it (the latter as a partner for dialogue and not a government).  It needs to hasten its preparations, which so far seem rudimentary.  The SNC (and other elements of the opposition?) will reportedly meet in Cairo within a week to elaborate its vision and plans for the transition.  The Syrians could do worse than take that ICG list of issues and work on serious plans to resolve them.

PS:  The UN Human Rights Commission “Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,” published this morning, makes grim reading. Here are a couple of randomly chosen paragraphs:

48. Several defectors witnessed the killing of their comrades who refused to execute orders to fire at civilians. A number of conscripts were allegedly killed by security forces on 25 April in Dar’a during a large-scale military operation. The soldiers in the first row were given orders to aim directly at residential areas, but chose to fire in the air to avoid civilian casualties. Security forces posted behind shot them for refusing orders, thus killing dozens of conscripts.
49. Civilians bore the brunt of the violence as cities were blockaded and curfews imposed. The commission heard many testimonies describing how those who ventured outside their homes were shot by snipers. Many of the reported cases occurred in Dar’a, Jisr Al Shughour and Homs. A lawyer told how security forces took positions in old Dar’a during the operation in April. Snipers were deployed on the hospital rooftop and other buildings. “They targeted anyone who moved”, he said. Two of his cousins were killed on the street by snipers.


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Next week’s peace picks

I am not one for 2.5 day events, but for those who can sit still that long and pay the admission fee the 7th International Lessons Learned Conference November 30-December 2 might be a good place to find your muse.  For others, here are the events this week in DC I might consider attending (were I not working feverishly to finish writing my own book).  As always, writeups of these events will be considered for posting on (just let me know in advance if you are planning to do one):
1. Tunisia: From Dictatorship to Democratic Era
Hosted By: SAIS, Conflict Management Program and American Tunisian Association
November 29, 4:30 PM – 6:00 PM
Location: Room 500, The Bernstein-Offit Building
Summary: Salah Bourjini, former division chief of the U.N. Development Program, will discuss this topic. A reception will follow at 6 p.m. For more information and to RSVP, contact
2.  Foreign Policy and the 2012 Elections

Tuesday, November 29th

6:00 – 7:00 PM
Registration and Networking Reception

7:00 – 8:00 PM
Panel Discussion and Q&A

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
1779 Massachusetts Avenue Northwest

         Speakers:        Steve Hayes
         Speakers:        The Weekly Standard
         Speakers:        Josh Rogin
         Speakers:        Foreign Policy

        Moderator:       Elise Stefanik
        Moderator:       Foreign Policy Initiative

To RSVP, please click here.
3.  America’s Challenge: Engaging a Rising China in the Twenty-First Century

Michael D. Swaine, David Lampton, Geoff Dyer Wednesday, November 30, 2011 – Washington, D.C.
9:00 AM – 10:30 AM EST

Register to attend

As the world’s predominant political, economic, and military force, the United States faces a significant challenge in responding to China’s rising power and influence, especially in Asia. This challenge will require more effective U.S. policies and a reassessment of America’s fundamental strategic assumptions and relationships.

Carnegie’s Michael Swaine will discuss his new book America’s Challenge. He will be joined by David M. Lampton of Johns Hopkins University, who will provide comments. Geoff Dyer of the Financial Times will moderate.
4.  Aiding Without Abetting: Making Civilian Assistance to Pakistan Work for Both Sides
November 30, 2011 // 11:00am — 12:30pm
There will be a live webcast of this event.
More than two years after President Obama signed the Kerry-Lugar-Berman (KLB) Act into law, the U.S. civilian assistance program to Pakistan is under fire in both countries. Many are prepared to deem it a failure. What can be done to salvage KLB? This event marks the release of a major new report on U.S. civilian assistance, the culmination of the year-long deliberations of a Wilson Center working group convened to reevaluate the aid program.
Jane Harman, Director, President, and CEO, Woodrow Wilson Center
Jonah Blank, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Polly Nayak, Chair, Woodrow Wilson Center Working Group on Pakistan
Robert M. Hathaway, Asia Program Director, Woodrow Wilson Center
Others to be announced
6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
5.  Dan Drezner Book Talk
11:00 am – noon, Thursday, December 1, Abramson Family Founders Room, SIS Building, American University

Daniel W. Drezner will be speaking on his new book from Princeton University Press, called Theories of International Politics and Zombies. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.

School of International Service
Catherine Favier Kelly
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