Day: September 20, 2012

The closer

We hear a lot more about international intervention missions opening than we do about their closing.  This is not as it should be.  While some of them are conceived as holding operations without clear end-states, most these days are intended to achieve something.  Then they should close.

Four and a half years after Kosovo declared independence, Pieter Feith stopped by Washington to report on what his International Civilian Office (ICO), which closed last week, achieved in implementing the Comprehensive Peace Settlement (Athisaari plan) and consider what still needs to be done.  This is Pieter’s second closing:  he also implemented an Ahtisaari plan for Acheh in Indonesia, closing the European Union mission there in 2006.

To make a long story short, the Albanians accepted the Ahtisaari plan for Kosovo independence but the Serbs rejected it.  The Kosovars declared independence anyway, in coordination with supporters like the United States and most of the European Union, as well as its immediate neighbors.  That support was conditional on implementing the Ahtissari plan, under the supervision of the ICO.

The result is a state with its critical institutions in place:  not only a constitution with ample protection for minorities as well as a parliament and executive with guaranteed minority representation, but also a constitutional court that has taken some courageous decisions, a privatization agency, a property claims commission, judicial and prosecutorial councils, a Serbian-speaking radio and television channel, a Kosovo Security Force about to be declared fully operational by NATO, ample decentralization, five new majority Serb municipalities (with Serb mayors and police chiefs).  The border with Macedonia, long a source of friction, has been demarcated.  Those who say, and some do, that Kosovo hasn’t made any progress are talking nonsense.

Kosovo now has a single legal framework.  The Ahtisaari plan is history.  All the provisions that could be implemented by Pristina acting alone have been passed in parliament.  But there are some things that are beyond Pristina’s reach, most notably control of the northern bit of Kosovo, which is still in Serb hands (though whose is sometimes uncertain).  The best Pristina has been able to do so far is establish a municipal administrative office for the north that is providing services (business permits, drivers’ licenses) as well as initiating infrastructure and other projects. Going farther will require developing a strong consensus among the political parties in Kosovo on a common platform for the north.

The division of the north from the rest of Kosovo cannot be allowed to continue, creating a new and interminable “frozen conflict”  and possibly opening a Pandora’s box of destabilization (of Macedonia and Bosnia in particular).  Pristina needs to reach out to the north, with help from the EU, KFOR (the NATO force that still has 5-6000 soldiers in place) and EULEX.  Decentralization will be part of the solution, as it has been in the rest of Kosovo.  The health and education sectors have to continue to have close relations with Belgrade, but these should be made transparent.  The EU, in particular the Germans, will insist on progress in the north as a condition for proceeding towards Serbian and Kosovar membership.

The EU, guided by the Stabilization and Association process and eventually by the accession process, will now be the main international engine in Kosovo, emphasizing rule of law (its EULEX mission at its peak had 2000 employees), transitional justice and reconciliation.  This last is of particular importance and requires a grassroots effort that is regional in scope.  REKOM, Natasa Kandic’s project, merited particular mention.  The EU will also be strong on regional integration of transportation and energy systems. There will be no grand EU Marshall plan or other “leap of imagination” in Kosovo.

The American role is still strong.  It will need to gradually diminish, allowing the Kosovo institutions to take on more responsibility.  The EU will be the main monitor of implementation in Kosovo, as it prepares for the visa waiver, a Stabilization and Association agreement and eventual membership.

On lessons learned, Feith offered a savvy few:

1.  Missions need to focus on exit strategy from the beginning (“achieve and leave” was the motto in Kosovo).   Providing support is good, local ownership is better.

2.  Combined European and American support for ICO gave it leverage.

3.  Lack of UN Security Council approval and Belgrade agreement to the Ahtisaari plan was a serious hindrance, but not an insurmountable one.

4.  Partly to avoid the implication that Kosovo was not fully sovereign, the ICO never used its “corrective” powers to veto legislation or fire officials (though it did appoint officials).  This was useful for gaining local ownership.


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