A good year for Kosovo, big challenges ahead
I did this piece for the New Year’s edition of Kosova Sot, which was scheduled to publish it today:
2013 was a good year for Kosovo. It reached an important agreement with Serbia, got a green light from the EU for stabilization and association talks with Brussels, and conducted good elections on its whole territory for the first time since independence in 2008. These are not spectacular achievements, but they point in the right direction: an increasingly normal state with a future in the European Union.
What stands in the way? Kosovo is still not sovereign in vital two dimensions. One is the military dimension: it lacks an army and other ways of defending itself. The other is the rule of law dimension: it lacks the capacity to enforce the law on the whole territory and with respect to everyone.
The army is not an immediate problem, as the NATO-led KFOR provides territorial security. But KFOR will only be around for a few more years. Pristina needs to devote some quality time to working out what the major challenges to its security will be over the next 5-10 years and how it can respond effectively.
Serbia is Kosovo’s largest and most powerful neighbor. Its president has explicitly stated that he does not accept Kosovo’s territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence. While this is inconsistent with the agreement Serbia reached with Kosovo, it nevertheless has to be taken seriously.
Kosovo will never be able to counter a concerted Serbian military effort through exclusively military means. This is not an unusual situation. There are many smaller states that do not have the military means to counter an attack from a neighbor. What they do to top up their security is make complementary diplomatic arrangements that guarantee their sovereignty and territorial integrity. Sometimes this means joining an alliance. Sometimes it means reaching an accommodation with the more powerful neighbor.
That’s what Kosovo has to do. Demography and budget will limit its military means. Beyond them, it will need arrangements with NATO and with Serbia that ensure its security. The best arrangement with NATO would be membership, but guarantees short of actual membership might also be needed for an interim period. The best arrangement with Serbia is diplomatic recognition and exchange of ambassadors. But there, too, an interim arrangement may be needed.
The rule of law dimension is even more important than the military one, especially when it comes to relations with the EU. The visa waiver, a stabilization and association agreement and eventual membership all depend on improvements in Kosovo’s ability and willingness to enforce its own laws. Kosovo has to improve its reputation in Europe, where it is all too often viewed as producing more smugglers and traffickers (in people, drugs and other contraband) than its population warrants. Organized crime and corruption are as much a threat to Kosovo’s sovereignty as invasion.
Kosovo has relied heavily on the EU rule of law mission, EULEX, to establish rule of law and pursue criminal networks. While EULEX has had some successes, it cannot do the job, or do it forever. Citizens don’t want foreigners enforcing their laws. Courageous Kosovars will be needed to unravel the complex interconnections of crime, politics and the economy. I don’t know if this person or that one is guilty or innocent. But I do know that Kosovars, not Germans or Americans, should be collecting evidence and bringing any charges that are warranted.
Sovereignty has internal as well as external dimensions. 2014 should be a year in which both get their due.