Kosovo’s security force is an opportunity

Kosovo’s Albanian leadership–President, Prime Minister, and Speaker of the Parliament–have decided to proceed with building the country’s national army, even though their proposition lacks Serb support and has made at least some in NATO and the US embassy uncomfortable. The impatience is easy to understand: Serb refusal to go along has blocked this move for years, even as pressure to complete Kosovo’s sovereignty has grown in the Albanian part of the electorate. NATO isn’t going to stick around forever, though its commitment to Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will remain vital to both.

What about the wisdom of this move?

I would certainly have preferred the conversion to a serious security force be undertaken with Serb support, or at least abstention. That’s what Pristina has been trying to do for several years. But Belgrade is opposed and controls enough Serb votes inside the Kosovo parliament to block a constitutional amendment, even if some Kosovo Serbs could be convinced. Patience has not won the day. Now the Albanian political leadership is proceeding with what we call in negotiation theory their “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement” (BATNA).

The proposal to move forward is legislative, not constitutional. I won’t comment on the legalities–that’s not my forte.

The outcome of this maneuver depends in part on Belgrade’s BATNA. Serbia will certainly appeal to the international community to block the Albanians from proceeding. It will likely use the votes it controls in Kosovo’s parliament to block other legislation. It may stiffen its resistance to re-integration of the Serb-majority north of the country. It could even move tanks to the boundary/border and threaten intervention if there is any harm to Serbs in Kosovo, though that would set up an unwelcome confrontation with NATO.

None of this will stop the Albanians I imagine. It will also be counter-productive, as it will make it harder for the Albanian political leadership to back down.

I’ll offer an alternative, one entirely within the capacity of the Belgrade and Pristina politicians to embark upon.

The kind of army Kosovo requires depends entirely on the threat environment it faces. If the threat from Serbia were removed, Kosovo could opt for a small, mobile armed force designed for international deployments. It would no longer need a ground force capable of resisting a Serbian incursion, at least for a few days. Instead Kosovo could begin to pay back an international community that has devoted massive resources to it.

The way to remove the Serbian threat is diplomatic recognition of Kosovo, in exchange for that smaller and more mobile Kosovo security force. If diplomatic recognition is a bridge too far, allowing Kosovo into the United Nations might suffice, but then exchange of diplomatic representatives with the rank of ambassador would still have to follow.

Neither of these moves is likely right now. Serbia will hold a presidential election April 2, with a possible second round April 16. Kosovo is not due for parliamentary elections until 2018, though they could come earlier. If they don’t, the period between April and December would be the best available time for a deal on the security forces and diplomatic recognition of some sort. The politicians in Pristina and Belgrade will know better than I do whether this is in the realm of the possible.

Failing a deal, we can expect heightened tensions, which are all too apparent throughout the Balkans, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia. The Russians are doing their best to make things worse, by backing secessionist moves by Milorad Dodik’s Republika Srpska in Bosnia and undermining prospects for successful government formation in Macedonia. Washington, paralyzed by a messy political transition and lack of clarity about its foreign policy, is contributing to uncertainty. Brussels, preoccupied with Brexit as well as important elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany is not doing any better.

Kosovo’s small security force is not an insoluble issue. But it will take a bit of imagination and risk-taking to resolve it in a way that satisfies at least some of the aspirations of both Serbs and Albanians. The time for courageous political leadership is nigh.

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3 thoughts on “Kosovo’s security force is an opportunity”

  1. Russia and china automatically endorse Kosovo in UN if Serbia does?

    Serbia can’t recognize Kosovo and still have it as part of its territory in its constitution. They would need a referendum.

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