Month: May 2011

After Pristina, Sarajevo

After Pristina, where I’ll visit next week, I am headed for Sarajevo.  I confess I’ve lost track of how long it has been since I was last there, but it may be 10 years.  My friends at European Stability Initiative would tell me that is why I am so out of touch and worry about things like the possibility of violence resuming, which they think highly unlikely (but Paddy Ashdown disagrees).

Important as that question is, I agree with my ESI colleagues that policy should not be set on the basis of threats to peace and stability but rather on the basis of what is good for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  So the questions on my mind as I begin to prepare for the trip are these:

  • Are Bosnians serious about getting ready for NATO and the EU?
  • What is holding them back?  Are there serious alternatives?
  • How can the obvious obstacles in the Dayton constitution (discrimination, lack of central government authority to negotiate) be overcome?
  • What other obstacles are there?  How can they be overcome?
  • How can governance in Bosnia be made more functional?
  • What can be done to reduce corruption and improve the rapport between citizens and their various governments?
  • How serious is the obvious financial difficulty of Republika Srpska?  The Federation?
  • What is generating the Croat push for a separate entity?
  • Why has civil society in Bosnia not developed as fully as many of us would like?
  • What should be done about the High Representative?  Can the EU handle Bosnia, and does it have serious plans to do so?
  • How can international community performance in Bosnia be improved?

As some readers will know, my familitarity with Bosnia stems mainly from my time as U.S. Special Envoy for the Bosnian Federation during and immediately after the war (October 1994-June 1996), followed by more than a year directing the State Department intelligence office that followed Dayton implementation and a dozen years at the U.S. Institute of Peace following the Balkans.  I confess to a good deal of Bosnia fatigue–it sometimes seems to me talking with Bosnians here in Washington that they haven’t noticed the world has changed a great deal since they held the spotlight in the mid-1990s.

That said, nothing that has happened in these last 15 years would make the world happy to see Bosnia and Herzegovina break up into Croat, Serb and Muslim ministates.  The question Bosnia faces is therefore the one my Sudanese friends failed to answer:  what will make unity attractive?  The Dayton state is proving inadequate to that task.  So what state would do the job better, and how can the Bosnians come to terms and agree to create it?

This was taken on my last trip into Sarajevo during the war:

Daniel Serwer on the way to Sarajevo, late 1995
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Heading for Pristina

I am heading in June to Kosovo for the first time since 2003, when my colleagues and I at the United States Institute of Peace offered an OSCE-sponsored training workshop to the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG).  A number of ministers participated, including the then prime minister, Bajram Rexhepi (now Minister of Interior).  That’s leadership!  The idea was to prepare the PISG for negotiations with Belgrade that, as history would have it, only began earlier this year.  We delivered similar training to the Serbian Foreign Ministry.

The training was at the police academy in Vushtrri/Vucitrn.  One morning we watched the cadets line up in the yard.  The commandant welcomed them (remember this was four years after the war, and 90% of the cadets as well as the commandant were Albanian-speaking) in Serbian:  “dobro utro.”  That too is leadership, rewarded by a great deal of respect from the Kosovo population for their post-war police force.

I have seen enough of the Kosovo government people in visits to Washington to know that they have made enormous strides since 2003.  Eight years ago I would not have said that PISG was a real state–it was still more like an agglomeration of political trends with only a glimmer of consciousness of the need for an effective bureaucracy, an independent judicial system and civil society.  I trust I’ll find things much improved on this visit.

But I’m also going to be asking a lot of questions.  Here is a preliminary set that I’ll no doubt expand in the next couple of weeks before my arrival.  I’ll welcome suggestions from readers of other issues I should be exploring.

  • Has the state established itself in a way that provides support to, and continuity between, different governments?  Is there a civil service worthy of the name?  Have the politicians learned to respect the bureaucrats and use them effectively?
  • Is the state delivering services that are needed and appreciated?
  • How well is Parliament playing its legislative and oversight roles?
  • Why does Kosovo’s economy seem stuck?  Why has foreign investment lagged?  Why are jobs in the formal economy so hard to come by?
  • Is the judicial system capable of handling high-profile cases involving Albanian bigwigs as well as inter-ethnic crime?  How much longer will EULEX be needed?
  • How can more be done to reduce corruption and organized crime?
  • How are relations between Albanians and non-Albanians, including but not limited to Serbs ?  How do non-Albanians, both those who live north of the Ibar and those who live in the south, regard the Pristina government?
  • How has Kosovo’s once strong civil society fared since independence?  Is the press free?  Is it responsible?  How can civil society be strengthened?
  • What role do Greater Albanian aspirations and their proponents play in Kosovo today?

A few days visit is of course not sufficient to answer all these questions in detail, but I am hoping that putting them out for public scrutiny will allow my many friends in Kosovo and elsewhere to offer answers, both in person and in cyberspace (answers as comments on this blog are welcome, as are answers addressed to

I am looking forward to seeing Pristina again.  My only real regret about this trip is that I won’t make it to Belgrade, though I am also going to Sarajevo.  Some questions about Bosnia and Herzegovina in an upcoming post.

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Memorial Day for all

I spent my high school years marching in the Memorial Day parade in New Rochelle, New York and have never lost respect for those who serve and make sacrifices in uniform.  Even as an anti-war protester in the Vietnam era, I thought denigration of those in uniform heinous, not to mention counterproductive.

It is impossible to feel anything but pride and gratitude to those who have  served in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Kosovo, Bosnia, Panama and Somalia during the previous decade.  Nor will I forget my  Memorial Day visit to the American cemetery in Nettuno accompanying Defense Secretary Les Aspin in the early 1990s, or my visit to the Florence cemetery the next year.  These extraordinarily manicured places are the ultimate in peaceful.  It is unimaginable what their inhabitants endured.  No matter what we say during the speechifying on Memorial Day, there is little glory in what the troops do and a whole lot of hard work, dedication, professionalism and horror.

That said, it is a mistake to forget those who serve out of uniform, as we habitually do.  Numbers are hard to come by, but a quick internet search suggests that at at least 1000 U.S. civilians have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They come in many different varieties:  journalists, policemen, judges, private security guards, agriculturalists, local government experts, computer geeks, engineers, relief and development workers, trainers, spies, diplomats and who knows what else.  I think of these people as our “pinstripe soldiers,” even if most of them don’t in fact wear pinstripes.  But they are a key component of building the states that we hope will some day redeem the sacrifices they and their uniformed comrades have endured.

I spend my working hours worrying about how to improve the performance of the pinstripe soldiers, but that should not reduce by one iota appreciation for them.  These are people who sometimes go places before they are safe enough for the troops, and they stay long after the troops are withdrawn.  I hope my readers will add a minute to their Memorial Day reflections for those who serve in mufti.  And count the many non-Americans who support our people also in your appreciation.

PS:  I wrote this yesterday and this morning found Marc Chretien’s piece in the Washington Post arguing that civilian government employees who work in war zones should be eligible for burial at Arlington.  It’s not a cause I’d have invented, but he has my support.

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Après eux?

President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen and non-president of Libya Muammar Gaddafi will soon be gone.   They have cracked their respective countries beyond repair.  It looks unlikely that Bashar al Assad will last much longer in Syria.  What can, or should, come next?

There is no reason why these revolutions should follow a common pattern, but it may be worthwhile to look at what is happening in Egypt to get an idea of the issues that will arise.  The New York Times has made a brave effort in this week’s magazine to give us a well-rounded, if optimistic, snapshot.  I was struck with this compelling observation:

The revolutions of 2011 were led by a generation that is tired of ideologies and that tends to see its own struggle in terms of more concrete personal rights and freedoms.

Many observers worry that the generals who now run Egypt may want to remain in power, or that the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood may dominate the post-revolution political space, or that economic distress will upend hopes for democracy.  All these worries are real, but the Times found the generals interested in returning to barracks, the Muslim Brotherhood split and other Islamist groups less threatening than imagined.  Economic problems may well endure and present the most serious threat to improvements in personal rights and freedoms.

Jane Novak, a keen observer of Yemen blogging at Armies of Liberation, proposes a locally-based approach to politics, social services and jobs once Saleh is gone.  I don’t really know if her “Interim Transitional Mechanism” and its local “Community Centers” is realistic.  Is it too schematic?  Cartesian organization doesn’t strike me as a likely formula for success in Yemen.  But she is on to something:  the Saleh regime’s attempt to run Yemen from Sanaa has been notably unsuccessful, and the political “opposition” seems also to lack strong roots outside the capital.  It might be a lot smarter post-revolution to try something more locally based, drawing on tribal loyalties. There is of course a risk that southerners will take advantage of the opportunity to secede, but Novak seems to feel this can be prevented, at least temporarily.

It is easy to imagine something similar in Libya, where the resistance to Muammar Gaddafi seems to have evolved largely along municipal and tribal lines, starting in Benghazi but certainly extending also to Misrata and other towns.  The same is true on Gaddafi’s side of the ledger, where his tribal strength in Sirte helps to protect Tripoli from the insurgent forces.  Building the new Libyan state from the grassroots up strikes me as preferable to replacement of Gaddafi with some internationally acclaimed worthy.  Far better a decentralized approach that makes Tripoli listen to other population centers more than it has in the past. Libyans seem fully committed to national unity, despite the current civil war, and economic hardship could pass quickly if the oil revenue is used effectively.  But of course that is a tall order.

In Syria, the risk of disintegration is serious.  Some of its Kurds–treated as second class citizens in an Arab Republic–aspire to the kind of autonomy they see next door in Iraq.  So too is the risk of a Sunni Islamist takeover that would breach one of the current regime’s only virtues:  commitment to religious pluralism. Many Syrians will be looking to settle accounts with the Alawites who run the current regime, and they will not wait to be attacked before defending themselves (that in a sense is already what they are doing).  Constitutional succession in Syria seems even more unlikely than in Egypt, which abandoned that route mid-stream. Economic problems are likely to be at least as challenging, as Syrian oil production is declining and the current regime’s repressive efforts are no doubt emptying the treasury (if it hadn’t already been emptied by the kleptocrats).

I don’t have a ready-made formula for Syria, Yemen or Libya except this:  we need to listen to the locals, and follow their lead if we can figure out what it is.  It is striking, as the Times observes, how the street protesters are committed to individual rights and freedoms.  We should be finding and supporting that vein of gold in each of these societies.  I remember all too well how we quickly abandoned the Otpor youth who led the revolt against Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, because we were more concerned to support the new government than to make sure it was true to democratic ideals.  Above all, we should not make that mistake again.


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In weakness strength

On reflection a day after the fact, I’d like to reiterate what Kurt Bassuener has already eloquently asserted: the arrest of Ratko Mladic was certainly a triumph for the Dutch. Both stubborn and racked by guilt, as Jerry Gallucci suggests, they deserve credit for sticking with their insistence on Mladic’s arrest.

But here is the deeper point:  the EU’s famous weakness–its need for unanimity–becomes a strength when it comes to imposing conditionality.  For Serbia to achieve candidacy status for membership, all 27 member states have to agree.  The Netherlands’ hard line on arrest of Mladic as a precondition for its agreement to candidacy is what made the arrest happen.

I have little doubt that several years down the pike, when Belgrade has fulfilled all the technical requirements for EU membership, that the Dutch and others will insist that it also needs to resolve the issue of Kosovo (good neighborly relations being in any event an EU requirement).  Many in Belgrade already know this; the sooner the EU makes it explicit, the quicker Belgrade will make the necessary moves.

Of course this capacity of member states to block EU decisions can also work against what I might consider a good idea.  Witness EU relations with Kosovo, which are stymied by the five EU members that don’t recognize the government in Pristina as sovereign and independent, even though most of them seem to acknowledge its legitimacy and authority.  But look what happened when those five joined the other 22 in insisting that Belgrade and Pristina begin a dialogue:  it happened quickly and seems to be proceeding well.

The EU’s leverage is a powerful force, one that will need to be brought to bear both in Kosovo and in Bosnia and Herzegovina if the remaining Balkans problems are to be resolved peacefully.  The disturbing thing is that the EU seems so infrequently capable of wielding power effectively.

Lady Catherine Ashton’s sudden visit to Banja Luka earlier this month to prevent a referendum in Bosnia on the authority of the state justice system got President Milorad Dodik to postpone his plans, but it also strengthened his position as an EU “interlocutor” and gave him the opportunity to sideline the Sarajevo government and institutions.  I am not convinced the EU came out ahead with this maneuver, which undermined the international community’s High Representative and annoyed Washington.  It is still not yet clear to me whether Dodik will cancel the referendum altogether, or hold it over the heads of his antagonists.  But I can guess what he would prefer to do.

I can only hope that the EU will use its leverage well.  Projecting power is not its strong suit, but its need for unanimity on important issues provides a strange kind of strength when it comes to imposing its will on those who aspire to membership.

With respect to Serbia, Kurt draws the right conculsions:

Serbia has proven it responds to rational incentives – and there is no reason to believe that this is not a reality across the party spectrum. So instead of bending over backwards to ensure Tadic and the Democratic Party’s re-election, the EU and wider West should instead insist that standards be met whoever is in power, and cut Serbia no more slack.

The same should go for other Balkans leaders.

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Afghanistan matters

I find it hard to give full credit to what David Ignatius perceives as “positive signs” in Afghanistan.  There have been too many false reports in the past.  But at the same time I find it hard to credit Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s pessimism and the notion, which she shares with Ignatius, that Osama bin Laden’s death somehow changes the picture dramatically:

What the Senator and the columnist share, along with most of the speakers at the CAP event, is a desire to escape Afghanistan as quickly and as harmlessly as possible.

I understand the impulse. It has already been a long and expensive slog. But what we leave behind in Afghanistan matters.

It matters not only because Afghanistan once harbored Al Qaeda, but also because the very people who today have safe haven in Pakistan might some day have safe haven in Afghanistan, from which they would be attacking a fragile nuclear weapons state. We can rely on the Northern Alliance forces that resisted the Taliban in the past to continue to do so, but they had no luck in retaking territory from the Taliban until the Americans weighed in on their side.

So Afghanistan matters because Pakistan matters. That should not however be a formula for eternal commitment of 100,000 American troops. It does mean that we should be using the time between now and the end of 2014, when President Obama has promised to turn over security entirely to the Afghans, to make a serious effort to enable the Afghan state. In state-building terms, 2014 is tomorrow, so I don’t really expect enormous progress.

But there will be no progress at all if we spend the next three years quarreling among ourselves about whether to stay that long or not. We should debate, yes, and set some goals that are realistic. But then we need to get on with serious business.

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