Month: March 2012
America’s patriots were hard at work this week, not attacking the nation’s enemies but each other. First the Romney brigade launched a missive, apparently the first salvo in a planned barrage. The Obama missive defense went ballistic. The question is this: how much difference is there, really, between the two presumed candidates?
On one issue, defense spending, there is a clear and present difference: Obama is in the midst of cutting close to half a billion dollars from projected increases in the Pentagon budget over the next ten years. Romney says he would not do that (without explaining how he would avoid it). He has committed himself to a naval buildup, apparently in anticipation of a Chinese challenge that will be decades in the making. Presumably to cover the interim, he has declared Russia America’s main foreign threat. Obama is already moving to shore up America’s presence in Asia and the Pacific, but he shows much less concern about Russia and more about Iran.
Romney has said Iran will not get a nuclear weapon if he is elected president. Obama says Iran will not get a nuclear weapon while he is president. Romney is clearly thinking more about military threat that enables diplomacy and Obama more about diplomacy enabled by military pressure. That’s a distinction with a difference in emphasis.
Both candidates are Israel‘s best friend. Obama has its back. Romney has its front. Neither is willing to pressure his best friend to reach a final status agreement with the Palestinians. Romney seems inclined to ignore their existence. Obama does not but has reached a dead-end on the issue.
Both candidates are also Castro’s worst enemy. Romney would pursue a tougher isolation policy with Cuba, one that has failed for more than 50 years to bring results. Obama would try to undermine the Castro regime with soft power, a more recent approach that has also failed to work.
On Iraq and Afghanistan, there are again some real differences. Romney says it was a mistake for Obama to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq. Obama asks how they could stay if Iraq did not want them and refused to allow immunity from prosecution. Romney says the drawdown in Afghanistan is too fast. Obama leans toward accelerating it. That difference too is real: Romney would stay in Afghanistan to win, Obama wants to get out before we lose.
Then there are the issues that have not yet been launched. Romney will likely say Obama hasn’t done enough to support the rebellion in Syria. Obama won’t say it, but he hesitates on Syria because he wants to keep his powder dry and needs Russian support on Iran. Obama will vaunt his accomplishments against Al Qaeda. Romney will criticize Obama for failing to bring around Pakistan.
There are also the intangibles. Romney says the United States needs to be number 1 and lead. Obama says the United States needs to collaborate with others and share burdens. Romney says he would never apologize for the United States. Obama apologizes when we are responsible for something going terribly wrong. Romney will say Obama is too soft. Obama will say Romney is too simplistic.
There are some who think this kind of missive exchange is clarifying or otherwise edifying. I’m not so sure, even if I think my team–that’s the Obamites–got the best of it on this occasion. I guess I am nostalgic, but it would be nice to return to the “water’s edge”: that’s a foreign policy that ignores partisan differences once we leave the east and west coasts to go abroad. We shouldn’t hide the real differences, but there is more similarity here than either side would like to admit. Nor will they do so any time before November.
Nouri al Maliki, the prime minister orginally chosen in 2006 because he and his Dawa party were regarded as too weak to threaten the bigger fish of Iraqi politics, is improbably completing his sixth year in office (give or take a month or two) with another relative success: the Arab League Summit he hosted this week in Baghdad. It marks the reemergence of Iraq as a regional player, one which borders both Syria and Iran, the West’s two big preoccupations in the Middle East these days.
While the Western press is underlining that fewer than half the 22 heads of state attended the summit, the Iraqis will be glad to have gotten 10 of them to a security-handicapped Baghdad, including the Emir of Kuwait. That’s significant, not only because of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 but also because relations between the two countries were tense until recently.
Also significant is the absence of the other Gulf heads of state, who want to see better treatment of Sunnis in Iraq. Boycotts are not my style of diplomacy–they’d have done better to attend and complain. But I suppose the message was clear enough.
The main substantive issue was Syria. The Arab League is now backing Kofi Annan’s plan, which to Baghdad’s satisfaction backs off the demand that Bashar al Assad step down. Instead it talks about “an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people.” Anyone who has followed Maliki’s elastic interpretation of his domestic political commitments over the past year–in particular to his putative coalition partners Iraqiyya and the Kurdish bloc–will understand immediately that this language will not constrain him to insist that Bashar has to go.
That said, it is not really Iraq’s role, or even the Arab League’s, to push Bashar aside. That role belongs mainly to the Russians, who have so far protected him from a UN Security Council resolution. They are showing signs of impatience with their protégé, who is not looking so reliable these days. The Americans need to convince the Russians that they have better chances of maintaining their port access and arms sales in Syria with a successor who can last rather than a wobbly Bashar.
In the wake of the Summit, Iraq will take over the presidency of the Arab League from Qatar. This will put Baghdad in a decisive role vis-a-vis Syria during the period in which a denouement is likely to occur. Iraq will want to make sure that the successor regime in Damascus is one that does not feed Sunni insurgency in Iraq and treats Alawis gently.
Baghdad will face enormous challenges if Bashar al Assad does step down. The West will look to the Arab League for answers to difficult questions: how will law and order in Syria be maintained? What will have to be done to help it revive its flagging economy? Where will the necessary relief come for what are now likely more than a million refugees and displaced people? Iraq, not far itself from having been a basket case, will have a major role fixing another broken state.
But those challenges lie in the future. For the moment, Maliki can enjoy his earnings from what was a high stakes bet.
We are coming to a critical and delicate moment in the diplomacy about Syria. The Annan peace plan, which does not call explicitly for Bashar al Assad to leave power, has gained Arab League and UN Security Council backing. Bashar has said he accepts it. The Syrian opposition has not.
They are going to get their arms twisted, hard. The clear signal comes from David Ignatius, who argues in this morning’s Washington Post that they should go along with the deal. This is the opening salvo in what will no doubt be an intense U.S. government effort to convince the Syrian National Council and anyone else who will listen to go along. There is a strong likelihood that the pressure will split an already fractious opposition.
Ignatius simply assumes that the Annan plan will lead to the departure of Bashar. That is where the opposition, and the United States, have to be very careful. So far as I can tell, the Annan plan addresses this question only obliquely, by requiring that the Syrian government work with the UN envoy
in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people
I have been a supporter of Annan’s efforts, but I have to confess that this is a very weak reed on which to hang anyone’s hopes for a serious political transition. That Bashar al Assad needs to step aside in order “to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people” may be perfectly obvious to me. But it is not obvious to Bashar, who has repeatedly claimed that he understands and expresses the aspirations and concerns of the Syrians.
This of course is the issue that precipitated the Russian and Chinese vetoes of Security Council resolutions. Neither Moscow nor Beijing wants to be seen as carrying out regime change in Syria at the behest of the West or the Arab League.
The question is whether they are prepared to do it, even if they are not prepared to say it out loud. There is a big question mark here, one that the Syrian opposition needs a clear answer to, at least in private, before it signs on. Washington needs to help them get that answer and be prepared to guarantee it will happen.
The rest of the plan is a re-hash of things Syria has already agreed to do, and then not done: stop fighting, cessation of hostilities, pullback of the Syrian army and heavy weapons from population centers, deployment of UN monitors, humanitarian assistance, release of detainees, access for journalists and respect for free association and the right to demonstrate.
Opinion on whether Bashar can be made to comply with the plan this time is split. I don’t really think there is any possibility he will if he stays in power. His removal is a prerequisite for the Annan plan to have a chance to work. But he is feeling buoyed by recent military success, even as it becomes clearer with every passing day that his regime has lost legitimacy with the vast majority of the Syrian people.
There’s the rub: it is more than time for him to go, but he clearly intends to stay.
PS: Here is footage of a Syrian government helicopter allegedly rocketing ‘Azaz near Aleppo on March 25. If anyone in the Obama administration is looking for a reason to impose a no-fly zone, here it is:
Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dačić yesterday announced the arrest of two Kosovo Albanians in retaliation for the arrest of four Serbs by Kosovo authorities:
The reciprocal measures are not in Serbia’s interests and the Serbian police does not wish to do this….[but] this type of situation (arrests of Serbs) can obviously no longer happen without reciprocal measures.
I hardly need mention that “reciprocal” or retaliatory arrests have no place in a rule of law lexicon. Nor need I mention that doing things not in your country’s interest is dumb. With this singular act of hubris, Dačić has likely done more to tarnish Serbia’s European credentials than anyone else in recent months.
The problem goes deeper. The arrests were made under a warrant issued by a Serbian court, one that is no longer resident in Kosovo. This illustrates how little Belgrade respects UN Security Council resolution 1244, to which it appeals regularly and mistakenly as the basis for claims to Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo. That resolution, if it did nothing else, put Kosovo–including its judicial system–under temporary UN administration, pending a decision on final status. Serbia does not accept the proposition that the decision has been made, which is its right. But under 1244 it has no right to be administering law in Kosovo.
The law under which the arrest was made includes, according to Balkan Insight, the following:
Whoever attempts to unconstitutionally bring Serbia or SaM[Serbia and Montenegro] into a position of subjugation or dependence in respect of another state, shall be punished by imprisonment of three to fifteen years.
So we are not talking small beans here. And the impact of the arrests will be much broader than on the two people arrested. It will curtail travel by Kosovo Albanians in Serbia, which the recent EU-brokered agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on travel documents and border regime was supposed to encourage.
Dačić is no fool. He knows full well that his move will bring him nationalist votes and embarrass President Tadić, who has sought to burnish Serbia’s European credentials as he tries to convince Brussels to give Serbia a date on which to start accession talks. Tadić is going to have a hard time explaining to Brussels why it should bend over backwards for Serbia when Belgrade is busy undoing an agreement the EU brokered.
What about the arrest of the four Serbs by the Pristina authorities? According to the press, they were carrying election materials for the May 6 Serbian elections, which Belgrade wants to conduct in Serb communities in Kosovo and Pristina wants to prevent.
I am sympathetic with those Kosovars who want to establish full sovereignty on the entire territory of Kosovo, but I still need to ask why it was necessary to arrest the four Serbs. Surely there are more nefarious activities going on than carrying election materials. I suspect the answer is that it will be a politically popular move for Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, who faces strong pressure from more nationalist Albanians to stop Serbia’s many activities inside Kosovo. But he also expects to visit Washington next week, where a provocative move like the arrests is unlikely to be welcome.
I’d call this dumb and dumber. I’ll let you decide which is which.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki seems for the moment to be winning his high stakes bet on hosting the Arab League summit this week in Baghdad. The first bar is set pretty low: if the meeting comes off without any major security incidents or diplomatic kerfuffles, Iraq will be able to herald it as a successful milestone marking the return of Baghdad to regional prominence and a renewed role in the Arab world.
It could amount to more. It already says something about the Arab League that a Kurdish president and a Shia prime minister are leading an Arab League summit. Maliki has successfully courted improvements in relations with Sunni-dominated Egypt, Algeria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in the last couple of months. Some are hoping he might use the occasion to tilt Iraq away from Iran, perhaps even capturing a significant role with Russia in the effort to manage a negotiated transition in Syria.
Of course the whole thing might still blow up, too. Either literally, if Al Qaeda in Iraq slips through Baghdad’s well-manned but still porous security cordons, or figuratively, if heads of state decline to attend or the Syria issue leads to a serious diplomatic breach with the Sunni Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar that would like to boot Bashar al Assad.
A successful Arab League summit could significantly improve Maliki’s standing at home, where he has also been doing some fence mending. His big achievement was passing the budget in parliament. His Sunni and Kurdish putative allies in parliament might still like to bring him down, but they have been unable to mount a serious threat and have not managed even to suggest an alternative majority. Besides, they like their cushy jobs.
Maliki may be mending his fences, but they are still fences. His majority is increasingly dependent on support from the Sadrists, whose reliance on Iran will limit his room to maneuver.
What does this mean for the U.S.? The most immediate issue is Syria: Washington would like Baghdad to help get Bashar to walk the plank. Tehran will resist that mightily, and if it happens will redouble its effort to create in Iraq any “strategic depth” it loses in Syria. Maliki can only gain from an end to the Assad regime if it gets him serious support from the Kurds and Sunnis within Iraq, as well as the broader Arab world. I’d like to believe that would happen, but he is unlikely to have enough confidence it would.
The longer-term issue is the political orientation of Iraq. Will it stand on its own and develop strong ties with the West, as well as with the Arab world and Iran? Or will it tilt inexorably in Iran’s direction, risking internal strife as well as its own independence? The Arab League summit is unlikely to have much long-term impact in determining this question. Iraq’s Sunnis are convinced Maliki is an Iranian stooge. The Americans still hope he’ll come around in their direction.
One major factor determining the outcome is rarely discussed, even in expert circles: how Iraq exports its oil and eventually also its gas. If it continues to put the vast bulk of its oil on to ships that have to pass through the Gulf and the strait of Hormuz under Iranian guns, Tehran’s influence will grow. But there is an alternative. If Baghdad repairs and expands the “strategic” pipeline to enable export of large quantities of oil (and eventually gas) to the north (to Turkey) and west (to Syria or Jordan), any government in Baghdad will see its links to the West as truly vital. Maliki’s government has been doing the needed feasibility studies, but it is not yet clear that it is ready to make the necessary decisions, since export to the north and west would mean crossing Kurdish and Sunni controlled territory.
Iraq once seemed hopelessly divided. But those divisions can be bridged, if there is political will to do so. Geography and oil are fate.
The Johns Hopkins/SAIS Center for Transatlantic Relations today published Unfinished Business – The Western Balkans and the International Community. Editors Dan Hamilton and Vedran Džihić and selected authors (I’ll be among them) will unveil the book, based in part on a conference last summer in Sarajevo, this afternoon at 4:45 pm at SAIS (BOB, 1717 Massachusetts, room 500) on the occasion of the Southeast European Economic Forum.
I submitted my chapter on “U.S. policy on the Western Balkans” a month ago, so a few items may be dated, but here it is:
More than twenty years ago Secretary of State James Baker said after a failed mission to preserve Yugoslavia as a single country: “We got no dog in this fight.” Half a dozen wars and about $30 billion later, the Americans are too discreet to repeat the Secretary’s judgment, but they are anxious to avoid further American commitments and want to turn the Western Balkans over to the Europeans.
Baker was correct. There were no vital American interests at stake in the Balkans in 1991. No one there was threatening the safety and security of Americans at home or abroad. We expected the Europeans to manage the dissolution of former Yugoslavia. Jacques Poos had declared: “The hour of Europe has dawned.” Fresh from signing the Maastricht Treaty that claimed to establish a Common Foreign and Security Policy, the Europeans followed the German lead in recognizing the independence of Slovenia and Croatia over U.S. objections. The U.S. trailed after.
The Americans eventually took the lead in the Balkans, intervening repeatedly. This started with the NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Bosnia in 1993 and continued through the NATO bombing of Bosnian Serb forces in 1995, the deployment of IFOR in Bosnia in 1995/6 and the NATO war against Yugoslavia over Kosovo in 1999. American peacekeeping troops stayed in Bosnia until the end of 2004 and they remain in Kosovo today.
These military interventions in the Balkans happened not because of a single over-riding vital or strategic interest but because of an accumulation of secondary interests in a relatively benign international environment. American goals included:
- Preventing atrocities and refugee flows that risked radicalizing Muslim populations and destabilizing neighboring countries,
- calming the consequent domestic U.S. political reaction,
- maintaining U.S., European and NATO credibility, and
- reducing tensions within the Alliance.
Starting soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Balkans interventions faced relatively little opposition from a Russia distracted by its own transition problems and a China still emerging as a major economic power. America was in its “unipolar” moment and faced few direct challenges around the world. It sought, and still seeks, a Europe whole, free, democratic and at peace.
But the global situation today is dramatically changed. The Council on Foreign Relations list of prevention priorities for 2012 includes 30 risks to U.S. national security, none of which is in the Balkans. Lengthy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have exhausted the American military. A financial crisis and severe recession have depleted its economic resources. It still faces serious challenges from nuclear proliferation by North Korea and Iran as well as the global challenge of violent Muslim extremism. China and Russia are no longer quiescent. Though its economy and military are still the largest on earth, America needs to reduce its lower-priority commitments, contain its budget deficit and regain its economic vitality.
As a consequence, Washington is trying to extract itself from the Balkans gradually and prudently, turning over management of the relatively few remaining problems there to the Europeans, the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The European Union took over the military role in Bosnia in 2004. The Europeans also provide most of the troops in Kosovo, where only 13% are Americans. The United Nations continues to try to resolve the Greece/Macedonia dispute. The OSCE maintains democracy support missions in Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia and Macedonia.
American diplomatic goals in the Balkans focus today on four objectives:
- Maintaining stability and preventing any return to armed conflict;
- Preserving the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina;
- Building the Kosovo state and establishing it as sovereign on its entire territory.
- Enabling all Western Balkan countries to qualify for and, if they wish, enter NATO and the EU.
The Americans are also seeking to pass off as much responsibility for the Balkans as possible to the EU, without compromising these objectives.
Maintaining stability and preventing any return to armed conflict
Only Bosnia and Kosovo present any serious visible threat to stability in the Balkans today. The threat comes from those who would like to change borders to accommodate ethnic differences. The fundamental Balkans quandary is this: “why should I be a minority in your country, when you can be a minority in mine?” The United States has gone along with changing the status of existing internal boundaries in the Balkans to international borders (all six of the former Yugoslav republics became independent in this way, as well as Kosovo), but it has staunchly resisted moving borders to separate ethnic groups, convinced that this would lead to instability and a return to armed conflict.
Republika Srpska (RS), an entity established on 49% of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has undertaken a concerted effort to weaken the “state” (the central government in Sarajevo) and maximize its own autonomy. Its current effort is directed mainly at detaching the RS courts from the state judicial system. RS President Milorad Dodik has made no secret of his desire for eventual independence, but he is constrained from achieving that goal: even Serbia would not risk its relationship with the European Union by recognizing RS as independent, and the international community would block overt moves in that direction.
If there is any risk of serious violence in Bosnia, it comes mainly from frustrated ambitions on the Federation side of the Inter-Entity Boundary Line. Some Bosnian Croats would like their own “entity,” and some Bosnian Muslims would like to see the end of the RS and its pretensions to independence. Croatia, which sometimes flirts with supporting the idea of a “third entity,” can be expected to restrain the Bosnian Croats from violence. The Americans are vital to restraining the Bosnian Muslims, who could conceivably react to Dodik’s provocations by trying to seize Brcko, the northeastern Bosnian town that links the RS’s eastern wing (contiguous with Serbia) and its more populated Western wing (including its capital Banja Luka).
In Kosovo, the principal remaining threats of instability come from the north: Belgrade continues to control “north Kosovo,” the area north and west of the Ibar river populated mostly by Serbs and contiguous with Serbia; Albanian militants are challenging the transit of goods from Serbia at eastern border posts. Maintenance of stability in north Kosovo depends on NATO’s KFOR troops and the European Union’s rule of law mission (EULEX). The Kosovo Police Service has primary responsibility for law and order in the rest of Kosovo. It was accused of using excessive force in January 2012 to clear roads and disperse Albanian demonstrators organized by Albin Kurti, a firebrand who advocates “self-determination,” including the right of Kosovo to join Albania.
The only other problem posing a remote risk to stability in the Balkans arises from the “Macedonia name dispute.” Since Macedonia’s independence in 1991, Greece has contested the use of the name Macedonia by its neighbor to the north, claiming that it represents an infringement on Greece’s heritage and even sovereignty. Athens and Skopje agreed in 1995 that Greece would not block membership in international organizations of “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” or The FYROM, the name by which the country became a UN member. Athens’ refusal to implement this bilateral agreement at the NATO Bucharest Summit in 2008 kept Skopje out of NATO and has blocked Macedonia from receiving a date to begin EU membership negotiations.
Despite many years of UN talks (mediated by an American) and a December 2011 International Court of Justice opinion in favor of Skopje on use of The FYROM to enter international organizations, this issue has resisted resolution. Ethnic Macedonians have become ever more nationalist as a result, a reaction that tends to aggravate tensions with ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, who constitute about one-quarter of the population. Most Macedonian Albanians seek NATO and EU membership as quickly as possible, demur from nationalist Macedonian moves, and regard the dispute as a serious hindrance to their ambitions and welfare. Albanian/Macedonian ethnic tensions boiled over into a near civil war in Macedonia in 2001. That conflict ended in the Ohrid agreement, whose implementation over the past 11 years has redressed many Albanian grievances. A repetition of violence appears unlikely, but the name issue should not be allowed to fester.
Preserving the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Dayton agreements that ended the Bosnian war in 1995 left Bosnia with a weak state that the international community worked hard to strengthen for the subsequent decade. It is now generally recognized that the problem is a constitutional one. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe has outlined more than 20 ways in which the Dayton constitution needs to be amended in order for Bosnia to become a European Union member.
The Americans tried hard in 2005/6 to encourage the Bosnians to revise the Dayton constitution with EU membership negotiations and responsibility in mind. This effort (the April package) failed. Two more attempts (Butmir I and II) were made in 2009, with the Swedish European Union presidency and a Deputy Secretary of State acting in tandem. These also failed.
At this point, it seems unlikely that Washington will undertake another effort in the foreseeable future. It appears to be focusing now on improving the functionality of the Federation, on the theory that doing so will eventually make it possible to strengthen the state government in the process of qualifying for European Union membership.
Little is being done at this point to push the RS into a closer relationship with the Federation or to strengthen the state-level government. The international community “High Representative,” who at times in the past has used his powers to enforce the Dayton agreements and to strengthen the Sarajevo government, has lost the ability to intervene except in the most direct and obvious challenges to Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. EUFOR, the weak military presence that is now responsible for Bosnia, has little military capability to ensure that the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are respected.
Building the Kosovo state and establishing it as sovereign on its entire territory
Kosovo, whose Albanian population in large part governed itself separately from the official Serbian institutions for ten years before 1999, found itself at the end of the NATO/Yugoslav war the subject of United Nations Security Council resolution 1244. This set up a UN administration to prepare the former province of Serbia for self-government and an eventual political decision on its status. The UN proceeded gradually to turn over governing authority to the “Provisional Institutions of Self-Government,” seeking along the way to require that they meet elaborately defined standards (“standards before status”).
Subsequently, the EU led and the U.S. supported an extensive negotiation between Belgrade and Pristina on Kosovo’s “final status.” This negotiation concluded with the “Ahtisaari plan,” which includes strong protection of minority rights and self-government for Serbian and other minority communities in Kosovo. Pristina accepted the Ahtisaari plan, which it anticipated would resolve the final status question and lead to UN membership for Kosovo and recognition by Belgrade. Serbia rejected the Ahtisaari plan, saying it will never recognize Kosovo.
This process ended in February 2008 with Kosovo’s declaration of independence, which had been coordinated with the United States, major European powers and others. Eighty-five countries now recognize the Republic of Kosovo. The International Court of Justice, in response to a Serbian government request, has advised that the declaration was not inconsistent with international law, including UNSCR 1244, which treats Kosovo as a single, undivided territory whose boundaries/borders are well established. Kosovo is a member of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank but not of most other international organizations.
Kosovo is still developing its state institutions. It has implemented virtually all aspects of the Ahtisaari plan in the territory it controls. The plan however allows it to form an armed security force only in 2013, which it will no doubt want to do. The courts and police in Kosovo remain under EU supervision. International prosecutors and judges try inter-ethnic criminal and property cases in Kosovo courts. International advisors remain in many ministries. Air traffic control and some other functions remain international responsibilities.
A key issue for Kosovo will be formation of its new security force, which is expected to evolve from the existing unarmed civil defense corps into a small land army. The Americans will no doubt play an important role in conceiving, equipping and training the new forces, with a view to ensuring their professionalism and limiting their offensive capabilities.
Serbia has refused to recognize Kosovo as sovereign and independent but has agreed to discuss “practical” issues with the Pristina authorities, in talks led by the EU and supported by the U.S. These talks have produced agreement on a limited number of issues, including mutual recognition of documents and enforcement of customs and tax laws at the Serbia/Kosovo border posts. Serbia’s current constitution (adopted in 2006, post-Milosevic) defines Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia. Despite the ICJ advisory opinion, Serbia claims sovereignty over all of Kosovo, but at present it physically controls only three and a half north Kosovo municipalities contiguous with Serbia proper.
The three municipalities were majority Serb before the 1999 war, but the half of Mitrovica municipality lying north of the Ibar river was not. In July 2011 the Pristina-controlled Kosovo Police Service briefly seized the border posts in the north, seeking to collect customs duties and enforce Kosovo law at the border with Serbia.
The international community, including the Americans and especially the Germans, has tried to squelch all talk of “border adjustments” or partition. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made it clear that resolution of northern Kosovo issues without partition is required before Serbia can qualify for EU candidacy, a position the Americans have supported.
Enabling all Western Balkan countries to qualify for and enter NATO and the EU
Several Western Balkans countries have made rapid progress in meeting NATO and EU standards. Slovenia entered the EU in 2004. Croatia has completed its membership qualifications and negotiations and approved a referendum on membership in January 2012. It is expected to accede to the Union in 2013. Slovenia, Croatia and Albania are already NATO members. Montenegro has achieved candidacy for the EU and is approaching the last phase of its NATO Membership Action Plan. Macedonia, while fully qualified for NATO membership, has been blocked by Greece from both NATO membership and receiving a date for start of its negotiations for EU membership.
Others are moving more slowly, and EU membership is generally a tougher and longer road than NATO membership. A dispute over defense property has blocked Bosnia from receiving a Membership Action Plan from NATO. It has not yet qualified for EU candidacy. Albania and Serbia are likewise not yet candidates for EU membership. Serbia has not expressed an interest in NATO membership, due mainly to bitter memories of the NATO/Yugoslavia war in 1999, but it participates in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. Kosovo is far from both NATO and EU membership.
The EU’s current financial crisis has diminished the credibility of EU membership as an incentive for reform in the Western Balkans. In Serbia, Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo few believe that EU membership is in the foreseeable future. They also fear that membership criteria are being tightened. Under these conditions, NATO membership has taken on new importance, as it is the only credible nearer-term incentive. Keeping the door to NATO open—in particular at the Chicago Summit in May 2012—is important to maintaining momentum for reform. An invitation to Macedonia, and a strong statement of readiness to invite Montenegro when it completes its Membership Action Plan, would help to convince other Western Balkans countries that NATO membership is a realistic prospect while the EU puts its financial house in order.
Passing responsibility to the EU
The Americans have succeeded in passing off the bulk of the military responsibility for Bosnia and Kosovo to the Europeans and others, who constitute all but a small fraction of the international forces still on the ground in the Balkans. Major civilian responsibilities are also in European hands. The High Representative in Bosnia has been a European continuously since the signing of the Dayton agreements. The EU has recently separated and beefed up the role of EU Special Representative, responsible for helping prepare Bosnia for EU membership. In Kosovo, the Americans maintain a minimal military presence of fewer than 800 mainly National Guard troops but the UN, EULEX and OSCE missions are manned principally by non-Americans.
Where American commitment is still required is in the diplomatic effort to ensure that the goals cited above are not lost sight of. The EU, because it requires unanimity for many important decisions, can be maddeningly slow and clumsy as a diplomatic actor, even after the entry into force of the Maastricht treaty. In Bosnia, the EU lacks the clarity of purpose that the Americans bring to the table. To the dismay of the Americans, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton in May 2011 cut a deal directly with then Prime Minister Dodik (without discussion with the state government in Sarajevo) to allow the RS to discuss its own courts and those of the state government with the European Commission. The five non-recognizing members of the EU that do not recognize Kosovo (Spain, Romania, Slovakia, Cyprus and Greece) have prevented rationalization of the EU presence there and limited its effectiveness. Greece has single-handedly blocked resolution of the Macedonia name dispute.
Thus the EU has the leverage, but it sometimes lacks the clarity and unity of purpose so important to getting things done in the Balkans. The United States in principle has the clarity of purpose, but it lacks the leverage and sometimes compromises its principles as a result. Only a tandem U.S./EU effort succeeds in the Balkans, which often requires as much diplomacy among Brussels, European capitals and Washington as with Balkans capitals. There is at least another 10 years of mainly civilian efforts required in the Western Balkans, with the Europeans providing most of the muscle and the Americans providing most of the backbone.