It is only a matter of time

Edita Tahiri, the main “technical”-level negotiator on behalf of Pristina with Belgrade and now in charge of implementation of the agreements reached, has issued a report on implementation of the Brussels Agreements that is well worth reading, especially as I need to moderate an event Friday with Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Petrovic and Foreign Minister Hoxhaj on the subject.  While definitively written from a Pristina perspective, the report does an admirable job of maintaining a relatively neutral tone, including by citing various Belgrade positions on the issues.

The main lacunae in implementation that Edita underlines are

  1. Continued existence of Serb civil protection forces in northern Kosovo;
  2. Failure to integrate Serb judges and prosecutors into the Kosovo judicial system.

There are many other complaints in the report about this delay or that misinterpretation, and I have no doubt a comparable Serbian report (I don’t know of one, but will gladly receive and post it if someone has it) would include many complaints as well.

But the complaints do not negate the main point:  real progress is being made in reintegrating the Serb-majority north with the rest of Kosovo, progress that would have seemed impossible even a few months ago.  The progress is not only, or perhaps not primarily, in inter-ethnic relations, which remain tense.  But it is impossible to read Edita’s report without recognizing that the Kosovo institutions really do now exist:  courts, parliament, police, customs, cadastre, civil registry, etc.  There has been enormous advance of institionalization in Kosovo, even if the state remains a work in progress and leaves much to be desired in terms of efficiency and incorruptibility.

By the same token, there has been enormous progress also in Serb behavior and attitudes.  The protests that once dogged integration of the north are attenuating.  Belgrade deserves a lot of credit for that:  Deputy Prime Minister Vucic and Prime Minister Dacic have chosen to favor Serbia’s own European Union ambitions over an empty claim to Kosovo, which two-thirds of Serbia’s citizens already thought specious even before the Brussels agreements were reached.  Belgrade’s focus now seems mainly on maintaining and expanding its own influence over the Serbs in Kosovo, which can be used either for or against establishment of Pristina’s authority but will not change the simple fact that Kosovo is independent.  And the EU should want to make sure that Belgrade’s influence is used in the right way.

As I’m sure Edita would agree, the task is not fundamentally a technical one.  The real issue in this process is legitimate authority.  Pristina has been wise to recognize that the north could not be forced into integration with the rest of Kosovo, to allow for transitional arrangements, and to devolve many responsibilities to local (therefore mostly Serb) authorities.  None of this will hurt the Kosovo state if Serb citizens in the north accept its legitimacy.

But Kosovo is not yet fully sovereign, as it still relies on the NATO-led KFOR military forces to protect its territorial integrity and on EULEX, the EU rule of law mission, for some judicial functions.  Neither mission will still be around in its current form five years from now, so it is time that Kosovo begins to plan for their drawdown.

A US-led security study to be unveiled soon will lay out the parameters for Kosovo’s military forces.  Unless Belgrade decides to recognize Kosovo and establish diplomatic relations with it, the threat of a Serbian military incursion will have to be taken seriously and the security forces sized and equipped accordingly.  Kosovo will require some combination of its own forces and NATO guarantees to respond.  Ensuring that the necessary arrangements are in place five years hence will require fixing the formula soon.  Now that NATO has certified Kosovo’s existing security force as fully operational, the process of arming and equipping them appropriately should start with Kosovo entry into NATO’s Partnership for Peace and end eventually in NATO membership.

EULEX is a more complicated question.  While the Kosovo judicial system has dealt with many difficult issues–including two constitutional questions regarding the presidency–I don’t know anyone who thinks it is yet up to the admittedly challenging task of trying war crimes or high-level corruption cases.  It is not alone in the Balkans in those respects, but the number and complexity of the war crimes is extraordinary.  Corruption cases are also particularly difficult in a small country where everyone knows everyone else and witness protection is difficult.  Would it have been possible for a Kosovo court without international participation to hold a prominent Serb like Oliver Ivanovic in pre-trial detention without causing major disturbances?  Would it have been possible to bring a corruption case against Kosovo judges?

So establishing legitimate authority in the judicial sector may still take time.  Better to get it right than to rush the process.  The right approach might be to incorporate EULEX into the Kosovo justice system, reducing its role as a separate mission but maintaining the international judges and prosecutors it provides.  Another important step will be entry of Kosovo into the Council of Europe, enabling its citizens to avail themselves of remedies in the European Court of Human Rights.

Establishing legitimate authority is a long and difficult process.  But Belgrade and Pristina are on the right path and clearly moving ahead.  If that continues, it is only a matter of time before they put things right.

Resting on your laurels crushes them

Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose stopped by last week for a public chat with SAIS professor Eliot Cohen, who was once upon a time his youthful professor at Harvard.  Their theme was US foreign policy and the future of the global liberal order.  Underlying the good-natured joshing between old friends and colleagues was a sharp disjunction in their views of the world and what the proper role of the United States should be.

Rose played the full-throated optimist.  Think how much better an average American life is than Napoleon’s:  what did he use for toilet paper?  Would you want to go to his dentist?  Life expectancy and physical body size are increasing.  Poverty is down.  Economic, social and political development go together and are all on the upswing.  There is a general recognition that peace is better than war, cooperation is good, and capitalism works, even if unchecked markets are problematic.  The global liberal order, a hybrid “good enough” system, was in place by the 1940s under US hegemony, which provides vital global public goods.  The end of the Cold War brought an almost effortless expansion eastwards.

The primary role of US foreign policy in Rose’s view is to sustain, maintain and deepen this system.  Washington should first of all do nothing that damages the global liberal world order.  It should prevent or avoid great power wars, in particular involving China.  It should protect the global commons (high seas, atmosphere, outer space, cyberspace).  It should maintain and deepen free trade.  Everything else is gravy.

Eliot agreed on the material progress that the world has made but challenged Gideon on two fronts:

  1. There are real risks to the liberal order originating from the darker forces of human nature.  Competitive models present challenges that should not be ignored.
  2. World history is replete with big disjunctions that depend on individual choices, like the decision of the Archduke Ferdinand not to retire to his hotel on June 28, 1914 after the first assassination attempt in Sarajevo.

Agency cannot be ignored in favor of structure.  The triumph of the liberal world order is not inevitable but needs to be nourished and maintained against forces that would happily destroy it.

On the issue of global governance, Gideon recommended Stewart Patrick’s “Global Governance Is Getting Messier. Here’s How to Thrive” in the latest Foreign Affairs, which underlines the jury-rigged but still more or less effective system we are living with.  He added that it is important the US tend its role as hegemon by making sure it behaves well and correctly so that it is accepted widely as a legitimate authority. 

While agreeing with Gideon in this last respect, I confess to grave doubts about his conception of the US role in the world.  It is not sufficient to sustain, maintain and deepen the system, managing the rise of China but little more. There are two reasons:

  1. The global liberal order is based on concepts that are universal, in particular human rights.  If you believe “all men are created equal,” their treatment in autocratic societies (including China) and the treatment of women in many countries is not something you can write off to historical circumstance, cultural differences or your own powerlessness.
  2. The global liberal order–like its trading arm–needs growth.  It cannot sit self-contented and wait for a Berlin Wall to fall.  It certainly didn’t do that during the Cold War and there is much less reason to do it now. 

Gravy is in the eye of the beholder.  But any worldview that relegates the fundamentals of the liberal order to “gravy” can’t have it quite right.  Resting on your laurels crushes them.

Par for the course

E-International Relations published this piece yesterday: 

UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi adjourned the so-called Geneva II peace talks on 31 January without any substantial agreement.  He is hoping to reconvene the talks on February 10.

While the press has been bemoaning the lack of progress and the prospect of collapse, this session went about as well as could be expected. The homicidal Syrian government is finding itself cornered by a moderate opposition that went to Montreux and then Geneva fragmented politically, weakened on the battlefield and holding a losing diplomatic hand. But the opposition has managed to take advantage of Damascus’ unforced errors. The result is not peace. But it is a clear indication of who stands in the way of peace.

The basic problem with Geneva II was congenital. The meeting was born of a joint American/Russian desire to do something. But Moscow and Washington have been unable to agree on precisely what the something is. Washington thinks it is creation of a transitional government formed by mutual consent, which therefore excludes President Bashar al Asad from power. Moscow mouths agreement with the June 2012 “Geneva I” agreement that calls for such a transitional government with full executive powers but denies that this means Asad has to step aside.

Neither Moscow nor Washington has been prepared to yield on this fundamental point. Moscow, while claiming not to be wedded to Bashar al Asad, continues to supply him with vital weapons, financing and diplomatic support.  Washington might like to find a compromise.  President Obama regards the Syrian conflict as a distraction from his main objective:  blocking Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. But the Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC) that Washington supports and nurtures insists that Bashar al Asad step down, aside or out.  So too do the opposition fighters. Even if the SOC were to compromise, the fight would go on.

The Syrian government tried hard in its overly lengthy and aggressive opening statement last week to change the subject. It wants Geneva II to focus on terrorism, by which it means any armed resistance to its brutal attempts to crack down on dissent. Meanwhile, Asad is preparing the way for spring elections in government-controlled areas guaranteed to return him to office. Iran is backing him to the hilt. Excluded from the Geneva II meeting, Iran’s President Rouhani took advantage of the annual Davos conclave to project his moderate image. But Tehran continues to provide both Revolutionary Guard Corps advisers and Hizbollah fighters to make up for the Syrian regime’s dwindling army and other security forces.

The fractious opposition had a hard time agreeing to go to the Geneva II talks and arrived there without command and control over most of the forces fighting the Asad regime (and each other). But by insisting on the transitional governing body as the subject of the conference, the opposition hit the Syrian regime at its most sensitive point.  Damascus is unwilling to negotiate any transition away from Bashar al Asad. That makes it the main obstacle to a political solution and the peace that would presumably ensue.

UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi at one point was meeting separately with the delegations in Geneva. This was interpreted in the press as a setback, because the original plan was for them to meet in the same room but talk separately to Brahimi. But from a diplomatic perspective, meeting separately with Brahimi, a procedure known as “proximity” talks, is preferable. That way he can probe each side out of the hearing of the other on their bottom lines and on what each might be able to offer to save the talks from collapse.

A one-off prisoner exchange and local ceasefires are the most likely candidates. The intelligence value of prisoners declines rapidly after their capture. Even if their treatment is abysmal, they still need to be guarded and fed. Failing to provide them with minimal sustenance brings the wrath of the international community. So getting rid of prisoners you are holding is a plus in wartime, especially if you can get some of your own people released in exchange, thus alleviating pressure from your own side.

Local ceasefires are far less likely to be successful. Where they have occurred, the Syrian regime often disrupts them with shelling by artillery, rockets and bombs. International monitors are lacking. There is no third party to assign responsibility for breaches or to facilitate communications. Sustained ceasefires are therefore unlikely, though short-term humanitarian windows for delivery of humanitarian supplies or evacuation of vulnerable people may sometimes be possible.

At this stage, the talks cannot achieve much more. The Asad regime thinks it is winning and wants to continue the fight, even if it is unlikely to be able to put all of Syria back under Asad’s control.  The opposition is battered and weary, but still willing to do battle. It may look like a stalemate to outsiders, but it has not reached the “mutually hurting” stage:  “ripeness” requires that both sides have to conclude that they will do better by ending the fight rather than continue it.

When all else fails, an agreement to meet again is trumpeted as success. The important thing is that if talks collapse, or fail to agree anything substantial, they do so in a way that causes little harm and leaves open the possibility of reconvening. Even if reconvened talks lead to prisoner releases and local ceasefires, the fighting will continue, as should the talking. This is par for the course. If peace agreements were easy, we wouldn’t have wars.

Peace Picks, February 3-7

Relatively few events this week, as the nation’s capital thaws from the deep freeze:

1. Peace and Stability in Afghanistan Post-2014: What Role for Regional Actors?

Tuesday, February 4 | 2pm – 3:30pm

Atlantic Council, 1030 15th St NW, 12th Floor


The peaceful future of Afghanistan is intertwined with the peaceful future of the region even more so once the withdrawal of International Security Assistance Forces from Afghanistan will be completed by the end of 2014. The country’s direct and regional neighbors will have the honor and responsibility to support Afghanistan’s quest for independent, secure, and prosperous development.

In 2012, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) established a network of policy groups in Afghanistan, Central Asia, India, and Pakistan for a regional project entitled “Envisioning a Secure and Independent Afghanistan Post 2014. Perspectives and Strategies for Constructive Conflict Resolution from the Neighborhood.”

Sarah Hees
Regional Coordinator Peace and Security Policy

Mahmoud Saikal
Afghanistan Policy Group

Moderated by
Shuja Nawaz
Director, South Asia Center
Atlantic Council

Khalid Aziz, Convener, Pakistan Policy Group; Ashok Mehta, Convener, India Policy Group; Sanat Kushkumbayev, Convener (Kazakhstan), Central Asia Policy Group; and Haron Amin, Facilitator, Afghanistan Policy Group will also join the discussion.

Please use the West Tower elevators when you arrive.

Read more…

Upside down to right side up

Serbia has been governed for the better part of two years by an increasingly awkward coalition of Prime (and Interior) Minister Ivica Dačić’s Socialists with Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić’s Progressives. The Socialists weren’t socialists and the Progressives weren’t progressives.  Both have deep roots in Milosevic’s avowedly ethnic-nationalist autocracy.

This was an upside down coalition.  The Progressives had more seats in parliament as well as the presidency.  Vučić’s anti-corruption campaign made him the most powerful political figure in the government, overshadowing Dačić, who merits the lion’s share of credit for reaching agreements with Kosovo that have enabled the European Union to open accession negotiations with Belgrade.

The time has apparently come to turn things right side up.  Calling early elections for March 16, President Nikolić explicitly intends to see Vučić take his rightful place as prime minister, atop a coalition still to be decided.  The Progressives are expected to do well, at the least remaining the largest party in parliament.  The main opposition, the Democratic Party, seems to be coming apart at the seams, with former President Tadić leading defections to some still unspecified destination.  If needed, any number of smaller parties will scramble to join the Progressives in the majority.  Read more…

L’état c’est le soldat

Georgetown University’s conference on Egypt and the Struggle for Democracy included a final panel discussion on “Restoration of Democracy and the Rule of Law in Egypt: The Roles of Pro-Democracy Groups and the International Community” featuring Abdul Mawgoud Dardery  (former Freedom and Justice Party member of Parliament), Nathan Brown (George Washington University), Dalia Mogahed (CEO, Mogahed Consulting), and Emad Shahin (American Univesty in Cairo). Tamara Sonn (College of William & Mary) moderated.

Abdul Mawgoud Dardery: Egyptians have been suffering for decades living under a police state. In order to understand current events, it is crucial to understand the historical context. During the revolution, Egyptians were against Mubarak and also the entire system. On February 11, 2011, Mubarak fell, but the system did not.

The March 19 referendum was the first challenge to the revolution. It moved the country from a revolutionary mode to a reform agenda. The referendum put Egypt on the course of formal democracy, which is long and gradual. Some political actors thought siding with the military was an easier, faster way to move forward.

Morsi ruled with a nationally unified government, but the challenges it faced were tremendous. Forces of the old regime were still in place: the military, police, judiciary, and state bureaucracy. Some say Morsi failed. He was made to fail. In spite of this, Egyptians were pleased because they lived in a democracy where they were able to move and hold meetings freely. Read more…

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