Tag: Balkans

More sovereignty, not less

An interview I did for Arlinda Kqiku of the Pristina paper Zeri was published today: 

  1. Months ago central institutions were formed. What is your impression about the work of Government and Assembly of Kosovo, for this period of about two months, and what would you consider as priorities of the new established institutions?

A: The new government and assembly have barely begun their work. I would hope the priority would be completing the sovereignty of Kosovo in a way that benefits all its citizens. That means improving its economy, strengthening the rule of law, expanding opportunities and political participation.

  1. Prime Minister Haradinaj during election period promised that after 100 days of ruling of the new government under his leadership, Kosovo would have visa liberalization agreement with European Union, but it looks like the situation is rather more complicated. Kosovo’s government has established a new commission for border demarcation, while Montenegro insists of being a closed matter. What would you consider as a solution that would please both parts?

A: I doubt there is one that will please both parties, but I also don’t think anyone will remember this dispute a year after it is resolved. For me, the important thing is visa liberalization, not the territorial question.

  1. Demarcation hardly will pass in Assembly and that is because coalition government can not make 2/3 of votes needed. Are the citizens of Kosovo being isolated as a result of irresponsible political class?

A: You are in a better position to make that judgment than I am.

  1. Days ago, President Thaci announced publicly disappointment that he has with European Union and required to President of Albania Ilir Meta the massive equipment of all citizens of Kosovo with Albanian passports. In addition Thaci announced that the European Union criterion is unfair. What is your opinion of such a requirement from President Thaci?

A: I don’t like it. Such a move would reduce Kosovo’s sovereignty, not enhance it.

  1. Is it possible for Kosovo citizens to get the freedom of movement toward European Union, through another country, or do you consider that the requirement was more as a threat of the first of the state for the EU.

A: I take it as a threat, not a serious proposal. Albania won’t do it, for fear of setting back its own EU prospects.

  1. In addition, President Thaci, weeks ago, declared that Special Court can’t provide justice, because, according to him Special Court will consider only the crime of UÇK [Kosovo Liberation Army], while it was him that years ago asked the deputies to vote pro this court. Why this change of course in relation to this international justice institution? Is it the reason that the Special Court can file an indictment to the senior state officials?

A: You’ll have to ask the President, but I think he has made himself clear: he expected much better treatment from the international community for Kosovo and has not gotten it. I am sympathetic with him on that score, though I don’t think it is a good reason to oppose the Special Court.

  1. When do you think that Special Court will approximately file first indictments and what is your opinion toward the movement against the Special Court that most of political parties of Kosovo, including here also the opposition are having?

A: I have no idea when they will file their first indictments.

Politicians do what they need to do to get elected, but I would hope some would speak up in favor of clarifying through the court’s proceedings at least some of the post-war violence in Kosovo, which was committed against Serbs, Albanians, and others. If the KLA wants to be remembered well, its supporters will not defend human rights abuses committed by its members.

  1. The Dialog between Kosovo and Serbia will be led by President Thaci and Vucic. How can this dialog continue when the President of Kosovo critizes the EU for injustice, while EU will be mediator of the dialog?

A: I don’t think criticism of the EU is any reason for the EU not to act as a mediator. We are all subject to criticism for what we do and don’t do.

  1. Do you believe that Kosovo and Serbia are able to come to a consensus through this dialog, a consensus that may be referred as consensus of the century, and as a result of it, Serbia would recognize Kosovo as a country, right before being an EU member?

A: No. I don’t think recognition should wait until just before becoming an EU member. I think it should happen sooner. It need not be bilateral recognition but could instead come in the form of UN membership and exchange of ambassadorial level diplomatic representatives.

  1. What is your thought of Kosovo’s perspective in EU?

A: My thought is that it depends on the willingness of Kosovo’s authorities to undertake the political, economic, and justice reforms required. More action, less complaining, would be my preference.

  1. This year, in Kosovo, some cases of attacks against journalist occurred. What would be the necessary reaction of responsible institutions to guarantee media freedom in Kosovo.

A: In addition to condemning these attacks, arrest and conviction of the perpetrators is what should be expected.

  1. On this Sunday, in Kosovo, local elections will be held. Which candidate for mayor you consider to be favored in this election?

A: I only discuss the outcome of elections after the fact. That way I don’t have to change my mind so often. May the best candidate win!

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How Tillerson can turn it around

Ed Joseph, my colleague at the Johns Hopkins School of Advance International Studies, writes: 

Can Rex Tillerson save his job?  Even after his striking, defiant statement last week, reaffirming his loyalty to Donald Trump, the odds are against him.  He committed the cardinal sin of publicly distancing himself from his boss (over Charlottesville).  The President has repeatedly needled and undermined his Secretary of State in tweets.  Aside from his travails with the White House, even Tillerson’s admirers have criticized his weak, rudderless performance at Foggy Bottom.

Though time is running short, it’s not too late for Tillerson to turn it around.  To do so, he needs a clear, unadulterated victory – a smaller, more modest version of what Dick Holbrooke got at Dayton or what Madeline Albright achieved in Kosovo.  As long as Tillerson cedes the credit to his boss, all will be forgiven (though not forgotten) provided he brings the Administration a triumph – particularly one that allows Trump to claim he prevailed where his predecessors failed.

And there is one international dispute tailor-made for Tillerson’s keen attention – an issue that has defied the efforts of prior Administrations, that confounds major European capitals, and that can be resolved swiftly, provided Tillerson is willing to expend political capital and take some risk: Greece’s longstanding objection to Macedonia’s name.

Since Macedonia’s independence in 1991, Greece has insisted that its northern neighbor’s name, ‘Macedonia’, is infringement upon Greek patrimony (stemming from Alexander the Great), and an affront to the Greek region which carries the same name.  Athens imposed a punishing embargo on its fledgling neighbor for three years after independence.  In 1995, the legendary Holbrooke negotiated an end to the blockade and extracted Athens’ formal commitment not to block Skopje’s membership in international organizations — provided Macedonia entered under its temporary name ‘former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.’

But in 2008, Greece blocked Macedonia’s entry into NATO as ‘fYROM.’  In 2011, the International Court of Justice ruled (by a fifteen to one majority) that, by doing so, Athens had violated its obligations.  Greece has ignored the ruling.  Macedonia – which has been willing to join NATO under its temporary name — remains marooned in the southern Balkans.  Without a NATO or EU perspective, the country is left weakened and prone to crisis.  A violent conflict that would draw in its neighbors is a clear possibility, particularly now that Russia is engaged in the country and poised to exert malign influence.

In short, solving the name dispute is a significant US interest.  However, no envoy since Holbrooke has managed to make any progress on the question.  George W. Bush and his State Department tried, and failed, to get Macedonia into NATO at the Alliance Summit in Bucharest in 2008.  The Obama Administration ignored the issue, largely consigning the entire Balkans to indifferent Europeans who likewise failed to make any effort to resolve the name dispute.

Fortunately for Tillerson, circumstances are as favorable as they’ve ever been for a breakthrough.  Both Greece and Macedonia are emerging from exhausting, multi-year crises that have sapped their countries’ respective appetite for drama.  Neither country’s Prime Minister – Alexis Tsipras in Athens or Zoran Zaev in Skopje – is facing elections just yet.  And while both leaders must inevitably cast a wary eye on the opposition, their real focus is on achieving the demonstrable progress needed to stay in office.  What’s more, relations between the two capitals have improved.  The Greek and Macedonian foreign ministers recently and cordially discussed the name issue — a clear sign the matter is potentially ripe for resolution.

The key to a deal is Greece, by far the more powerful party.  Skopje has the law and international opinion on its side; otherwise, it is small, weak and the only side suffering from the dispute.

Thankfully, Washington has leverage over Athens.  After three searing international bailouts obtained at the price of draconian reforms, Tsipras is desperate to rid Greece of the harsh financial supervision that has been imposed at the behest of its nemesis, Germany.  However, the just-completed German elections have complicated that aspiration.  Disappointing results for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party mean that she is now likely to bring hardliners into her government who adamantly oppose relaxing conditions on Greece.

Effectively, Washington has become a key player in this Greek drama.  There is no chance for Greek debt relief unless Washington maintains its current level of funding to the IMF — something the Administration has yet to confirm. At the same time, Tsipras also wants a ‘Strategic Partnership’ with the US as another sign that the country has paid its dues, implemented difficult reforms and now deserves to be treated with respect.  All this makes Tsipras desperate for a full-fledged summit with Trump this year, a topic already raised with Washington last month.

Tillerson needs only to convince his boss, Trump, author of ‘The Art of the Deal’, to exploit his leverage and insist on full resolution of the Greece-Macedonia name dispute as the price for the meeting and terms that Tsipras seeks.  Tillerson should make it clear that the credit will rest with the President, while Tillerson does the heavy lifting.

And there is every reason to believe that Tillerson can succeed, as long he learns from the mistakes of his predecessors:

o   Bush and his State Department failed to exploit the deadline of the 2008 NATO Bucharest Summit.  Tillerson can make it clear to Greece and Macedonia that ‘this is it’, i.e. that this issue will be resolved by the end of this year, full stop.

o   Bush’s envoys failed to threaten Athens and Skopje with any credible penalties.  Tillerson must make it clear to Athens that if it balks, Tsipras gets no meeting – and Washington will make Macedonian membership in NATO a core Administration priority, while giving Skopje privileged standing with Washington.  If tiny Skopje dares try to take advantage of the situation, then the Secretary must threaten vulnerable Zaev with publicly naming and shaming him for screwing up Macedonia’s best chance to end its isolation.

o   Tillerson should consult with the long-time UN negotiator on the issue, Matthew Nimetz, but make it clear that after more than two-decades, it’s time to bring the matter to a close.  As long as Tillerson is personally invested – and agrees to meet with the parties personally –coordination will be easy.  Nimetz will share the full range of solutions available to resolve the entire matter; Tillerson needs only to select one and sell it to the parties.

o  Most of all, Tillerson should ignore the US Ambassador to Athens, or any former US Ambassador to Athens, or Greek officials or others who plead that that “this is not the time to press for a solution.”  That attitude is precisely the reason this problem has festered for so long.

After a career in the oil business, few know better than Rex Tillerson that taking calculated risk can bring handsome rewards.  To save himself from a humiliating return to Houston, it’s time for the Secretary to take some risk in the pursuit of a worthy, and plausible, objective.

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What to do in the Balkans

I prepared these speaking notes for a briefing on the Balkans today:

  1. The US is responsible for three peace agreements in the Balkans: Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, leaving behind a web that has prevented war for more than 15 years.
  1. All the countries of the region have made substantial progress in political and economic reform.
  1. But progress has slowed and even stalled since the European recession.
  1. The Greek financial crisis, the massive flow of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, and Brexit have made it doubtful that the promise of EU membership can be fulfilled any time soon.
  1. EU charm is not working as well as it once did, despite Mogherini’s strong statements.
  1. This is a problem for the US because we have been depending on Europe to carry the burden in the Balkans, with US support when needed.
  1. But if Brussels fails, the peace agreements could unravel, with serious consequences: heightened migration not only through but from the Balkans, growing radicalization of Balkan Muslims, and increasing Russian troublemaking near and even inside NATO.
  1. What is needed is mainly a diplomatic, not a military, effort to complete Balkan peace processes so that all the countries of the region can join NATO and the EU, if they wish to do so.
  1. This diplomatic effort could include the following:
  • Recommitment with Brussels to existing Balkan borders and states, including a planned response to any scheduling of a Republika Srpska independence referendum.
  • Accelerated NATO and EU membership.
  • Better carrots and sticks, including expanded trade and targeted sanctions.
  • Refocus aid on rule of law, particularly anti-corruption and countering extremism.
  • Increased emphasis on National Guard cooperation with Serbia, Kosovo Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia.
  • Establish a region-wide truth and reconciliation effort.
  • An enhanced effort to solve country-specific issues: Bosnia’s constitutional and electoral inadequacies, UN membership for Kosovo, Macedonia’s name.
  1. In addition, we need to counter Russian troublemaking by reducing Balkan dependence on Moscow’s gas, sanctioning those who finance Balkan leaders who threaten peace, beefing up our media capabilities, and consulting with Balkan governments on Russian election meddling.
  1. These are not expensive things, but important ones. Doing them would preserve peace and stability, avoid major costs, limit Russian troublemaking and give us a lot of secure and prosperous friends.
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Micah Zenko last week in the New York Times obliterated not only Trump’s proposed “new” strategy in Afghanistan but also the entire military-heavy approach to counter-terrorism that has dominated American efforts since the inauguration of Barack Obama. It simply doesn’t work well to just kill people you think are terrorists: there are always replacements, the civilian collateral damage is enormous, and the ungoverned spaces that result are breeding grounds for more recruits. While ISIS may be going down to defeat in the territory it once controlled, it will reemerge as a guerrilla group using terrorist tactics rather than the more conventional military approach it has so successfully employed the past few years.

So what is the alternative?

Max Boot and P.J. Crowley have already named it loud and clear: nation-building. Regular readers of peacefare.net, and those few who have picked up Righting the Balance advertised on this page, will not be surprised that I think them correct. There are, however, two big problems with this answer:

  1. Presidents don’t want to do it.
  2. Americans are convinced it doesn’t work.

The only civilian nation-building assistance effort Americans think successful is the Marshall Plan, launched almost seventy years ago to aid US allies in Europe in the aftermath of World War II. Civilian efforts during the Vietnam war are generally regarded by non-experts as a failure, because we lost the war, even though CORDS (Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support) is regarded by some experts as somewhat successful. Americans generally disregard the modestly successful UN and other efforts since the fall of the Berlin wall.

American presidents are as adverse as public opinion, but often change their minds. Bill Clinton told Americans he was sending US troops to Bosnia for a year. They stayed for 9 years, largely to ensure peace and stability during the nation-building enterprise. US troops deployed to Kosovo in 1999 and are still there, because its sovereignty is still incomplete. George W. Bush famously derided nation-building during his first campaign, and then launched two enormous efforts: in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Barack Obama, as in many things more disciplined than most, withdrew from Iraq but extended the US presence in Afghanistan, largely because the nation-building effort there was still incomplete. President Trump has said we won’t be nation-building in Afghanistan, but he may be the only one left in the US government who believes that is in fact the case.

“Nation-building” is of course a misnomer. I would call what is needed “state-building.” Nations are groups that self-identify. States are institutional structures that can be constructed in particular social contexts that include the existence, or not, of a nation. From this perspective, there are successful multi-national states, including the US, but also less successful ones, like Bosnia or Iraq. But both Bosnia and Iraq are illiberal electoral democracies arguably, even if many will not agree, improvements over the autocracies that preceded them.

Today the question of state-building in the greater Middle East arises not only in Afghanistan but also in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and still in Iraq because of the scheduling of a Kurdistan referendum for September 25. There are basically two ways to go: allow the autocracies to be restored in Syria, Libya and Yemen, or try (as in Afghanistan and Iraq) to preserve some modicum of popular sovereignty. Tunisia is perhaps the best example of success in the latter enterprise.

I think it will be hard to re-impose the autocracies, but President Sisi has mostly done it in Egypt. It isn’t pretty, and it isn’t stable, but it kills a lot of people Sisi defines as terrorists. President Assad would obviously like to do the same thing. In Libya, General Haftar is of the same mind, and in Yemen former President Saleh would presumably like his son to restore the old regime, which was an illiberal democracy in form but an autocracy in practice.

I’d prefer the more democratic route, even if the results are illiberal. Admittedly the preference is more a subjective than an objective one. While you can read in many places, including on peacefare.net, that what is needed to fight terrorism is inclusive states that treat their populations in accordance with international human rights standards, we’ve got precious few recent examples of success.  But I am quite certain that the purely military approach simply will not work, and I’d prefer my tax dollars not support the restoration of autocracy.

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My Balkans Q and A

Albatrit Matoshi of Pristina daily Zeri asked questions last week. I replied:

  1. Not even two months after the parliamentary elections in Kosovo, the central institutions can not be formed as a result of political disunity. Is Kosovo losing ground to international institutions as a result of this political stalemate?

A: There are surely costs to the political stalemate, but “hung” parliaments happen. Even in much more experienced democracies, politicians often take months to form a new government. In the meanwhile, there is a caretaker in place. I trust it is doing the ordinary and necessary business of government.

  1. The Coalition PAN (PDK-AAK-NISMA) has emerged the largest in the June 11 elections, but it faces lack the necessary numbers to form the Assembly and the Government. In the absence of the necessary votes, this coalition is not participating in Assembly sessions, despite the invitation of the US, Germany, France, England, Italy to attend the Assembly. Should political representatives find compromise solutions, as the country risks again to go to extraordinary elections?

A: I hope people will make every effort to come to a compromise solution rather than new elections, but that decision is up to Kosovars, not foreigners.

  1. Should President Hashim Thaçi give the mandate to the second party, in this case to the “Vetëvendosje” candidate for Prime Minister Albin Kurti, if Ramush Haradinaj fails within the legal deadline to form the Government?

A: I am not a lawyer, but the Kosovo Constitution says the President “appoints the candidate for Prime Minister for the establishment of the Government after proposal by the political party or coalition holding the majority in the Assembly.” It seems to me Vetëvendosje would get a mandate if it can propose a government with support of the majority in the Assembly.

  1. In the absence of the Assembly and the Government, Kosovo has not yet ratified the demarcation agreement with Montenegro. If Ramush Haradinaj is elected prime minister, who has mostly objected to this agreement, do you expect that this issue will be resolved?

A: You will have to ask him. I know of no reasonable basis on which to continue opposition to demarcation.

  1. Is the EU likely to abolish visas for Kosovo if the demarcation agreement is sent to international arbitration?

A: You’ll have to ask the EU.

  1. If demarcation is voted in the Assembly, how many months will be needed until the start of the visa-free travel to the EU, given the fact that there are elections in some member states?

A: Again: this is a question for the Europeans.

  1. The new Kosovo government, if formed by a simple parliamentary majority, will face a strong opposition and at the same time will be dependent on the votes of Serbian MPs working under the directives of the Government of Serbia. How stable will be such a government, which will not really have the votes to pass the demarcation agreement, the Association of Municipalities with Serbian Majority, etc.?

A: That doesn’t sound like a formula for stability, but we’ll have to wait and see.

  1. It has been announced that dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia can take place at the level of presidents. How realistic is the move of the dialogue at such stage?

A: The Presidents have established a mutually respectful rapport, which should be sustained. But certainly political instability on the Pristina side could make the dialogue difficult. On the Belgrade side, things look pretty stable for now, even if some contest the validity of the last election.

  1. Serbia’s President Vucic has announced an internal debate on Kosovo. Do you expect the leadership in Belgrade in the framework of the Euro-integration process to remove Kosovo from its constitution?

A: I expect Serbia in the framework of the Euro-integration process to accept the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kosovo, including (but not only) by removing it from the constitution. Kosovo UN membership and exchange of diplomatic representatives at the ambassadorial level should follow. The question is whether this will be done at the last moment before EU accession, when the negotiating leverage will be entirely on the EU side, or earlier, when Belgrade can hope to get a better deal. I think it is better to do it sooner rather than later, but of course that is up to Serbs, not foreigners, and will depend on the outcome of the internal debate the President has proposed.

Marija Jovicevic of Montenegro daily Pobjeda also asked some questions last week. I replied: 

  1. Serbia will be host of a NATO army exercise in October 2018. Do You think that Montenegro entering NATO is a signal for all other countries in region that Alliance has no alternative?

A: No, I think other countries have a choice to make. There is nothing inevitable about NATO, which only accepts those who are prepared to make the necessary reforms and to contribute positively to the Alliance. Serbia will want to consider all its options.

2. Do you see all of the Western Balkan region in NATO?

A: I might hope for that, but so far only Macedonia and Kosovo have committed to eventual NATO membership, once they meet the necessary requirements. Bosnia and Serbia are hesitating, for obvious reasons. NATO will be fine without them. The question is whether they would be better off with NATO and whether they are prepared to make the necessary commitments.

3. Do You think that Montenegro can be host of a NATO base in future?

A: Best to ask NATO about this possibility. I am not aware of any Alliance requirement for a base in Montenegro right now, though I suppose all of Montenegro’s bases are now in some sense “NATO.”

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What Vučić wants

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić on Monday published an op/ed in the Belgrade daily Blic on “Why we need an internal dialogue on Kosovo.” While there have been both skeptical and welcoming reactions to this overture, I think the President’s views on merit reading by all those who seek peace in the Balkans. Blic has given me permission to publish the full text in English. I am grateful to SAIS graduate Marko Grujicic for the translation: 

Why I asked the Serbs and other citizens of Serbia to talk about Kosovo and Metohija? Why do I consider this dialogue decisive for the future of our country and the people? Why open this topic at all if we all learned to be silent and against everything, as any solution would assume that every politician who dares to search for it would pay the price. On the other hand, all others would pretend to be those who know about Kosovo much more than they really do, that they had much better solutions but nobody asked for their opinion.

Therefore it is important, now more than ever, to look into the mirror and to boldly and clearly see all the scars, wounds and shortcomings on our own face. At the same time, we have to try to cure what is possible while not giving up in desperation, due to the problem which we have been grappling with.

It is time that, as a nation, we stop burying our heads in the sand like ostriches and to try to be realistic; not to allow ourselves to lose or give to someone what we have, but also not to wait for what we have long lost to arrive in our hands. When Shimon Peres, the man I had the privilege talking with several times, was once asked why he insisted so much on negotiations with the Palestinians, he said: “Because it will open the seaports of peace throughout the Mediterranean. It is the duty of a leader to pursue the kind of freedom that gives peace and to endure such freedom constantly, even when faced with hostility, suspicion and disappointment. Just imagine what could happen if it does not work.” Even today, when I need to answer about the need for the dialogue with Pristina and the internal, Serbian dialogue, on Kosovo, the end of this quote contains the essence of the whole story – “Just imagine what could happen.” If suddenly everyone remains silent; if we stop talking. After many years dealing with politics in this region, I know this answer very well. Since 1878, since the creation of the so-called Prizren league we, the Serbs, did not want to be responsible enough to understand the strength and aspirations of the Albanians. On the other hand, it is a great mistake of the Albanians, for which I am grateful, that they lack the understanding of Serbian state and national interests and underestimate them; even worse, an attempt to sweep them under the rug because someone thinks this is possible with the support of the great powers.

It is time for us, as a nation, to stop burying our head in the sand as an ostrich and to be realistic

Serbia is not to be underestimated, despite the fact that the Albanians in the implementation of their national ideas have the significant support from most Western countries. Today’s Serbia is not as infectious as it was, Serbia is not as weak as it was in 1999, 2004 and 2008, but Serbia is not, nor should it be, conceited and arrogant as, not rarely, it used to be.

Silence means we no longer care about the answers to anything. Silence means we have nothing to ask for; that we have ceased to hope; that we are ready for the last option, for the conflict – both our inner one but also with everyone around us.

Silence is the quality of those who think only they are right. Those who do not want to listen to anyone else. Those who are convinced that they are the smartest, have nothing more to learn, are superior to all the others, and that they have nothing more to talk about with anyone else. This is the modus operandi of tyrannies – always ready to spill someone else’s blood. At the culmination, silence is the end. After the silence no one speaks and the only sound is a long, uneven scream. I cannot see myself in this business of silence nor in such a numb Serbia. If that happens, not only will my policy be a failure, but also my whole life and the lives of all of us. That is something I will never agree on, no matter who thinks I am too vociferous, I ask too many questions, I talk more than I should. Just imagine what could be, if it is different? If I were one of those silent who bring people into conflict and war, just to teach them the geography of their own country? Or if I were one of those who would, in response to tapping on the shoulder and candies given by some of the Western embassies, agree to deliver all Serbian hearths, thus becoming, as they say, a great reformer. Read more

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