Tag: United States

Yes, Kosovo needs stronger security forces

I spoke this morning (along with President Thaci, the American and French ambassadors  as well as Deputy Prime Minister Branimir Stojanovic) at a conference in Pristina on the future of Kosovo’s security forces (KSF), which until now have been limited. Here are the speaking notes I prepared:

  1. It is a pleasure to be back in Pristina to discuss a subject I had the privilege of working on about five long years ago: future requirements for Kosovo security forces and ways of meeting them.
  1. I would like to underline that I speak only for myself and will not address the constitutional and legal issues.
  1. A paper I was involved in writing then cited five security risks to Kosovo:
  • Continued de facto Serbian control of parallel structures in northern Kosovo and the persistence in that area of smuggling and other organized crime activities.
  • A Serbian armored incursion that seeks to establish overt control over northern Kosovo and possibly some monasteries or enclaves south of the Ibar River.
  • Political extremism that aims by violent means to change the constitutional order in a religious or nationalist direction.
  • Organized crime activities that aim to capture the state and subvert it for criminal purposes.
  • The possibility of deteriorating social and economic conditions in a young and rapidly growing population.
  1. Kosovo already has within its sovereign control the means to respond to four out of five of these security risks. Your police, courts, parliament, economic policies, and international relations are the appropriate means, though not yet always equal to the tasks.
  1. The only missing means concern number 2: a Serbian armed incursion that seeks to establish overt control over northern Kosovo and possibly some monasteries or enclaves south of the Ibar River.
  1. My friends in Belgrade—and I am pleased to say that I do have many there—will instantly say there is no need to fear that.
  1. I agree with them most days. Serbia has far more important things to concern itself with.
  1. But I can’t advise basing a security policy and the security forces entrusted with implementing it on assumptions. Sometimes things happen—as they did in March 2004—that make the unlikely possible.
  1. In the nine years since independence, Kosovo has enjoyed the privilege of not worrying too much about that, because KFOR defends the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
  1. That however won’t last forever. NATO too has other things to worry about and should not remain forever in Kosovo, which will want to become a security producer and a full member of NATO rather than a security consumer.
  1. Once NATO is gone, you will need the capacity to defend yourselves, at least for the couple of weeks it will take for your allies to respond to a contingency.
  1. This raises two issues: the process by which you get strengthened security forces and the character of those security forces.
  1. The process will require U.S. and European support.
  1. Washington and Brussels will want you to make a genuine effort to obtain Serb concurrence and participation.
  1. What Serbs need more than anything else is confidence that the Kosovo Security Force will not be used against them.
  1. The KSF role should be focused on external threats and contributions to international missions, not on law and order inside Kosovo.
  1. The question of what kind of security forces you will need depends on the threats you face. If the threat of a Serbian incursion is eliminated, Kosovo will not need forces designed to respond to it.
  1. Today however Serbian capabilities are already all too real, and Russian transfers to Belgrade of aircraft, tanks and other equipment will make them loom larger in the future.
  1. Those weapons, and the means to respond to them, are expensive. Kosovo and Serbia would be far better off without the costs of preparing for war against each other.
  1. So the question is: what could remove that threat, lessen the risk, and reduce the costs?
  1. Serbia could: by recognizing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kosovo, or at least allowing it to enter the United Nations, and exchanging diplomatic representatives with it.
  1. Doing so would enable Kosovo to limit the capabilities of its security forces and focus them on international missions, which is appropriate given how much the country has benefited from them in the past.
  1. With Aleksandar Vucic soon to be inaugurated as President of Serbia, it seems to me the time for a grand bargain between Pristina and Belgrade, and with Serbs in Kosovo, is near.
  1. President, I am ambitious. I’m just a professor, so I can afford to be.
  1. I would like to see resolution of all the big outstanding issues in a package deal: composition of the Kosovo isSecurity Force, UN membership and exchange of diplomatic representatives, and creation of the Association of Serb Municipalities consistent with the Kosovo constitution.
  1. That’s asking a lot, but not I think too much.
  1. Serbia at this point needs to focus on its path to the European Union. Any conflict with Kosovo would make that difficult.
  1. I am confident Serbia will not become an EU member without exchanging diplomatic representatives with Kosovo, enabling it to focus on the needs of its citizens.
  1. Kosovo likewise needs to concentrate on fulfilling the aspirations of its citizens for better and more secure lives, including candidacy for EU membership.
  1. Neither Kosovo nor Serbia would benefit from a costly arms race or from frictions that might escalate to armed conflict.
  1. To the contrary: it is time even now for your chiefs of staff to meet and begin the normal communication and collaboration that is happily standard among European countries, even countries that fought far more terrible wars than Kosovo and Serbia.
  1. You can expect to go much farther than that in the future: Serbia and Kosovo will someday be allies and fight together on foreign shores. The time to begin preparing for that day is now.
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Military action needs diplomatic follow up

Today’s American cruise missile strike on a Syrian base responsible for the chemical weapons attacks in Idlib province will no doubt do wonders for President Trump’s reputation as a man of action. He has done what President Obama hesitated to do in 2013, without consulting Congress or America’s allies (both of which presented obstacles four years ago).

The military significance of the American strike will be limited. The Russians, who had forces in harm’s way, were told in advance, so more than likely the Syrians knew as well. If so, they will have moved their military assets and hunkered down for what they knew would be a limited-duration attack. The Russians and Syrians have protested loudly that the attack is an act of aggression.

The political significance of the strike is still undetermined. Secretary of State Tillerson is talking about a coalition to remove Assad from power, but at the same time he refers to the Geneva talks that have so far led nowhere. Iranian and Russian support for Assad still seems solid. While both mumble about not being wedded to him, they have backed him repeatedly, because they can’t imagine doing better with any conceivable successor. Transition to them means the end of their enormous influence in Syria.

The Trump Administration has turned around completely on Assad. No more than a week ago it was signaling that Assad could stay. Now it is wanting him to leave. But it doesn’t appear to have a diplomatic and political plan to make that happen. National Security Adviser McMaster and Secretary of Defense Mattis have demonstrated, once again, how quickly America’s military instrument can be brought to bear. But the State Department—demoralized and without most of its senior leadership—is in nowhere near the same shape.

This attack could make the situation in Syria even more complicated and difficult to resolve than it has been for six long years. It could also mark the beginning of the end, if Washington can rally a real coalition against both Assad and the Islamic State. The outcome depends on diplomatic skills that have so far proven lacking. Let’s hope the Administration finds them quickly.

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Laconic to a fault

Tomasz Zalewski of the Polish magazine Polityka asked some questions about Secretary of State Tillerson. I replied:

Q: What is the role of Tillerson in making of US foreign policy? Is he its architect, or just an executor of Mr. Trump’s (or other peoples’) orders?

A: If he has any role at all, it appears to be minimal. He hasn’t even been an “executor.” More like a hanger-on.

Q: How valuable are his skills of the former Exxon’s CEO in the US diplomacy?

A: I have seen no value so far. [Maybe I should have added: other than his initial statement to the State Department personnel, which was well received.]

Q: How significant are the 28 percent cuts in the Department of State budget proposed by the White House – and the fact that Tillerson has agreed with them?

A: 28% is a devastating cut in a single year. It won’t happen, but the fact Tillerson agreed to this ridiculous number suggests he has no interest in defending the department he heads.

Q: What to make of the fact that Tillerson does not take the media on his trips and generally says very little in public?

A: He has no understanding of the Secretary of State’s role in public affairs and doesn’t care to learn.

I might add this, the State Department statement on the latest North Korean missile test:

North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.

That’s laconic to a fault, unless there is further action taken. 

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Assad’s chemicals

The Trump administration has let it be know it has abandoned hope of removing Bashar al Assad from power in Syria. Assad has responded by testing the limits of Washington’s affections: by using chemical weapons, once again. This occurred as the UN and Europe were considering aid to Syria at a Brussels meeting.

So far, Donald Trump has said this cannot be ignored by the civilized world but has done nothing. He has also tried to blame President Obama for the chemical attack for not having bombed Syria the first time Assad used chemical weapons (even if he at the time he urged Obama not to act).

Trump’s failure to act is a green light for Assad to do as he likes. If Washington continues to talk but not do, no doubt Assad will continue and likely ratchet up his chemical attacks, along with his assault on hospitals and other facilities that enable civilian populations to survive in Syria’s war zones.

What could the US administration do if it wanted? Here are a few options:

  1. Create declared safe areas protected from air and ground attacks, as Trump promised to do during the campaign.
  2. Identify and destroy aircraft or artillery involved in launching chemical weapons.
  3. Attack from the air Syrian and allied ground forces that are advancing on opposition-controlled areas.
  4. Make it clear the US will not provide reconstruction aid to any areas of Syria Assad still controls.
  5. Get Moscow to stop Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

None of these are easy at this point. Number 1 requires a significant deployment of US air as well as allied forces on the ground. Beyond the area of northern Syria controlled either by the Turks or the Kurds, it isn’t likely to happen. Number 2 is technically difficult, though it likely could be done, if Assad is dumb enough to park the planes or helicopters involved within reach of US cruise missiles.

Number 3 would put the US at war with Syria and Hizbollah, if not the Russians and Iranians. Number 4 I presume true already, and I suppose Assad does too, so it won’t affect his behavior. Number 5 is the eternal hope, but not one that has proved in any way justified.

None of the options except 2 seems at all likely at this point. The Administration is far more likely to act on North Korea, which has made clear it intends to gain the capability to attack the US, than on Assad, who avoids direct clashes with the US even if his brutal crackdown feeds the Islamic State and al Qaeda beasts that will eventually threaten the US.

It is hard to imagine how Iran, which suffered horrendous chemical attacks from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (which it blames in part on US supplies), justifies its support to a serial chemical weapons abuser. My guess is denial smooths that wrinkle.

Trump may be busy blaming Obama for Assad’s chemical attacks, but the buck has been passed and now stops with Trump. Will he fail to act, like Obama? Or will he plunge the US deeper into the Middle East maelstrom, with unforeseeable consequences?

PS: Here is Trump today on the subject:

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What to do with a big win

Acting Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has won the presidency in Serbia with a convincing margin over a fragmented opposition in the first round. The question now is what he will do with his overwhelmingly dominant position in Serbian politics.

In foreign policy, Vucic has straddled the yawning gap between European Union ambitions and close relations with Putin’s Russia. Conditioned by decades of non-alignment, Serbs have good reason to like this: they play one side off against the other, getting arms from Russia and lots of money from the EU while refusing to go along with Ukraine-related EU sanctions. So long as US policy on Russia remains in limbo, this straddle is workable. If Trump eventually gets his way and cozies up to Putin, Belgrade will be relieved of any discomfort it may feel from keeping one leg in the West and one in the East. If things go in the other direction, Vucic could come under intensified pressure to join the Ukraine sanctions and align Serbia more completely with Western policy.

Domestically, Vucic also tries to straddle. He claims to be a true democrat and reformer, while outside observers see him as leaning heavily towards illiberal politics: the Serbian press rains praise on him and opprobrium on his competitors, the courts are far from independent, and the ballyhooed corruption investigations rarely touch those close to him. Vucic’s popularity is real, but he lacks a serious political opposition. His closest rival in the presidential poll–former Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic, who has a good reputation–had fewer than one-third the front runner’s votes. The third candidate was a literally a youthful jokester who satirized Serbian politics.

What about the future? It seems to me a new president should keep his focus on longer-term issues–that means at least the five years of his term if not the ten he likely hopes to serve–and not get bogged down in daily events. I’d cite three of particular significance:

  • Opening the media space so that a viable opposition can form and thrive.
  • Building an independent judiciary that is capable of sharply reducing corruption.
  • Moving Serbia definitively towards membership in the European Union, including reaching agreements with Kosovo on difficult outstanding issues.

That is asking a lot. Politicians don’t rise above the fray easily. Certainly Boris Tadic, one of Vucic’s predecessors (2004-12), spent too much of his time managing daily issues of governance. The result was that he achieved little, especially in his second term. Current President Tomislav Nikolic had no choice because Vucic as prime minister was strong enough to keep him out of a lot of issues. So he focused on maintaining relations with Russia and was reasonably successful at that longer-term game, shifting Vucic significantly in that direction.

Vucic likes to say, both in public and in private, that he is not straddling and that he has made a definitive choice to take Serbia into the EU, while maintaining (as many European countries try to do) good relations with Moscow. That is difficult: Moscow last year sponsored a coup attempt in Montenegro, whose accession to NATO it wanted to block, using people and resources that came in part from Serbia. Vucic helped to block Moscow’s move, which targeted Montenegrin Prime Minister Djukanovic for assassination. How do you stay on good terms with people who plot a violent coup against a friendly neighbor?

A big win merits a big move in the direction Vucic really wants to go. We’ll be looking for further signs of his bona fides.

PS: “Anti-dictatorship” protests were held in Belgrade this evening:

 

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We Exist!

This admirably brief and cogent policy statement by a consortium of 25 Syrian nongovernmental humanitarian and human rights organizations merits consideration, especially in light of the Trump Administration’s acceptance of the continuation of Bashar al Assad in power:

Policy statement for the Brussels Conference on supporting the future of Syria and the region

Brussels 03/04/2017

On 4th and 5th April, the European Union, United Nations, Germany, Kuwait, Norway, Qatar, and UK host the Brussels Conference on Supporting the future of Syria and the region. The Brussels Conference will tackle a range of issues impacting on both immediate life-saving humanitarian priorities as well as longer-term efforts to resolve the conflict. As the violence worsens inside Syria, and political efforts to resolve the conflict prove highly contentious, preparations towards the Conference have been fraught with controversy over if and how ‘reconstruction’ might feature on the agenda, and the political implications of this. The question of how civil society can participate at the Conference, or influence the decisions made, has also been controversial.

In this context, the We Exist! coalition of Syrian civil society organisations makes the following recommendations:

1. Facilitate meaningful participation by independent Syrian civil society groups at the Brussels Conference and follow-up processes – Unfortunately, the experience to date has been that local civil society has generally been the last to get invited into international policy processes on Syria that will impact on their work and the lives of the communities they directly serve. The co-hosts of the Brussels Conference, as well as the preparatory meetings hosted by the UN Office of the Special Envoy Stefan De Mistura and the High Representative Federica Mogherini, ECHO and DG NEAR, should take steps to ensure that diverse Syrian civil society organisations can participate and contribute to the process. In addition, they should ensure effective and inclusive participation in the follow-up process to implement, monitor and evaluate outcomes from the Conference, the Civil Society Chamber meetings and the other side events.

2. Affirm the protection and inclusion of civil society in the substantive commitments and outcomes agreed at the Conference – The Conference should issue a strong call its final declaration as well as in statements by individual governments for the protection and inclusion of independent local civil society organisations in all aspects of the international, national and local response to the Syrian crisis. Attacks on civil society activists and the criminalization of independent civil society groups that has spiraled over the past six years should cease. Respect of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights norms should be strongly reaffirmed and accountability for violations by all parties to the conflict promoted. Parties to the conflict have fostered and manipulated social and other community differences to serve their political and military objectives. As such, support to civil society should embody principles of inclusion, with steps taken to ensure that marginalized groups can engage and diversity in terms of gender, age, political, social and other relevant factors.

3. Rethink Reconstruction – Reconstruction cannot just be about bricks and
concrete, it must address the political, social and economic root causes of the
uprising and subsequent violent conflict. The political transition from violence
towards sustainable peace should be inclusive and representing the aspirations of
the Syrian people for freedom and dignity. Reconstruction should be for all of Syria
and all Syrians, and not determined by the imperatives of conflict or political
violence. As such, it should only start and be funded after credible steps toward a
genuine transition. Accountability and justice are necessary for this to happen –
without these, reconstruction efforts risk becoming new fronts in forced
displacement, the dispossession of property, human rights violations and further
rounds of violence. Donors and the UN should not conflate ‘early recovery’ with
premature involvement without the political conditions for reconstruction being in
place. Furthermore, the important role of independent Syrian civil society
organizations should be affirmed in the political track of negotiations on conflict
resolution inside Syria as well as in any eventual ‘reconstruction’ efforts following a
political settlement. They have a central role to play in promoting human rights,
justice, accountability, peace and reconciliation.

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