Month: July 2013

Kosovo: aspirations and prospects

Someone asked me to talk today about Kosovo’s aspirations and prospects as well as interethnic relations.  Here are the notes I used to respond:

1. Kosovo has achieved its greatest aspiration:  it is independent and more or less sovereign.

  • More or less because NATO still ensures a safe and secure environment, especially in the north, EULEX still provides prosecutors and judges, OSCE still monitors elections.
  • Most Kosovo Albanians don’t mind: essential that the Serb police, paramilitaries and army are not coming back and they get to choose their own municipal and national governments.
  • The exception is Vetevendosje and its maybe 20% of the population, which insists Kosovo should be able to choose whether to unite with Albania, contradicting its constitution.

2. For most Kosovars today, earning a living is the immediate priority, but joining the EU remains the long-term objective.

  • Legislation is already vetted for consistency with EU requirements. The problem is weak implementation, as it is in Serbia and elsewhere in the Balkans.
  • There is still a long way to go, even for the visa waiver, because the state is weak.
  • The business environment is open to foreign investment but still far from meeting European standards, especially for corruption, the informal sector and electricity reliability.
  • Economic growth has been relatively strong, but not fast enough to absorb a rapidly increasing labor force.
  • The result is continuing frustration within Kosovo and migration out when the opportunity arises.
  • Today that is often to Albania and Macedonia, creating a much wider and distinctly Albanian cultural space.

3. Ethnic tensions and the underlying political issues are a low priority for most Kosovars, as they are for most Serbs in Serbia.

  • Albanians and Serbs are more or less content with separate self-governance for the Serb municipalities south of the Ibar.
  • The only really strong ethnic tensions are in the north.

4. Those should not be ignored, because they have the potential to unravel the Balkans.

  • Partition of northern Kosovo could lead to partition of southern Serbia, northwestern Macedonia, Bosnia and even Cyprus.
  • The April agreement shows the way forward through implementation of the Ahtisaari plan, which was already an integral part of Kosovo’s constitution.
  • Implementation is spotty, both of the political agreements and the more technical ones.
  • Amnesty was only the first step. The key will be municipal elections in the fall.
  • A lot depends on whether Belgrade uses all the leverage it has.
  • If Serbs not hostile to Pristina win the municipal elections, which is likely if the pro-Belgrade Serbs boycott, there will still be a good deal to be done but it will happen. If not, there could still be trouble.

5. What remains to be done?

  • Lots of things, but I will focus on three disparate ones that bear on inter-ethnic relations: the Kosovo army, the business environment and education.
  • Kosovo is now entitled to have an army. It has hesitated because of pressure from internationals and the expense, but once NATO starts to draw down the issue will arise.
  • How big an army Kosovo needs and its capabilities depend on the threat: if Serbia does not accept Kosovo’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, the threat needs to be taken seriously.
  • But if Serbia recognizes, or if NATO provides guarantees, Kosovo can do with less, which would reduce interethnic suspicions and tensions.
  • As for the business environment, the main issue is the role of political parties, which play too strong a role in hiring and public investment.
  • The reported rate of paying bribes (16%) is not especially high, but there is a pervasive sense that political connections are important to getting any major projects done.
  • It’s the nexus between politics and the economy that needs to be cleaned up. There is particular dissatisfaction with tendering and contracting, which Kosovars are convinced gets done in ways that block open competition.
  • Education is the key to Kosovo’s economic future.
  • It should be done at least in part in English, to ease entry into Europe, reduce pan-Albanian sentiment and promote integration.
  • Voluntary K-12 education in English would attract both Albanians and Serbs, enable Kosovo to accelerate its preparations for the EU, and vastly increase employment prospects.

6. Even if all these issues are resolved satisfactorily, there will remain the question of distant inter-ethnic relations.

  • The missing ingredient, on both sides, is acknowledgement of the harm done and sincere expression of regret.
  • Missing people are a particular source of unhappiness.
  • Once there is real acknowledgement of harm, that problem will be resolved and there will be many more opportunities for exchange, collaboration and cooperation.
  • I’d like to see lots of Serb visitors to Kosovo and Albanian visitors to Serbia. Increasing contact is vital to develop healthier inter-ethnic relations.
  • Extending the Durres/Pristina road to Nis is particularly important, but there are many other regional infrastructure improvements that could be undertaken, including in energy and telecoms.
  • The April agreement foresees entry of both Serbia and Kosovo into the EU, each on its own bottom: that, ultimately, is what will fix inter-ethnic relations in both Kosovo and Serbia.


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Peace picks July 29 – August 2

1. Squaring the circle: General Raymond T. Odierno on American military strategy in a time of declining resources, American Enterprise Institute, Monday, July 29, 2013 / 10:30 AM – 11:30 AM

Venue: American Enterprise Institute

1150 17th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20036

Speakers: Mackenzie Eaglen, General Raymond T. Odierno

With sequestration a reality and little hope for a bargain on the horizon, the US military is facing a steeper-than-planned defense drawdown that few wanted but fewer still seem to be willing or able to stop. What are the implications for the men and women of the US Army if the sequester stays on the books for the foreseeable future?

AEI’s Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies will host General Raymond Odierno, Chief of Staff of the US Army, for the second installment of a series of four events with each member of the Joint Chiefs.

Register for the event here:

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Real reform requires organized action

Marwan Muasher, former Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan, is now a vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  A leading figure calling for reform in Jordan, he was interviewed by Ala’ Alrababa’h of

Click here to view this interview in Arabic.

Q.  How do you expect events in Egypt to impact the Muslim Brotherhood and the reform process in Jordan?  Would they weaken the Muslim Brotherhood?  And would they be used as an excuse to hinder the reform process?

A.  I think the Arab World should establish the rules of democracy in a way that allows everyone to work. I don’t believe in excluding anyone from the political sphere, whether it is the Muslim Brotherhood or otherwise. I also believe that excluding the Muslim Brotherhood by force, or not involving them in governance by force, has helped to strengthen rather than weaken them. If we look at the Egyptian or Tunisian experience, we see that the Brotherhood did not become weak among the population using force. [They were only weakened] when they took power and had to apply the slogans they called for, whether economic or political [slogans].

In the short term, I am not optimistic about Egypt, because the other side, the civilian forces, treat the Brotherhood with the same exclusion it accused the Brotherhood of. They [civilian forces] accuse the Brotherhood of wanting to exclude others, while they do the same thing. And I believe that the best would be to agree on the rules of the game from the outset, such that everyone receives guarantees that all political and social forces in the society would not be marginalized or excluded, and that they can participate in ruling before writing a new constitution that gets the approval of all sectors of society.

As for us in Jordan, it is possible to read what happened in Egypt in two ways. The first way, which is happening now, and I think it is wrong, is to see that the Muslim Brotherhood was excluded in Egypt, and thus we can do the same in Jordan. And as I said, I don’t think that exclusion happens by force, and if it happens by force, it would help to strengthen, rather than weaken, the Muslim Brotherhood. Or it could be read in another way, which is what I hope the Jordanian society would reach, with the help of the wise people in the society, that this is time to agree on the rules of a game, which allows everyone to participate in the political process, and that prevents anyone from monopolizing this process in the future. Would this happen soon? The signs so far are not encouraging.

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Dempsey, Hof and Cordesman

With Fred Hof and Tony Cordesman reacting to Chairman Dempsey’s pros and cons for Syria, it is difficult to add much from vacation in the Netherlands, where the descendants of people who fought horrible civil wars have created for themselves a strikingly peaceful and prosperous society.  A Leidener’s greatest risk may be from bicycles, which are almost as dense at times in Hanoi.

That said, Tony and Fred come to somewhat different conclusions:  Tony suggests a full-fledged no-fly zone over all of Syria while Fred favors the poor man’s version that nails as many airplanes and Scuds as possible before they take off.  I lean more towards the poor man’s version, since America’s appetite for another Middle East war is clearly very limited.  Tony’s assurance that “no one is advocating a serious US air campaign” is dissonant with his insistence on the strategic importance of intervening in Syria.  In my view, a few days effort with standoff weapons might be doable, but more would quickly bring out big questions.

Even the poor man’s version has implications for American relations with Russia and China that could affect vital US interests in ensuring the Afghanistan withdrawal goes smoothly (some of the routes out depend on Moscow’s cooperation) and in achieving a negotiated end to Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.  Those, in my view, are the primary reasons to date for President Obama’s hesitation.

Some of the questions concern costs, which is one subject both Fred and Tony ignore.  Dempsey does not–he puts billion-dollar price tags on several of the options, clearly intending to dampen enthusiasm for them.  The Pentagon is trying to say no without really saying it.  The trouble, as Fred notes with an edge, is that Dempsey does not consider the implications of doing nothing more than we are already doing.

We are already up around $1 billion spent on humanitarian relief in Syria, which is more or less the order of magnitude of several of the military options.  My guesstimate is that next year will cost $2 billion if we are, as Dempsey suggests we must, to protect Syria’s neighbors from the incredible burden of what might become 2 million refugees, plus million more displaced people and people in need inside Syria.  It is rare that humanitarian relief expenditures get up into military orders of magnitude.  When they do, they need to be weighed in the balance.

The long-term impact of moving such large numbers of people should also be a concern.  While it may sound harsh, experience suggests that many will never return to Syria, or at least not to their original homes there.  Some, like the Pilgrims who came to Leiden for a decade to escape oppression in Nottinghamshire (go figure!), will keep going on to new worlds and make vital contributions to them.  Sweden has enjoyed the influx of Iraqis who fled after 2003.  Many others may live stunted lives in refugee camps or as low-wage workers, refused (like many Palestinians) more permanent or elevated status by countries that see them as a threat for sectarian, ethnic or ideological reasons.

The implications for Syria are hard to predict, but we can be pretty sure pre-war Syria, which I enjoyed no end when I studied Arabic there, is already gone.  The dictatorship will have to be far more oppressive to regain control of even part of the country.  Ethnic and sectarian separation is proceeding apace.  Islamism has gained among the Sunnis.  Tensions between some Arabs and some Kurds are on the increase.  The regime still claims to be non-sectarian, but no one believes it.  Even a fully democratic regime will find it hard to bridge the social cleavages war is now opening.

So as the Americans consider their options, they also have to consider (as Fred suggests) the implications of doing no more than they are already doing:  humanitarian relief, some military training, and some funding of opposition political and governance efforts.  It isn’t working, and I know no one at this point who thinks it will.

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Two states are the only solution

On Monday, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted the first public event of The Elders – an international NGO founded by Nelson Mandela that brings together former high-level politicians and statesmen from around the world. Together, this group travels the globe in promoting human rights and democracy. Through their combined efforts and individual networks, The Elders regularly meet with current world leaders and consult with policymakers.

Their current trip to Washington DC is geared to support ongoing efforts in favor of a diplomatic solution in Syria and US Secretary of State John Kerry’s push for resumption of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. At Carnegie, three members of the elders, former US President Jimmy Carter, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, and former Algerian Foreign Minister and special envoy to the UN Lakhdar Brahimi spoke about their efforts and their expectations for the near and long-term future in an event titled “Can the two-state solution be saved?”.

The three former statesmen remain hopeful about both Israel/Palestine and the situation in Syria. Regarding direct negotiations, President Carter was quick to mention the internal constraints that both Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas face. Each is confronted with domestic pressures not to negotiate. Netanyahu’s governing coalition includes right-of-center parties opposed to final-status agreements. Meanwhile, Abbas’ Fatah party faces pressure from Hamas, whose charter does not recognize Israel.  Each side has committed to putting any final peace treaty up to a national referendum.

Brahimi spoke of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria. He noted that nearly 6,000 new refugees flee Syria each day. He is hopeful that the Geneva II conference will regain momentum and urged all parties to abstain from further violence as a duty to Syria’s people, culture, and history.  Brahimi believes that the continued civil war is turning into an effort to destroy Syria’s past, present and future.

President Ahtisaari spoke of the linkages between the two conflicts and the role that the West can have vis-à-vis Iran. Ahtisaari encouraged greater cooperation between the P5 and Iran.  He believes that the new Iranian government under Rouhani provides an opportunity for a restart with Iran.

The Elders are an impressive group. Their personal experiences and flexibility as independent advisors unconnected to any government provides them with unique access and insight into current global challenges. Yet, even after a Q&A session it remains unclear how the three speakers feel about the future of the two-state solution. Read more

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Peace Picks July 22-26

1. Rouhani: Challenges at Home, Challenges Abroad, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Monday, July 22 / 9:00am – 11:30am

Venue: Woodrow Wilson Center

1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20004

Speakers: Bijan Khajehpour, Shervin Malekzadeh, Suzanne Maloney, Roberto Toscano, Ali Vaez, Shaul Bakhash

Six Iran experts discuss President-elect Rouhani’s domestic and foreign policy challenges.

Register for the event here:

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