The International Strategy for Kosovo: A Critical Approach
Since the NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999, the international community has become inextricably involved with the fate of Kosovo. As the UN has charged Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide with the task of evaluating the Kosovars' progress in adopting the standards put to them by the international community, Helmut Kramer presented his report on the international community's record in Kosovo.
Despite enormous investments by the international community to secure Kosovo through the deployment of KFOR, NATO and EU troops, the security record remains mixed. Certainly the Kosovo Policy Service has been hailed as an undisputed success story in Kosovo. Yet, with 3000 international police officers and UNMIK still stationed there, there is still no guarantee of stable, peaceful living conditions for the resident Serb population and no substantial refugee returns. The violence seen in March 2004 by radicalized Albanians against Serb cultural sites is clear evidence that the security situation is still fragile.
The economy seemed to be enjoying a two-year boom in recent years, when most of the destroyed houses were being rebuilt. But since then, the economy has been in free-fall, suffering from the absence of foreign direct investment and a staggering 70 percent unemployment rate. More troubling still is that the youth are the hardest hit by unemployment, which does not bode well for the future of the region. Meanwhile, organized crime is thriving, as Kosovo has become the main channel in Europe for drug and human trafficking. These grave problems have not been adequately addressed by UNMIK.
On the political front, there has been moderate success as free and fair elections have been carried out and a new political structure has been put into place. UNMIK, Kramer asserted, should be given some credit for that, as well as for successfully and thoughtfully coordinating the work and investments of the many international organizations and states operating in the region. However, ethnicity dominates politics, while the idea of tolerance remains far out of mainstream political debates. Meanwhile, UNMIK has managed to alienate the resident population to the point of losing all credibility, particularly after it did nothing to stop the outbreak of violence in March 2004 and status talks have been delayed.
Despite the tremendous investments in UNMIK, the international community cannot boast of success in Kosovo. Kramer concluded that this poor result is due in part to the complicated structure of international organizations, which balance power through layers of bureaucracy, resulting in a leadership vacuum, making them slow to respond in a crisis. He also blames the passivity of the main actors—the EU and the US—which hoped that Slobodan Milosevic's departure from politics would initiate an entirely new policy on Kosovo. When this did not happen, no new policy was adopted and, five years later, little progress has been made. Finally, UNMIK's hiring practices ultimately led to the alienation of the organization by the locals. The UN brought people to Kosovo who were unprepared to navigate Kosovo's complex culture. They were given short-term contracts so that once they became familiar with the territory, the people and their problems, they were replaced by inexperienced officers. This created a huge rift between the internationals working in Kosovo and the local leaders.
On the options for the future status of Kosovo, Kramer emphasized that it is important to take a long-term view and that full independence simply is not realistic at this time. Instead, he underlined that the option of "conditional autonomy" would be a likely outcome after negotiations, which he expects will probably begin later this year. He foresees that independence for Kosovo would be linked to the eventual movement towards EU membership.