An End to the Beginning of War: The OSCE's Role in
Conflict Prevention in Macedonia and Kosovo
February 9, 2005
Staff-prepared summary of the EES discussion with P. Terrence Hopmann, Professor of Political Science, Brown University and 2004-2005 Wilson Center Fellow

Conflict prevention, or rather the prevention of the escalation of conflict, is a major theme for many international organizations. Yet while it is relatively easy to achieve consensus about the goal of preventing conflict, it is far more difficult to determine when international intervention is necessary and how exactly to proceed. P. Terrance Hopmann analyzed the record of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in dealing with the complex problem of conflict prevention, citing the cases of Macedonia and Kosovo.

Hopmann began by describing the behavioral and psychological effects of violence. Violence changes the tactics used such that conciliatory postures and civility become impossible and very soon the range of issues and grievances related to the original violence broadens to involve an entire population. Relative gains supercede absolute gains, such that the primary motivation of behavior is to improve one's position relative to the enemy. Psychologically, fear and anger create a situation in which people see only good and evil, they become the victims of the ‘other' and believe that any compromise with the enemy will become a disadvantage. Thus, people dehumanize the other, which undermines their ability to empathize and increases the likelihood of more violence.

The OSCE's attempts to address the complex issue of conflict prevention began in 1990, with the signing of the Charter of Paris, which created a Conflict Prevention Center. In the 1992, the center was given an institutional capacity through the ability to install missions of long duration in trouble areas and the creation of a High Commissioner on National Minorities. It was also unique in linking conflict with a human dimension, which created a framework for negotiating peace through the strengthening of good governance, the rule of law and minority rights. Through these institutions, the OSCE hoped to create an organization that could give early warning about potential conflicts, have the ability to monitor developments and not only have the institutional capacity to respond but also the political commitment to act when necessary.

In September 1992, the OSCE deployed a Mission to Kosovo to observe low level activities and monitor human rights and military abuses. But the Mission was promptly closed by Slobodan Milosevic in 1993, after the FRY's CSCE membership was suspended due to gross human rights violations in the war in Bosnia. It was believed that the Mission had a role in maintaining peace in Kosovo since it was the sole mediator between rival groups. Subsequent monitoring depended on individual countries' diplomatic missions. Because the Dayton Agreement, which ended the war in 1995, did not deal with the crisis in Kosovo, moderate elements in Kosovo lost to increasingly militarized radicals. Despite the fact that he could not get a visa to enter the country, High Commissioner Max Van der Stoel met with groups outside the region and issued an Early Warning to the OSCE in 1997. The warning fell on deaf ears in Brussels and Washington and violence escalated until a cease fire was negotiated in October 1998. Afterwards, a new international monitoring mission, the unarmed and largely unprepared Kosovo Verification Mission was unable to head off further conflict.

By contrast, the Mission in Skopje was installed in 1993 and was backed by UN institutions and peacekeeping troops. The Mission focused on contingency planning for refugees in case of violence and also tried to mediate the economic effects on Macedonia of sanctions on neighboring Serbia and closed trade with Greece. Nevertheless, problems arose when the peace-brokering in Kosovo resulted in the transfer of weapons to militant Albanian groups in Macedonia. When fighting broke out in February 2001, the OSCE was prepared to deal with the refugee problems that followed and to bring people in to broker peace negotiations. By August 2001, the Ohrid Agreement was signed and peace has been largely maintained. The Mission remains in Macedonia with a new mandate to set up a police academy and has several units dealing with confidence building measures, rule of law and media development.

Hopmann's comparison raised questions about what might have happened in Kosovo had the OSCE Mission been maintained or if a larger mission comparable in size and scope to the Kosovo Verification mission had been deployed earlier, before the situation had become so tense. Among the lessons learned were that early warning is not enough if there is no political commitment to intervene. Moreover, the OSCE missions provide regional expertise, which is necessary when implementing peace agreements. Finally, the weapons transfer from the Albanian insurgence in Kosovo to another in Macedonia shows the importance of taking regional circumstances into account when implementing conflict prevention strategies.