The following is a staff-prepared summary of the seminar held on September 19, 2007 featuring Borut Grgic, Director, ISS-Slovenia; Tim Judah, correspondent, The Economist; Vladimir Matic, Clemson University; and James O'Brien, The Albright Group. Meeting Report 339.
Over the last year, the question of whether Kosovo should become a sovereign state or remain an autonomous part of Serbia has been overshadowed by the inability of the international community to reach a diplomatic consensus on this issue. The Kosovo status issue is complex, touching upon various levels of international concern including the ethics of nationalism, the ability of the international community to engage in state-building and the setting of international legal precedents, to name a few. The result of this complexity is that various states agree and disagree, not always consistently, on the many issues related to Kosovo's status, and this has slowed down the process of reaching agreement on status considerably.
Most notably, the United States and Russia are at the opposite ends of the spectrum, with the US advocating supervised independence and Russia unrelenting on the question of state inviolability in international law. The European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy cannot seem to get off the ground at this point, due to the many differences among its 27 member states. Without a superpower that could impose a solution which no one could credibly oppose, the international community has a difficult diplomatic puzzle on its hands.
Tim Judah began his remarks by saying that, whatever the differences between the US and Russia on this issue, it is essential that a critical mass of European Union member states reach a consensus on how to resolve the current impasse on status. Deadlines set by the international community to make the decision have come and gone. Serbia has benefited greatly from the Russian position, which allows the Serbian government to resist any compromise on its position and indulge in dreams of self-sustainable isolation and nationalist rhetoric. Meanwhile, every time a new deadline is set by the international community and then missed, Kosovars' despair and impatience rises, which Judah asserted, increases the risk of violence.
Judah pointed out that much of the international community believes that there is an implicit solution to this problem, which does not demand immediate action on its part: given the seeming impossibility of reaching a diplomatic consensus, the international community implicitly invites the Kosovars to unilaterally declare independence from Serbia at the same time that it unilaterally adopts the Ahtisaari plan, which includes various protections for the Serbian minority residing in Kosovo. It is hoped that EU countries would eventually recognize Kosovo's independence and thereby allow the entire region to move on with the business of European integration without being forced to address the thorny international legal issues this problem raises. This is unlikely to produce a peaceful outcome, however, given that the EU values a settlement that is adopted within the UN. Moreover, the current impasse on reaching a diplomatic solution would probably continue, even if the question were changed to whether or not individual countries will choose to recognize the new Kosovar state. In the end, what Kosovo needs most is for all sides to end their attempts at trying to reach a diplomatic solution. Instead the international community needs to come to a decision on Kosovo, and to begin working towards its implementation.
As a former Yugoslav career diplomat, Vladimir Matic offered unique insights into Serbia's foreign policy. Although the 2000 elections succeeded in turning Serbia towards democracy and away from Milosevic's authoritarian rule, Matic pointed out that Serbia's international objectives remained the same since that time. The political bickering that ensued between the democratic parties have led to various configurations of a "coalition of the unwilling" over the years. Today, the only issue upon which both President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica agree is that Kosovo must remain a part of Serbia. Yet, although this issue has become a top priority for all of the governments since the Milosevic administration, the issue of Kosovo's independence has never been openly discussed in a public political forum in Serbia. This was most evident in the adoption of Serbia's new constitution (which begins with a statement that Kosovo is and will always be part of Serbia), which was adopted without debate last year. As a result, Matic contended, Serbia has become a single-issue country.
Russia's position, in combination with the international community's decision to resist any discussion about partition of Kosovo, has contributed to the impasse on Kosovo's status. Matic pointed out that Russia's leverage on the Kosovo issue is based, not on the moral strength of its position, but on the fact that the EU and the US cannot agree on a solution to the problem.
Although Borut Grgic serves as a consultant to the Prime Minister of Kosovo, he limited his discussion to observations as a Slovene and a member of the EU. In Brussels, the European Union is coming to the realization that in order for it to take over from UNMIK in Kosovo, it must have consensus of all 27 member states supporting Kosovo's independence. This is problematic, since, each for their own reasons, many EU member states cannot abide by this decision. Cyprus, Romania, Greece and Spain have all been vocally opposed to recognizing Kosovo's independence. The problem of reaching a consensus in the EU is further aggravated by the fact that the EU has once again found itself in the middle between Russia and the US.
The splintering of the international community is mirrored in Kosovo, where the political coalition is being tested by run-up to elections in November. All eyes are currently on the December 11, the day after the deadline for the completion of the diplomatic talks. If nothing happens afterwards, Grgic warned, the current coalition (which has been supporting the diplomatic path) will lose legitimacy and the ensuing power vacuum in Kosovo will need to be filled, hopefully by peaceful, but possibly by violent forces.
As a seasoned international negotiator, James O'Brien explained that it is in Serbia's interest to continue the negotiations indefinitely in an effort to maintain the status quo. This policy seems to be working well, especially given Russia's support of the Serbian position. In his presentation, O'Brien mapped out a new process that would ‘close' the deal on Kosovo. First, the US and Europe must consider how Russia might be given an opportunity to disagree with the decision on Kosovo without vetoing it in the Security Council. This would require the US to end its efforts to force Russia to agree with its position, which O'Brien believes is highly unlikely.
Next, the major European powers must cooperate with the US to make a decision on Kosovo's status, take ownership of that decision, and initiate an energetic diplomatic campaign aimed at garnering the support of other European states. This will require daily phone calls from the US, France, the UK and Germany to convince other EU member states that further negotiations on this issue are futile. He also advocated the organization of intensive, Dayton-style, closed-door negotiations on status issues between the Serbs and the Kosovars under the guidance, supervision and pressure of the EU, the US and Russia.
Finally, rather than sitting back and waiting for the US and Russia to sort it out, the EU needs to acknowledge its stake in this problem. It is in the EU's interest not to allow a ghetto to form within its borders, and taking risks to resolve the problem now will pay dividends in the future. O'Brien reminded us that there are clear risks to all parties associated with maintaining the status quo and those consequences need to be clarified in order to facilitate the process of reaching an agreement. Even if the outcome creates difficulties for the region, there are international institutions that are well equipped for dealing with difficulties, such as migration. But, as this case clearly demonstrates, there is no international bureaucracy that can adequately contend with the current status in Kosovo.