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Kosovo’s Foreign Policy Meltdown (Koha Ditore)

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Koha Ditore carries today an editorial by Marc Weller,  who holds the Chair of International Law and International Constitutional Studies in the University of Cambridge. He also served as legal advisor for Kosovo during the 1999 Rambouillet Conference on Kosovo and senior legal advisor in the UN-led Vienna process of Final Status Negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia of 2006/7. Subsequently he contributed to the drafting of the Kosovo Constitution and drafted the Law on the Protection of Minorities in Kosovo and the Statute of the Community Consultative Council. Below find the first part of the series of articles on the issue:

Next month, Kosovo will celebrate its 10th anniversary as an independent state. There is some reason for celebration. After all, the small, landlocked territory inhabited by somewhat less than 2 million, has consolidated its existence.

This, in itself, is no small achievement. Kosovo has survived a legal challenge to its existence in the International Court of Justice at The Hague and a concerted campaign by Serbia, from which it seceded in 2008, to leave it internationally isolated.

Instead of suffering from international isolation, Kosovo can point to 114 recognitions from other governments around the world. However, much of this success is now being placed in jeopardy by an increasingly erratic and nationalistic foreign policy which Kosovo can ill afford. In addition to its vulnerable international position, Kosovo will need to continue its reliance on considerable international financial assistance.

Education, health and social services lag behind other states of the region. Unemployment has remained unacceptably high, impelling those with initiative and drive to seek their fortune abroad.  The development of an honest and vibrant business community is hampered by instances of corruption and political patronage that extends to the awarding of publicly funded contracts.

After NATO’s war against Serbia of 1999, the UN administered the territory for close to a decade. It was easy then to blame international bureaucracy and inefficiencies for the ills in Kosovo. Since independence, this option has gone and the reasons for failure have to be found at home.

One source of ill for Kosovo lies in the odd tension between political instability and permanence of existing arrangements. The past elections in Kosovo have resulted in deadlock and fragile coalitions. This is in part due to the fact that a significant number of seats in Kosovo’s small parliament are pre-assigned to representatives of Kosovo’s minorities, including in particular the ethnic Serb community. This constellation makes it difficult for any mainstream party to win an outright majority.

However, despite the difficulties in forming governing coalitions, the political figures at the helm of the state have not changed. There seems to be a perennial cast of characters, most of whom can trace their lineage back to the time of resistance to Serb oppression in the 1990s and to the war of 1999.

This unchanging group of leaders and contenders for power includes Hashim Thaci, a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army and of the PDK party, who has served as Prime Minister, and now President, since independence.

He is now uneasily bound together with Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, head of his own rival AAK party and another former KLA fighter, who lost his previous stint of Prime Minister after 100 days in office when he was summoned for his war crimes trial to The Hague in 2005. Having been acquitted, he was most recently detained in France under an international arrest warrant issued by Serbia, shortly before taking up the post of Prime Minister once more in September of last year.

For the first time in Kosovo’s post-independence history, this has led to a government very much dominated by political parties associated with the war-time KLA, excluding the moderating influence of others based in civil society.

The LDK party of the late resistance leader Ibrahim Rugova was ditched from its role in government by the PDK, which deserted the previous coalition after the failed attempt in the Kosovo parliament to ratify a boundary agreement signed with neighbouring Montenegro in 2015. The agreement would have confirmed a boundary line agreed by experts from both sides and by international experts. However, Kosovo nationalists claimed that it would surrender hundreds of hectares of Kosovo land to Montenegro.

The EU had made visa liberalization dependent on ratification. That prospect has now receded into the distant future. In opposition to findings of several commissions of international experts, a Kosovo commission appointed by the newly elected Prime Minister recently upheld his view that the boundary line was wrongly drawn. Ignoring the advice of Kosovo’s international partners, and triggering open international condemnation, Haradinaj has committed itself to overturning the agreement.

This, perhaps, is the most startling turn in Kosovo’s politics. For most of the post-independence period, the Kosovo leadership has closely followed guidance offered by the EU and, especially, the US, steering a cautious course in its external relation. On the rare occasions where it failed to heed such advice, failure often followed. For instance, Kosovo’s campaign for membership in UNESCO was undertaken precipitously, against the advice of Kosovo’s allies, leading to a narrow but nonetheless embarrassing failure for Prishtina’s foreign policy

Over the past months, a whole spate of irrational actions in the area of foreign policy has gravely undermined Kosovo’s external relations.

Over the past year, President Thaci started the process of transforming Kosovo’s modest ‘security force’ of some 4,000 men and women supposedly dedicated to civilian crisis response into a regular army, aiming to increase its weaponry accordingly. The project raised the objections of the ethnic Serb representatives in the Kosovo Assembly who refused the necessary constitutional changes. International resistance followed.

Given Kosovo’s economic and social troubles and the need to develop social services, health and education, the move to transform the security force and arm it more heavily seemed hardly justifiable. However many millions are spend on an army, it is hardly likely to offer a more credible deterrent against Serbia. Belgrade inherited the former Yugoslavia’s arsenal which has since been vastly upgraded by its Russian ally. Security cannot be found in an arms race with such an unequal rival.

However, this step was short-sighted in a more important aspect. Trying to build up an independent armed force, however inadequate in the end, undermines the presumption that Kosovo’s security is underwritten by NATO—a far more potent security guarantee for the small country than a force of its own might ever offer.

Then, there is the issue of the Specialist Chambers of the Kosovo Courts that have been established at The Hague. The Chambers are based in Kosovo legislation and nominally part of the Kosovo legal system. However, they are in fact a result of international pressure to provide international justice in relation to allegations made in a 2011 report of the Council of Europe alleging serious war crimes in the immediate aftermath of the conflict of 1998/9 in Kosovo.

The establishment of the specialist chambers has been controversial. Kosovo has been subjected to extensive interest and action by the Prosecutors of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague. Its own judicial institutions have also addressed infraction by its irregular armed forces during the conflict of 1998/9 and in its aftermath.

 Serbia, on the other hand, was the author of the major outrages that resulted in between 10,000 and 15,000 death of mainly Kosovo civilians. The fate of over a thousand Kosovars is still unaccounted for. Moreover, during the conflict, Serb forces sought to forcibly displace much of the population of the territory.

Many in Kosovo share the sense of the President and Prime Minister that Prishtina was pressed unjustly into further self-flagellation by the international community, while Serbia has been allowed to ignore its own responsibility. There is also suspicion among the former KLA leaders that the project was furthered in cooperation with the moderate LDK party. Several of its senior members were assassinated at the conclusion of the conflict—and issue that might also be considered in the Special Chambers.

At the initiative of PDK members, and with the support of the AAK of Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and his brother Daud, also an MP, the Kosovo parliament in December attempted to derail the tribunal in the Kosovo parliament. Arguing that the tribunal’s focus on crimes perpetrated by the KLA is unbalanced, they called for a surprise session of parliament with a view to repealing the law.

Given the vast investment in the establishment of the special chambers over many months, and Kosovo’s own previous acceptance of it, this step appeared erratic. In the light of rumours of the impending issuance of the first round of indictments, it also appeared rather self-serving at this late stage.

The US Ambassador warmed of Kosovo’s likely isolation in consequence of this step. In a slap to the dignity of the office of Prime Minister, the US authorities promptly denied the Kosovo Prime Minister a visa when he recently sought to visit the US. This week, he addressed and unprecedented and ominously threatening speech at Kosovo politicians, warning of unspecified consequences should the parliament unhinge the Chambers at the last moment.

The UK, ordinarily a more quiet supporter of Kosovo, spoke dramatically of Prishtina’s impending ‘betrayal’ of the international community. Other states have started to review their programmes of assistance to, and partnership with, Kosovo.

Unbowed, the Kosovo President added to the international alienation at that very moment by issuing an official pardon for three former KLA soldiers found guilty of revenge killings in 2001 against an ethnic Albanian family, including their children. The father had supposedly been associated earlier with the Serb authorities.

Given Kosovo’s internal, economic woes, its dependency on international financial, political and military support, and the demand of its young population for closer integration with Western Europe, this implosion of Kosovo’s external relations seems reckless. While Kosovo moderates are gravely concerned at this turn of events, there seems little alternative.

Kosovo’s recently appointed Foreign Minister, Behgjet Pacolli, a wealthy businessman who once briefly occupied the Kosovo Presidency in 2011 is tirelessly campaigning to add further recognitions to those already achieved.  But other initiatives, including the plan to bind Serb-dominated Northern Mitrovica more closely into Kosovo, have been overshadowed by the recent high-profile actions of the traditional big beasts in Prishtina politics. And key areas of foreign policy, such as the issue of Kosovo’s border and the war crimes issues, remain under control of the Prime Minister and the President respectively.

The LDK party, now in opposition, is ineffectual, nursing its wounds after its ejection from power last year. The radical opposition in the shape of the ‘self-determination’ party, is internally divided. In fact, its larger faction would favour an even more abrasive relationship with Kosovo’s traditional partners, believing that the country accepted too many conditions for its statehood. Indeed, its hard core believes in a long-term vision of merging Kosovo with Albania—a nightmare scenario for most other governments of the region.

Therefore, it may seem as if Kosovo is headed towards further friction, including with its closest allies. This is, however, rather dangerous. Kosovo is a small state, and one faced with particular challenges.

Small states can only achieve their aims through patient and crafty diplomacy, through the building of alliances of interests with other states, large or small, and by nurturing historically grown friendly relationship with more powerful sponsors. Kosovo risks losing all of these avenues of influence, as its limited diplomatic capital is being rapidly dissipated.

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  • Published: 4 months ago on 23/01/2018
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  • Last Modified: January 23, 2018 @ 10:55 am
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