- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2003

The pursuit of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia represents the only prospect for long-term stability in the Balkans and must not be put off, argues a recent report from an influential Washington think tank.

“We need to take the lid off this [problem] and turn the fire down,” said Paul Williams, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law and co-author of the report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The only way to do this is through some kind of phased-in independence,” he said.

In the policy brief, “Achieving a Final Status Settlement for Kosovo,” Mr. Williams and his co-authors — Janusz Bugajski, director of the CSIS Eastern Europe project, and R. Bruce Hitchner, chairman of the Dayton Peace Accords project at the University of Dayton — say continued international delay and ambiguity over Kosovo’s final status not only exacerbates the region’s ethnic tensions, but also contributes to political and economic stagnation in the Balkans.

The authors contend a freely elected government in Kosovo would reduce the potential for social unrest in the region between ethnic Albanians, Serbs and Kosovars. In addition, they say, it would promote the rule of law and pluralism by making Kosovo a sovereign entity, rather than a protectorate of the international community.

James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corp., was special adviser to the president and the State Department for Kosovo in the Clinton administration. He said independence was postponed after the 1999 U.S. air campaign in the country because the region remained unsettled.

Mr. Dobbins, who formerly supervised peace operations in Kosovo, said there were fears at the time that an effort to develop an independent Kosovo would make it more likely that Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic would remain in power.

“It would have caused civil war in Macedonia more than settle the problems, and would have in general made the region more unstable,” Mr. Dobbins said. “I think those problems have now been largely addressed.”

He noted Serbia’s transition toward democracy, and that the civil conflict in Macedonia has generally abated. Yet, the unresolved nature of Kosovo’s status as a potential independent state continues to be an obstacle to reconciliation between the region’s ethnic groups.

In addition, Mr. Dobbins cautioned that with Kosovo functioning as a ward of the international community, it has come to rely on substantial international assistance.

“We have given the [postwar] process some time, and it is probably worth turning to the issue of Kosovo,” he went on. “I wouldn’t say there are not still concerns, but [the region] is peaceful at the moment. I always believed that the only result that would satisfy a majority of the people is some form of independence.”

Specifically, the CSIS report says that sovereignty for Kosovo is only possible if there also is international support for a small nation for Kosovo and Montenegro’s ethnic Serbs, independent from Kosovo and Montenegro. A package of incentives provided in return for Serbia’s agreement to relinquish claims to control over Kosovo could be used to gain Serbian cooperation.

The report also calls for the implementation of a so-called road map and timetable for the pursuit of governmental standards and institution building in Kosovo, with clear steps for negotiating independence. Kosovo also would need increased international assistance, especially from the European Union, whose active involvement in the process is said to be critical.

Mr. Williams stressed that the process must be gradual, and that immediate independence would not work and would only exacerbate ethnic rivalries. He also said that the Kosovo government must be able to show progress, including that minority and human rights are being protected and that adequate political representation is being provided for all ethnic groups, before full sovereignty is granted.

Charles A. Kupchan, director of European studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that problems in the Balkans must be addressed but are not receiving enough attention from policy-makers.

“Unfortunately the Balkans as a whole have slipped off the radar screen and there are a lot of unresolved problems, some of which have the potential to flare up in the not-too-distant-future,” Mr. Kupchan said. “I would agree with CSIS that the Balkans would be better off with Kosovo separate from Serbia. Whether that means a completely independent state or some autonomous republic or loose confederation is debatable.”

He said the matter largely is being ignored because no one wants to deal with the sticky issue of possible border changes to gain Serbian support for an independent Kosovar state. The European Union believes the Balkans should be allowed to integrate slowly and naturally into Europe as they currently are, a process, it thinks, would ultimately solve the ethnic and religious disputes that divide the region.

Mr. Kupchan is critical of such a policy, arguing that it is unlikely to produce the intended result.

Anther problem of advancing Kosovo statehood at this time is that the region may be stable only because the international community is there to monitor the situation and provide aid.

Tom Carothers, senior associate and director of the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that while the United States must be involved in the process, the Europeans must take the lead on the issue.

“I think it is time for the Europeans and the United States to address a medium-range approach to this and stop putting off the question of independence,” Mr. Carothers said. “[But] I think that this is going to depend a lot on Western Europe. We can push on this, but if the United States moves on this without European backing, it will not happen.”

Mr. Williams said that while negotiations should involve the United States as well as Europe, the former must take the lead because the latter has proved incapable of handling Balkan problems.

“We should never turn to them. We learned that for eight years from 1992 to 2000,” he said. “The Europeans are incapable of dealing with this.”

The recommendation to move forward in negotiating statehood for Kosovo is not without its critics, who argue that the timing is off and that negotiations are likely to be fraught with dangerous consequences.

Despite his support for the idea, Mr. Dobbins said one factor that has to be taken into account is that an independent Kosovo could prove a destabilizing force in neighboring Macedonia.

John Hulsman, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said the CSIS proposal shows blindness to the realities of geopolitics in Europe. He said that with the relationship between the United States and its European allies on the rocks over the war in Iraq, prospects for working on the issue together are limited.

“In the long run we have to address the statehood problem, but it is not on our path right now,” Mr. Hulsman said. “The idea that this makes it to the top of the list [of U.S. foreign-policy priorities] is laughable.”

Mr. Kupchan said the situation in Kosovo holds important lessons for Washington’s effort at nation building in Iraq. He said it shows that Americans should be “extremely sober” about the prospects for a stable democracy and liberal government in the Middle Eastern country.

For one thing, the Balkans have more intellectual capital than Iraq. “If we have had this much trouble in Southeast Europe, it doesn’t encourage us to be optimistic about the prospects in Iraq,” he said.


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