This essay addresses two recent continuous issues for the majority of Serbs. On one hand, the international community asks Serbia to accept as a fait accompli the February 2008 declaration of independence by Kosovo, one of two of Serbia's autonomous provinces. On the other hand, this same international community continues to thwart Serbian aspirations for a Greater Serbia, in which Serbia would assume control of the Republic of Serbska, located within Bosnia. Dr. Smolnikov provides several arguments as to why Kosovo's independence, with EU support, will become a recognized reality. He then turns his attention to the Republic of Serbska and makes a similar argument for Serbian expansion at Bosnia's expense. In what is certainly an interesting view of this Balkan version of an Alice in Wonderland world, Dr. Smolnikov argues that it is only right and fair that the international community assist in the creation of a Greater Serbia at the expense of Bosnia, which, if memory serves, is sort of what started the 1993 Serbian-Bosnian conflict in the first place. JH, Am. Dip. Board
It did finally happen on February 17, 2008. As many international experts predicted, the parliament of Serbia's breakaway Muslim-populated province eventually declared its independence.
This article argues that the process of Kosovo's statehood formation has not been spontaneous, and rests upon incremental, comprehensive, and indispensable assistance from the West, and first and foremost from the European Union. It explains why and how the EU has emerged as a pivotal international sponsor and supervisor of state-building in Kosovo, and what needs to be done in terms of diplomacy and civil power to safeguard peace in the Western Balkans in the view of Kosovo's secession.
The Kosovo issue a delicate and an unprecedented matter of secession in the European Union's backyard looms large in the EU's foreign policy priorities not only because of its significance in terms of European politics and security, but above all because the way it is tackled by the EU is indicative of an important international phenomenon. By the latter we mean the Union's ability to act as an agent of post-modernity in world politics. Is the European Union capable of resolving the Kosovo issue to the benefit of all parties involved? What should the EU's policymakers undertake to ensure the compliance of Kosovo's independence with international law? The paper argues that in Kosovo the EU emerges as a state-creating entity and as a unique international actor delivering a full cycle of transition from war to peace an experience that may be used in Iraq and other devastated areas of the globe. The article contends that in order to secure a comprehensive Pax Balcanica, the EU needs to complement its Kosovo policy by an innovative strategy with regard to both Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina while laying grounds for what may be called the EU's Liberalpolitik.
Theoretically, the EU's Kosovo policy presents an interesting example of the Union's ability to apply its institutionalist and multilateralist approach to resolving a complex dispute between a sovereign non-member state and its secession-prone province, which so recently declared its complete independence from the central authorities. Designing legitimate ways of granting independence for the former Serbian province has become one of the benchmarks of the EU's foreign-policy maturity and its ability to structure world politics in line with the European principles of law and justice.
In terms of its policy relevance, the Kosovo issue is of paramount strategic importance, not only for the Balkans or Europe in general. It is also of great significance for the future of the contentious world state system at large, because secessionist trends have been unfolding in different parts of the globe including the former Soviet Union and a larger Eurasia. Moscow, for example, has waged two bloody wars in its separatist Caucasian republic of Chechnya just to rediscover the same threats in other parts of its southern underbelly, like Ingushetia and Dagestan. The post-Soviet republics of Moldova and Georgia, de facto disintegrated, are afraid that endorsement of Kosovo's independence by the EU would ultimately result in narrowing their state borders de jure. In Asia, China and India are concerned that the EU's rubber-stamping of Kosovo's statehood might set up a dangerous precedent in international practice that Tibet and Kashmir respectively would be tempted to follow. Finally, in the Middle East the statehood aspirations of Kurds might be encouraged in a way that risks bringing the integrity of Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Turkey into question. Yet, whatever the risks for the international status-quo are in the long run, in the midterm, the EU's commitment to acknowledgment of Kosovo's independence is likely to predominantly contribute to stirring secessionist trends in adjacent multiethnic states like Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Given the Union's economic magnitude, a new tide of fragmentation in the Balkans is likely to be followed by subsequent integration of emerging units into the EU's megastructure, or in a more cynical view, by absorption into a European neo-empire. Therefore, Kosovo may be seen as a platform for the EU to work out a modernist state creation and integration model for a secession-prone territory.
The inter-ethnic showdown in Serbia took a form of ruthless military conflict in 1999 when the ethnic Albanians, accounting for 90 percent of Kosovo's two million population, clashed with Serbian forces as Belgrade attempted to prevent the province's secession. The hard-line crackdown on Muslim Kosovars by the central government of Slobodan Milocevic was inter alia caused by the spiritual and historic significance of the province's territory for the Serbs, who appear to view the land as a sacred symbol of Serbia's Christian nationhood and an integral part of their state territory. Given the sensitivity of the issue and a high degree of mutual hatred between the two ethnicities, the EU's task has initially been to find a solution for this complex problem that would set iron-clad guarantees against any propensity toward new bloodshed between the Kosovo Albanians and the Serbs.
The rationale behind the EU's moving to the forefront in international efforts to settle the Kosovo issue may be defined as four-fold.
The EU's state inception policy in Kosovo rests upon several pillars military, institutional, economic, and diplomatic.
Firstly, with the UN's mandate, the Union's member states are engaged in the peacekeeping mission of NATO's KFOR, also probing Europe's hard power capabilities in dealing with a real crisis at its backyard, and implicitly overcoming the embarrassment that the EU experienced in the early stages of the bloody dissolution of Yugoslavia. Currently, the EU member states account for 80% of 16,315 international troops from 35 countries deployed in Kosovo (See Table 1). The strategic presence of the EU in the Western Balkans is also maintained by the EU Force (EUFOR) through Operation Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since November 2004 the Europeans have been in charge of 6,000 multi-national troops from 33 countries deployed in Bosnia. Originally called the Implementation Force (IFOR), and in 1996 reorganized into Stabilization Force (SFOR), these peacekeeping contingents have been staying in Bosnia to implement the military facets of the Dayton Agreements under NATO command, but at the Istanbul Summit of the Atlantic Alliance in June 2004 it was agreed that the EU should take over from SFOR.
Secondly, the EU's mission in Kosovo has been centered on the creation of self-governing institutions. In Kosovo, the Union, its member states, institutions, and missions, like the European Union Planning Team (EUPT), are engaged in supervising state building that encompasses creation of modern judiciary, police, customs, and correctional systems. To this end, within the framework of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), the EU is mobilizing a group of about 2,000 international professionals, including judges, prosecutors, and police officers, to be stationed in Pristina. (2) The task of the civilian ESDP mission will be to assist Kosovo authorities in setting up legal institutions and mechanisms necessary to ensure the rule of law and good governance, once the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) transfers its authority to the Kosovo authorities.
Thirdly, the creation of a vibrant market economy integrated in various regional and international structures is another focus of the EU Pillar of the UN mission in Kosovo. (3) Moreover, in the view of a possible Serbia's blockade of the Albanian part of Kosovo, the latter is in urgent need of assistance in obtaining economic autonomy. The Union has already injected €1.8 billion since 1999 to finance reconstruction and reforms there, (4) an amount equal to Kosovo's GDP. It will probably donate the bulk of an additional €1.5 billion package in 2008-2010. These funds are expected to finance development of Kosovo's economy, which faces high unemployment (about 50 percent) and has poor infrastructure. (5) Gradually, the EU is transferring competencies to Kosovo authorities that so far have been assigned to the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG). It may be anticipated that by the end of the transition period, Europe-standard legal, economic, and financial institutions will be created to ensure comprehensive functionality of Kosovo as an independent self-governing actor. (6)
Fourthly, the EU within the Troika format (the United States, the European Union and Russia) participates in facilitating negotiations between Kosovo and Serbian representatives. In parallel, Europe's diplomatic activities also sought but have yet to receive Russia's consent for Kosovo's independence. These activities have been exercised by EU officials, including the European Commission's President and the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, and on member-state level, primarily by France and Germany. At the UN Security Council level, the European Union enthusiastically supported the plan for the resolution of the Kosovo problem outlined in the report of Martti Ahtisaari, the Special Envoy of the Secretary General on Kosovo's future status, and his Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement. In his report Ahtisaari asserted that, in his view, the negotiations' potential to produce any mutually agreeable outcome on Kosovo's status is exhausted. No amount of additional talks, whatever the format, will overcome this impasse. The report concluded by claiming Kosovo is a unique case that demands a unique solution. It does not create a precedent. (7)
The plan envisioned internationally supervised independence for Kosovo with an emphasis on securing minority rights for its multi-ethnic population, taking into consideration the specific needs and concerns of the Serbian Kosovars and the Serbian Christian Orthodox Church in Kosovo. The latter was pledged conditions necessary for its unfettered and undisturbed existence and operation. (8)
Ahtisaari explicitly recommended to the United Nations that Kosovo's status should be independence, supervised by the international community. (9) During the London briefing on Kosovo in May 2007, Ahtisaari and his deputy, Albert Rohan, emphasized that Kosovo will declare independence in any way.(10) This observation was later proved to be realistic as Kosovo's Prime Minister at the time, Agim Ceku, re-stated Pristina's commitment: "Our goal is independence in coordination with our allies by the end of the year ." (11) Under these circumstances it has become clear to the Western diplomats that the only reasonable alternative to facing the secession unfolding in a messy way was fixing it in an orderly fashion with the consent of the UN, as suggested in the proposal by the Special Envoy. (12) However, the plan was strongly opposed by Serbia and Russia.
As expected by international analysts, the parliamentary election in Kosovo in November, 2007, proved to be a benchmark in Pristina's bid for independence. Prime Minister Hashim Thaci , former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), whose Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK) won the election, announced on 17 November, 2007: "We will declare independence immediately after December 10." (13) However, the Kosovars had to wait another several months before the external political environment for declaring independence, and, including the February 3, 2008, election of pro-Western Boris Tadic as the new president of Serbia, became relatively favorable to proceed with the formal statement.
Above all, America's Kosovo stance became explicitly pro-independence in the context of a widening rift between Washington and Moscow over missile defense in Europe, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and bringing Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. At some point, American diplomats were reported considering alternative options for untangling the problem. Thus, in October 2007 media sources revealed the U.S. State Department's draft proposal to freeze the problem of Kosovo's status until 2020. This option was said to entail massive investment flows to Kosovo's backward economy in the next decade. (14) The inflows of €7 billion annually in the next 12 years might help to increase Kosovo's GDP per capita at least 10-fold and put it on par with the most prosperous economies of the region. (15) But the prospects of a bargain that would make the Kosovars trade their independence for financial resources did not seem likely from the outset. (16) While the European Commission's report on Kosovo does recognize that the province is badly prepared for self-governance (17), the EU could simply not prevent Pristina from declaring independence. Equally, the stakes for the EU are too high to let Kosovo become a failing state. Being arguably more sensitive to the aspirations of Kosovo's Albanians than the United States, some EU countries, especially France and Great Britain, could hardly find it rational in terms of regional security or appropriate in terms of political expediency for Europe to comply with the freeze option.
Given strong Russia's opposition to Kosovo's independence, the EU appeared to be unsure of how to proceed diplomatically while trying to accommodate Moscow's position in the UN Security Council. At the London briefing, Ambassador Rohan underlined that Kosovo is the EU's matter and remarked that since Russia is not paying a dime for Kosovo's reconstruction and has no alternative to the settlement proposed by the UN Special Envoy, Moscow should not dictate to the EU. (18) However, due to its crucial strategic dependence on Russia in terms of energy supplies, it appeared to be enormously difficult for the Union to negotiate with Moscow while delivering the same substance even though in softer language.
Yet, European policy has been overemphasizing the omnipotence of Russia as the major obstacle in Kosovo's settlement. First, it should be recognized that Russia might not necessarily be sensitive to the outcries of Pristina as the latter was seeking divorce from Belgrade. Moscow's insensitivity is a mere reflection of Russia's own concerns over its separatist-prone Muslim territories, including those in the Caucasus region and the Republic of Tatarstan. (19) The Kremlin's reading of Brussels' Kosovo policy is that the real European motives do not differ from Russia's. In the Kremlin's perspective, when - allegedly - placing security in its periphery over the imperatives of the international law, the EU appears to pursue essentially the very same policy of national interests first that defines Moscow's approach. Accordingly, Russia prefers a traditional reading of international law with no exception in order to avoid any precedent. Therefore, for the Russian policymakers, the Kosovo issue is, as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov once put it, a red line that they are by no means willing to cross, and not a matter of bargaining (20).
Secondly, the failure to ensure Moscow's consent to grant independence to Kosovo is a reflection of insufficient EU leverage vis-à-vis Russia. Bluntly speaking, the EU has no currency to trade for in its relations with Russia, and Moscow has no inclination to exchange its consent for nothing. The more Europe is engaged in playing up to the Kremlin in order to coax the Russians into an accord, the more Europe's diplomatic clout is downgraded. The Union's comprehensive partnership with Russia should not necessarily entail accommodation on every issue. And Kosovo is probably such a case.
Thirdly, even if Moscow endorsed independent status for Kosovo, this decision per se would not make Serbia's partition legitimate unless Belgrade formally complies. And it is more than doubtful that the Kremlin has enough clout in affecting the decision-making of Serbian politicians to ensure their acquiescence to secession.
In the absence of effective instruments to influence Moscow's position in the UN Security Council, the EU should instead concentrate its diplomatic efforts on Serbia. Indeed, Serbia's consent to legally accept Kosovo's secession is a condition of Russia's compliance. And while Europe's bargaining power with regard to its major energy supplier, Russia, is not impressive, its leverage vis-à-vis the Serbs should not be underestimated. Serbia, after the years of war, bad governance in the Milocevic era, and the international pressure culminated by the NATO bombing, is in poor economic shape. Moreover, the country's standing has been exacerbated by its loss of access to the sea as a result of Montenegro's departure from what remained of the former Republic of Yugoslavia.
Certainly, the further territorial loss with Kosovo's secession does not contribute to the decline of the Serbs' national grievances.
The European Commission has meanwhile put Serbia on track for EU membership by finalizing a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) on 7 November, 2007. This move implies Belgrade's compliance with acquis communautaire that set strict legal, economic, and financial criteria for the entry. Thereby, the Serbian authorities undertake to provide for stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities in accordance with the membership criteria defined by the EU at the Copenhagen European Council in 1993 (21). This abiding international commitment on part of the Serbs gives significant clout to the Union's bargaining position vis-à-vis Belgrade on a variety of issues including Kosovo.
Though it is openly denied by both Serbs and Europeans that there might be any linkage between EU membership and acquiescence to the secession, it is nevertheless clear that the entry issue is implicitly emerging as a carrot and stick tool in the EU's Serbia diplomacy. Now that Serbia is becoming increasingly dependent on the EU institutionally, the overall Europeanization of this Balkan country is destined to be an antidote to its overwhelming nationalism.
The EU is also Serbia's major trade partner: it accounts for more than 50 percent in the latter's exports and imports. Italy's and Germany's combined share in Serbia's foreign trade exceeds that of Russia, which is the major supplier of oil and gas to the Serbian market (See Table 2). More importantly, a substantial share of intrasectoral trade, a definite sign of economic integration, characterizes the diversified structure of commercial exchange between the EU and Serbia. For the small and inferior Serbian economy, the geographic proximity and economic weight of the Union have made the latter an overriding gravitation area. In view of the huge asymmetry between the two economies, Serbia's unilateral trade and investment dependence on the EU reinforces the Union's bargaining positions overall.
There are indications that EU diplomats are proceeding in this direction, even though Serbian policymakers label the trade approach as indecent. The outspoken French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, for example, acknowledged in October 2007 that the EU does link prospects of Serbia's entry in the EU with Belgrade's compliance on the Kosovo issue. "There is the problem of Kosovo which has to be solved. The problem is not directly linked with Serbia's European future, but I would lie if I said that the resolution of the issue is not related, and Serbia's moving closer to the EU will be more difficult if the issue of Kosovo is not solved first," said Kouchner. (22)
If played skillfully, it is plausible that the EU's diplomatic game will eventually result in Serbia's acquiescence to Kosovo's secession in exchange for a set of EU political, trade, and financial concessions to the Serbs.
So far, the Ahtisaari plan has denied the possibility for Kosovo's partition as an option to resolve the diplomatic impasse. While the legalization of territorial division between the Albanians and the Serbs in Kosovo may cause both Belgrade's and Pristina's resentment, in reality it does look to be the most rational option to build on in order to dispel Belgrade's concerns over the fate of the Serbian minority in the breakaway province. Quite naturally, partition might add to the economic costs the EU is already bearing in Kosovo. Once a state border between the north and the south of Kosovo is demarcated, additional financial inflows from the EU would be needed for the inhabitants of those Serbian and Albanian villages that are to be moved to their appropriate ethnic enclaves.
*Serbia's exports to CIS, including Russia
The EU's bargaining positions have so far been partially weakened by the lack of unanimity among its 27 member states on the Kosovo issue. A number of EU countries initially opposed granting their diplomatic support to the province's independence because they have similar problems at home and must conceive ways of preventing their own ethnic minorities from secession. This group of countries included Romania, Slovakia, Cyprus, Greece, and Spain. (23)
Three major EU states also appeared to be at one time split in their approach to recognizing Kosovo's sovereignty if declared by Pristina in a non-negotiated mode. While France and Great Britain were reported to be ready to endorse the new state, Germany seemed to be concerned about uncertain international implications of bypassing the UN Security Council. However, as Marti Ahtisaari observed, The Russian attitude has reinforced the unity of the EU; (24) Almost all the Union's members (with Cyprus, probably, being the only exception) are currently likely to recognize Kosovo as an independent state in the second half of 2008. Yet, the initial lack of consensus on the Kosovo issue among EU member countries is an alarming sign. There may be a number of other occasions where the national raison d'etat of the Union's participants might differ, whereas the imperatives of Europeanhood demand their solidarity. Therefore, it becomes an overriding responsibility of the major integrating nations in the EU France and Germany to use their diplomacy and political and economic power to mobilize the support of their partners.
While the EU's endorsement of Kosovo's secession may not necessarily exacerbate disintegration trends within Spain, Belgium, Great Britain, or other member states beyond their intrinsic limits, it can ultimately affect the volatile geopolitical situation in a wider Balkans region, particularly in the area adjacent to Serbia. There is a risk, as some analysts believe, that Brussels has already overlooked the emergence of a new ethno-political crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina, (25) threatening the country's eventual split into two or three independent states.
The crisis was prompted by institutional changes in the central government rules that Miroslav Lajcak, the UN's High Representative, introduced in October 2007. Although these changes were aimed at fostering reform processes in the country, they were first blocked by Serbian officials, who viewed these moves as an explicit threat to their rights. (26) In the context of Bosniak Muslims' appeals to dissolve the Republika Srpska (RS), these changes were perceived as ominously anti-Serbian both by Belgrade and Banja Luka (the de facto capital of Bosnian Serbs). (27) One shouldn't be misled by a surprising compliance of the RS with Lajcak's proposals and their eagerness to proceed with police reform in the wake of the EU's initialling of the SAA that opens a door for membership for Bosnia-Herzegovina. This acquiescence may be interpreted as a tactical concession that could safeguard a smoother secession in the long run, when both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia join the EU. There are indications that the state boundaries in the region will continue to be changed farther, once a project of a Greater Serbia an entity to embrace territories and populations of the ethnic Serbs of Serbia and Bosnia is brought to life. (28)
The RS's secessionist temptations present an interesting challenge to the Union's diplomats and statecraft, for they may be perceived either as a danger in terms of realist foreign policy or as an opportunity for the liberal cause. From the first viewpoint they could be seen as a threat to the Dayton Agreements, whereby the status quo in the Balkans may be undermined, and security repercussions might follow. At the same time one might see the Agreements as temporary arrangements that should not be preserved at any cost, to the detriment of common sense. Moreover, from the liberal standpoint, a supervised remapping in the Balkans could present security gains rather than losses. There are several rationales behind this observation. One is the recognition of the fact that the aspirations of different institutionalized ethnicities in the former Yugoslavia go beyond the status of autonomy in wider multiethnic political entities. Another is acknowledgement of limits to the list of options that the Union has in its regional and international maneuvering without resorting to suppression. In order to avoid involvement in an intrastate conflict in its back yard, the EU must devise means capable of preventing such a conflict from occurring. By embarking on the course of a far-sighted accommodation strategy, Brussels might gain substantial security and political benefits in the region.
The EU might, for example, consider granting support to secession of the RS, trading consent to Bosnia's partition in exchange for Belgrade's acceptance of the Kosovar state. On the contrary, if the EU continues to press the Serbian government in the diplomatic battle for Kosovo's status, while simultaneously attempting to keep up Bosnia's precarious integrity by preventing the RS's secession, it would be hardly possible for the Europeans to avoid accusations of pursuing an anti-Serbian policy. Such a stance would discredit the EU's reputation as of an unbiased peace broker, and would undermine its diplomatic clout in any further talks involving Belgrade, Sarajevo, or Banja Luka.
It is not up to the Europeans to initiate a divorce between the Bosnian Serb-led Republika Srpska and the Bosniak/Croat Federation of Bosnia -Herzegovina. The Union could, however, attempt to approach the Bosnian Serbs, to study their grievances and to consider the ways to normalize the situation. To this end, it might set a task force to conceive ways and means to pre-empt an evolving collision, even though the revealed political ambitions of the RS so far have not gone beyond aspirations for federalization of Bosnia-Herzegovina. (29) This approach would fundamentally differ from the policy that the EU has been pursuing in Serbia. It could lay some normative grounds for a badly needed global liberal foreign policy renaissance that the Union might ultimately inspire and lead.
Sergey Smolnikov does research, teaching, and consulting in International Relations. He has published extensively on global security and geopolitical and political economy, with a focus on Europe and Eurasia. He holds a Habilitation degree and a Ph.D. in International Economic Relations from Moscow State Institute of International Relations, where he taught as a professor. He has also taught in the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS) in Tokyo, Japan, and York University, Toronto, Canada. He is a former fellow of the George Washington University.