The path to ending the Kosova conundrum

(A repost from:

By Daniel Serwer

May 20, 2021 – With apologies for the delay and thanks to Adam DuBard for getting it done, I am posting the report my students presented on Zoom Tuesday: Ending the Kosova Conundrum (it is also now available on the SAIS website here). While our SAISers offered lots of interesting ideas about ways in which the EU-sponsored Belgrade/Pristina dialogue could be improved, they are not optimistic about the kind of comprehensive solution that the EU says is the objective of its Belgrade/Pristina dialogue. There is a stalemate, but it is hurting Kosova more than Serbia, which is prepared to postpone–maybe forever–recognition of Kosova as a sovereign and independent state.

This is understandable. Serbian President Vucic does not welcome the kind of rule of law and uncorrupt government the EU is demanding ever more insistently from potential new member states. Serbia got everything it asked for from Kosova in the UN’s Ahtisaari Plan, which was intended as a prelude to Kosova’s independence. Belgrade pocketed the concessions but refused recognition, even after the International Court of Justice advised that Kosova’s declaration of independence did not violate international law. Without the EU “carrot,” which Vucic is now disdaining, there is little hope of his changing his mind. Good neighborly relations are not going to be written on Vucic’s epitaph.

This leaves Kosova in limbo, but not without a course of action: NATO membership is the key next step. This will require convincing four of the five EU countries that do not recognize Kosova at least to accept it into the Alliance. Greece, Slovakia, Romania, and Spain are the holdouts, more or less in ascending order of difficulty. Cyprus is not a NATO member but cannot be entirely ignored because of its influence on Greece. That is the tail wagging the dog and will require a courageous Greek Prime Minister to get it to stop, but Greece already maintains an ambassadorial-level representative in Pristina and an office that is an embassy in all but name.

Kosova is slated to complete the transformation of its security forces, a few of which have already deployed to Kuwait with the Iowa National Guard, into an army by 2027, with assistance from the US and UK. So there is ample time for the US and UK to convince the non-recognizing allies to accept Kosova, even if they do not formally recognize it. NATO membership will require in addition that Kosova meet the Alliance’s criteria:

    a functioning democratic political system based on a market economy; fair treatment of minority

    populations; a commitment to resolve conflicts peacefully; an ability and willingness to make a military

    contribution to NATO operations; and a commitment to democratic civil-military relations and institutions.

These criteria are entirely compatible with EU membership, which is further off because Kosova will have to in addition adopt and implement the acquis communautaire, an elaborate and extensive set of legal requirements.

This then is the strategy I would propose for the Kosova government:

    focus on preparation for NATO membership, including resolution of conflicts with Serbia on issues like missing people and financial settlements but without expecting recognition anytime soon;

    improve relations with the Kosova Serb community, whose interests are not identical with Belgrade’s, throughout Kosova, including by providing it with access to the dialogue with Serbia for those who are not tied to Belgrade, better economic opportunities, protection of property rights, and continued efforts to recruit Serbs for the Kosova armed forces;

    disavow any prospect of union with Albania, because it is incompatible with NATO membership, as Ed Joseph suggests;

    build capable state institutions, including a Defense Ministry committed to civilian control;

    protect media freedom, continue cooperation with civil society, and ensure an independent judiciary;

    begin to examine objectively the pre-independence fight for liberation from Serbian rule.

Many Kosova Albanians are disappointed in the fruits of their efforts since declaring independence in 2008. But the distance ahead to NATO membership is far shorter than the time since independence. The government now has what should be a stable majority. Sovereignty depends on governing capacity. It is time to intensify efforts to build a worthy state, leaving the question of Serbian recognition to the day there is leadership in Belgrade that really cares about EU membership and realizes its own European future depends on it. Because it does.

(Photo above: The Kosova Security Force is on its first international co-deployment mission with the US Army.)