A month has passed since Kosovo declared independence on 17 February 2008. Much has gone well, but there is a real risk, as made most evident with the violence on 17 March around the courthouse in north Mitrovica, that partition will harden at the Ibar River in the north, and Kosovo will become another frozen conflict.
Kosovo’s transition to the status of conditional, or supervised, independence has been greatly complicated by Russia’s firm support of Serbia’s refusal to accept that it has lost its one-time province.
The preferred strategy of the European Union (EU) and the U.S. to bring Kosovo to supervised independence through the United Nations Security Council has failed, following Russia’s declared intention to veto. With Kosovo Albanians increasingly restive and likely soon to declare unilateral independence in the absence of a credible alternative, Europe risks a new bloody and destabilising conflict.
The debate on Kosovo’s future status has reached a crucial point. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has begun to consider elements of a draft resolution to determine the entity’s future, which could be put to a vote in the coming weeks. The best way of ensuring regional peace and stability and lifting Kosovo out of an eight-year-long limbo, with a tired, temporary UN administration and an undeveloped, low-growth economy, is a resolution based squarely on the plan of UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari.
There is growing concern that the short postponement UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari announced in November 2006 for presentation of his Kosovo final status proposals to take account of Serbia’s 21 January elections may not be the last delay in a process that now could extend into the second half of 2007.
The Kosovo final status process risks breaking down the further the decision is pushed back into 2007. The six-nation Contact Group that has sponsored the process must at minimum deliver timely endorsement of the settlement package that UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari should present before January’s end, and the UN Security Council must pass a resolution superseding 1244 (1999) to allow the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to transfer its responsibilities to Kosovo’s government and pave the way for new international bodies being readied by the EU.
The international community is just months away from decisions that are expected to make Kosovo a state, but planning for the security ramifications has not kept pace. It must avoid creating a weak state; the future Kosovo needs adequate institutions to ensure the rule of law and the inviolability of its borders, and to combat transnational organised crime and terrorism.
Southern Serbia’s Albanian-majority Presevo Valley is a still incomplete Balkan success story. Since international and Serbian government diplomacy resolved an ethnic Albanian insurgency in 2001, donors and Belgrade have invested significant resources to undo a legacy of human rights violations and improve the economy.
The key issue in the current final status process is the creation of a Kosovo that will have the greatest chance of lasting stability and development. While agreement between Belgrade and Pristina remains desirable in theory, it is extremely unlikely that any Serbian government will voluntarily acquiesce to the kind of independence, conditional or limited though it may be, which is necessary for a stable long-term solution.
The EU’s present visa regime with the countries of the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Serbia-Montenegro including Kosovo) is fostering resentment, inhibiting progress on trade, business, education and more open civil societies, and as a result contributing negatively to regional stability.