European Affairs

Kosovo Is Key to Serbia's Future with the West     Print Email

Frank G. WisnerLast fall the Security Council of the United Nations looked at the situation in the Balkans, notably conditions in Kosovo, and endorsed the Secretary- General’s recommendation to begin a process which will determine the future status of Kosovo. This was the logical progression of Security Council resolution 1244, which brought an end to the conflict in Kosovo in 1999, established an interim international civilian administration and security presence, but also called for a political process to determine Kosovo’s future status.

This recent decision by the Security Council did not occur in a vacuum. In the intervening years since 1999, a comprehensive set of institutions, economic structures, and a legal framework were established in Kosovo. A process was initiated to implement a set of standards that would create a Kosovo that is democratic, multi-ethnic, respects the rule of law and has a functioning market economy. In the efforts that had gone into defining what a future Kosovo would look like, the policy of the United Nations had been “standards before status.” There had also been inter-ethnic violence in Kosovo in March 2004, which prompted the Secretary-General to appoint a special envoy, Kai Eide, a very experienced European diplomat, to carefully review the situation in Kosovo that led to the violence and then to assess the overall situation in Kosovo as well as progress in implementing the “standards” prescribed by the UN. His conclusion was extraordinarily important. In his October 2005 report, Eide concluded that there were mixed results: there was much that was left to be accomplished on the standards, particularly in the field of the rule of law, and there would be minimal further progress until the issue of status has been resolved. The time had arrived to commence the process of determining Kosovo’s status.

In November 2005, Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland who had played such an important role in an earlier phase of the Kosovo crisis, was appointed to be the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to lead the political process to determine the future status of Kosovo. Early this year Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice asked me to join the negotiating effort and share the American point of view with Mr. Ahtisaari and with the parties involved.

I will not dwell on the history of the region or the history of Kosovo. Suffice it to say for a starting point that decisions taken in the late 1980s by Slobodan Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia set Kosovo on its fateful course. The denial of the integrating developments, the elements that had made Kosovo a reasonable part of the Yugoslav Federation fell apart and we were on course to the frightful confrontation that occurred approximately a decade later and led to war between NATO and Serbia. As a Western community, we had no choice but to intervene in the face of a massive humanitarian catastrophe. And when it was over, the issue eventually had to be brought to a conclusion, and that is where we are today.

On the U.S. side, at the beginning of President George Bush’s second term, we stepped back for a better look and made a strategic decision. The administration concluded that until the pieces of the former Yugoslavia are settled into place, there would not be stability in southeastern Europe and a stable Europe. This would remain an issue in the U.S.-Europe relationship that needed to be addressed. So the administration set about very carefully dealing with the remaining issues flowing from the crisis of the former Yugoslavia – on the one hand, modernizing the Dayton [peace conference’s] constitution in Bosnia and Herzegovina and, now, putting our full strength behind a settlement of the Kosovo question.

In that context, we need to find again a basis for establishing a strategic relationship with Serbia, a country which has a critical role in southeastern Europe and a terrific future as a full member of the Western community. It is an old friend of the United States, a nation without which southeastern Europe cannot prosper and move forward. This future is extraordinarily important from the American perspective and this sentiment of settling the West’s difficulties with Serbia guides me as we move forward.

Leaving ambiguity about the future of Kosovo is in no one’s interest

From an American point of view, the following results need to be accomplished. First and foremost in the next few months, it is crucial to define Kosovo’s final status. I’m not going to state today what that outcome is: that will emerge as the negotiations proceed. But leaving ambiguity about the future of Kosovo is in absolutely no one’s interest. That issue must be settled by the end of the year.

Second, once that issue is settled, it is vitally important that the future Kosovo be able to stand on its own two feet, that it be endowed with the strong institutions, the ability to function as a whole entity, a proper budget and the prospect of a functioning economy. The latter is a responsibility that falls with enormous weight on the shoulders of our friends in the European Union.

Third, there cannot be a future for Kosovo if there is not full recognition of the rights of the territory’s minorities. Although the ethnic composition of Kosovo has changed over the years and about ten percent of the population consists of minorities, a test for the inclusion of a future Kosovo in any European or Western order is the full protection of minority rights. And in terms of minority rights, one should add that church and ethnic and cultural rights of minority partners are especially sensitive given the cultural heritage and role of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo.

A people or a government cannot be held responsible for the maintenance of minority rights, law and order or any other aspect of public management if that people or government is not endowed with the institutions and the sovereignty that come with the responsibility. To assume that in the abstract one will be able to protect a minority population when the majority population does not have the responsibility to do it, leads us down a very dark path, I think. Settling final status, among its many other appealing virtues, has the advantage of being about the best possible way to protect minority populations. These goals cannot be achieved by pursuing standards before status. Status must be settled.

There will be certain conditions attached to the future status. An internationally supervised Kosovo will be part of a final status outcome. It is not possible to imagine proceeding to a fully implemented outcome without some degree of international oversight. After all, the international community still has obligations to discharge and will be responsible for economic support for a new entity. There will also need to be a continuing role for an international security presence; currently this is managed by NATO through KFOR.

The settlement will not return Kosovo to the situation before 1999; there will be no partition of Kosovo, no union of Kosovo with any or part of another country and the settlement must take into account the will of the people of Kosovo. These are some of the principal guiding elements for a settlement from an American perspective, which we share with the Contact Group, in support of President Ahtisaari and the UN efforts to resolve at last the final status questions.

In this process, there are two very difficult goals that we must be sure of achieving. One is to make absolutely certain that, in any future Kosovo, minorities are protected and given a chance to play a full participatory role in the territory’s life and future. And second, Serbia must accept the final status outcome, openly and clearly, in a cooperative manner and as part of its return into the broader Western fold, to the European community and even to future participation in NATO.

I believe very deeply that the issue of Kosovo must be addressed now. It should not be left for some future date or hung out in a manner that leaves it unresolved for several more years. The dynamics in the situation in Kosovo will not permit a delay. The events of March 2004 should remind us that there is an enormously volatile mix on the ground there. Beyond Kosovo itself, which is a relatively small territory, failure to quickly reach a conclusion will hold back the integration of southeastern Europe – and notably of Serbia – into the Western family.We do ourselves no favor by playing with time. Time is short. Between now and the end of the year, President Ahtissari has a huge obligation to discharge to the United Nations and for all of us.

Frank G.Wisner is the U.S. Special Representative to the Kosovo Status Talks. He is also Vice Chairman, External Affairs, at American International Group (AIG). A career diplomat, he has served as Undersecretary of Defense and as Undersecretary of State.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 7, Issue number 1-2 in the Spring/Summer of 2006.

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