Kosovo Sitrep - Why There is No Light at the End of the Tunnel

December 30, 1999

Comment: #340

Discussion Thread:  #s 307, 315


[1] Richard Mertens, "Pushing for tolerance, and jobs, in Kosovo," The Christian Science Monitor, December 28, 1999.

[2] JULIUS STRAUSS in Pristina, "UN mission in Kosovo 'an incompetent laughing stock,'" Sydney Morning Herald, November 16, 1999.

[3] Executive Summary: "Starting from Scratch in Kosovo: The Honeymoon is Over
International Crisis Group (ICG), 10 December 1999

[4] Shkelzen Maliqi, "KOSOVO ABANDONED?" IWPR'S BALKAN CRISIS REPORT, NO. 96, November 25, 1999.  Shkelzen Maliqi is a writer in Pristina.

The news from Kosovo is not good. The continued ethnic cleansing of Serbs and other minorities, widespread human rights abuses, and rampant criminality is growing proof that outsiders are incapable of patching their Wilsonian vision of a multi-ethnic self-governing democracy over the fault lines of Kosovo's ancient apartheid cultures.

In Reference #1, Richard Mertens of the Christian Science Monitor describes an American colonel's futile efforts to get Albanians and Serbs to work together at the Glama stone quarry north of Gnjlane, a town inhabited by both Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo's American-patrolled sector. Colonel Reese, a tanker, concluded his interview by saying, "I don't think the international community can force [Serbs and ethnic Albanians] to get along," "We can force them to do a lot of things, but we can't force them to be partners in a multiethnic state."

You might ask yourself why a combat soldier is trying to get Albanians and Serbs to work together in a stone quarry. Is that not the job of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK)?

After all, the colonel is part of the NATO-led Kosovo protection force (KFOR). His mission is to provide security and stability, while UNMIK rebuilds Kosovo's political institutions, economy, and infrastructure. KFOR, presumably, would be phased out after Kosovo has a functioning legal system, together with an effective U.N. sponsored police force that is capable of enforcing that law.

The following email helps us understand why Colonel Reese is working on an equal opportunity employment program at a stone quarry. It is from a First Lieutenant assigned to the American sector of Kosovo. It arrived in my "in box" via a circuitous route. He will remain anonymous for reasons that will become obvious, but bear in mind that he is, according to my source, a fine officer with an excellent record.

-----[email from a 1st Lt stationed in Kosovo]----

"This is the second deployment where I have had to deal with NGO's [Non-Governmental Organizations]. It is now apparent to me that NGO's are worthless organizations.

The only organization here in Kosovo that is non-military and worth a darn is the American Red Cross. All others are disturbingly ineffective and incompetent. Most of these organizations will not work in conjunction with the military (UNMIC for one) but demand that KFOR help when needed. Most of the individuals working for NGO's feel that they own the territory, yet they don't know anything about it and refuse to listen when we advise they not take Albanian translators to a Serb town one day after a Serb was murdered by an Albanian. Next thing you know, "KFOR did not help me when I was attacked in a Serb town!" They also like to run through our Checkpoints at high speeds and feel that they do not need to slow down. The disrespect shown for KFOR soldiers and the impatience displayed at checkpoint would disappear as soon as that civilian was shot at.

NGO's do 2 things (not very well) and those are evaluate and report. I have not seen one example of an NGO providing Kosovars with something they need. Most of the time, an NGO will come to KFOR and ask us to do all the work, ie, separate, transport, hand out and report progress back to them.

This has created a rift between KFOR and NGO's. But that is not my concern.

The disturbing reality is that KFOR is now purchasing, transporting and distributing goods for Kosovo. We have made numerous trips across Kosovo, to Pristina, Kline, Skopje and other places to pick up fuel, grain, seed, heaters, generators, building supplies etc and deliver them to various places in Kosovo.

I cannot explain to you how wrong this feels to me, yet others think that this is the best thing we can do for Kosovo. It looks great on paper, and would make a really good OER bullet [a positive reference on the officer efficiency report]. But what about the consequences?

Like the fact that they take the FREE seed and sell it to somebody for outrageous prices, or the FREE fuel that is sold for incredibly inflated prices and put on the black market (not used for the tractors which it was designated for) or the FREE building supplies that end up looking more like a roadblock during a riot against KFOR than a roof on a house. And oh, by the way, how much are we willing to pay the Albanians that receive the seed to offload the truck (sad but true?)

Is this what I am supposed to tell my (future) kids that I did in the military? That I was a manager in charge of bringing free stuff to Kosovo and giving it out to them? I can hear it now, "But I thought you were in the military!" Is this the future of the Army? If so, I don't want anything to do with it. I might as well join one of those NGO that I dislike so much and make 3X as much doing a quarter of the work."

----------[end email from 1st Lt]--------

Of course, you may be tempted to dismiss the Lieutenant's assessment as griping by a junior officer who does not understand the big picture, let alone the nuances of "policy." Before doing so, however, consider References #2, #3 and #4.

Julian Strauss reports in Reference #2 why the UN mission in Kosovo has become a "laughing stock.  "Everything - from reconstruction to building a functioning legal system - is behind schedule." Strauss says the UNMIC has squandered huge amounts of money, failed to stop criminality, and has so infuriated the Serbs and Albanians that they have largely taken the governing of the province into their own hands. In short, Strauss paints a macroscopic picture that is entirely consistent with the lieutenant's microscopic assessment.

Reference #3 paints a more dispassionate but equally consistent picture. It is the executive summary of a recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), a highly regarded organization sponsored by George Soros and headed up by former Senator George Mitchell. The ICG says the international community has not delivered on its promises. It claims: (1) that Kosovars of all ethnicities continue to feel insecure, (2) tens of thousands of people remain without adequate shelter as winter sets in, (3) basic legal instrumentalities, like civil registration of cars, issuing passports, etc., have yet to get underway, (4) there is no agreed-upon, functional system of justice, and (5) criminals - including suspected war criminals - continue to operate with impunity.

Ominously, the ICG concludes by saying many Kosovars' feel they are not being consulted sufficiently by the international community. After a decade of disenfranchisement and apartheid instituted by the Serbs, they resent being shut out of the process of rebuilding their homeland.

[The entire ICG report can be found at the following link:
http://www.crisisweb.org/projects/sbalkans/reports/8331Starting.pdf ]

The growing chaos and resentment in Kosovo is a natural consequence of the contraction inherent in the peace agreement that "ended" the war in June. The Kosovars want complete independence whereas the UN & KFOR are trying to enforce a peace agreement that does not grant them independence.

Whether correctly or not, it is a fact that most Albanian Kosovars believe they have been colonized against their will by Serbia or its successor, Yugoslavia. They also believe outside powers have assisted in establishing and maintaining the colonization program, first in 1878, at the Council of Berlin, when the great powers dismissed their national aspirations as put forth by League of Prizren, but also at the London Peace Conference of 1913, when the Great Powers forced Serbia out of Northern Albanian (to deny Serbia access to the sea) but then recognized Serbia's historical claim to Kosovo. Kosovar Albanians also know the decision to award Kosovo to Serbia (or Yugoslavia) was reaffirmed by Treaties of Bucharest (1913) and Versailles (1919), the establishment of League of Nations, and subsequently the United Nations, and most recently in June by UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which explicitly recognized the territorial integrity of a Yugoslavia with includes Kosovo as an autonomous province, as was the case under the now defunct 1974 Yugoslavian Constitution.

The impossibility of reconciling the contradiction between a sovereign state of Yugoslavia that includes Kosovo and the individual sovereignty of Albanian Kosovars within that state is now threatening to suck the United States into a Balkan sewer of corruption, black markets, and criminality. The Lieutenant's email is important precisely because he paints a picture of that sewer up close and personal. Colonel Reese (Ref #1) thinks there is a chance for cooperation in the stone quarry, but he exhibited the cognitive dissonance inherent in the idealism of UNSCR 1244 when he said the international community can force Albanians and Serbs to do a lot of things, but "we can't force them to be partners in a multiethnic state."

Shkelzen Maliqi, a widely published Kosovar Albanian scholar, reinforces Reese's conclusion in Reference #4. In addition to describing the dreadful state of affairs in Kosovo, note how his argument also ends on the same dissonant note. On the one hand, Malaqi says the "key problem in Kosovo is not the prevalence of revenge attacks on [predominantly Serb] minorities but the lack of a clear concept for the protectorate." On the other hand, he says a "Long-term protectorate status would be unpopular with the indigenous population," and "Albanians will not accept an undefined status for purposes abstract and unreal to them, such as the handing back of Kosovo to a reformed and democratic Yugoslavia."

So, Malaqi believes independence looks like the inevitable outcome, but he acknowledges that the international community can not figure out how to justify it in the context of international law (i.e., UNSCR 1244). Bear in mind, Malaqi sees the problem through an Albanian lens, which seems to assume the Protectorate is a stepping stone to independence.

The Serbian lens sees that protectorate through a very different lens. One reason why this difference can not be dismissed lightly is in the language of UNSCR 1244 which states that UNMIK and KFOR will operate for 12 months initially and then continue "unless the Security Council decides otherwise." It is possible that Russia and/or China, each a permanent member of the Security Council, could exercise their veto power or the threat of a veto to force the Security Council to "decide otherwise." They might deny the extension authority delegated to UNMIK and KFOR, or more likely, use that power to extract concessions on the future shape of that authority, perhaps in a way that permits at least some Serbian forces to return to Kosovo, as was provided for in the original agreement .

The Serbs are keenly aware of this clause and have already begun their efforts to drive a wedge into the Security Council. Vladimir Lazarevic, the commander of the army corps that withdrew from Kosovo last June, said in a December 27 interview with Politica, the leading pro-government daily, "It is possible that China and Russia would veto a decision on extending the Kfor and [U.N. Mission in Kosovo, or UNMIK] mandate that expires next year" He used this possibility to justify his assertion that Serb troops would return to Kosovo, either independently, as part of the international peacekeeping force. [source: Reuters, December 28]

The return of a large number of Serb troops to Kosovo in the near future is a pipe dream, but there is one thing on which thoughtful Serbs and Malaqi would agree: The international community now confronts a much bigger problem than it originally envisaged .

The contradictions implicit in UNSCR 1244 are setting the stage for an intensifying confrontation between the liberated and liberators. In the short term, extending the protectorate may be the only way to avoid an outbreak of a civil war, but that extension may require concessions that Albanian Kosovars would perceive as "pro-Serb." In these circumstances the problems described by Colonel Reese and the Lieutenant will likely get worse, because, over the long term, a continuation of such a Protectorate would probably lead Albanian Kosovars to conclude that outsiders are again denying them their aspirations without providing them with enough security to compensate for their sacrifice. In such circumstances, the Kosovars could come to view KFOR (including U.S. soldiers) as being an illegitimate colonizing power, and KFOR's peacekeeping mission might itself in the middle of a many-sided civil war.

On the other hand, NATO could cut the Gordian know by granting Kosovo complete independence, but that would nullify UNSCR 1244, throw out the concept of international law, and reward the Albanians for cleansing minorities. Such an outcome would be an ironic way to end a war in which national laws were suborned in the name of international law.

Future messages will address the question of how we entered this demoralizing, no-win, no-end-in-sight quagmire without a proper national debate in accordance with the spirit, if not the letter, of the Constitution.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]