Where to Start With Europe
By Morton Abramowitz and Heather Hurlburt
Thursday, December 23, 2004; Page A23
As President Bush begins a new year's effort to rebuild ties with European allies, one good place to start would be in the heart of Europe, with Kosovo. Europe needs this festering problem resolved -- and strong U.S. involvement to do it.
Kosovo is becoming increasingly dangerous. Five years of uncertainty about its future -- in or out of Serbia -- has left its U.N. overseers unable to foster economic development and, despite a series of democratic elections, unwilling to give the Kosovo government more power to run itself. The result is enormous popular frustration, leading to new and ugly violence against Kosovo's Serbs and renewed talk of unilateral action. A further complication is the possible Hague tribunal indictment, for alleged wartime atrocities against Serbs, of the newly named prime minister, war hero Ramush Haradinaj. Sending him to the Hague could generate massive popular anger, leading to violence not just in Kosovo but also among Albanians across the border in fragile Macedonia.
The situation in Serbia continues to decline. Recent elections generated gains for extreme nationalists and produced a government that barely functions. Leading politicians are afraid to publicly accept an independent Kosovo, even while privately recognizing that Kosovo's 2 million ethnic Albanians would make Serbia unviable. They have put forth a plan to gather Serbs in Kosovo's north and east, apparently aiming to establish a strong basis for partitioning Kosovo. Kosovo's Serbs, frightened by Albanian violence and unwilling to accept Albanian rule, have come firmly under Belgrade's thumb and refuse to participate in Kosovo's political life.
Concern is growing that this spring the perception of international indifference or division will unleash more undesirable results: massive popular protests, pressure on Kosovo's politicians to move on independence somehow and attempts by Kosovo's hard men to use force to further their ends. Belgrade's leaders see such violence as increasing the prospects for Kosovo's partition, and they may want to use provocation to help matters along.
That would be tragic for the people of Kosovo and a great embarrassment to the West. Continued uncertainty over Kosovo's future and over a possible flare-up in violence does more than just hold the region back economically; it brings into question the viability of multiethnic states, and it particularly threatens fragile Macedonia and even Serbia with all its minorities. That is a distraction that neither Brussels nor Washington wants.
The present situation is a direct result of dawdling in Washington, New York and European capitals. For too long the difficulties of working out a Kosovo solution that would stick were just too painful to face. From 1999 on, all sides resorted to hoping something would turn up. When nothing did, they foisted a neocolonial administration on Kosovo and saddled its citizens with standards for government that were desirable but unrealistic -- while offering little economic development and no reason to hope for a permanent solution.
Today it is the prospect of stalemate and renewed violence that is too painful to face. The United States usefully nudged the process along this year by declaring that 2005 would be the crucial time for starting the resolution of Kosovo's status. Now the time has arrived.
Western countries and Russia -- the so-called "contact group" -- must work out both the tricky nature of a solution and the difficult process for getting there. A settlement must bite the bullet on independence, provide ironclad protection for Kosovo's Serb population and offer Serbia a fast track toward membership in the European Union once it resolves the Kosovo problem. Any solution will also require the rest of the world to continue providing resources, troops and careful monitoring for years.
The process of reaching a solution will be equally difficult. The road to resolution will, at some point, have to traverse serious negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia, proceed through a balky and sovereignty-obsessed U.N. Security Council, and, ultimately, be expressed in a final act or international conference.
Time was that the U.S. and European presence in the Balkans symbolized a robust commitment by NATO to defend its interests and values. Today, instead, that presence poses this serious question: If the United States and Europe can't work more vigorously together to resolve conflicts in Europe, how can either hope to deal successfully with much larger conflicts outside Europe? President Bush should commit the United States, working with its European friends and allies, to thrash matters out on Kosovo this year.
Morton Abramowitz, former president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. Heather Hurlburt wrote speeches about foreign policy for the Clinton administration and was deputy director of the International Crisis Group's Washington office.