The following article by Borut Grgic, director of Ljubljana-based Institute for Strategic Studies appeared in yesterday’s edition of Koha Ditore. The original copy in English was provided by the newspaper.
“With the US back in the game, the Kosovar leadership may feel comfortable about its position just before the opening of the status talks. Many, it seems, are linking US political re-engagement with independence, drawing an equal sign between the two.
While Kosova’s independence is the most-likely end result, it is by no means a predetermined fact. Washington has been explicit in its support of having the negotiations start this fall, but has been careful so as not to endorse any end solution. While on his trip to the region, Nicholas Burns refused to even speculate. This means Pristina needs to prepare for a tough negotiation which it will conduct directly with Belgrade, and not through the US or the EU.
If the Kosovar side stumbles during the actual negotiations process – i.e. if they are outfoxed by Belgrade – independence may become unattainable. It will be difficult to get international support (even US support) for independence once the negotiations conclude.
Serbs are excellent negotiators, let’s not forget that. They have outsmarted the international community on a number of occasions, and Kosovars already have experience with them from Rambouillet. Above all, there is an urgent need for a united domestic front in Kosovo. It will be difficult to do the negotiations, and make some of the tough compromises if divided at home. In fact, Kosova would be better off stalling the beginning of talks until this unity on the domestic front is attained. The chief of UNMIK, Mr. Søren Jessen-Petersen, is right to urge a grand coalition ahead of negotiations.
Second, stacking all the chips behind the US is close to a tactical error. The US is important, but so is Europe. Kosova needs to do more to engage the various European capitals on the highest political level, and even more on the Track II (expert and academic) level. Many in key European capitals not only think Kosova’s independence is a bad idea, but outright oppose it. The argument one often hears when traversing through conferences on the Balkans organized in Europe is that Kosovo lacks the capacity to be an independent state. They fear that if independent, Kosovo will amount to a failed state.
While these are obviously remarks based on poor judgment and understanding, Europe is not entirely to blame. The success which the Kosovars have had in terms of wining US Congressional sympathy is partly due to a comprehensive lobbying and explaining strategy set forth by the Kosova Diaspora living in the US. Second, Washington has been the favorite destination for Kosovar political leaders for year now.
The same commitment is missing across Europe. It should not come as a surprise then that EU governments generally tend to be skeptical vis-à-vis Kosovo’s independence. More can and must be done by Pristina to establish a comprehensive Track II engagement in Europe.
Aside form the fact that the EU will be a main ‘supervisor’ of the final status talks, the US despite its most recent diplomatic push, is slowly disengaging from the region. While US commitments grow bigger elsewhere – like in the Middle East – Europe is assuming increasing responsibility for stability and transition in the Balkans. Explaining to the US legislators and the Pentagon why the US presence in the Balkans is still necessary is becoming increasingly difficult. So rather than struggling to keep a power that does not want to stay committed, Kosovar leadership should engage with the EU. It the latter dimension that is presently fully missing.
The task for Prime Minister Kosumi is thus two fold. One the one hand, he should work to forge a sense of national unity before the start of the negotiations in order to maximize Kosovo’s political power at the actual negotiating table. Second, he should network aggressively across Europe, starting with countries closest to the region. It is paramount for Europe to better understand Kosovo – not least also because of the present internal crisis which has made many in the EU hypersensitive (in a negative way) to the Balkans. Second, the Serbs have made sure that Europe has heard their side of the story. Belgrade intellectuals are regular guests at conferences, and Serbian politicians visit with their European counterparts frequently. As a result, European perceptions may be skewed come negotiations time.
Only the US matters strategy will not work for the Kosova Albanians. It is too simplistic in light of the complexities surrounding final status talks.”