Friday, June 15, 2007
Kosovo is back in the headlines. President George W. Bush says that it should become independent soon. President Vladimir Putin of Russia opposes independence and prefers time for more talks. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has suggested that we move forward, with a six-month delay.
This has a familiar ring to it. Eight years ago, many of us - then foreign ministers - put in place an international process to decide who should govern Kosovo. We believe that the only viable option is for Kosovo to become independent under strict supervision. That is the proposal that is currently before the UN Security Council and is part of the process that the Council, including Russia, agreed upon and has implemented since 1999.
Kosovo is the last substantial territorial issue remaining from the violent collapse of Yugoslavia. In 2005, as called for by decisions of the Security Council, the UN secretary general appointed a special envoy - former President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland - to achieve a political settlement.
After 14 months of negotiations with the leaderships of Serbia and Kosovo, Ahtisaari announced that the irreconcilable positions of the two parties had made consensus unattainable and that no amount of additional talks would overcome the impasse. In lieu of a negotiated agreement by all sides, Ahtisaari proposed that Kosovo receive independence supervised by the international community (primarily the European Union and NATO) and provide strong guarantees for the Serbs who live in Kosovo.
Now is the time to act. Tensions are likely to rise, and they certainly will not cool. Moreover, without a resolution on Kosovo's final status, the future of Serbia and Kosovo will remain uncertain.
Some may say that Russia would prefer this limbo to a situation where Serbia and Kosovo join the European Union and NATO. Serbs and Kosovars should prefer otherwise. They deserve to be in the European Union. And Kosovo cannot develop as things stand. It has been unable to gain access to international financial institutions, fully integrate into the regional economy, or attract the political capital it needs to address its widespread unemployment and poverty.
Russia has complained of not being included in talks. It should participate, but constructively and not just to block it. What may be needed is a formulation that allows Russia to acquiesce without having to break openly with Serbia. Russia can reassure Serbs and emphasize that Kosovo is a unique situation, without precedent for other regions.
The Ahtisaari plan has several advantages. It gives rights to Kosovo's 100,000 Serbs to manage their own affairs within a democratic Kosovo, which will be protected and monitored by the international community. It also requires protection for Orthodox and Serbian cultural and religious sites. Finally, it provides for an international presence that will oversee Kosovo's institutions and monitor the settlement's implementation. It also places Kosovo on the road toward EU integration.
The European Union has agreed to supervise Kosovo during the transition period and deploy a police mission alongside the current NATO peacekeeping force. An indefinite delay caused by continued confusion over Kosovo's status could jeopardize a smooth transition to European oversight.
Kosovo is a unique situation that has required a creative solution. It should not create a precedent for other unresolved conflicts. When the Security Council adopted Resolution 1244 in response to Milosevic's actions in Kosovo, it laid the groundwork for a political process that would ultimately determine Kosovo's future.
We know that all decisions on Kosovo are difficult. Some of us kicked the issue down the road eight years ago. Today, the international community faces the hardest issue of all. But the decision is necessary, and it is the result of eight years of international collaboration.
Serbia must recognize, however, that greater stability in the Balkans promoted by the Ahtisaari plan will allow it to use its location, resources and talent to become a major regional player and a constructive force in European politics. The Serb people deserve a legitimate place in Europe and Serbia could also begin to move towards possible EU membership.
Our goal remains a Europe whole and free, with all the people of the western Balkans participating fully as EU members. The benefits of a concerted EU effort in Kosovo, backed by the UN and NATO, are enormous. As such, Russia and the other UN Security Council members should follow through on the promise that the Council made in 1999 and agree to complete the process of self-governance in Kosovo. This is the best option at this stage of a very difficult history of the whole region. Viable alternatives do not exist.
Madeleine Albright, United States
Lloyd Axworthy, Canada
Jan Eliasson, Sweden
Gareth Evans, Australia
Joschka Fischer, Germany
Bronislaw Geremek, Poland
Niels Helveg Petersen, Denmark
Lydie Polfer, Luxembourg
Jozias van Artsen, Netherlands
Hubert Vedrine, France