Serbia’s Surprising Turn Westward

10 11 2008

12 November 2008

[Note: an abbreviated version of this commentary was published by World Politics Review]

Over the past eight months, the Serbian government and population have defied conventional wisdom in a number of interesting ways, and together these trends could point to a formula for successful nation building, pioneered by sheer accident and talented improvisation.

In 1999, NATO launched a 10-week bombing campaign in Serbia to end what the West viewed as President Slobodan Milošević’s attempt to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of its 90% ethnic Albanian (Muslim) population.  Belgrade soon capitulated to NATO’s demands, withdrew Serb forces from Kosovo and agreed to negotiate a permanent solution with the leaders of its southern province. (Most Serbs want Kosovo to become an autonomous region within Serbia, while most Kosovars have demanded full independence).

In the last nine years, as these sporadic negotiations have fallen apart, Serbs have felt increasingly bitter and humiliated by the pariah-status adorned upon them by the international community for Milosevic’s behavior.  Not only were Serbs compelled to negotiate over land they felt was rightfully theirs, but they watched as their Western mediators became advocates of Kosovo’s self-determination, eventually urging and recognizing Kosovo’s declaration of independence this past February.

The initial reaction among Serbs was fairly predictable: amidst a crowd of 100,000 peaceful protesters (more than 1% of the population), several hundred “extremists” attacked and ignited a number of embassies of Kosovo-friendly governments, doting particular scorn on the Americans, Kosovo’s strongest ally.  Yet for a population that feels chronically misunderstood and humiliated, Serbians seem remarkably passive these days, only eight months later. Read the rest of this entry »

Precedents and Damage Control in Kosovo

15 04 2008

European Affairs
Vol. 9.1, Summer 2008

In matters of foreign policy, Western governments and their officials more often than not take rhetorical refuge in assertions of vague principle. It is nearly impossible for a country, especially a superpower, to declare and implement consistent policies because there are simply too many conventions and traditions that must be honored in the name of comfort and stability. When confronted with any inconsistencies, the natural response for a democratic government is to play dodge-ball, often frantically.

When Costa Rican government officials are asked about their positions on, say, micro-lending in Kosovo, the political fallout of almost any answer would be miniscule, if only because Costa Rica does not have significant political, economic or relational capital in Kosovo. In contrast, as a superpower, the United States has its hand in an infinite number of cookie jars, and inevitably that hand will get stuck. Not only are there more jars around the world in which America inserts itself, but there are more contraptions (money, pride, ideology, tradition) in those jars that can ensnare America’s hand, often over relatively minor concerns whose symbolism seems to take the shape of public policy.

The NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999, the UN protectorate that followed, and the symbiotic push for Kosovo’s development and independence have left many scrambling either to bemoan or trivialize the impact that Kosovo’s status could have on the global order. Given that the intervention, protection and development of Kosovo have each defied convention in various ways, there has been no shortage of curiosity as to what message has been delivered (and to whom) by the heavy international involvement in Kosovo. But what precisely is that message? Who is supposed to hear it, and who is not? Which precedents actually pose a threat, and to whom? And finally, how might these concerns and their inherent inconsistencies translate into future foreign policy?

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Bringing in Serbia from the Cold

9 04 2008

Voice of America
9 April 2008

Video of my VOA interview, aired in Serbia.

Serbia’s International Balancing Act

28 01 2008

Voice of America
28 January 2008

Video of my VOA interview, aired in Serbia.

Next Moves in Kosovo

2 01 2008

Foreign Policy in Focus
2 January 2008

Negotiations between Belgrade and Prishtina over the final status of Kosovo have officially failed, and Russia will veto any Western attempt at the UN Security Council to recognize the independence of this Serbian province populated by mostly ethnic Albanians.

At some point during the next three months, the United States and the European Union (EU) will give Kosovo the green light to unilaterally declare its independence.

But a few things must happen before then.

Next Steps for Kosovo

To avoid a repeat of the March 2004 riots, in which ethnic Albanians burned hundreds of Serbian homes and dozens of churches, NATO’s force in Kosovo will have to be certain that they have the right number of troops and that these troops are in all the right places.

The European Union also has to do some house-cleaning in anticipation of replacing the UN peacekeeping force (UNMIK) of roughly 2500 professionals. While nearly all the EU countries will recognize Kosovo’s independence, a handful of its 27 member-states have expressed understandable reluctance given their own internal secessionist conflicts. And while Kosovo’s independence would have greater legitimacy if endorsed by all the EU countries individually and collectively, a far more important European consensus concerns the continued political and economic development of this nominally Serbian province.

For the last eight years, Russia has consistently voted in the Security Council to renew the UN’s nation-building mandate in Kosovo under the condition that final status negotiations continue between Belgrade and Prishtina. If, however, Kosovo unilaterally declares independence, Moscow will likely veto any resolution that takes that independence for granted, including a renewed UN mandate. As a result, as soon as Kosovo declares, UNMIK will become obsolete, and a very large void must be filled very quickly. Read the rest of this entry »

The EU’s New Role in Kosovo

6 12 2007

Voice of America
6 December 2007

Transcript of my VOA Interview, in Serbian.

Separatist Playbooks in Kosovo

15 11 2007
Voice of America
15 November 2007

Transcript of my VOA interview, in Serbian.

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