Kosovo – NATO's actions illegal, illogical and immoral

Through its illegal, illogical and immoral actions, NATO is reducing the Serbs’ room for cooperation and peaceful rejection of Kosovo institutions, and setting the stage for more violence and perhaps full partition.

By Gerard Gallucci

NATO’s Kosovo force (KFOR) spent yesterday seeking to further cut-off the northern Kosovo Serbs from Serbia. Since July, KFOR – using mostly American National Guard troops and German soldiers – have been supporting the Kosovo government’s effort to force Kosovo Serbs and Serbia to accept the imposition of its customs checkpoints, despite the continued rejection of Kosovo independence by Serbia.

On September 27, NATO used force – tear gas and bulldozers – to remove a barricade placed by the local Serbs in Jerinje (Gate 1), while then using more force – this time rubber bullets and live fire – to chase away protesting Serbs trying to prevent KFOR’s effort to close an alternative route that locals were using to cross the boundary.

NATO (and the EU) then shamelessly blamed the Serbs and sought to prevent evidence of its actions from coming to light. On the 29th, NATO continued its effort to isolate the northern Serbs and force them to submit to Kosovo customs by destroying the alternate gravel road and placing a checkpoint there. Some reports suggest that KFOR crossed the administrative line to make the road inoperable from the Serbian side as well.

NATO’s activities have strayed far from the UNSCR 1244 mandate by which it is in Kosovo. By 1244, NATO’s duties in Kosovo include “ensuring public safety and order until the international civil presence can take responsibility,” “conducting border monitoring duties as required,” and “ensuring the protection and freedom of movement of itself, the international civil presence, and other international organizations.”

It would be legal for KFOR to monitor the boundary – even place check points to conduct weapons searches – and to ensure it, EULEX and UNMIK can exercise freedom of movement. But its responsibility to “ensure public safety” means it should conduct its activities in a manner that does not in itself threaten the peace. Under 1244, NATO has no political role whatsoever. It is not KFOR’s business to be channelling traffic across the boundary into Kosovo customs checkpoints. This is playing a political role and has proven a threat to public safety. NATO is acting illegally.

The northern Serbs have been careful to allow ways for KFOR and EULEX to cross their barricades, and have reacted only when it appeared the internationals were using this access to assist Pristina’s police and customs officials in reaching the crossing points. The barricades are there to prevent another unilateral provocation such as occurred on July 26, when Pristina sent its special police to seize the boundary.

KFOR’s new commander continues to suggest that he understands issues such as the barricades and courts should be settled through means other than military. But he also is repeating the line used by his predecessor that it is criminals and smugglers who make barricades and use alternate roads. This ignores the many reasons that normal people would have to cross the boundary without submitting to KFOR/EULEX blackmail to use the Kosovo customs points.

The commander may have been overruled by the US and German governments, or perhaps the commanders in the field have simply been operating on orders from their embassies. In any case, the Serbs can find ways around the NATO blockade and they are unlikely to submit to efforts to force them to accept Kosovo customs. Not even Belgrade can change that, as it appears to come to grips with its inability to bend as far as the EU and US demand. NATO is thus reducing the Serbs’ room for cooperation and peaceful rejection of Kosovo institutions and setting the stage for more violence and perhaps full partition. Its behavior is illogical.

Finally, NATO is showing the world that when the Big Western Powers feel like it, they can just disregard the terms set by the UN Security Council. They did the same in Libya. Some may agree with what NATO has done/is doing in Libya or Kosovo. But the Alliance’s readiness to cast aside UN mandates may make it harder to convince others to grant new ones in the future. The precedent set by NATO’s illegal and illogical actions in north Kosovo undercuts UN peacekeeping and handicaps the international community’s ability to maintain world peace. Flaunting international law and the means by which we collectively determine our cooperation is dangerous and deeply immoral.

Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. Gerard is also a member of TransConflict’s Advisory Board. The views expressed in this piece are his own and do not represent the position of any organization.

To read other articles by Gerard for TransConflict, please click here.

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16 Responses

  1. nikshala

    NATO has a mandate to monitor the border of Kosovo and thus the legal right to close any ‘alternative’ border crossing that could be used to smuggle anything. Preventing KFOR from fulfilling its duty by setting up barricades, throwing stones, burning border posts, shooting in the air, etc. is far from peaceful protests.

    For 12 years NATO / UNMIK / EULEX has been appeasing the serbs in north of Kosovo – that didnt achieve anything or make them more cooperative.

    KFOR’s actions were proportionate and legal but futile nonetheless – I do not know what the solution to the ‘north’ of Kosovo is but if the serbs living there feel towards Kosovan institutions the same way that K. albanians feel towards serbian institutions, no carrot or stick will make them accept to rule of Kosovo.

    Rather than continually jumping on the NATO / EU bashing band wagon, I would hope to see an article explaining what you think the solution and the way forward is.

  2. nikshala: I would still argue that NATO was not given the policing role under UNSCR 1244. That went to the UN which passed it to EULEX in 2008. But you are right that the Serbs do feel about K-Albanian rule as the K-Albanians felt about Serb rule. As to a possible solution: I have written about this frequently, most recently on TransConflict:

    http://www.transconflict.com/2011/07/kosovo-what-might-ahtisaari-plus-look-like-197/

    This would seem a good compromise. How to get there? Everyone would have to stop trying to force a solution and then begin talking. The EU dialogue could be allowed to make further progress on practical issues and then work up to some agreement on how to implement Ahtisaari in a way that both sides could accept. I believe that while the northern Serbs would prefer partition, they understand reality and would accept a resolution that left them to live their own lives in their own communities within Kosovo but also connected to Serbia. Tadic would accept anything that did not look like simple surrender.

  3. Mladen

    “The precedent set by NATO’s illegal and illogical actions in north Kosovo undercuts UN peacekeeping and handicaps the international community’s ability to maintain world peace. Flaunting international law and the means by which we collectively determine our cooperation is dangerous and deeply immoral.”

    Bravo, Mr. Gallucci.

    It’s not just about Kosovo.

  4. THE SERB

    Kosovo is the Holy Serbian Heart!!!
    …and of course im writting about ALL Kosovo, not a part.

    NATO’s only victory was the resurection of drug dealing in region! …good job!

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  6. Cane

    @nikshala
    You said “NATO has a mandate to monitor the border of Kosovo and thus the legal right to close any ‘alternative’ border crossing that could be used to smuggle anything”…

    KFOR is peace keeping mission and NATO is military organisation. Monitoring the border as a peace keeper does not mean to act as a customs or border police for so cold Kosovo state (or provide an air transport for them?!). Your statement is say, “very flexible interpretation” of border monitoring (typical for NATO countries when they want to justify their immoral actions).

    And speaking of smuggling – much more to look for at Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro crossings. Almost a third of illegal drugs in Western Europe goes trough those crossings – but somehow NATO decided a Serb with a food basket and a canister of fuel for his shabby car is bigger problem. Your arguments are real laugh.

    Mr Gallucci, hats off to you and your courage to tell the truth!!!

  7. @The Serb
    I understand that Kosovo ist the heart of serbia but nevertheless i want u to ask this question:
    Why do the serbs push on the dividing the north Kosovo when the heart, that are you mentioning, ist in the rest off Kosovo, the Monastires and the most of serb population?

  8. Jeton

    You know Gerhard, you failed in providing solution to Mitrovica as an administrator you have been. As for as my fellows from serbia still bullshiting with those tales that Kosovo is holy country for serbia those will remain just at the level of dreams for some time and then forgotten. as fast as you undertsand this the better for all of you. none of you deserve any better, as butchers of Balkan came from serbia, not from elsewhere. None of you did stood up against genocide toward other innocent people that didnt wanted to live with you except lately Mrs. Natasa Kandic and Mr. Cedomir Jovanoc.

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