Security Council Resolution 1244 – everyone’s favorite crutch

Kosovo has been an abject failure of Western policy, especially in Washington where successive administrations have been content to pontificate, but have been unwilling to provide creative, just and fair leadership.

Suggested Reading

Conflict Background


By Steven E. Meyer

In the context of the ongoing Kosovo imbroglio, Security Council Resolution 1244 has become a sort of “bumper sticker;” perhaps better said – a “crutch” used by all sides to justify and even sanctify their arguments. In many conferences, articles and pronouncements, it has assumed the quality of a self-satisfying “coup de grace” that puts an end to an opponent’s “totally unjustified” position. With a shake of the rhetorical fist or the sly smile of knowing self-assurance, nothing is supposed to undercut an opponent so completely as assuring him or her that his or her position is “illegal under 1244.” And yet, 1244 is more often cited and referenced than it is read and understood for exactly what it is – and is not.

It is important to understand that 1244 has to be understood in terms of time and place, that is, in the context of the events that were taking place in the late spring-early summer of 1999 – i.e., in the context of that time and that place. First of all, 1244 did not end hostilities as has been posited in several newspaper articles over the years; hostilities were ended by the Kumanovo Agreement that was signed between Yugoslav and Western military officials on 9 June 1999, which was agreed to only when Belgrade became convinced that Moscow was not going to back the Serb cause. Resolution 1244, which had been prepared during the later stages of the 78-day bombing campaign of Serbia, was passed by the Security Council the next day and took effect immediately. Interestingly, in a failure of Serb intelligence neither the BIA (State Security Service) nor Military Intelligence ever informed Milosevic that a U.S.-British agreement to use ground troop was just days away – the deployment of ground troops would have dramatically changed the dynamic.

Resolution 1244 is a broadly-based, highly repetitive document, lending itself to various interpretations and misinterpretations. It lays out overlapping requirements both in the body of the resolution and in the two annexes. It had three short to medium-term goals: to make sure that hostilities would not be reignited, that humanitarian relief would be available and that refugees and displaced persons would be able to return. In fact, this meant the return mostly from Albania and Macedonia of Kosovar Albanians who had been inhumanely and foolishly “cleansed” from Kosovo by Serb forces. But, it has not led to the return of Kosovar Serbs in any significant number since they rightly see the Pristina authorities as hostile to their interests and their welfare. In an effort to attain these three goals, the Resolution refers in several places to “demilitarization,” the withdrawal of “all military, police and paramilitary forces.” While this requirement was aimed primarily at Serb military forces, it also intended to eliminate the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Ironically, demilitarization has effectively removed the Serb military presence, but the KLA essentially has been reborn in the guise of the Kosovo Protection Force (KPF), the putative military arm of the Pristina regime. An international “security” force was authorized by 1244 to enforce the peace and to ensure that humanitarian relief refugee return would be ensured. Both Kosovar Albanians and Kosovar Serbs have argued – with considerable justification that NATO security forces have been unsuccessful, at best, in securing these goals.

Over the longer term, Resolution 1244 is concerned with three broad, critical areas: security; economic development; and, political solutions. Although security in Kosovo has been a concern and a goal from the very beginning, several places in the document also refer to the long term necessity of security – in order to create a peaceful, stable environment to allow for the return of refugees and displaced persons, wider humanitarian concerns, functioning of the interim civilian authorities and the development of economic and political institutions.

The Resolution refers to security many times, but the heart of the security requirements are found in paragraph 9 (sections a-h) in the body of the document. Over the past 14 years, the NATO-led security force at best has had a spotty record in securing Kosovo. There have been ongoing attacks, by both Serbs and Kosovar Albanians against the other side that have manifested themselves in violent demonstrations and bombings. Although most incidents have been low-key, a major Kosovar Albanian attack on Serbs in March 2004 and more recent increasingly brutal border incidents have laid bare NATO’s inability to guarantee “a peaceful, stable environment.” Serb security rights are preserved in Annex II, paragraph 6 of the Resolution where “an agreed number of Yugoslav and Serbian personnel” will be allowed to return to Kosovo to act as liaison forces, to guard Serbian patrimonial sites, maintain a presence at border crossings and clear minefields. There is no formal indication in the Resolution saying who must agree to the number of Serb (police, military and paramilitary forces – point 8, paragraph a); presumably it is the decision of the interim authorities and Belgrade. But, no Serbia government since 1999 has had the courage to take full advantage of these provisions. It has become clear that the West’s goal of building a “secure environment” has been constructed on the faulty assumption of ethnic integration and the flawed premise late 20th century Western cosmopolitanism.

Resolution 1244 also calls for steps to encourage economic and political reform but it is remarkably vague in directing just how this should be accomplished or what institutions should be established. Not only would it have been premature in the summer of 1999 to engage in such specificity, it would have been politically impossible to do so since the Security Council then – as now – is not of one mind about the structures and functions of a Kosovar political resolution. The Resolution does specify that the interim authorities should implement “a Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe,” which was directed to promote democracy, economic prosperity and regional cooperation.” The Stability Pact program was established in 1999, partly in response to the Kosovo war. It was disbanded in 2008 in favor of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) ostensibly because the RCC afforded local authorities more direct control over the development process. In reality, the Stability Pact ended because Europe and Washington needed a convenient way to wash their hands of the seemingly intractable spider web on Balkan reality. Although the recession and financial crisis that began in 2008 have had significant impact on Balkan economic development, the Stability Pact and the RCC have produced relatively little positive results for the economies of Southeastern Europe. This is especially true in Kosovo where economic numbers are the worst in the region and there is little prospect for improvement anytime soon.

Political issues are discussed at several places in Resolution 1244, but primarily in Annexes I and II, which are literally statements of the G-8 Foreign Ministers (authorized by the Security Council). But most political questions are never discussed in any detail and there are no requirements of what a final political settlement must look like – the Resolution merely provides a general outline for future accommodations and refers several times to an “interim administration” that will help guide Kosovo to a political future. Ironically, the most concrete political stipulation refers “autonomy” or “substantial autonomy” or “substantial self- government” of Kosovo within “the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (i.e. Serbia).

Moreover, Resolution 1244 says that an interim political settlement needs to take “full account of the Rambouillet accords (Annex II) and the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” (i.e. Serbia). The Rambouillet Accords, which are much more detailed than Resolution 1244, are of dubious legal validity because they were accepted by the U.S., Britain and the Kosovar Albanians, but were rejected by the Serbs and Russians (in March 1999 the Serbian Parliament accepted the non-military parts of the Accords). As with Resolution 1244, the Rambouillet Accords called for autonomy for Kosovo within Yugoslavia, which the Serbs could accept. But, the Accords also required deployment of NATO troops throughout Yugoslavia, which the Serbs could not accept. The U.S., Britain and other “allies” were well aware that Belgrade could not accept the deployment of foreign troops throughout the entire country – even Henry Kissinger condemned this aspect of the Accords as an abomination. Just as in 1914, when Austria made unacceptable demands on Serbia as an excuse for war, so too were the Rambouillet Accords and excuse for attacking Serbia.

Resolution 1244 also reaffirms “the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the other States of the Region, as set out in the Helsinki Final Act” of 1975. Although several Articles of the Helsinki Final Act apply to the Kosovo situation, three Articles (I, III, and VI) apply directly to the questions of sovereignty, territorial integrity and the nonintervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. Although this Cold War document was constructed initially to reduce tensions between East and West, it’s inclusion in Resolution 1244 signals a strong reaffirmation of the original intent to sanctify the inviolability of the state system and state sovereignty. The reference to the Helsinki Final Act strongly underscores the admonition mentioned several times in Resolution 1244 the Kosovo should enjoy (substantial) autonomy within the boundaries of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

What then, can we conclude from Resolution 1244? First of all, the language of the Resolution is specific on very few issues. But, it is determinant as an interim document in a few areas, specifically on Serbian rights to maintain military and police forces in Kosovo and on the question of Serbian sovereignty and Kosovar autonomy. Consequently, the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) by Kosovo in 2008 is clearly inconsistent with the words and intent of Resolution 1244. This does not mean that follow up agreements are prohibited from declaring independence from Serbia, simply that it is a violation of 1244. Likewise, recognition of Kosovo’s independence by a variety of states also is a violation of 1244 – and the intent of the Security Council. This means that the U.S., in recognizing Kosovo as an independent country, has contradicted its own support for 1244 – as has every country that was a party to the Resolution and has recognized Kosovo’s independence. Likewise, Resolution 1244 neither endorses noir condemns the so-called “parallel institutions” in northern Kosovo. The argument that they violate 1244 is pure invention.

As was suggested earlier, Resolution 1244 does not provide the answers for a permanent solution to the Kosovo issue – it was never intended to do that. This Resolution was intended to be a sort of “place holder” that was designed to stabilize the situation in 1999 and then be followed by a serious effort to provide a “just” and “fair” solution to this problem. The fact that 15 years have gone by with no substantial action demonstrates bad faith by the main parties to the action, especially the West. Kosovo has been an abject failure of Western policy, especially in Washington where successive administrations have been content to pontificate, but have been unwilling to provide creative, just and fair leadership. At the same time, Serbian governments since 1999 have floundered, swimming in their own cowardice and ineffectiveness. Although the current government’s most recent Kosovo “platform” almost certainly will lead nowhere, negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina – without the interference of Washington, Brussels or Moscow, is the only way to arrive at a fair, just and permanent solution.

Steven E. Meyer is a partner in the firm TSM Global Consultants and a Fellow at the Center for Public Justice in Washington, D.C. Before that he worked for many years at the Central Intelligence Agency, where his last position was as a Deputy Chief of the U.S. Government’s Interagency Balkan Task Force during the wars of the 1990s. After leaving the CIA, Dr. Meyer taught national security studies, American foreign policy and comparative politics at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. Earlier in his career, he taught at the University of Glasgow and the Free University of Amsterdam. He received bachelor’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin, an M.S. degree from Fordham University in New York and a PhD from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., both in comparative politics. He has published in several journals and is working on a book on the changing structure of the international system.