Kosovo – so what is Plan B?

It is about the time to settle the issue of the north as a continued frozen conflict is good for no one. Indeed, stalemate leaves everyone on edge and unable to begin living a normal, peaceful existence. The best outcome would be a compromise solution of the sort that the Quint refuses to support. But any effort to use force – or allow the Kosovo government and security forces to do so – would lead to the worst outcomes.

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By Gerard M. Gallucci

The Quint policy of painting Serbia into a corner and forcing the leadership to surrender north Kosovo to Pristina control does not appear to have worked. Having presented Serbia with the choice between EU membership in the foreseeable future or putting the northern Kosovo Serbs into a corner, Belgrade could go no further than its proposal for autonomy. Pristina – claiming the full support of the US – kept to its position that its “sovereignty” had to be extended to the north and on its terms. It hid behind0 a false argument over “executive” authority and the Quint ignored the possibility of implementing the Ahtisaari Plan in a practical manner taking into account the northern reality. The details of the discussions and the proposals put forth by Serbia, Kosovo and the EU remain unclear. All parties will have their say and the unvarnished truth will probably remain their secret for now.

The Germans and others made clear that this means EU accession talks for Serbia will not happen. Berlin may be pleased at the outcome since Chancellor Merkel won’t have to face this year’s elections carrying another EU expansion problem on her back. EU Foreign Policy chief Ashton perhaps thought she could force a one-sided “solution” on Belgrade given the EU leverage. She may have also figured she had no choice but to try, given unwavering US support for Pristina. (It has been US policy for years to appease the Kosovo Albanians and leave the problems to the EU.) In any case, the Quint seemed oblivious to the position of the northern Kosovo Serbs themselves. Many “old” Balkans hands – inside Quint governments and out – apparently see north Kosovo through the optics of what happened with Krajina and Eastern Slavonia in Croatia. On this account, the northern Kosovo Serbs – no matter what they say now about resisting Pristina – would have no choice but to acquiesce if Belgrade ordered and then withdrew support for local institutions. However, this view ignores the fact that everyone knows the history that followed. Why would the northern Kosovo Serbs expect any better fate than the eastern Croatian Serbs (any Erdut-type agreement aside)? Anyway, what Serbian government or which Serbian politicians would like to be seen simply cutting the north Kosovo Serbs off and tossing them to “Albanian control.” Intentionally or not, the Quint gave Belgrade little real choice at all.

What now? The US ambassador in Pristina reportedly called the recent talks a “final chance” to settle the issues between Serbia and Kosovo. Prime Minister Thaci told the local press that he said “yes” to the EU proposal and that Belgrade’s choice was to accept it or not. He warned that without an agreement, his government would extend its authority into the north with the help of his international supporters. And this raises the possibility that Quint policy makers might now be thinking “Croatia, 1995.” The blogosphere has been full over the last months of Kosovo Albanian references to a “Storm 2.0” as their preferred Plan B. It’s not so much the danger of a NATO attack on the north but more provocations by Pristina aimed at causing a crisis there that then justifies armed intervention by the internationals (KFOR and EULEX).

Many have said that this was the time to settle the issue of the north as a continued frozen conflict is good for no one. Indeed, stalemate leaves everyone on edge and unable to begin living a normal, peaceful existence. The best outcome would be a compromise solution of the sort that the Quint refuses to support. But any effort to use force – or allow the Kosovo government and security forces to do so – would lead to the worst outcomes. Efforts by NATO and EULEX to force the northerners to accept Pristina control have failed. Any further attempt to enforce Pristina “authority” north of the Ibar would be unlikely to fare better now. Force could lead to violence and, if that gets out of hand, the outcome remains what it always has been – partition and/or ethnic flight. The best Plan B might be for the Quint to reconsider now as the opportunity exists. If one or the other Quint country blocks this, then maybe its time for the issue to revert to the UN Security Council and the full Contact Group.

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.

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