Monday, April 25, 2005

Movement on Kosovo

Richard Holbrooke of the Washington Post has an op-ed in the European Wall Street Journal concerning Kosovo. Link. (subscription required) It seems that, after years of inaction by all of the parties involved, the US is starting to take a more active role in getting final status negotiations started.
Ever since the 78-day NATO bombing campaign freed the Kosovar Albanians from Slobodan Milosevic's oppressive grip in 1999, political control of Kosovo has been in the semi-competent hands of the United Nations, while NATO has maintained a fragile peace between the majority Albanian and minority Serb populations.

Under Security Council Resolution 1244, passed in 1999, the final status of Kosovo was supposed to be worked out through negotiations that would result in either independence, partition or a return by Kosovo to its former status as part of a country once known as Yugoslavia, now "Serbia and Montenegro." But instead of starting this process years ago, Washington and the European Union fashioned a delaying policy they called "standards before status," a phrase that disguised bureaucratic inaction inside diplomatic mumbo-jumbo. [...]

Last month, after warnings about the explosiveness of the situation from Philip Goldberg, America's senior diplomat there, Ms. Rice sent Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns to Europe for meetings with the nearly moribund Contact Group (the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Russia and Germany). Mr. Burns told them that the situation in Kosovo was inherently unstable and, unless there was an acceleration of efforts to determine its final status, violence would probably increase, with NATO forces, including U.S. troops, tied down indefinitely.

Under American pressure -- always the necessary ingredient in dealing with the sluggish, process-driven European Union -- a new Contact Group policy has begun to emerge. This summer a special U.N. representative will "determine" that Kosovo has met the necessary standards -- self-governance, refugees, returnees, freedom of movement, etc. -- and is therefore ready for status talks. (Of course, this should have been done years ago, but better late than never.) Then will come the really tough part: What should Kosovo's final status be? Separate nation, Serb province, partition?

There is often a tendency to put off difficult tasks in the hope that they will cure themselves, but they seldom do. Waiting may be deadly for the people of Kosovo, but it doesn't get any diplomats into visible trouble. Once they try to do something, they can fail very visibly.

That is why you cannot wait for the diplomats to initiate something, even something that is required by treaty or UN resolution. Sometimes the Secretary of State just has to get into the ring and knock some heads together to get something started. True, the new actions may fail, but inaction is nearly guaranteed to get nothing done, so we are no worse off with a failed attempt.


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