May 23, 2003

ERP KIM Newsletter - Special Edition

Independent Kosovo or a part of a Serbia-Monenegro Federation

The end of the war in Iraq provides a unique opportunity for the US to address the situation in the Balkans, in a way that enhances stability, is fair and equitable, and reassures the international community.

John Zavales served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 1991 to 2001. During the 1999 Kosovo crisis he was based in Albania as a part of Operation Shining Hope, the relief operation in support of Kosovar refugees. He later served as the OSD desk officer for Albania, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. His earlier article, "Kosovo: Time for the Hard Decisions", appeared in the journal of the Western Policy Center in July 2002.

Even as organized fighting was drawing to a close in Iraq, ominous signs began to emerge. Kurds displaced over the past two decades are returning to Kirkuk and Mosul, in many cases clashing with Arabs from the south who had been moved into their homes by Saddam Hussein. Sporadic violence has broken out between Kurds and Turkomen. Among ethnic Arabs, it appears that a large part of the Shiite majority favors some type of theocratic regime along Iranian lines, raising fears among Sunni Muslims and Christians. Violent confrontations have been very limited, and are currently under control. Nonetheless, the potential for them to explode remains a concern for the US and the international community.

American officials overseeing the short-term transition of Iraq are faced with an ethnic and religious mosaic as bewildering as any in the Balkans or the former Soviet Union. However, it is already clear that US policy there will differ in one very important respect. The Administration has stated publicly that the territorial integrity of the Iraqi nation must be preserved, and that US actions will be taken with an eye toward reinforcing that unity. This goal enjoys broad bipartisan support in the US, among opponents as well as supporters of the war against Iraq.

A number of steps have been taken to check centrifugal tendencies. US commanders, sensitive to Turkish concerns, ensured that Kurdish pershmerga fighters limited their offensive operations, and generally acted under US direction. Kurdish leaders provided assurances that their forces would not permanently occupy Kirkuk and its surrounding oil fields, and have moved their troops out in accordance with these promises. Turkey’s refusal to permit US ground forces to use its territory to open a northern front, while complicating war planning and delaying deployment of the 4th Infantry Division, may have been a long-term blessing. Had Turkish troops participated in offensive operations, even well to the rear of US forces, there would likely have been clashes with residual PKK units and other Kurds fearing a Turkish invasion. Nominal US allies would have been shooting at each other, resulting in casualties on both sides, and fighting might then have spread into southeastern Turkey. The US has also warned Iran against intervention in Iraq, hopefully limiting the risk of Shiite separatism in the south.

There are a number of interesting parallels between US intervention in the Balkans during the 1990s, and in Iraq in 2003. Following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, both areas included numerous intermixed ethnic and religious groups, most of whom had never had their own nation states, all pursuing conflicting national aspirations. As a result, both situations entailed the actual or potential redrawing of national boundaries, to reflect new realities on the ground. Most importantly, military action was undertaken in both cases at the initiative of US presidents, and in the face of significant opposition at home and abroad. Leaving aside the relative merits of these interventions, both unquestionably damaged relations, for at least the short term, with a number of critical allies and friends. Some terrorism analysts have postulated that strong opposition to US policy in Kosovo made the Russians more reluctant to share critical intelligence on al Qaeda capabilities and intentions, in the period before September 11, 2001. It is still too early to predict what the long term fallout from the Iraq war will be on relations with France, Russia, and Germany.

For this reason, the eventual success or failure of both the Balkans (especially Kosovo) and Iraq will, fairly or not, be stamped Made in the USA. Obviously a number of factors will be beyond our control, and, at least in the case of Kosovo, are dependent on NATO and UN policies. However, the entire world recognizes that these interventions would not have occurred without US initiative. How our allies and friends, as well as potential adversaries, view future US attempts to exercise power and intervene in regions of crisis will depend heavily on how these situations turn out. This is not simply a matter of international opinion or winning votes in the UN Security Council, though these are both important goals in their own right. The manner in which we address both these regions will help determine whether the world of 2010 views the US as a responsible partner for promoting stability, or as a reckless power whose policies must be questioned and opposed.

It is useful to begin by considering what long-term objectives US policies, both in the Balkans and Iraq, should accomplish. First should be the enhancement of regional stability, and prevention of further ethnic conflict and fragmentation. Second is the prevention of terrorism, including the dissemination of weapons of mass destruction. Third is the need to reduce and eventually pull out US troops in as timely a manner as possible, to prevent expensive long term deployments that drain forces needed for other operations, and can create local resentment. Finally, and perhaps most difficult to achieve, is the need to demonstrate to the international community that US policy is consistent and evenhanded, and is based on principles which can be understood and supported.

In the case of Iraq, we have made very clear that the splintering of that country into two or more independent states would not be in the interests of the US or the region. The most troubling part of this position is that it explicitly rejects the national aspirations of the Kurds, a people of nearly thirty million (a larger population than most European nations) whose dreams of an independent state have been deferred repeatedly. Given the repression the Kurds have suffered from Saddam’s Iraq (to the point of genocide), as well as from Iran, Syria, and Turkey, it would seem that historical justice demands their independence.

Nevertheless, our position, one with which most of the international community concurs, has been that a separate country is not a prerequisite for the Kurds to live in peace, with full cultural rights and a degree of political autonomy. Rather, the creation of a new democratic Iraq, with the fervent hope that such values might eventually spread to other nations in the region, is seen as the best route to realizing Kurdish aspirations, without any redrawing of international boundaries. The extreme personalization of the war in Iraq, to focus on Saddam Hussein, his sons, and the rest of the 55-card deck, has made this approach easier to uphold, since we have scrupulously avoided attacking the Iraqi nation itself as the problem.

In the Balkans, the US approach to sovereignty issues has been considerably more muddled, incremental, and subject to frequent revision. When Yugoslavia began coming apart in 1991, the administration then in office initially supported (though somewhat halfheartedly) its territorial integrity, until Germany forced our hand by recognizing Slovenia and Croatia. Such recognition seemed to suggest that states based on the national aspirations of one ethnic group were the order of the day (relatively easy for homogeneous Slovenia, less so in the case of Croatia with its large Serb minority). In Bosnia, however, we shifted to the other end of the spectrum. Understandably outraged by atrocities committed mainly, but certainly not exclusively, by Bosnian Serb forces, we assumed that because their methods were illegitimate, their political goals must be as well.

This introduced an inherent, and tragic, contradiction into our Balkan policy. The attempt by Yugoslavia to preserve one multiethnic nation by force was seen as wrong, but that of Bosnia-Herzegovina to preserve its multiethnic nation, against the wishes of most of its Serb and Croat residents, was right. The struggle by Slovenes and Croatians to proclaim independence on ethnic grounds was seen as laudable; that of the Bosnian Serbs to break away for similar reasons, as wrong and dangerous. When heavy fighting broke out in Kosovo in 1998, leading to NATO intervention the following year, it appeared that we had come full circle. Yugoslav atrocities were cited as the rationale, but again we were now supporting ethnic secessionists hoping for their own homogeneous state. Since the end of the war, US and UN rhetoric has taken a surreal turn. Having forcibly split Kosovo from the rest of Serbia, in de facto support of an entirely monoethnic independence movement, the UN Mission is now criticizing Kosovo Serbs who favor cantonization, on the grounds that their actions would undermine Kosovo’s supposed multiethnic nature.

From the regional stability perspective, there is a general recognition that Kurdish independence at this time would have a destabilizing effect not only on Iraq (because of the difficulty of determining where exactly to draw a new border, in areas that are ethnically mixed) but also on Turkey, Iran, and Syria. There is a high probability that a wider regional conflict would ensue. An independent Kosovo, dominated by former KLA combatants, would certainly have at least as serious an effect on destabilizing the rest of Serbia, Macedonia, and perhaps Albania. Even in the presence of a UN Administration and thousands of NATO troops, armed ethnic Albanian separatists, using Kosovo as a base, have launched attacks on the Presevo Valley in Serbia and on Macedonia over the last three years.

Kosovo has already emerged as a significant source and/or transit route for illegal weapons, drugs, and human traffic. While an independent Kosovo, unlike Afghanistan, would not likely be a source of Islamist terrorism per se, the lack of effective law enforcement in the province, and the involvement of criminals in its government, would provide dangerous opportunities for al Qaeda and similar groups. In the case of Iraq, the US has made clear its concerns about WMD expertise leaving the country (especially in light of Iranian weapons programs), and the potential that disaffected young Iraqis could be recruited by terrorist organizations. To minimize such problems, the restoration of a strong Iraqi central government, able to control its borders and provide for its people, is clearly in our interest.

Turning to the issue of US troop presence, we have now had forces in Bosnia for over seven years, and in Kosovo for almost four. US forces are being stretched thin, creating problems with operational tempo, and perhaps morale and retention. It is likely we will need to keep significant numbers of troops in Afghanistan for some time, and as such need to reduce forces in Iraq as soon as possible. It is important to remember that each separate deployment creates requirements beyond just the number of combat troops, to include headquarters elements, planning cells, logistics infrastructure, transportation assets, and additional units for rotation and relief. In some cases a US troop presence can create local resentment, as in Saudi Arabia and most likely in Iraq (though generally not in the Balkans). Long-term deployments can also raise international (and now considerable domestic US) suspicions about American empire building.

Perhaps the most critical issue involves international perceptions of US policy. The question to address is how conflicting and inconsistent approaches to different regions resonate with our friends, allies, and others. The attack on Iraq was opposed by most of the world, and the UN Security Council process was clearly not used effectively. In the wake of our failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction, recent statements by the Administration that liberating the Iraqi people (an issue barely mentioned in the lead up to war) was always a crucial goal, create confusion about our motives. Actions like this, and public documents such as the current National Security Strategy, lead many to fear that an American Imperium is the real objective. Given the twists and turns and tortured compromises of our various regional policies, is it any wonder that many observers are confused and deeply suspicious when the United States speaks of regional stability, human rights, and democratization? What do these terms signify? Do they have a different meaning in the Balkans than they do in the Middle East, or in Africa?

Many of the contradictions in US foreign policy will prove difficult to ever reconcile. However, we have a responsibility to address those that we can. We need to take advantage of the immediate opportunities provided by the end of the war in Iraq, to make a definite statement on the future of Kosovo as well. If we support the territorial integrity of Iraq, we should apply the same standard to Serbia. Some senior figures in the last Administration remarked that Serbia had lost the moral right to govern Kosovo. Leaving aside the staggering hubris of such a statement, by any representative of a superpower whose global reach has left few nations untouched, it should be tested with respect to Iraq. If the genocidal slaughter by chemical weapons of civilians at Halabja does not disqualify Iraq (whose dictator had to be removed by force) from governing Kurdistan, how can the policies of Slobodan Milosevic (removed by his people in a democratic election) disqualify Serbia from governing Kosovo? We should also establish a consistent approach to respect for UN resolutions. The major rationale employed by the Administration, in its attempt to win UN approval for the attack on Iraq, was Saddam’s violation of UNSC resolutions on disarmament. If UN resolutions are sacred enough for us to launch a war over, how can we then discard Resolution 1244, which states that Kosovo remains a part of Serbia?

There is a risk that the change of administration here in 2001, and the sense that everything is different post-9/11, means that the US is entitled to apply different standards in different countries, as we see fit. While we may wish otherwise, this perception is not shared in the rest of the world. Because the US was the motive force behind both interventions, the world will be reassured about our intentions by fair and consistent solutions. American endorsement of Iraq’s territorial integrity highlights the fact that no convincing argument has emerged, either from Washington or Pristina, that the national aspirations of the Kosovar Albanians are more compelling, from either a moral or a Realpolitik standpoint, than those of the Kurds or a dozen other separatist movements.

As we begin the necessary dialogue with the UN and European allies about their role in Iraq, we need to discuss with NATO and UNMIK a revised position on Kosovo.
This will not be difficult with most Europeans, who have been much more skeptical of independence all along. We should begin the gradual and measured transition to bring Kosovo back into a loose federation of Serbia-Montenegro. As a first step, the ongoing transfer of more responsibilities from UNMIK to local elected officials, which has continued despite the lack of any meaningful improvement in refugee returns, public safety, or law enforcement, and which flies in the face of all logic, should be halted. Next, we need to begin serious consideration of the issue, raised by Prime Minister Djindjic shortly before his assassination, of reintroducing into Kosovo limited numbers of Serbian police and troops to protect cultural sites and secure borders, as authorized by UN Resolution 1244. It is important that the impetus for this process come from the US, since ethnic Albanians trust Americans more than Europeans to protect their interests. We should publicly emphasize the parallel with Iraq, and the dangers of redrawing international boundaries.

The critical point is that the future lies in regional integration. Kosovo Albanians are seeking a concept of the nation state that is already obsolete in the 21st century. Given rapid changes in communication, travel, technology, and business, regions emerging from crisis cannot afford lengthy periods of nation-state building and consolidation, as in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The tangible benefits of association with, and eventual membership in, the European Union will come to Kosovars sooner as part of a Serbia-Montenegro federation than as an unstable independent country. Statements made to Kosovo Albanians and Iraqi Kurds disappointing their national aspirations should reinforce one another. The US should emphasize that it cares about the cultural and human rights of these groups, and has demonstrated its willingness to protect them with force when they were threatened, but that an independent state is not necessary in this day and age.

ERP KIM Info-Service is the official Information Service of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren and works with the blessing of His Grace Bishop Artemije.
Our Information Service is distributing news on Kosovo related issues. The main focus of the Info-Service is the life of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian community in the Province of Kosovo and Metohija. ERP KIM Info Service works in cooperation with as well as the Kosovo Daily News (KDN) News List

The views expressed by the authors of newspaper articles or other texts which are not official communiqués or news reports by the Diocese are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Serbian Orthodox Church

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