+++ World Scoop +++

Here’s extended/edited extracts from a long piece I first sent to the FCO from faraway Harvard back in Spring 1998 as the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia concluded. It was revised after Milošević fell.

It still reads rather well, if I say so myself.

See my next post for current Thoughts.

* * * * *


The Kosovo problem involves three main questions

  1. Given that we are where we are, what sort of politico-constitutional solution has some chance of being self-sustaining?
  2. What sort of process are we likely to need to take us to that outcome and what levers do we have/need on all concerned?
  3. Will ‘solving’ the Kosovo problem according to one set of principles cause new horrible new problems elsewhere in the region or beyond (dominoes)? 

Given that we are where we are, what sort of politico-constitutional solution for Kosovo has some chance of being self-sustaining?

Key considerations include:

  • The Kosovo problem is all about almost ‘racial’ mutual hatreds based on rival claims (history, numbers) which both have substantive legitimacy. So a serious settlement has to address and satisfy core reasonable concerns of both Albanians and Serbs.
  • NB underlying demographic trends and the region’s ‘Albanian Question’; any lasting political settlement has to be seen by Kosovo’s neighbours (ie mainly Serbia but not only Serbia – see concerns of Macedonia, Greece and Bulgaria) as sustainable even if Kosovo/Albanian numbers expand still further relatively quickly
  • In Republika Srpska we have marginalised the worst extremists. In Kosovo we are actively working with them.
  • NB also the Kosovo legacy of criminality and institutional impoverishment (exodus of Serb experts, decade plus of ‘boycott politics etc). Kosovo is years if not decades away from being fit to rule itself without intrusive international involvement – what does independence mean in this context?
  • We need to approach this matter in a win-win spirit, with a strong emphasis on European integration as per the Montenegro/Serbia process.
  • But NB many powerful Kosovo personalities are not interested in a result which creates ‘order’ as we understand it – rather they have a strong vested interest in the criminal pickings available from a ‘grey’, weakly policed Albanian ‘space’ crossing several borders simultaneously. Is any settlement or even process possible with such people exerting such a negative influence?

The above considerations point to something along the following lines:

  • It looks impossible to persuade two million feisty Kosovars to accept any outcome other than at best ultra-autonomy, but for them preferably full independence
  • Divorce is one – the most? – realistic outcome, given the political and emotional dynamics on both sides
  • But the divorce settlement has to be crudely ‘fair’
  • Any divorce amounts to the partition of Serbia primarily along ethnic lines – any conceivable Kosovo independence process means the exodus of remaining Serbs from Albanian-dominated areas
  • If we are partitioning Serbia along ethnic lines we have no reason of principle not to sub-partition Kosovo similarly, so that the overwhelmingly northern Serb areas stay with Serbia. This might point to other local territorial adjustments as part of the package, eg involving the Preševo Valley Albanian villages joining Kosovo
  • This option (divorce plus territorial adjustments) is the one most likely to command majority support among Serbs if properly presented. It allows the Serbs to ‘settle with honour’. (NB it has the downside of kissing goodbye to any meaningful Serb returns across Kosovo, ie we are legitimising Albanian ethnic cleansing. But is this going to happen anyway under any ‘independence’ scenario?)
  • By contrast, complete divorce which brings all current Kosovo territory into an independent Kosovo would be seen by virtually every Serb on the planet (and many non-aligned countries plus eg Russia?) as an epic injustice; an independent Kosovo created in the face of such opposition would not be self-sustainable

There is one plausible alternative model, namely ‘entityisation’ [ie Kosovo becomes an Entity joined to Serbia under one roof for UN membership purposes]. Thus:

  • The deep problem across the former Yugoslavia is that most ethnic community clusters feel insecure, threatened in one way or another by neighbouring communities
  • The wisdom of the Entity approach in Bosnia and Herzegovina is that it addresses the existential insecurity problem: it ingeniously balances ethno-territorial security with a wider concept of multi-ethnic integration linked to European integration.
  • This allows the rival communities concerned to ‘relax’, so that some sort of self-propelling reconciliation and re-integration can take place. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a great success story by world standards. [Note from 2018: Hmmm – Ed]
  • The Entity vision looks right for Macedonia which otherwise faces indefinite chronic instability. It is not easy to apply it to Kosovo if Kosovo remains in FRY/Serbia and Montenegro w/o a complete redefinition of Serbia along similar entity-ethno lines (undesirable)
  • But it is a valuable negotiating tool: it is hard for either party to dismiss it out of hand as unreasonable, since it gives everyone a lot of what they want.
  • NB there will be no independent “multi-ethnic Kosovo” (ie serious numbers of remaining Serbs) w/o those Serbs having significant Entity-like autonomy rights w/in Kosovo and Daytonesque ‘special relations’ with Serbia
  • NB also the need for special arrangements under any scenario for the Serb monasteries – the Serb Orthodox Hilandar monastery complex in Greece (which apparently has its own micro-constitution but can not sell land except to Greeks) is an excellent example from the region of what might work

What about the new Serbia and Montenegro model? Can Kosovo be battened on to it as a new republic to create “Serbia and Montenegro and Kosovo”? Nice try, probably doomed to fail:

  • The great mass of Kosovars would not like it
  • The hassle involved in trying to negotiate it and then making it work looks to be unsustainable
  • The Montenegrins like to see Kosovo as a ‘Serbia’ problem and could easily create difficulties
  • That said, for now the EU is trying to treat Serbia and Montenegro and Kosovo as one space for SAA purposes. This gives us some of the little leverage we have with the Kosovars – see below – and must not be surrendered lightly


  • Unless we want to run Kosovo indefinitely, we face de facto divorce (Entityisation) or de jure divorce (independence)
  • This by definition gives the Albanian side most if not all of what it wants
  • So we have to look hard at what the Serbs get, if the deal is to be sellable in Serbia (and therefore self-sustaining)
  • One option is a once and for all break aimed at stopping violence by separating the warring communities, ie full divorce but with territorial adjustments along ethnic lines
  • The other option is independence qualified by Entityisation, ie a Kosovo with ethno-territorial arrangements so that the ‘Serb’ parts of Kosovo buy in to the idea of independence. Is the territory too small to sustain this?
  • One other option is to rummage around for examples elsewhere in the world (Tatarstan? Hong Kong? Greenland? Isle of Man?) to find precedents for super-charged autonomy, so that Kosovo becomes effectively independent but w/o an international personality of its own (ie no UN seat, no direct access to IFIs). Worth exploring if only to muddy the negotiating waters for the sake of getting leverage 

What sort of process are we likely to need to take us to a good outcome?

Obvious ‘mega-considerations’ include:

  • Kosovo now has a ‘UN’ quality, so (unlike the Solana deal for Serbia and Montenegro which was wholly an EU effort) any process must be UN-compatible. This gives the Russians an important role (and NB also Chechnya precedents). So Russian buy-in looks essential, ie more Contact Group than Quint?
  • There are two broad possibilities: working closely with Belgrade, or trying to set up a fait accompli. The former means that Belgrade has a greater effective ‘veto’ capacity (but Kosovo is part of both Serbia and FRY, so that has to be faced anyway). The latter means that if Belgrade feels excluded there will be no multi-ethnicity and no self-sustainability
  • In general the task involves mobilising coalitions of moderates and marginalising extremists on both sides. Tricky.
  • A core requirement has to be a framework of Europeanisation, ie the SAA process with a strong emphasis on building on what the parties have (or in due course must have) in common.

And what levers do we have/need on all concerned?

Core difficulties here:

  • The exclusivist clannish nature of Kosovo society makes the Kosovars unusually impervious to external influences, and unusually vulnerable to internal threats/intimidation.
  • The most aggressive/determined parts of Kosovo society have no interest in seeing the situation normalised, and intimidate Serbs, Albanians and international community representatives alike. Can any status process move forward without a decisive showdown with these groups?
  • The Kosovars have an effective veto power by simply not-cooperating with anything the international community wants (eg a joined-up FRY/Kosovo SAA process. Non-Kosovar returns) unless they get their way.
  • The Kosovars also have physical possession of most of Kosovo, plus an ability to block any serious multi-ethnicity.
  • Above all, the Kosovar leadership(s) are in no hurry. Numbers and time are on their side. They believe that the international community will save them from any Serb attempts to recapture Kosovo territory. They are subject to no serious conditionality. The messy status quo suits them
  • By contrast Belgrade and the Serbs generally are in a much weaker position: they have no way of blocking most developments in Kosovo, and are impatient to achieve movement on the SAA independently of Kosovo. The Serb enclaves are besieged, Serb DPs unable to return.
  • But Belgrade and its allies (especially Russia) can create innumerable complications at the UN and elsewhere if Serb views are not given minimal respect (see eg privatisation). No final settlement can be achieved without Belgrade’s agreement.
  • Bottom line: we have an historic opportunity, namely for the first time ever democratically elected leaders in both Belgrade and Pristina. But we have much more leverage over Belgrade than over Kosovo. This has to be put right.

To advance dialogue/negotiations, we need a sustained policy for building leverage over the Kosovars and modernising Kosovo society, including:

  • Stepped-up action against extremist criminals, including ICTY indictments as appropriate
  • Asserting strong principles and associated targets (eg European practices for human rights and minority treatment) as an explicit condition for independence of any variety
  • Other EU-driven tools to deal with extremism/criminality, eg active UNMIK cooperation with Belgrade on police issues, EU visa ban lists and targeted financial sanctions for known trouble-makers, banning of any political party proved to be involved in criminal activity
  • Promotion of better regional dialogue and integration (especially Belgrade/Tirana/Skopje) so that Kosovo increasingly ‘inherits’ a framework of reasonable expectations
  • Explicit EU/UN rejection of any ‘Greater Albania/Kosovo’ ambitions – firm action against any groups promoting such ideas as ‘Albanian lands’

This has to be complemented by firm positions vis-à-vis Belgrade:

  • Full cooperation with ICTY plus continuing democratisation in S Serbia
  • Readiness to cooperate sensibly with UNMIK in helping build Kosovo institutions (but NB this has to be matched by UNMIK working much better with Belgrade too)
  • Engagement with Belgrade on its own actions against criminal extremists

Will ‘solving’ the Kosovo problem according to one set of principles cause new horrible new problems elsewhere in the region or beyond (dominoes)?

Kosovo independence in current conditions:

  • sends a signal hitherto not seen in the Balkans, namely that one ethnic population can opt out of a country which is under democratic control (a decisive argument in the break-up of former Yugoslavia was the fact that Milošević made normal life impossible)
  • represents a sharp move towards ‘Greater Albania’, de facto if not de jure
  • creates a new state unlikely to be able to operate to minimal EU standards for years to come, with many criminal elements enjoying a jurisdiction-free base to operate

This could be ruinous for Macedonia and set worrying precedents for Greece’s Albanian population down the road. And for Bosnia and Herzegovina – if Kosovars can opt out of a democratic FRY, why should not the Bosnian Serbs opt out of a democratic Bosnia and Herzegovina?

However, the Kosovo/Albanian problem is different from the rest of the issues in former Yugoslavia:

  • special historical experience of Kosovo going back many decades
  • different language group, therefore remarkably little multi-ethnic integration via mixed marriages (Serbs and Albanians have less in common that eg Serbs/Bosniacs)
  • scale of practical problems arising from trying to sustain an FRY in the teeth of Kosovar objections and legacy of Serb/Albanian antagonism trumps questions of principle?
  • Other regional parties may welcome easing of tensions which a settlement would bring


  • there are possibilities for ‘ring-fencing’ Kosovo independence
  • but this needs careful management if escalating demands for ‘ethnic’ border revisions across the region are not to swamp us
  • advice from the rest of the region will need to be taken on how to manage this problem successfully
  • once again the attitude of the Serbs as the region’s most numerous community are central. Belgrade acceptance of any deal will make regional management far easier.


Underlying imperative: to reward cooperative behaviour and penalise extremism.

In the Balkans for the past decade good behaviour has been moderately rewarded, while bad behaviour usually has paid off too. We have done too many deals with our enemies, too few with our friends. Any sound Kosovo status process requires new standards for getting this right at long last.

Belgrade is going to be asked to make a historical compromise of (for the Serbs) cosmic importance, namely surrendering territory at the heart of their national identity (would the English give France Kent/Sussex and the White Cliffs of Dover?).

Carrots as well as sticks are going to be needed.

In the logic of the situation Belgrade is being asked to make a supreme historical concession, hence needs carrots. Kosovo needs to moderate its behaviour and may need more sticks…