By Innokenty Pyetranker —
Kosovo is a disputed territory that declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008 and has since been recognized by seventy UN members. The United States, along with the vast majority of the states that comprise the EU and NATO, has consistently supported Kosovo’s independence. In a recent letter to the former President of Kosovo, U.S. President Barack Obama reiterated that the United States is dedicated to assisting newly independent Kosovo integrate into the Euro-Atlantic community. More broadly, the Obama Administration has clarified in the past that America’s interests lie in a “democratic, prosperous, unified, and secure Europe” that encompasses all of the nations in Europe’s southeast, including Serbia and Kosovo. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s upcoming trip to Serbia and Kosovo, scheduled for October 11, 2010, will present the United States with an excellent chance to promote this strategic goal.
Secretary Clinton’s trip is well-timed. Although the situation in northern Kosovo remains tense, southeastern Europe as a whole is currently witnessing unprecedented progress. Full-scale warfare between Western Balkan countries was left behind in the nineties. Today, regional actors are committed to political discussions and use legal arguments, rather than bombs and tanks, to support their positions. Emblematic of this new method of conflict resolution was the adjudication of a recent case by the International Court of Justice in The Hague. In July 2010, the ICJ declared in a 10-4 non-binding advisory opinion that the Republic of Kosovo’s 2008 unilateral declaration of independence did not violate international law. Although the underlying legal issues invoked by the case were complex, the reasoning used by the court was relatively simple: Kosovo’s declaration of independence was not illegal under either general international law or Security Council resolution 1244. The opinion was a blow to Serbia’s campaign to delegitimize Kosovo’s newly declared statehood, and it was a particularly painful blow because the Serbian government had petitioned for the ICJ’s involvement in the first place.
International reactions to the ICJ’s opinion varied from country to country. The United States unconditionally welcomed the opinion and Secretary Clinton subsequently called on states that had not yet recognized Kosovo to do so. The Republic of Kosovo hailed the decision as a victory, while Serbia’s parliament immediately passed a resolution declaring that Belgrade “would never recognize the unilaterally proclaimed independence of Kosovo.” (By September 2010, however, Serbian President Boris Tadic had announced that his country was ready to discuss a compromise solution with the Kosovan government.)
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Deputy Director of Policy Planning James O’Brien recently wrote a Wall Street Journal editorial in which they encouraged substantive talks between Belgrade and Pristina as well as increased attention on the region from Brussels and Washington. Ms. Albright and Mr. O’Brien are absolutely correct: the need for bilateral negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo and increased EU and U.S. involvement is clear, particularly at this very moment.
The current facts on the ground in both Kosovo and Serbia offer a uniquely favorable opportunity to the United States to promote regional peace and security in southeastern Europe. Washington must make the most of President Tadic’s pragmatic, pro-Western foreign policy orientation and Serbian society’s thorough rejection of reactionary nationalism because these conditions strongly improve the probability of Serbian-Kosovan cooperation. Cooperation need not be limited to dialogue – it can also take the form of concrete action. A few days ago, for instance, Serbian, Kosovan, EU and NATO officials agreed to work together to combat organized crime in northern Kosovo.
Although the European Union will facilitate the upcoming talks between Serbia and Kosovo, the United States can and should play a role in those talks. Washington must take a strong, principled approach to the lingering issues in southeastern Europe and emphasize the need to make progress at precisely this opportune time. To that end, the United States should support compromises in the negotiation process between Belgrade and Pristina (while maintaining, of course, that Kosovo’s independence is not in fact negotiable). America’s voice in the upcoming EU-mediated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia could do much to enhance peace and security in the region. It is incumbent on Secretary Clinton to make sure that that voice is heard.
Image courtesy of World News Network