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February 1, 2006

Kosovo: Wiping the Slate Clean for Some Dirty Work Ahead


by Christopher Deliso

Several recent events in and around Kosovo indicate the emergence of new complexities and the thickening of old plots, as the Albanian leaders of the UN-occupied province prepare for final status negotiations next month with Belgrade under the aegis of the United Nations though the strongest influence is likely to be exerted by the U.S. and EU.

As always, the possibility for accompanying violence is high, though whether this means the continuance of low-level acts of intimidation or spectacular attacks against the province's Serbian minority or both remains to be seen. What is clear is that the practically simultaneous arrival and departure of key figures and organizations indicates, partly through coincidence and partly through plan, that Kosovo's independence is being sped up whether the region is ready for it or not.

The Consolidation of Militant Power?

The death of Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova from cancer had been expected for several months, but was nevertheless treated as a shock with potentially terrible ramifications by the media. Those friendly to the prospect of Kosovo independence fretted that it would set back the process, or else worried that in the ensuing power struggle, Albanian leaders might fail to unite against "a tough and united delegation from Belgrade." However, since every Albanian leader is gunning for independence, this is unlikely. Rather, Rugova's succession will determine which leader will have personal control over the province after final status has been decided.

Although much has been made of Rugova as some sort of Balkan "Gandhi" for his alleged pacifism and intellectual image, this image was overblown though it was convenient for Western interests, who for years tried to present Rugova as the "legitimate face" of the Kosovo independence movement, to cover up a reality of UN-approved militant gangster rule. But now, with none of Kosovo's major political figures having clear-cut majority support, who will become the next president?

A clue here is provided by Daniel Serwer, as relayed by IPS. This distinguished American interventionist believes that "'there will be a significant fight for power, and the outcome is still unknown.' [Serwer] says leaders with a wartime background will have a better chance, which will make negotiations with Belgrade more difficult."

If such leaders have "a better chance," it's because someone is giving them that chance. Indeed, it's hard to see how Rugova's passing cannot help but to increase the power of Hashim Thaci, and thus the influence of the United States in the negotiation process. But the disappearance of Rugova also makes it easier for the Serbs to discredit their remaining negotiating partners as the thugs they are and so perhaps call into question the wisdom of creating an independent country run by leaders who have proven themselves to be extremely violent, virulently nationalistic, and hardly interested in safeguarding the rights of Kosovo's minorities, something that is (at least theoretically) one of the preconditions for the province to assume full responsibility for its future.

In addition, let's not forget that while the Albanians' grief was real and heartfelt, the West's alleged sadness over the death of Rugova is more than a little cynical. Recall the testimony of the TFF's Jan Oberg in 2003:

"TFF [Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research] published its first analysis on the conflict, "Preventing War in Kosovo," 11 years ago based on on-the-ground fact-finding. Our team spent four years between 1992 and 1996 providing the only sustained (written) dialogue between three successive governments in Belgrade (and Slobodan Milosevic) on the one hand and the moderate Kosovo-Albanian leadership under Dr. Rugova and his LDK party which, as the only political leadership in former Yugoslavia, advocated pragmatic nonviolent means to achieve its long-term goals, an independent Kosova.

"This Kosova would have open borders, no military forces and no military alliance membership and it would never repress anyone but was destined to be based on multi-ethnic, nonviolent coexistence. I personally served during these years as unofficial, goodwill adviser in conflict-resolution to Dr. Rugova and our team suggested a number of these features and strategies to him and his fellow leaders.

"So, warfare broke out in Kosovo in 1997. The German intelligence first, then the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, and private mercenary companies, had done their utmost to undercut Dr. Rugova who Western governments never gave anything but lip service and made the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, a forceful actor in the province from 1993 onwards."

Long before the invasion of Kosovo had ever been iterated publicly, today's Great Powers were dead set on war and thus, on empowering the warlords. Their lamentations now for the late Rugova are in exceedingly bad faith, and disguise the more brutal reality that from the very beginning, it was inevitable that violence was going to be rewarded. If the past 15 years of foreign interference in Kosovo are anything to go by, the candidate with the most violent record will win out in the upcoming presidential race. After all, in a place like Kosovo, where all respect derives from fear, there can be no other way. No one should be surprised that America is happy to accommodate itself to this reality.

The ICG Bails From Belgrade

On a related note, it was recently announced that the one and only International Crisis Group is closing up shop in Belgrade. Apparently, Serbia has just not been violent enough for them to justify sticking around. According to B-92, outgoing Serbia chief James Lyon told Belgrade paper Blic that "you should be happy that we are leaving. We are going somewhere where shots are being fired, and our feeling is that there will be no more shot fired here."

But there are more important implications of the ICG's quick exit. It effectively means that the messenger boy of Western interests will no longer run the risk of becoming a whipping boy in the local press. Further, it won't even have to suffer the tedium of listening to the Serbian side of the story as the Kosovo negotiations get underway. By simply disappearing from the scene, it can in fact shirk all responsibility of even acknowledging that there is a Serbian side of the story which suits the agendas of its Western sponsors, already hell-bent on dumping the Kosovo problem as quickly and painlessly as possible into the black hole of independence.

A Disconnect Assured

One of the chronic problems of the UN mission in Kosovo has always been an operational discontinuity owing to the frequent replacement of foreign employees on six-month or one-year contracts. This ensured the "there was no continuity of mission, or pass-on intel," as one former UN security official put it.

In other words, despite their formidable technological and military assets, the UN officials have always been at a disadvantage where it matters most, in terms of human intelligence. In attempting to take control of a dangerous foreign land where the tight-knit locals speak incomprehensible languages and have their own sophisticated criminal operations and networks, the UN effectively put itself in an unwinnable situation. Even if all of the same officials had remained in place since the beginning, the learning curve was so steep that it would still be years, if ever, before they could be on equal terms with the locals.

Yet the fact that such a large percentage of them have been replaced on a dependable annual or biannual schedule effectively ensures that with each changing of the guard, the UNMIK is effectively going back to square one. And now, one of the very employees to have been there since the beginning, Ombudsman Marek Antoni Nowicki, has been replaced too. With him goes the veritable conscience of the mission, the only staffer who held the UN accountable for its failings. Nowicki has been replaced by a local Albanian a decision that will surely ensure that the rights of Serbs and other minorities are respected. With the removal of Nowicki, a clear message has been sent to those bent on Kosovo independence by any means possible: do not fear that anyone on the "inside" will protest when you expel the minorities.

All things considered, it seems remarkable, even irresponsible, that the key power in Kosovo (the U.S.) is changing its top military commander and rotating its troops just as the negotiations are about to begin. What will probably unfold as the most dangerous period in Kosovo's post-Milosevic era for U.S. forces in Kosovo will thus be overseen by a brigadier general who, while he is no doubt competent, is a complete newcomer to the place, leading National Guardsmen who have no idea what they're in for.

A lamentable sidebar to the UN Mission in Kosovo, and one that will no doubt be cited by future historians, is that just as its employees have learned enough about the place to actually do their jobs, they leave. It's understandable and forgivable that the UN was at an operational and intelligence disadvantage upon arriving in Kosovo in 1999; but the fact that it has continued to ensure this disadvantage by summarily replacing all its staff is not. The UN has ensured that those tasked with carrying out their responsibilities can successfully avoid accountability in the "afterlife" that is, when they escape Kosovo and return to the anonymity of affluent Western society.

Yet this phenomenon is by no means limited to Kosovo: in fact, it is symptomatic of all international peacekeeping missions, and one of the prime reasons for their uselessness and malignancy. Global peacekeeping and "crisis management" today are just a business that thrives on conflict; as one Kosovo local who has worked with the internationals there for years told me recently, "The UN waited until the Darfur [Sudan] atrocities had already happened before stepping in, to create the conditions for a humanitarian mission. So for the last few months, the UNMIK guys are now telling me they'll get out of Kosovo and head to Sudan because the money's drying up here as the mission winds down, and that's where the money is now."

The Significance of Recent Arrivals

As the negotiations begin, a combination of new faces and old will be found gathered around the table. At the same time, other actors behind the scenes may have a significant role in affecting the final outcome.

An injection of fresh blood into the process creates a façade of objectivity and fairness in the negotiations. But since what needs to be upheld above all is the legacy of the interested parties (i.e., that NATO's aggression was really benevolent humanitarian intervention, the subsequent UN occupation was generally overall righteous and good, etc.), the newcomers will be kept on a short leash.

Indeed, there is clear continuity of involvement between those present in the illegal war of 1999 and those pushing, however subtly, for Kosovo's independence. The main figure from the "old faces" camp is the UN's special envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president who previously served as negotiator between NATO and Belgrade in 1999. His good services were described with breathless adoration by the former assistant to Strobe Talbott, John Norris, in his memoir Collision Course. Ahtisaari is also chairman emeritus of the ICG, which has fervently and consistently championed independence as the only solution for Kosovo.

Another old hand from the Kosovo bombing, former NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, will necessarily play a crucial role in his current incarnation as the EU's foreign policy chief. He has dispatched a senior adviser, Stefan Lehne, as the Euro-envoy. And the Americans are sending for their envoy one Frank Wisner, a former Pentagon official, ambassador to India (among other countries), and old Enron man with a reputation for driving a hard bargain, but no apparent connections to the Balkans. Last week this "seasoned diplomat," as Condoleezza Rice described him, said that the U.S. was "deeply committed to the negotiations that lie ahead and their rapid conclusion." We all know that there is only one conclusion that can be reached "rapidly": independence.

And there are, of course, external actors working to move the process in this direction. The Financial Times on Dec. 2, 2005, carried a detailed article on the lobbying efforts now furiously underway in Washington and New York. While the Serbs as usual have yet to catch up, the Albanian "Alliance for a New Kosovo" is in business:

"[F]ollowing a well-worn campaign trail, the Kosovo Albanians have a put up a large pool of money, attracted big names among former U.S. officials, brought in a big ticket think-tank and international lobbying company and marshaled their supporters in Congress.

"'The only reasonable answer is independence,' declared Samuel Hoskinson, president of the Alliance and former deputy head of the National Intelligence Council.

"He was joined at the Metropolitan [Club] by Frank Carlucci, former defense secretary and emeritus chairman of the Carlyle Group, the private investment firm close to the Bush administration.

"The conference was co-sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a prestigious think-tank whose analyst, Janusz Bugajski, advises the Alliance.

"It has also hired Jefferson Waterman International, a lobbying company. Unannounced behind the scenes, however, was the man who made it all happen Behgjet Pacolli, head of the Swiss-based Mabetex Group and possibly the world's richest Albanian. A resident of Lugano, Mr. Pacolli is seeking to convert his wealth into political influence in his native Kosovo, where he grew up in poverty. Now he numbers the rich and famous among his friends, including former presidents Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton."

The Alliance's board boasts many other luminaries from the world of government. The inclusion of the good old William Walker, of Racak fame, is certainly fitting.

Regarding less tactful methods of enforcing change, an unconfirmed but intriguing GIS report alleges that the return of former Albanian intelligence services (SHIK) chief Bashkim Gazidede to Tirana on Dec. 10, 2005, was not accidental. Gazidede had been employed from 1992 to 1997 during the government of Sali Berisha but was exiled with the latter's defeat. Yet with Berisha himself having been returned to power as prime minister, it seems that this former intelligence chief once accused of crimes against humanity is also back. The report expands on older allegations that Gazidede "retains close relations with extreme Islamists and with members of the international terrorist organization al-Qaeda. He supports the Islamists in the Balkans, and he is the main organizer for the transportation of volunteer Islamist Albanians to join the Chechnya terrorists."

The report notes an unusual coincidence: that Gazidede left Turkey for Albania on the very day that FBI Director Robert Mueller visited Ankara; two days later, CIA chief Porter Goss arrived in Turkey, both with the apparent primary task of warning the Turks about possible air strikes against Iran later this year. It claims that "Bashkim Gazidede is the link between the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT) and SHIK [intelligence agency] of Kosovo," and has since his return been holding meetings with his Kosovo peers in order to hammer out a strategy for forcing independence by intimidating and expelling the remaining Serbs from Kosovo.

The Arguments and the Ramifications

At bottom, the arguments at work in the negotiations will be the Serbian right of state sovereignty, which was guaranteed in the UN proposal that ended the 1999 war, versus the Albanians' alleged right of self-determination. As has been widely noted, many ethnic groups will be watching the result of this battle carefully; leaders in various states, disturbed by their own unruly minorities, have warned that Kosovo cannot become a "precedent" for secessionism at home. It seems that the example NATO wished to set of a "humanitarian intervention" has had other applications as well.

Indeed, one of the accompanying Serbian arguments against independence has been that while there are still scores of stateless peoples in the world, creating an independent Kosovo would give the Albanians two states (three if we count Macedonia, and there's no real reason not to). Where's the fairness in that, they ask?

Yet we all know that international politics is not about fairness. Especially in Kosovo, where might makes right and possession is eleven-tenths of the law, there is no reason to expect that Albanian political/militant leaders will not eventually resort to violence to get what they want (after all, it's not as if they ever stopped).

At the same time, the Serbian leadership must tread carefully. Those foreign critics who impatiently call on them to just give in because the province is obviously lost anyway are forgetting the fact that no Serbian president wants to go down in history as being the one who signed away the historical cradle of the Serb nation. Indeed, even worse than being assassinated immediately afterwards would be living with the shame of it.

Whatever happens to Kosovo, the real danger is its knock-on effect on the region. The West continues with its stupid plan of pushing for Montenegrin independence, knowing full well that Albanian secessionists both there and in Macedonia will be either emboldened or enraged by Kosovo's respective independence or lack thereof, and the outcome is likely to be violent. Albanians in south Serbia are already agitating to be included in the new Kosovo. The largely Muslim-populated border area separating Serbia and Montenegro, the Sandjak, will start to express its own grievances once the two republics are severed, while Hungarian machinations in Vojvodina will also intensify. And then, lurking behind it all, there is the specter of Bosnia, the forcibly centralizing ethnic federation whose future is far from assured.

But it's too late now and the main actors too arrogant for the West to admit that they made a big, big mistake by intervening in Kosovo. One had only to look at history as well as contemporary regional realities to understand that the province was a hornet's nest best left untouched.

Back in 1999, the U.S., NATO, and the EU were happy to stick their collective hand into the nest but now, it's everyone else in the immediate vicinity who will get stung.

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  • Thomas Gale Moore is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in economics and has taught at Carnegie Institution of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), Michigan State University, UCLA, and in the Stanford Business School. He has written numerous peer-reviewed economic articles and several books.

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