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Kosovo's Fifth Anniversary - On the Road to Nowhere?

C·A·P Working Paper by Wim van Meurs

01.03.2004 · Bertelsmann Forschungsgruppe Politik

Executive Summary

Five years: 24 March 2004 marks the fifth anniversary of NATO operation Allied Force. As recent bouts of violence have tragically demonstrated, stability is still fragile, ethnic hatred unabated and rapprochement or reconciliation between local Albanians and Serbs as illusive as five years ago.

The status question: As the "standards before status" approach has confirmed, conditionalities, incentives and international pressure will only go so far in turning a weak state-like entity in a functioning state. Functional statehood hardly figures in the Belgrade and Prishtina visions of the future of Kosovo. All indications are that resolving the status issue either way - autonomy under Serbian sovereignty or full independence - would not provide real answers to the many fundamental challenges Kosovo faces, e.g. economic restructuring, societal reconciliation and European integration. The fundamental flaw of "standards before status" is that it can unfold its incentive function for one party only and only if it prejudices the final status outcome. The opening of a negotiation process more readily invokes the forces of the past than peaceable visionaries.

Time: Since 1999, the de facto moratorium on the status issue has contributed substantially to stabilisation and normalisation in the region, but the productive phase of temporising is coming to an end. If the logic of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro was at least partly linked to Kosovo, the likely dissolution of the State Union by early 2006 sets a firm time limit for the status of Kosovo. Political expediency and timetables are strongly against a further postponement of final-status negotiations, even though the non-status dialogue will not have shifted either partisan position on the status issue one inch.

Negotiations: In order to earth the extremely emotional and zero-sum debates in political reality, it would be advisable to challenge both parties to produce a concrete platform for future status - much along the lines of the initial negotiations between Belgrade and Podgorica. The political leaders in Belgrade actually have no master plan for a sustainable and domestically acceptable solution for Kosovo. Nor do their interlocutors from Prishtina have a concept for the Serb minority in the envisaged independent Kosovo. The endogenous capabilities in Belgrade and Prishtina to initiate a constructive process aimed at a mutually acceptable compromise arrangement for the final status of Kosovo are strictly limited.

International community: Assuming that the status process were to result in acceptance of either conditional independence or autonomy within Serbia by the negotiating parties, then it would be up to the international community to apply the fundamental principles of functional statehood, finality of state disintegration and fair arrangements for minorities. Most likely, at the end of the day, however, the UN and the Contact Group will have to define a final status single-handedly.

Triple deadlock: Ideally, the issues of Belgrade's sovereignty over Kosovo and Prishtina's sovereign statehood should be separated. Currently, a triple deadlock exists. The international deadlock concerns the threat of a veto in the UNSC against national determination leading to secession and independence. The bilateral deadlock is Prishtina's and Belgrade's incapability and unwillingness to compromise on the status issue with no perspective whatsoever for the international community to sway leaders on either side. The local deadlock concerns the standoff between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo.

Final status: As the bilateral deadlock cannot be broken, the international deadlock is the key. The fake option or lever of a restoration of Belgrade's sovereignty over Kosovo should be scrapped. The Contact Group ought to prepare the ground for new UN resolution annulling Res. 1244 and thereby ending Belgrade's sovereignty over Kosovo and transferring full sovereignty - not to Prishtina, but to the UN in New York. A UN trusteeship would eliminate the bilateral deadlock in status negotiations and create much better prospects for non-status negotiations. Similarly, once the Kosovo Serbs are in a situation similar to other Serb minorities (without parallel institutions or overriding loyalty to Belgrade), they will have to engage with Prishtina and might negotiate some for of autonomy within Kosovo. Thus, such a UN trusteeship in Europe would be a demanding strategy for the international community and the UN in particular, but it might produce a functioning state; it would be final by not creating a precedent for further state disintegration; and it would allow for fair arrangements with the Serb minority without upturning functionality or finality.

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