NATO has expressed its ‘regret’ that Kosovo has decided to upgrade its Security Force into an army, but the move is just the next, logical step on the road to full statehood, which western powers have encouraged.
It’s got a flag. It’s got its own FIFA-recognised football team. It’s in negotiations to join the Eurovision Song Contest. And now Kosovo has set out plans to have its own army. This week, the parliament in Pristina voted to transform the light-armed, crisis-responsive ‘Kosovo Security Force’ (FSK), into a proper army, with 5,000 active soldiers and 3,000 reservists.
As you might have expected, the development has been met with an angry response from neighbouring Serbia, which still regards Kosovo as its own territory and is concerned that the new army, despite Pristina’s assurances it would be multi-ethnic, might be used against the Serbian minority living there.
What is really interesting though is the response from NATO. The military alliance, which let’s not forget carried out a 78-day bombing campaign against the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999 ostensibly to protect Kosovan Albanians, and which led to Kosovo’s separation from Serbia, has criticized the move, with Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expressing his ‘regret’.
Stoltenberg said that the North Atlantic Council would have to re-examine the level of NATO’s engagement with the Kosovo Security Force. Which is ironic, when we consider how the FSK came into being. It was set up almost ten years ago as the successor to the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC). Which itself was established ten years earlier, in September 1999, as the successor to the western-backed Kosovo Liberation Army.
Some might say that having supported the KLA in its campaign of violence against the Yugoslav state authorities, it’s hypocritical of NATO to oppose the setting up of a Kosovan army now. Certainly, we wouldn’t be in this situation had NATO opted for a different approach twenty years ago.
The EU, which also backed secessionist movements in the region in the 1990s, has expressed its concern too about Pristina’s latest move. A statement from them said that the status of the current Security Force “should only be changed through an inclusive and gradual process in accordance with [the] Kosovo Constitution.”
The stance of NATO and the EU needs to be contrasted with that of the US. Philip Kosnett, the US Ambassador to Kosovo, called the formation of a Kosovan Army “a positive step.”
In fact, the reaction of the EU and NATO is indicative of the differing views there are to the status of Kosovo among their member states. Four NATO states and five EU members (including Spain which has serious separatist issues of its own), still do not recognize Kosovo as an independent country. As in 1999, it’s been the US which has been the most hard-core supporter of the cause. It’s not hard to work out why.
Sponsoring Kosovo ‘independence’ and sabotaging any hopes of a peaceful solution to the dispute with the Belgrade authorities in the 1990s, was a key part of the US strategy to break-up the rump Yugoslavia and incorporate the newly-created statelets into its expanding global empire.
Kosovo may be smaller than the English county of Yorkshire, but it’s a prize well worth having. For there’s gold in them hills. Not just gold but chrome, nickel, aluminium, copper, iron metals, and lead-zinc. Kosovo possesses the world’s fifth-largest proven reserves of lignite.
In fact when you read about Kosovo’s wealth, you can understand why the province/country (take your pick), has been so coveted. ‘Humanitarian’ concerns do tend to have a habit of being invoked by the US when there’s plenty of oil or minerals around, don’t they?
After 1999, and the removal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo, the US didn‘t waste much time in moving in. An enormous military base, Camp Bondsteel, was constructed from scratch, in the east of Kosovo. Today the US has around 600 soldiers in Kosovo, as part of a 4,600 NATO force.
Serbia has threatened military intervention in response to Pristina’s vote, but, let’s be honest, with NATO having such a presence there, it isn’t going to happen. In any case, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, a former nationalist, is now pursuing EU membership. He said in September that he wanted an EU membership guarantee for his country as part of any deal with Kosovo.
It’s the desire to incorporate Serbia into the EU, which explains the current western split on the Kosovo army issue. NATO and the EU prefer the carrot approach to Serbia, (and that means occasionally telling Kosovo off): the US prefers the stick. It wants Belgrade to make a clean break with Russia and unequivocally throw its lot in with the west. Last year, a US State Department official told Serbia that it “cannot sit on two chairs at the same time, especially if they are that far apart.”
Vucic criticised that, and said later that his country would never join NATO. But this September, he told the BBC that it was time for Serbs to re-examine its negative feelings about the military alliance which bombed their towns and cities less than 20 years earlier.
Such a Janus-like stance shouldn’t surprise us. Serbia’s president is trying to keep in with Russia, but also curry favour with the west. On Kosovo, Vucic has said he favors a partition along ethnic lines, with Serb-populated areas returning to Serbia.
Meanwhile, Milorad Dodik, leader of the Bosnian-Serbs, has said he would seek independence too from Bosnia-Herzegovina if Kosovo achieved full UN recognition. The west wouldn’t want that, but that’s the thing about self-determination. You can’t, unless you specialise in double standards, support it for one group of people (Kosovan Albanians), but deny it to others. And vice versa.
Whichever way you look at it, the Balkans is in a mess, ever since the ‘Pandora’s Box’ of nationalism was opened in the ‘90s. A South Slav union always made more sense as I argued here and it still does today.
But while nostalgia for Yugoslavia is understandable and completely warranted, where does it leave the seemingly intractable problem of Kosovo, regarded by Serbs as the cradle of their civilisation, but where over 90 percent of the population are ethnic Albanians who don‘t wish to be part of Serbia? It’s unlikely that the formation of a Kosovan army will bring us closer to finding a solution. But it will no doubt, provide more arms sales for Uncle Sam, the main beneficiary of the instability.
By Neil Clark