By Daniel Serwer
I have been trying to avoid wasting time commenting on the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies call for partition of Kosovo in its ill-considered report ironically entitled “West Side Story.” But the partition idea never seems to die.
Last week’s “fake news, wishful thinking” is the latest example of the Belgrade press spinning up the idea. And more than one friend has suggested to me in private that there must be something cooking.
The CEAS report is a transparent effort to make the West more palatable to Serbian President Vucic by suggesting NATO might lead an effort to give him northern Kosovo as compensation for normalizing relations with Pristina. It fails not only as a strategic concept but also on the merits.
CEAS proposes “adjustment” of what it considers the administrative boundary with Kosovo to incorporate Northern Mitrovica, Zvecan, Zubin Potok and Leposavic into Serbia, without any exchange for Albanian populated communities in southern Serbia.
This comes (and here I have to quote because the assertion makes no sense at all)
…as a consequence of the opinion that neither the West itself nor the UN have managed to clearly determine the exact amount of punishment Serbia should sustain for the crimes of Milosevic’s regime in Kosovo…
So far as the West of which I am a part is concerned, the independence of Kosovo has nothing to do with punishment for Milosevic’s crimes. The proper venue for that was the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, where Milosevic unfortunately died before the expected guilty verdict was delivered.
Serbia after the war with NATO had every opportunity to try to “make unity attractive” (in the Sudanese phrase) to Kosovo Albanians in anticipation of the decision on final status foreseen in UN Security Council resolution 1244. It failed to do anything whatsoever in that direction, and even adopted a new constitution by not counting Kosovo Albanians on the voters rolls, because if they were counted the requirement that 50% of voters come to the polls could not be realized. I won’t pretend Serbia would likely have been successful in convincing Kosovo’s Albanians that they could return safely to Serbian sovereignty. The important fact is that Belgrade after Milosevic never even tried.
After proposing its idea of uncompensated territorial partition, described as one among “small concessions to authorities in Belgrade,” CEAS is still vague about what Kosovo would get in return. It
…could possibly facilitate the process of achieving a comprehensive agreement on the normalization of Serbia’s relations with Kosovo…
It doesn’t get much airier than that, and the subsequent argument against Putin being able to use this “correction” as an argument helping him to justify the annexation of Crimea is unintelligible. The fact is he would use it, just as he has used Kosovo as justification for what he did in the first place.
Later in the report there is mention of a possible “community of Albanian municipalities in southern Serbia.” That’s rich, since Belgrade has not regarded such a community of Serbian municipalities in Kosovo as sufficient for full normalization of relations. Why would Albanians accept something Serbs have found inadequate, especially as it is something they haven’t asked for?
The CEAS report simply ignores the obvious geopolitical risks involved in its partition proposal, claiming they are “low.” It offers no discussion of
– the likelihood that Republika Srpska would try to follow northern Kosovo into Serbia or declare independence,
– the possibility that Albanian nationalists would take the opportunity to try to chase Serbs from south of the Ibar river and thereby create conditions for a greater Kosovo or greater Albania,
– the implications in Georgia for South Ossetia and Abkhazia or in Moldova for Transnistria,
– the consequences for Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine,
I could go further afield to Iraqi Kurdistan and Tibet, but that’s enough to show why NATO would not want to consider the West Side Story proposition as anything but an effort to butter up Vucic. It is a sign of the weakness and desperation of pro-NATO advocates in Serbia that they come up with this poorly thought through proposal. So let me help them out:
Only sovereigns can cede territory. Serbia would have to recognize and establish diplomatic relations with Kosovo before Pristina could negotiate any change in the border. This is something Presidents Vucic and Thaci understand. Pristina would not agree without getting the Albanian communities in southern Serbia in exchange. Any partition, with or without exchange, would put at risk the Serb communities and religious sites south of the Ibar. Those countries that have recognized Kosovo would oppose such an exchange, because of the risk to Serb communities and religious sites as well the irredentist implications for Bosnia, Albania, and Macedonia as well as Russian aggression in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
But we don’t have to go there, because that’s where we already are. West Side Story is shameful effort to enlist NATO in a proposal that would benefit Russia, deprive NATO of cohesion, and reduce the Balkans as well as several countries beyond once again to ethnic nationalist chaos. No thanks.