Opinion/Agreement between Kosovo and Serbia

Opinion/Agreement  between Kosovo and Serbia

Opening gambit

By Daniel Serwer

Kosovo Prime Minister Haradinaj has circulated a 30-page draft comprehensive agreement between his own Republic and Serbia. It contains a lot of things I might like, including extensive arrangements for cross-border cooperation, protection of Serbs and Serb monuments in Kosovo, and implementation of the many technical agreements already reach between Pristina and Belgrade.

But there are some obvious problems. This paper is essentially to an opening negotiation proposal. From that perspective, it incorporates serious negotiating errors that should be fixed before any encounter with Belgrade. On first reading, I see two glaring problems:

The agreement foresees entry into force before Kosovo membership in the United Nations. Since that can be blocked by Russia or China even if Belgrade is prepared to allow it, Kosovo could find itself out on a limb, having committed to give Serbia the substantial benefits contained in the agreement without getting a big part of the quid pro quo. It is inadvisable to run that risk. UN membership should come first. Only after that is finalized should a comprehensive agreement of this sort be signed.

The draft agreement includes a long list of unilateral concessions to Serbia on governance arrangements in Kosovo at both the central and local levels. All such concessions should be proposed as reciprocal, not unilateral. There is no reason why Kosovo should not ask for the Albanian-inhabited areas of southern Serbia whatever arrangements are provided to Serbs in Kosovo.

Admittedly reciprocity is not provided for in the Ahtisaari agreement (from which many of these governance and other provisions are derived) but that is now overtaken by events, because Serbia refused to sign on. A sovereign state should not make unilateral concessions in its own proposal, unless it is certain they will be appreciated. The way to determine whether Serbia is really interested is to see if they are prepared to pay the price of reciprocity. If so, fine. If not, why should Kosovo concede even before the negotiation starts?

I see other potential concerns as well. The draft agreement includes a dispute settlement mechanism that relies on the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. Why not the International Court of Justice? The draft agreement omits reference to cross-border cooperation between the countries’ security forces. This should be included: no two countries sharing a fortified border, which for the foreseeable future this one will be, can afford not to have regular consultations on national security issues as well as dialogue between their chiefs of staff. Kosovo does not yet have a full-fledged army, but cooperation of this sort should be starting sooner rather than later.

I am told that the Kosovo parliament, in creating a new negotiation team, has ruled out border changes. That is certainly a good thing.

I’m pretty sure I’ll find additional wrinkles in this opening gambit, but that will have to suffice for now. Anyone want to join me in offering suggestions and comments?

Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect IBNA’s editorial policy