bosnia report
New Series No: 19/20 October - December 2000
Kosovo needs a clear road map for independence
by Richard Caplan/Dana Allin

Kosovo needs a clear road map for independence

Richard Caplan and Dana Allin

A year ago, when the UN Security Council authorized a transitional administration, it was agreed that a decision on the final status of Kosovo should be deferred indefinitely. Ambiguity about the future was necessary, if only to ensure Russian and Chinese support for what is, in effect, a UN protectorate.

Ambiguity has its costs. There are several reasons why the international community needs to start laying out a road map for Kosovo's future. And it should be made clear that the future does not involve reintegration with Serbia.

Greater clarity could mitigate ethnic violence, some of which is an attempt to create ‘facts on the ground’. Albanians are motivated in part by belief that the fewer Serbs there are, the less likely it is that Belgrade may one day again be able to exert its authority. Many Serbs hope that if they can drive the Albanians from the north, it will be possible to break off a portion of the province and annex it to Serbia. Clarity about future status would throw cold water on these hopes and fears.

A road map to independence is also key to economic development. In the absence of a sovereign government, no financial institution is prepared to lend to Kosovo. Nor will any but the most fearless private investors risk their money. The United Nations is preparing commercial regulations, but no sovereign body exists to enforce these laws. Without loans or private investment, Kosovo is forced to rely on aid and grants, which are hardly sufficient to meet enormous economic challenges. Depressed economic conditions will be a breeding ground for violence, smuggling, prostitution and drug trafficking.

Independence should not be offered immediately. The prospect should be used to induce the Kosovar Albanians to give meaningful guarantees to protect the rights of minority populations, extending possibly to the granting of autonomy to the Serbs. Kosovar Albanians are likely to be more accommodating if they no longer have reason to fear eventual reintegration into Serbia.

Kosovo should have to renounce any claims to outside territory, notably in the Preševo valley in south-eastern Serbia, which Albanian nationalists refer to as ‘Eastern Kosova’. There have already been clashes in the sector. Independence should not mean the end of supervision. Kosovo should have to accept a continued international presence to protect minority rights. Aid should be conditional on fair treatment of minorities and establishment of democratic norms. The United Nations, backed by the NATO-led Kosovo Force, would exercise authority until these conditions had been met.

It is unrealistic to expect Kosovar Albanians will ever accept Belgrade's authority. The international community should exploit the potential inherent in this reality to build democratic institutions and promote peace.


Richard Caplan, a fellow of Jesus College, Oxford University, and a research associate at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, and Dana Allin, editor of Survival, quarterly journal of the IISS, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune, 19 August 2000


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