Saturday, July 15, 2006

Vienna: real negotiations or another Rambouillet?

Since the negotiations on the future of Kosovo have started there have been two currents: one current sees it as real negotiations; the other believes that independence is inevitable and considers the negotiations just some formality before independence can be imposed.

Specially on the American side one can see the latter attitude. The two sides will never agree on the future of Kosovo, so these negotiations are pointless is the reasoning. And so it is inevitable that in the end the international community will have to impose a solution. And so one hears diplomats talking about the end of the year as a deadline. If there is no agreement by then a solution will have to be imposed.

In practice this functions as an encouragement for all three sides to stall the negotiations. For the Albanians it is clear: why should they do concessions when they will get souvereignity (and a much stronger negotiation position) in the end anyway. On the Serb side few politicians will risk making consessions when in the end they will be "rewarded" with an imposed solution. But probably worst is that even on the international side there seems to be little motivation to make the negotiations a success.

For most negotiations it doesn't make a difference whether Kosovo becomes independent or not. If it does not become independent it will be a province with a high degree of self-governance and so the issues of property and minority rights will be the same. In my opinion it is very important that the international community takes an active role in these negotiations. Here there are many issues that some good international negotiator with moral authority could solve in a way that is acceptable to both sides. It is here that even some imposed partial solutions for small problems might have good results.

As for the status: it doesn't take rocket science to understand that no Serb government is going to accept Kosovo's independence if it means that immediately most of Kosovo's Serbs will leave for Serbia. So - allthough I am in favor of independence - it does not astonish or bother me that Serbia only offers autonomy. It just means that the Albanian side will have to stop hiding behind legalistic barriers. As the proverb says: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Only when most of Kosovo's Serbs want to stay their position is really adequately protected in an independent Kosovo.

Negotiations will about status will be a lot easier when other stumbling blocks have been removed. For Albanians autonomy will become less unacceptable once Serbia is no longer seen as blocking Kosovo's economic progress. And Serbs will be more prone to accept independence once minority rights function well.

Ahtisaari has been an expert in doing the wrong things as a negotiator. He is hardly involved in real negotiations. Instead he speculates about what should happen if the negotiations fail and wants to talk about the status resolution at a moment that the other problems are far from solved (as aI demonstrated above such talks are doomed to fail). I think Ahtisaari is a very good demonstration of why I am against further European centralisation: it is too far from the citizens and so the powers ends often up in the hands of the lobbies - just like in the US. Ahtisaari was formerly involved with the ICG - a lobby group that pleads for Kosovo's independence.

I see some flexibility on both sides and I believe that a real solution for Kosovo is possible. Some real international involvement might help a lot by encouraging both sides to accept reasonable solutions. But there is a danger that the negotiations will end up as a similar farce as the Rambouillet negotiations in 1999 - that served to justify starting the Kosovo war. Statements of Burns and others about deadlines and an imposed "solution" if this deadline is not met piont in that direction. The low level of international commitment to the ongoing negotiations makes this scenario even more credible.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Castro, Milosevic and Lukashenko

Today some musings about three leaders that are not very popular in the Western world and that have been the target of consistent international efforts to bring them down - mostly without effect. Only Milosevic was brought down in the end.

Let's face the similarities:

  • all are very effective leaders, who get the trains running on time and also achieve a lot of other things.
  • all three pursue(d) a policy that is quite popular in their country. Castro's revolution, Milosevic's nationalism and Lukashenko's go-slow reforms all are/were directed at serious problems. Their self-image seems to be that they are working for a good cause.
  • all three are the target of heavy western criticism. However, this criticism is often insincere. While Castro's and Lukashenko's human rights and economic performance are the main targets, the real criticism is their economic policy. And while Milosevic's nationalism was criticised, that of his neighbours was seen with a more benevolent eye - as it favored the Western policy to break up Yugoslavia.
  • all three understand very well how to stay in power. In the course of time they develop dictatorial traits. They emprison people and are occasionally involved in political murder.
  • Western policy consists of sanctions that are aimed to empoverish the country.
  • Experience learns that ousting the dictator (Yanukovich, Milosevic) doesn't make their policies disappear. Both the Ukrain and Serbia still face the same kind of issues and offer to a large extent the same answers.

The whole smells for me like old fashioned power politics. China did follow a similar independent policy with good results. But they are big and can affor to ignore the West. Unfortunately small countries get badgered. The West simply isn't prepared to allow independent politics.

Western support for the opposition has an adverse effect. By favoring those politicians who oppose the popular policy it makes life difficult for opposition leaders who support it and it gives the dictatorial leader the chance to wrap himself in the flag of this popular policy. And so we that people like Milosevic after more than 10 years in power still got nearly 50% at the polls. This is a very impressive result - in most countries politicians last only one or two terms.

Economic sanctions have similar negative effects. Both Milosevic and Saddam used sanctions to enrich their environment and strengthen their grip on power. That now economic sanctions have been announced against Belarus looks to me like a stupid move.

The magic of the CIA-backed "revolutions" in Serbia, Georgia and the Ukrain seems to have finished working. By now every dictator recognizes the mechanism and knows how to stop it before it gets dangerous. And so we are back to the old-fashioned way of dictator fighting from the "bomb them to the stone age" of the Kosovo War to the economic sanctions that have targetted Cuba for decades.

There was a time when foreign support for political parties was frowned uppon. It distorts the political landscape and destabilises a country. It still amazes me that Western leaders have to such an extent embrazed such a dubious policy. Their belief that they can't do wrong because they fight for the right cause sound to me like hubris.

Semi-dictatorships like Milosevic's tend develop along a certain path. Just as with every politician they wear out. Their good ideas are implemented and become mainstream while their weaknesses become more and more apparent. The Western intervention however makes that the original idea keeps its appeal. The US will never get on with Cuba as long as they attack his whole model including successes like health care. No Western politician will attack the welfare state - even if they personally hate it - but when it comes to international politics this feeling for the attainable seems to get lost.

The continuing attacks on the basic policy also make it harder for these semi-dictators to move on. It is believed that acknowledging the points where they are right will strengthen their position. But in fact the opposite is true. The criticism makes them feel that they are needed and that their achievements might be endangered once they leave. It gives them even some justification for human rights violations.

Politicians seldom get much rewards for what they have done. Instead the voters look to what they can do in the future. The most famous example of this is probably Churchill who lost the elections just when he had won the war. What politicians can achieve is establishing their credentials. Hitler's successful occupation of the Rhineland for example only gave him only a short during popularity. However, it established his authority as an expert versus the military. But this was only relevant because the military at that time was the factor in the country that still could challenge his authority.

This explains why some of the western policies versus Milosevic were failures. The exodus of Serbs from Croatia and Kosovo for example was greated by quite a few Western leaders with a self-satisfied "that will teach them". In fact it teached Serbia's voters that Milosevic was right: the Serbs in the new republics were indeed endangered. A policy aimed at solving those questions in a decent way would have worked much better: it would have confronted Milosevic with the question about his achievements in other areas - mostly the economy.

Similarly it explains why Western support for Serbia's opposition was such a failure. As it was widely believed that the Serbs were endangered most opposition leaders followed the same line. Western support for the few politicians who thought different only divided the opposition.

Pinochet is a good example of the better strategy. He was prepared to step down after he was given some guarantees that his policies would be continued.

I would like to see a policy that gives countries more freedom to pursue their own policies. Dictators should be harassed - but only for what they do wrong - not for what they just do different. A dialogue should begin with recognising what those dictators do right. That gives us moral power to critisise them for what they do wrong (human rights - corruption).