Monday, December 27, 2010

Thaci is proving himself guilty

I am a bit amazed about the reactions to the Marty report. For me the most striking allegation was not that Thaci may have known and even ordered the organ harvesting. That is the past. The world knows more former guerrilla leaders who had made their hands dirty but who proved to be great statesmen later on. Begin in Israel is a good example. The real interesting conclusion was that Thaci still is a mobster and still is involved in heroin trade and other illegal activities. If that is true then Western politicians who are supporting Thaci are not only obstructing justice regarding some war crimes but also doing Kosovo a bad favor by obstructing the rise of cleaner politicians who might be able to help Kosovo to clean its act so that finally the economy can take off. In diplomatic terms: it is no longer in the benefit of Kosovo's stability that Thaci stays on.

In this context I also want to highlight the position of US ambassador Dell. Normally ambassadors are regularly rotated in order to prevent them from "going native" and seeing the world too much from the point of view of their host government. However, Dell, who was appointed US ambassador in july 2009 was before that head of the US mission in Kosovo in 2000-2001. This was only one year, but it was in the emotional period shortly after the war: hardly a time to keep one's distance and objectivity. Besides that he had been in the region since 1997 as Deputy Chief of Mission in Bulgaria and may have had some involvement with Kosovo from there. If the US would have any inclination to make Kosovo a normal country it would have sent someone fresh who would be capable of criticizing Kosovo's politicians without feeling awkward because he had previously cooperated with the same guys in rebuilding Kosovo after the war.

We know Thaci's reputation and the widespread fear of retaliation against witnesses against former guerrilla leaders (Marty on witness security, impartial probe). In that light the demands for more evidence by some seem not the right answer. I suppose EULEX made those demands because James Albrecht - its main responsible for corruption and organized crime - was recently target of what looked like a warning. It may have been no coincidence that that day elsewhere in Kosovo a KPS cop was killed. Now it looks like EULEX is afraid and only wants the case when all the evidence is already there. Marty has already suggested that the ICC or a special tribunal should deal with the case.

The West should deal with Thaci like it dealt with Milosevic. Although it was clear to anyone what that Milosevic had a rather detrimental effect on the conflicts in former Yugoslavia even the ICTY never produced a smoking gun that linked him directly with war crimes. This didn't prevent the West from pushing for his departure and indictment. I think we should deal similarly with Thaci. Marty has produced some evidence and pointed to to intelligence reports that suggest Western governments know much more. If our governments believe those to be true they should do everything they can to keep Thaci as far away from power as they can.

In the mean time it looks like Thaci is trying to look like the mobster he is accused to be. He has threatened both Marty and Marty's witnesses. The announced publication of the names of those who spoke with Marty can only be seen as a threat not to cooperate if the EU or UN might decide to have the case investigated by a prosecutor.

I am very curious whether Wikileaks will turn up any interesting cables about Kosovo. There must have been some communication about the anarchic situation after the 1999 war. They might also shed a better light on Ambassador Dell's actions at that time.

* B92 has the awkward habit of changing its links. For that reason I mention for B92 articles also the title so you can look them up with Google when necessary.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Deadly sanctions

Many people will already have heard about the estimates of the death toll of the UN sanctions of the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. These hundreds of thousands alone made any expectation that the Iraqi population would greet the Americans as liberators ridiculous.

Now we see the first signs that the sanctions against Iran are deadly too. To counter the international gasoline embargo Iran has switched existing petrochemical plants to the production of gasoline. However, this gasoline seems to contain more aromatics and these result in particles in the air when burned. The result has been an enormous increase in smog. The health ministry estimates that there were 3600 smog related deaths in the first 9 months of this year. As the sanctions are just starting and as it takes some time before pollution does its full harm this count can only increase.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Marty Report

On this page of the Council of Europe you can find links to Dick Marty's Report on organ trade (preceded by a draft resolution) and an explanatory map.

The main new element seems to me that he lists a whole range of places in Albania that should be involved. This way he discards previous arguments that saw organ harvesting as improbable because the yellow house near Burrel was such a remote and illogical place to do such a thing.

The report refers to two leaked German intelligence reports (in German!): one is Operationalisierung von SSR (Security Sector Reform) auf dem Westlichen Balkan (2007). The other is from 2005. But it is hosted on Wikileaks and it looks like Wikileaks has problems that make it unavailable. Mail me if you want a copy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wikileaks and Kosovo

Some journalists like Timothy Garton Ash say their opinion if the State Departmentment has gone up due to the Wikileaks cables. The opinion of others like Catriona Luke has gone down. I side with with the latter. What Ash sees as a high point in US diplomacy - a description of an extravagant Dagestani wedding - is for me the illustration of the problem. All humans have their quirks - and some third world leaders even more - but that doesn't mean that they don't have a serious side that is worth considering.

A good example where things went wrong is Georgia. And one of the causes was that the US relied almost exclusively on Georgian sources.

On Kosovo, the cable probably summarizes US Kosovo policy better than anything else: "Lack of activity or even access by Kosovo authorities in Northern Kosovo is a constant irritant for Kosovo's leaders and the country's majority Albanian population, and it represents for both the very real threat of the partition of Kosovo -- a reversal of ten years of USG policy and a grave threat to stability in Kosovo and the Western Balkan region.".

What we see here at work is similar to what we have seen elsewhere: the US has hooked up its fate with one side in an ethnic conflict and tries to placate that side. That side answers by upping the demands every time its present demands seem to be met. A good example is justice in Northern Kosovo. At the moment the Serbs seemed to consent we saw additional Albanian demands: asking that only Kosovo-Albanian law be applied and rejecting Serbian judges. In fact if you just want to restore the rule of law and address issues like theft and murder it doesn't make much difference which laws are applied.

There is no way that Kosovo's politicians ever will ever be satisfied until a full surrender and departure of Kosovo's minorities. Of course their mainstream politicians won't ask it the way Albin Kurti (who rejects the Ahtisaari Plan and minority rights) does. Instead they always will find just one more little demand that is justified with fashion words like "sovereignty". As long there is a good chance that the US will support a demand an Albanian politician risks being seen as non-patriotic if he doesn't ask for it.

The effect of this US policy is that nationalism stays at the heart of Kosovo's politics and more mundane subjects like corruption and economic policy stay a side show. This hurts Kosovo.

In Northern Kosovo there are hardly Albanians living. So the main motive to control it is blind land hunger. By supporting this - and even rejecting compromises like local autonomy - the US is not contributing to peace but actually stoking the nationalistic fires.

Now the arguments for this position: a partition of Kosovo would be "a reversal of ten years of USG policy". This is not a real argument. It looks like ambassador is presenting himself like a faithful apparatchik who sticks to a doctrine just because it is 10 years old and it might mean loss if face when given up.

Because that is not enough the ambassador continues with stating that partition would be "a grave threat to stability in Kosovo and the Western Balkan region". Here he sounds like a religious fanatic who claims that you will come in hell when you don't do what he does. He claims a doom scenario without any real argument. In fact there is no reason at all why the loss of the north would threaten the stability of Kosovo, let alone the Balkans.

How to negotiate with Iran

According to Wikileaks the British ambassador in Tehran gave the Americans a few lessons on how to negotiate with Iran. Be tough but not aggressive. It looks like the US can use the reminder.

See here how the Wikileaks have been abused to suggest that the Arabs are in favor of an attack on Iran while they are not.

The book "Manufactured Crisis: The Secret History of the Iranian Nuclear Scare" by Gareth Porter claims that crucial documents that are used to claim that Iran aims for nuclear arms are forged.

How to talk to Iran list the errors the US made in the past while negotiating with Iran.

Building Blocks: The obsession that is preventing a nuclear deal with Iran discusses the Western demand to inspect Parchin. The accusation is that Iran should have tested there conventional explosives for use in a nuclear bomb. However, this falls outside the IAEA mandate that is only about the spread of nuclear material.

How the U.S. and Iran Keep Failing To Find a Peace They Both Want discusses how Bush and Obama failed. The article sees the election fraud as the big game changer - combined with Saudi, Israeli and other lobbies. It discusses also the calculations at the Iranian side.

As Israelis Press Obama on Iran, Let’s Remember they Urged Iraq War, Too: on his blog Juan Cole remembers us that Israel lobbied heavily for an attack on Iraq too ten years ago. Netanyahu himself wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal with the title "The Case for Toppling Saddam".

Ryan Crocker says U.S. is fumbling on Iran's nuclear program: Longtime U.S. diplomat Ryan Crocker says that when dealing with Iran, negotiations and concessions would be far more effective than tougher sanctions.

Iran nuclear negotiations: lessons from 10 years of failures

Talk to Iran, It Works by Ryan C. Crocker.

No, Sanctions Didn't Force Iran to Make a Deal

Friday, December 10, 2010

On the Dutch Serbia position

As we all know the Dutch government is often the most fierce opponent of further EU integration of Serbia, asking that that there should first be full cooperation with ICTY.

Recently I attended a seminar where someone brought up the question whether Brammertz is the right person to judge on that issue. He is the prosecutor. His task is to keep up the pressure on Serbia to catch Mladic. Even if he has the impression that Serbia is fully cooperating he can never be 100% sure. And so his best strategy is to keep up the pressure. But if we want an evenhanded evaluation of Belgrade's cooperation we should ask him (and others) to hand over his evidence to an independent diplomat who can draw his own conclusions.

Interestingly I found this opinion confirmed in one of the WikiLeaks cables where it is stated that "Cooper said we are caught in a vicious circle with Brammertz, who feels he cannot utter the words "full cooperation" but is trying to indicate as much in other terms.".

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Russia in trouble

The Economist has an article about Russia and its corruption. The bottom line is that Russia is more and more consuming and less and less investing and that that is unsustainable. So they forecast a breakdown - but think it still may take quite a while.

The article sees Putin as obsessed with order: a man of the 1990s whose capacities becomes increasingly irrelevant. Medvedev is a more modern man but he is rather weak.

It looks to me that Russia once again needs economists. One can only hope for the country that this time they will choose better and more mainstream economists and not the kind of extremists that destroyed the country in the early 1990s.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Assange story

In case you have missed it, here you can find the rather incredible story of the sexual assault complaints against mr. Assange from Wkileaks. And here is the view of the New York Times on whether what happened was rape.

Also interesting: The Man who spilled the Secrets at Vanity Fair. It tells about Assange's relationship with the newspapers - mainly the Guardian. This article tells about his relationship with the New York Times.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Battling organized crime

Organized crime in the Balkans is a recurrent theme. According to WikiLeaks it is farther east an even larger problem. Today some musings about how you can battle organized crime.

For battling organized crime some resolve is necessary. This relates badly with our present over-juridicized society. The only one to defeat the mafia in Italy was Mussolini and his great advantage was that he didn't have to adhere to the the law. Unfortunately when the Americans invaded Sicily they did this in alliance with the mafia who so got its power back. Similarly Al Capone, the famous crime boss in Chicago, was sent to prison for tax evasion. Obviously when battling organized crime you must be prepared to go to the limits of the law.

A good example is the case of Khodorkovsky in Russia. No one believes he got rich by strictly adhering to the law. So I am rather amazed by all those human rights activists who defend him because of some legalistic details. You can't make exceptions in the battle against organized crime because someone shares your political views.

I see a great similarity in how the US supported the mafia in Italy in 1944 and how it helped the Russian mafia with its support to Yeltsin. And these are not the only examples of harmful foreign influence. In many privatizations and major government projects in the Balkans foreign pressure to give the orders to their companies was obvious. I am curious what Wikileaks will tell us about the order for the Albanian highway to Bechtel or the sale of the Serbian steel industry.

I good example of the aspects of battling organized crime is Saakashvili in Georgia. In the beginning he did some high profile reforms, that included the firing of 80% of the police force. That police reform worked: nowadays over 85% of the population trusts the police - much more than in other former Soviet states. Similar reforms took care that businesses need less different permits and pay less types of taxes.

So he reduced low level corruption. But there remain complaints about an overbearing tax office and pressure on businesses to invest in government pet projects like tourism at the Black Sea coast. As a consequence who gets rich is still to a considerable degree dependent on having the right connections. And that is exactly what corruption is in the end about.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Truths that will contribute to a lasting peace

John Shattuck and Richard Goldstone have published with an article in the Boston Globe in which they conclude after a recent visit that four truths are arising in former Yugoslavia about what went wrong and what should be done:
- the war was caused by bad — often criminal — leadership
- enduring peace cannot be imposed from the outside
- when genocide and crimes against humanity have been committed there can be no peace without justice
- change occurs when there is pressure from civil society

I leave it to the reader to read the article him- or herself. Instead I want to write about the West that in my opinion that carries in my opinion most blame.

At the end of the 1980s the dominant vision in the West about the communist world was a very simplicistic one: the people there were oppressed and given a chance they would vote for freedom. I will call it the RFERL (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) view.

I think this was a gross overvaluation of freedom. In my opinion people primarily look at their wallet and are prepared to accept quite a few restrictions in exchange for money. Hitler is a good example of a politician who stayed popular despite a lot of terror.

It is also an underestimation of how free the communist world in the 1980s really was. The 1940s and 1950s had been cruel with thousands of executions. But in the 1980s the climate had become much milder and it were mostly deliberate "dissidents" who got into trouble. It was only a little worse than the West where at that moment "political correctness" was the norm and you could get in quite serious trouble if you didn't follow that ideology. In fact the main appeal of "pro-Western" parties in the East was not about freedom but about bringing the wealth of the West. The RFERL view also ignored the nationalist anti-Russian aspect of those parties.

When the Iron Curtain fell in Poland and Czecheslovia the anti-communists (Solidarnosc and Havel) rose to power and this seemed to confirm the RFERL view. Then came Milosevic who didn't give up his communist heritage completely and became popular despite that. The RFERL view blamed him for being nationalist. In fact in most new democracies nationalism plays an important role. And as Yugoslavia didn't have Russian troops nationalism focussed on internal divisions.

In democracies ethnic divisions are a subject of permanent re-negotiations. Usually richer provinces are capable of aquiring more autonomy than poorer ones, but cultural awareness plays also a role. Periods of more and less autonomy tend to alternate. But instead of encouraging such negotiations and creating a climate for them the West did everything to turn the situation in an unsolvable conflict. Yugoslavia's republics got independence after a much too short process - breaking off ongoing negotiations. And by assigning them absolute "territorial integrity" any negotiation on autonomy or border changes was cut short.

As a consequence of this RFERL view the West encouraged separatism in the other Yugoslav republics - a major crime in international relations. It also encouraged the rise of politicians there who - except for being openly anti-communist - were not much better and in some respects even worse than Milosevic.

Many see Milosevic as the symbol of evil. I see him as a rather typical cynical politician. Unfortunately cynical politicians are rather common and when I heard for example Bush carelessly talk about civilian deaths in Iraq it was hard to tell the difference. Milosevic's main weakness was not his cynicism but his lack of diplomatic insight that made him time and again make the wrong bets in a time of turbulence. Normal Western diplomacy might have solved this by doing some handholding. But as the West had chosen to treat Milosevic as an adversary they were usually incapable to do so - with the exception of Dayton.

In search of America's diplomatic conscience

I haven't seen much news yet in the WikiLeaks cables regarding the Balkans. Discussions about how to make Kosovo independent are about tactics. The preceding strategy discussion is more important and until now lacking in the diplomatic mail.

In one of the articles I read about the Wikileaks an old diplomat complained that about the low quality of the communication. In his days it was on a much higher intellectual level. This may be nostalgia of a retired old man but I share the feeling. Every politician has its quirks. But in the days of the Cold War there was more of a feeling that you had to work out things together. Nowadays US international politicy is made in isolated "think tanks" in Washington with often a strong input of lobbyists and diplomats have been reduced to pawns who have to impose it on the foreign politicians. In their frustration they resort to calling those politicians names.

Some of the things I would like to see are:
- anything about human rights. My feeling is that they only serve as an excuse to criticize but that no one really cares.
- any discussion about Kosovo's independence declaration. It would have been a good working strategy if - before making the decision - the US had asked its diplomats to give their vision on whether it was the best strategy and how it would work out.
- anything about the 1995. With their support of Operation Flash and Storm in Croatia the US had embraced a policy of ethnic cleansing. It would be interesting to see how that was seen in the diplomatic corps.
- anything about the period 1990-1992 when Yugoslavia started to fall apart - for which the West bears much guilt.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Montgomery's book

William Montgomery, former US ambassador to Serbia and Croatia, has written a book "Struggling with Democratic Transition: After the cheering stops" about his period as ambassador. He tells some things about helping the opposition against Milosevic but it is obviously that this part of the book has been censored a bit by the State Department. He writes about close contacts between politicians and criminals like between Đinđić and Legija and between Jovanović and Spasojević. He is very negative about Carla del Ponte who he sees a bull in a china shop. He also mentions a meeting with Milosevic's wife who said that her husband would rather die than serve a prison sentence.

I am not certain where to buy the book outside the Balkans. It is not on Amazon.