Saturday, August 06, 2011

Bühler, a Rambo general in Kosovo

The title role in the present drama in Kosovo goes to general Buehler, the commander of KFOR. Gerard Gallucci already asked for his departure because he is not impartial - as a peacekeeper should be.

According to Gallucci this was not the first time that Bühler crossed the lines. He mentions an incident at the beginning of July when the Mitrovica municipality attempted to destroy the security wall of the UN compound in Mitrovica and Bühler initially supported them.

Now Tomas Brey from the Deutsche Presse Agentur has published an article that gives an insight in Buehlers brain. Copies of the German version ("Die serbische und albanische Mafia im Norden Kosovos hält die Welt auf Trab") can be found in many German newspapers and magazines.

The article starts as follows: It is organized crime, not politics, that keeps the world wary of the former Serbian province of Kosovo, General Erhard Buehler says. The German, who has commanded the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo (KFOR) for almost a year, has repeated his view so many times that it has almost become his mantra. Criminals control everything in northern Kosovo, and ignite ethnic tensions to create conflict whenever their interests are under threat, Buehler says. Criminals belonging to the Serbian minority and the Albanian majority work seamlessly together, according to the general, who believes that 'the criminal structures have the final word.'

The article to goes on to write that the burning of border posts was the work of the the criminals, that they pay the people who man the barricades, the presence of Serb extremist organizations, the petrol and other smuggling operations, etc. According to him it is all the work of the parallel structures.

For his conclusion I will use my own translation of the German version of the article: This Mafia swamp should have been drained long ago, General Bühler keeps lamenting. The organization best fit for this would be EULEX with its special police, its lawyers and its government experts. But for years this EU mission that costs 100 million euro a year has been nearly invisible.

Obviously the general doesn't understand what ethnic conflicts are about. He simply defines them out of existence by blaming every problem on mafia manipulations. Neither does he understand the Albanian strategy to accept only complete surrender. In this strategy swampy situations like in Northern Kosovo are considered excellent propaganda tools - specially to convince naive people like the general.

And so our general has started his own mission. It looks like he has found it difficult to convince his international partners of his vision. So he has concentrated on convincing the German language area. Now he hopes to pick the fruits of that effort by importing lots of German soldiers.

The problem is that his actions are one-sided. Just as in Bosnia the West is facing the situation that by applying one-sided pressure they create a dynamic where neither side is inclined to give in. One side believes that they can always hold out and ask for more as those gullible Westerners will never be able to understand when they cross the line between reasonable and unreasonable demands. And the other side refuses to accept what it considers an unfair solution.

The present "agreements" between the Serbian government and KFOR are nearly certainly the result of threatening with further unilateral moves by KFOR. That raises the outlook that during future negotiations Serbia will be pressured with similar demands. I find the fact that the content of the negotiations is kept secret disturbing. KFOR is working for the UN and the public should be informed about its actions - specially when they as controversial as here.

The Serbian government could have challenged the general by confronting him with all the compromise proposals that they have done in the past. But it wouldn't have been easy. The general seems the arrogant type who most likely would have discarded those proposals as diversion attempts without even having read them.

Soldiers are educated to see things from one side. We want our soldiers to believe that their side is right on every point. That makes them better fighters than when they would constantly be doubting whether the other side might be right too. It is also the reason why soldiers should always be subservient to politicians. Politicians defend one side too. But in politics there is a reward on understanding you adversaries and to make compromises with them. In peacekeeping this competence is even more needed than elsewhere. Bühler however, has shaken off the control of politics and has become a rogue general. Even the fact that he instead of his civilian bosses is negotiating with the Serb leaders is completely unacceptable.

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