Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bühler seeks the confrontation again

Bühler had some interview with Associated Press. He announces operation in collaboration with EULEX. I am still looking for an article with the complete text, but the excerpts look bad.

According to Google News:
But he said Tuesday that more tension is likely as international authorities seek to indict local Serbs who blocked roads and also fired at NATO peacekeepers. "I mean heavy reaction in terms of demonstrations, roadblocks denying freedom of movement for the troops, rhetoric and so on," Buehler said. "We can handle such a situation."

He said NATO has given evidence in the border crossing cases to the European Union rule of law mission and that arrests by the EU's 3,000-strong police mission are pending.

Buehler met Tuesday with Robert Cooper, an EU envoy who mediates an ongoing dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia representatives. The next round of talks is scheduled for Friday.

According to Mercury News:
He said NATO peacekeepers have deployed to support the EU police in the tense area controlled by minority Serbs that refuse to cooperate with international authorities and reject Pristina's authority.

The move comes a day after the top NATO commander in Kosovo Maj. Gen. Erhard Buehler warned of renewed tensions in the area pending arrests of local Serbs suspected of involvement in the recent violence.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Buehler said he expected "a heavy reaction" from Serb extremists as international authorities seek to indict suspects.

"I mean heavy reaction in terms of demonstrations, roadblocks denying freedom of movement for the troops, rhetoric and so on," Buehler said.

In my opinion clear and open fact finding and only then prosecution would be a better way to prevent future violence. What Bühler is doing looks more like a classical FUD operation.

The link with Cooper is interesting. It suggests that this is also about putting pressure on Serbia before the negotiations.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Kosovo's unwise strategy

After the "technical negotiations" had achieved some results the most visible reaction in Kosovo was one of disappointment and protests. Kosovo had accepted some aspects of the Serb parallel structures and it had given up on some symbols of its independence. According to the protesters this put the universal recognition of its independence further away.

The reasoning behind this is that there is only one way to achieve full recognition: getting Serbia to accept it step by step. As Kosovo doesn't have much means to pressure Serbia this strategy relies heavy on international pressure on Serbia. It is a strange strategy for conflict "resolution" as it totally gives up on compromise and mutual interests.

As a consequence the prospect for further "technical negotiations" is bleak. Kosovo has already announced that it will not change its custom stamp. Not even a symbolic change as a face-saving gesture towards the Serbs. This is not negotiating: this is dictating. It is a strategy born out of fear as it is feared that any concession might harm Kosovo's prospects. But no concession often means no agreement and as a consequence Kosovo is now in many areas more handicapped by its dubious status as necessary.

One has to wonder whether this strategy has any chance. It is basically a continuation of Kosovo's strategy since the beginning of the Ahtisaari negotiations and it hasn't brought much. Recently Kosovo has raised the stakes by using its special police while also KFOR has used the threat of violence. But is a risky strategy. Jeremic will not hesitate to use the violent character of Kosovo's present strategy as an illustration of the illegal character of its independence. And if Serbia doesn't give in enough it will simply mean a continuation of the stalemate of the previous years. If there is one lesson from Bosnia it should be that the stronger the international pressure to solve a conflict in a lopsided way the more unsolvable that conflict becomes.

In my opinion the wiser alternative would be to embrace the "technical negotiations" and accept that it will occasionally have to make minor symbolic concessions and accept the status quo in the North until status negotiations result in a final solution. It looks likely that Kosovo can achieve a lot in that way. Nearly all costly workarounds of the present situation could be repaired. However, two prices would evade Kosovo: official recognition and control over the North. Those could only be solved in status negotiations.

Kosovo's status could easily be solved with some kind of deal where Kosovo accepts border changes in the North and some additional rights for Kosovo's Serbs. However, the greatest obstacle are the Western countries who oppose even extra autonomy for the North on the pretext that that would have consequences elsewhere in the Balkans. The West posts as Kosovo's friend but with this position I think the old saying applies "with these friends, who needs enemies?".

I find the international position on border changes hypocrite. Kosovo cannot be compared to Bosnia. Its history of ethnic relations is much worse and unlike Bosnia there is a linguistic gap between the communities. Multi-lingual countries usually have one of two properties to make it work: either there is a lingua franca like Hindi and English in India or it is beneficial to learn the main language because it offers good job perspectives. In the case of Kosovo there is no lingua franca - although Gemana and English slowly get some of that status - and neither learning Serbian nor learning Albanian offers good perspectives for a job.

My advise for Kosovo would be:
- Act in good faith in the "technical negotiations" and be prepared to compromise. Don't worry too much about symbols. Solve all the major points like telecom, customs and energy. With some Hong Kong-like status you might even participate in sports events. Make also agreements on property rights.
- Accept that the North will stay separate for the time being and that the status will stay unresolved for some time.
- Concentrate for the time being on economic development
- Nobody expects EU membership to become an option even for Serbia before 2020. So don't worry too much about it. Tell the EU instead that more trust needs to built between Kosovo and Serbia before a final solution is reached.
- Become more serious about refugee returns. I still see regularly Kosovo Albanian posters on the Internet claiming that expelled Serbs "deserved" it. This should stop and Kosovo's leadership is responsible for that. This is not only about minorities: it is also about the rule of law and openness to foreigners. Consider the position of an American who thinks about investing in Kosovo. When he looks at how the Serbs are treated and how Kurti is talking about Americans he will inevitably conclude that one day he may be targeted too and robbed of his investments while Albanian nationalists cry that he deserves it.
- Stop with unilateral moves like we have seen with electricity, mobile telephone, the border posts and the trade boycott. They signal to local Albanian nationalists that Serbs are fair game, they lead to an increase of harassment - both by nationalists and by government officials - and they destroy trust between the communities. This kind of moves may provide some minor tactical wins but for the long term they mean strategical losses. These moves go also against the rule of law. This may seem counterintuitive to some - given all the propaganda that the Pristina government is restoring the rule of law - but one of the main functions of the rule of law is to make life predictable. From that point of view these measures are major violations. No one wants to invest in such a climate.
This doesn't mean that everything in the present situation should be accepted. No electricity without paying and no smuggling are general principles. But there should be flexibility in the implementation.
- From the Serbian perspective Kosovo's recognition is its negotiation chip. In return it mainly wants protection of Kosovo's Serb minority. So if Kosovo wants Serbia to do concessions on the symbolic level it should be prepared to give hard guarantees that for example exclude unilateral actions like the recent ROSU intrusions in Kosovo's North.
- One day the status will come up for resolution. By then Kosovo should at least have a stronger position so that it is less dependent on internationals. By then also other regions in the Balkans might have become more stabilized so that "precedent" fears regarding border changes will be less important. There would be more trust between Serbs and Albanians. At that time it might either be decided to have border changes in exchange for recognition or the existing position of Northern Kosovo might be formalized as some kind of far-reaching autonomy in a recognized Kosovo.

On the Euro Crisis

As the crisis in the Eurozone keeps deepening I want to make a few notes:

- The core of Europe's problems are internal tensions. Compared to Germany the Southern European wages are much too high. This leads to trade imbalances and as a consequence the South is becoming more and more indebted to the North. For a long time the pattern was masked because the North bought companies and real estate in the South, attracted by a self-reinforcing bubble in real estate prices. But this no longer works and now we will have to break this pattern. The fact that this comes on top of the financial problems that were exposed by the crisis of 2008 only complicates the matter.

- the Eurocrats keep pushing for more centralization. They want a common European economy, taxation, etc. In their view Europe should become something like the US. I don't believe that is a good option and I doubt whether even 10% of Europe's population would support such a proposal. But even if everyone wanted it it would be a surreal discussion: we live no longer in 1776 and working out the details of a federation would take at least a decade. For now we should draw the obvious conclusion that we have gone a bridge too far and that some kind of retreat is inevitable.

- the Eurocrats have a history of never wasting a crisis and always bringing in more centralization as the solution for problems that arise. The euro was brought to us at least partly as a solution for the problems of the snake. Eurocrats are used to get their way and it will take a major shock for them to admit that this time has to be different. They are also well aware that the setback may mean that they won't see the federal Europe they long for in their lifetime.

- as I have written elsewhere I think the Eurocrats are betting on the wrong horse. One should give countries time to adapt to Europe. The Irish and Spanish real estate bubbles were vivid illustrations that these countries were not ready for the euro. Their adaptations to the EU real estate market should have happened while they still were outside the euro so that they had the tools to regulate the bubble. Also I think slowly integrating the former Soviet block and the Arab world should get more attention. We may never want Turkey and the Arabs inside our Brussels decision making apparatus but we should be open to economic and other kinds of integration.

- I don't believe in formal rules like the 3% limit on government deficits or the recent attempt of Spain to put that kind of provisions in its constitution. It is window dressing that treats future generations like little children. It evokes exactly the kind of evasion as we have seen with Greece.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Did Dell instruct Bühler?

Looking at the Wikileaks cables from Belgrade and Pristina I noticed one cable from ambassador Dell from januari 2010 in which he utters claims on Northern Kosovo that seem rather closely related to what Bühler more recently has stated.

Some quotes:
¶2. (C) Currently, we have a growing, if still somewhat
fragile, consensus within the international community in
Pristina that the time is right to end the years of drift on
the north and to alter the dynamic of a hardening partition
between the north and the rest of Kosovo. In part, this is
sparked by the new willingness among Kosovo Serbs to engage
with Kosovo institutions. It also stems from Belgrade's
increasingly aggressive actions in the north (e.g., seizure
of the Valac electrical substation; unilateral appointment of
Serb judges to illegal parallel courts) that have underscored
to representatives of the international community on the
ground the risks of continuing to do nothing. For ten years,
we told the Kosovars to trust us -- "let us handle the
situation, and we will protect you" -- and now the government
of independent Kosovo is increasingly asking us when we are
going to make good on that commitment. KFOR is drawing down
(in six months NATO could take a decision to cut its forces
in half). We need to take advantage of a unique opportunity
that has crystallized and act now while we still have a KFOR
presence capable of handling any contingency.
We know, however, that there will be difficult
challenges that pose risks. For example, EULEX must get
serious about rolling up organized crime networks in the
north that feed the parallel structures and make the current
situation unsustainable. The northern Serbs are the first
victims of these thugs, and there is a growing body of
reports that they would welcome a change if EULEX can deliver
it. We must, also, deal with the blatant theft of Kosovo
property that has allowed Serbia to, in effect, seize the
northern power grid in Kosovo. Dealing with these issues
will require hard choices and fortitude.
In recent meetings with Boris Tadic, both Angela Merkel and Nicolas
Sarkozy reportedly emphasized that Serbia's path to Brussels
runs, in part, through constructive relations with Pristina.
This is the perfect message. Brussels needs to repeat it --

It looks like Bühler has heard he same story. However - as the pressure on the Northern Serbs with border blockades shows - Bühler and Dell in the end don't believe their own story.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Kosovo going the way of Bosnia

At the moment Belgium has been more than a year without a government. Few Belgians worry. They are used to the fact that when the conditions under which the Flemish and the Walloon live together need some update it takes a long time. You have two very large groups with different ideas and many people have seldom contact with members of the other group. And many that do have contact will try to avoid the subject as it might spoil the relationship. But in the contacts that there are slowly a compromise will arise. Politicians may love taking extreme positions but people discussing with friends will find some kind of compromise. It takes a lot of time before such ideas have trickled up and a consensus has been reached.

Unfortunately the West didn't have that patience when the Bosnians needed to agree on how to go further after the Dayton Agreement. Instead of waiting until some compromise arose Western diplomats couldn't resist to choose the side of the Muslims. Initially it seemed to help. But in the end it led to a near complete stagnation.

The problem was that once the Muslims saw they had Western support they increased their demands up to the point where the Serbs even with Western pressure wouldn't agree. The most problematic aspect however was that this changed the communication. Where in the past Muslims had to convince the Serbs (and the other way around) of the reasonableness of their proposals they now only needed to convince the internationals. This meant that real communication between Serbs and Muslims stopped. And without real communication you cannot find a solution.

At the moment the same development is happening in Kosovo. The internationals have chosen sides. At the moment they are still in the phase of self-congratulation - believing they have achieved something. But in the long run it threatens to lead to complete stagnation.

It already went wrong with the issue of the custom stamps. I am really amazed that what exactly happened is still shrouded in mysteries. In my opinion openness would have been the solution. Both the Serbs and the Albanians should explain in details what happened and why they took the position they took - including the concessions they were prepared to make. If there is any disagreement of facts - let the international mediators clarify them. Then let the Kosovar and Serbian public opinion do its work and sooner or later they will agree on what is a reasonable solution in the given circumstances. As Kosovo hardly exports anything there is no real reason for hurry.

Instead the internationals allowed Kosovo to do a grab for the border posts in Kosovo's North. It was a clear violation of the agreement before the "technical talks" that during the talks no one should unilaterally try to change the "facts on the ground", but the internationals chose to ignore that and even defended the Albanian actions. They suddenly "discovered" that the Kosovo government had the right to control Kosovo's whole territory. Never mind that that right was once denied because it would have led to massive ethnic cleansing - something KFOR is supposed to prevent.

It is popular in diplomatic circles to see Balkanians as irresponsible children who would immediately make war if you gave them such basic rights as to negotiate with each other over borders. The decision to create "forgone facts" in the negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia fits in the same tradition. This attitude was in the 1990s the most important cause of the wars. We can only hope that the damage will this time be more restricted.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The NATO files on Kosovo Serb leaders

The newspaper LajmeShqip is publishing leaked NATO files on Kosovo Serb leaders. Until now they have published 8 of the 430 files they have.

Here you will see one example. The articles are in Albanian but Google Translate is your friend. Here for example is the Google translation of the above article.

You should click on the image of the NATO document to see its full size. It is not downloadable or linkable as far as I can see. Under the heading "Rezultatet e kërkimit :" you will find links to the other published files. These links are only visible in the original, not in the Google translate version.

Actually these NATO files bring very little news. They are in French so few people will be able to fully read them. All the content is about the years 2000 and 2001. Much of it seems to be copied from the Serbian press.

It seems that KFOR has lots of these documents - also about Albanians. They have lots of intelligence officers that make an inventory of the locals to keep busy. But most their intelligence is skin deep. The pieces that have been published are full of articles from local newspapers, rumors and superficial observations in the style of "A met B at time t". The longest files are 5 to 6 pages long. I considered translating one piece but it looked all so harmless that I didn't consider it worthwhile. Instead I will analyze interesting parts of one piece at the end of this post.

To me the main "contribution" of publication of these files seems to be to bring back to life the much more conflictuous and lawless climate of shortly after the war. People have evolved and we should deal with them as they are now - not ten years ago.

Here is an article (in Serbian) with a reaction of some of those involved.

The file on Milan Ivanovic
So let's have a look at one of the files. I have chosen Milan Ivanovic. Together with Jaksic he seems to attract most attention in the media.

At one point it is claimed that Ivanovic is "xenophobe". Here is the context: "He claims that foreign aid organizations favor Albanians and that the Serbs get less aid. He distrust foreign Albanians who illegally come to Kosovo. He wants the disarming of the UCK that he accuses of a campaign to exterminate the Serbs and other minorities. He favors a multi-ethnic Kosovo. He is a xenophobe. He gives speeches blowing hot and cold. He doesn't speak English. He distrusts Kosovars who are capable of communicating with foreigners."

He has some distrust - in a situation where just 2 years ago there was a war in which the West attacked him and he is still amidst refugees from that war. Can you really blame him for that? Maybe it is just the Westerners who are insulted that he doesn't speak more and more openly with them and that he distrusts their intentions?

Another issue is his supposed involvement in organized crime. The main text concerning this issue is "He is supposed to control fuel, medicine and building materials in Northern Kosovo. Competent businessman (smuggling?), quite sportive, has a certain influence on the population but doesn't have much idea of the hierarchy and methods of security. Takes regularly word at meetings or manifestations. Little Charisma.".

So he should control some important trades but the document is not sure whether he is involved in smuggling. Also his lack of interest in the hierarchy and methods of security suggests that he is not involved in some criminal organization. It looks as if someone has written down a couple of rumors without bothering with contradictions.

On the date 14/05/01 it is mentioned that "at the moment" there is a barricade near Zubin Potok where truck drivers must pay 1000 DM. Part of it would be for the people on the barricades and part for Vuk Antonijevic and Milan Ivanovic.

Near the end of the document it is mentioned that they are against the arrival of Covic in Kosovo because they believe that a representative from Belgrade would restrict them in their present relative liberty: "Comment from the source: that way those 3 persons have numerous advantages. Also, mr. Dimkic can obtain finances from UNMIK thanks to his position as director of Trepca while, in the case of Marko Jaksic and Milan Ivanovic they enjoy a total liberty to let flourish their dishonest activities."

Interestingly, in the Jaksic file one finds the statement that these "dishonest activities" serve to finance the bridge watchers. So the term seems to say more about the biased attitude of the analyst and his informer than of Ivanovic. Ivanovic may just be an informal leader who organizes an informal tax. This is the more probable as the text says nothing about extraordinary richness. Probably the Jaksic and Ivanovic files were composed by two different intelligence officers, illustrating the chaotic nature of these files.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Autonomy for the North of Kosovo?

An increasing stream of articles from the Kosovo Albanian press suggests that the EU is working towards more autonomy for Kosovo's North. The municipalities should get a part of the receipts at the border crossings. Interestingly, the head of the Serbian negotiation team has denied that it is at the moment an issue. But as the EU likes to work around Belgrade in Kosovo whenever possible and mainly consults it when pressure on the local Serbs is needed it may be that Stefanovic is simply kept out of the loop. So lets have a look at the plan.

The first problem is that it contains the same problem as much of the Ahtisaari Plan: it is not real autonomy as they still will need approval from Pristina for nearly every decision they make. As the article says: "The municipalities will have a special budget line that will be controlled by Pristina." The firing of police commanders in the North a month ago showed just how little such Pristina monitored autonomy is worth.

Thereby comes that the attitude of the Pristina authorities hasn't changed much as events a few months ago showed: the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Special Forces entered the Serbian side of the divided city of Mitrovica and began to forcibly remove Serbian licence plates from vehicles, seized ID cards and passports and other Serbian documents. Even student discount cards issued to university students by the Republic of Serbia’s government were seized. Those who did not produce these documents on demand were forcibly searched.. As this outrageous behavior - there were similar reports from Kosovo's South - was clearly ordered by the government it shows how Pristina really thinks of minority rights.

A second problem that only can be found in Albanian language original of the article is the criminality in the North. According to the article such autonomy would be impossible as long as organized crime rules there with people like Marko Jakšić, Milan Ivanovic and the parallel structures.

This seems to me a rather unhelpful approach. First of all it not is very helpful to equate parallel structures with organized crime. It ignores that they have primarily a nationalist function. A second problem is that while Kosovo claims that all its problems come from its unresolved status it is the truth in the North. Very few people will invest there knowing how Serbs and Serb businesses are treated elsewhere in Kosovo. So smuggling is seen as a natural alternative. And the Serbs in Northern Kosovo are certainly not the only to accept help from criminals in their ethnic struggle. Support from Albanian criminals for the KLA was widely known and in the Bosnia war all sides had support from local criminals.

So this approach creates a kind of chicken and egg problem where the end of criminality is demanded as a condition for creating the kind of climate where criminality is no longer seen as needed to support the ethnic survival. It might help if the advocates of this approach studied the failure of "standards before status".

Thaci is in serious financial trouble. The wage hikes he gave before the elections were against his commitments with the IMF and the IMF has answered with sanctions - meaning less loans. Other organizations like the EU follow the IMF in this and it is estimated that in total Kosovo gets some 200 million dollar less. I wouldn't be surprised if one of these days Thaci is no longer able to pay wages. I suppose that this financial trouble was one of the main reasons for the attack on the border posts. The amount of money Serbia invests in Kosovo to support the Serb minority more than offsets the losses Kosovo makes at the border but that doesn't count in this context. I suppose Thaci's financial difficulties are also considered a problem by Western diplomats and that they won't be satisfied with a solution that doesn't at least partially addresses this problem.

Then there is the problem of the US. In the past the US has not exactly been cooperative when it came to proposals for more autonomy. An often heard objection is that they don't want a second Bosnia with its ossified ethnic relations. However, I think they misread Bosnia. The problem in Bosnia is not so much the entities, it is that these entities are constantly under threat to be abolished.

There is an old saying: "good fences make good neighbors". Its message is that when you don't trust each other completely on some subject you should make the agreement on that subject explicit. That removes that subject as a potential source of conflict and opens the way for a better relationship. For a similar reason rich people marry often with a detailed marriage contract. In the same way the entities serve as a guarantee that neither ethnic group will ever be completely powerless as they will always have their "own" area to fall back on. Just recently we have seen how the lack of such guarantees for the Croats evoked an escalation in the relation between Muslims and Croats.

The US may be pacified by calling it not autonomy but a "special status". It unclear to me what that will mean in practice.

border changes
As I have repeatedly mentioned I would prefer border changes in Kosovo. With their clarity they can avoid of a lot of the trouble that we see in Bosnia where - unfortunately egged on by outsiders - there is disagreement about the purpose of the agreement and some want to change it. The Western countries have raised objections but in my opinion they don't hold.

According to international law countries have the right to decide in mutual agreement to border changes. In the West this right might well be exercised in the near future, for example in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Belgium and no one objects to that. However, at the same time the West is denying similar rights to the Balkans. To me it seems that one more time - after 1878, 1919 and 1920 - the West imposes borders on the Balkan and believes that they will be eternal.

An often heard objection is the domino effect: other minorities like the Bosnian Serbs and the Macedonian Albanians would demand the same and the result would be an avalanche of ethnic conflicts. My position is that these negotiations should have been held already in 1991. They weren't because of intellectual laziness of Westerners that didn't want to be bothered with tedious negotiations about often minute details. They also hoped that once a new country was formed the issues would solve themselves but if things were so easy the border changes of 1878, 1912, 1918 and 1945 would each have settled things already. The interethnic relations are nowhere as bad as in Kosovo and I am convinced that these other countries can resolve their internal problems peacefully. Although of course it could help if some real mediators from the West kept an objective eye on it.

Some Americans and Europeans like to declare that a partition of the North is impossible because the Albanians reject it. However, some months ago we saw in the press one Albanian after another discussing partition. The discussion abruptly ended with the visit of an US official to Pristina. Albanians publicly reject partition primarily because they believe that it will diminish American support for their case - not because they are fundamentally against it. Westerners who see a fierce rejection are just hearing what they want to hear. It is their fear of a domino effect that is the primary obstacle - not Albanian extremism.

It will be great help if the West when new negotiations happen finally stops with its habit of rewarding violence as it did on many prior occasions, like the 10 day war in Slovenia, the 2001 war in Macedonia and most recently Kosovo's grab of the border posts. This policy of rewarding violence makes peaceful negotiations more difficult.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bühler's homefront

In other to understand general major Bühler's position on Kosovo better it may be good to have some closer look at the German media. The following blogpost appeared in a German defense related blog on 30 juli.

Kosovo: No end to the tension in sight

T.Wiegold 30. Juli 2011 · | 56 Comments

As a precaution we keep keep holding an eye on the situation in Kosovo…

Have the Kosovo Serbs won the power struggle with NATO as DPA reported today? Or has the (German) KFOR-comander general major Erhard Bühler only temporarily declined to remove the blockades as the Tanjug reports from an interview of Bühler with a Kosovo television station?

This may not happen a second time. Next time we have to use violence and everyone should know that, said Bühler here

(I would have loved to link to a situation description at, where it is among others reported that the mission of the ORF-battallion to Kosovo o es unter anderem heisst, dass die Entsendung des ORF-Bataillons in den Kosovo still isn't definitive… Unfortunately the site is down.)

Subscript: Interesting report of the Swiss Depeschen-Agentur (sda) on the employment of Swiss soldiers (Swisscoy). The surprising thing: among the whole 6000 men NATO employment in Kosovo the Swiss have the only two helicopters that can fly at might?!

As can be seen from the 56 comments this evoked a strong discussion. The tendency was that what was already shown in the blog post: criticism of NATO for weakness. It went so far that Bühler felt the need to reply on 2 august at 0:11 in the morning:

I will once try to supply some facts for your discussion. The KFOR-supply convoy consisted of some 15 vehicles, partly tractor trailers, the personal was 50% civilian. It was stopped at a 700m deep staggered blockade that consisted of trucks, tree trunks, building material and mounds of gravel. Around the blockade a mass of some 1500-2000 people had formed. In addition some 200 to 300 radicals that were armed with guns and hand grenades had mixed amonst the protesters, partly on the hills left and right of the convoy. They had fired at least four (untargeted?) shots with automatic weapons. That they don't carry weapons for nothing have thy shown on previous days with attacks on a KFOR-helicopter and a KFOR-company at the Jarinje border crossing. The company had in the fire fight maintained its position against the attackers, but could not prevent that the border station was set on fire with firebombs.

We could introduce from our own forces we could introduce one company from the North and one from South and a treain with EULEX police. More was not available because of the tense situation n the whole North. There was no ultimatum. It was more so that simultaneously with the negotiations we introduced and employed reinforcements.

It was clear to me at the time of the decision that this would expose me to public criticism. This didn't happen by the way in Kosovo while people there know tha such scenarios are not comparable to police situations in Germany. But I felt life and limb of the demonstrating citizens, including women and children, and my soldiers more important than the short term, otherwise very uncertain success of a violent eviction of the roadblock and enforcement of the right to freedom of movement of KFOR. Tactical success - if they might occur at all due to the facts presented - can be strategic, long-term effective defeats. Critical to the long-term success of KFOR, the acceptance by both the ethnic groups - who by the way are no longer hostile in the whole of Kosovo. The population in the north is already far too long a hostage of radical political structures, extremists and criminals that have unfortunately developed in the north because of a much too long time without law and order. In the currently very volatile situation, one may risk not to contribute to the further escalation by inappropriate action. Moreover, my soldiers have evacuated in the past two nights four roadblocks in the north by taking advantage of surprise ....

With kind greetings from Pristina

What misses is the realization that the use of soldiers for police tasks should be exceptional. KFOR should be for events like march 2004. In the present it should have done the absolute minimum: bring the special police back to Southern Mitrovica. Syria is no exception: when soldiers do police work there is always a high risk of deadly victims. Bühler tries to evade the responsibility by stressing that there are armed Serbs present. But doing that he evades the fact that soldiers are not trained for this kind of situations and that with his actions Bühler is putting civilian lives at risk. In addition he violates the neutrality of his force.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Culture, negotiation tactics and North Kosovo

Both Serbia and the USA have an in-your-face culture where not much effort is spent on diplomatic niceties and where power is respected. In general not much time is spent explaining your position. It is a strategy that works when you are the strongest but gives problems when someone else is stronger. Interestingly Serbia's adversaries have been successful with the opposite strategy. Instead of arrogance they try to befriend as much people and countries as they can and they spend a lot of effort and money on propaganda. This doesn't mean that they are weak: they stick very stubbornly to their "principles" and refuse any concession where the payback is not very clear.

Kostunica understood this dynamic at least partially. When faced with the US dominated West he adopted at least some stubborn tactics. He wasn't very good in making friends in the West or propaganda but being a lawyer he stubbornly sticked to Serbia's legal rights in Kosovo and that worked. As soon as Tadic rose to power however this vision disappeared. Tadic made one concession after another to the West and each time he asked his audience to trust him. In 2008 he prevented a Russian resolution that might have prevented the transfer of power from UNMIK to EULEX. Later he failed to protest Albanian moves to fire police commanders and most recently he has he has reached a very weak compromise with KFOR on the border posts. He seems unaware that each surrender leads to an increased impression of weakness and that as a consequence new demands or unilateral moves happen.

I am not going to advice on strategy (Tadic might ask Kostunica), but I want to end with a quote from a recent blogpost by Daniel Serwer, an influential voice in America's Balkan policy, that illustrates how far Tadic has failed in explaining his vision on Kosovo to the West. The fragment comes after Serwer has explained that he understands the Albanian position:

I confess to less certainty about Serbia’s perspective. When Belgrade used to say that all of Kosovo is its Jerusalem and therefore cannot be independent, I understand both the sentiment and the implications, even if I can’t agree with the conclusion. But when Belgrade says, as it has lately, that it wants a deal to keep the north, that is more than a little puzzling. None of the main Serbian monuments, churches or monasteries are in the north. Most of the Serb population lives in the south. And the north would have a wide degree of autonomy if the Ahtisaari plan were implemented there.

The only serious objection to the Ahtisaari plan I’ve heard is that it would make Belgrade’s legitimate payments (pensions, teachers, etc.) to the north go through Pristina; some worry that they might be blocked there. This is a soluble problem, not an insurmountable one.

Some people tell me the real issue is Trepca, the large mine that has long dominated the economy of the north. Others say it is face saving: Serbia has to get something, if only “Ahtisaari plus,” whatever that means. Otherwise, Boris Tadic and his Democratic Party will lose the next election to the more nationalist, but now rhetorically quite tame, Tomislav Nikolic. Sometimes I think it is inat (usually translated “spite”) and the hope that by eventually surrendering Belgrade can extract concessions of more importance elsewhere (extraterritoriality for the Serb monasteries for example). Some claim that taking the north is just part of Belgrade’s persistent attachment to the idea of Greater Serbia, and the underlying notion that wherever Serbs are in the numerical majority that territory should be part of Serbia.

But I really don’t get it, so I invite readers to offer contributions to

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Bühler interview in Tagesspiegel

Hereby a rough translation of an interview with Bühler in the German newspaper Tagesspiegel of 4 august:

Kfor Commander in interview

"We want to avoid escalation"

NATO has increased its commitment in the crisis region at the border between Serbia and Kosovo. Much too long has the lawless space in the North of Kosovo left to fence for itself. The German Kfor Commander Erhard Bühler on the sources of the conflict.

General Bühler, at the border between Serbia and Kosovo there are increasingly tensions. The KFOR troops, that you command, have been strengthened. How do you judge the situation at this point?

We have more talks. There will also be more talks at the European level. We have officially closed both border crossings: they will stay open for civilian traffic, humanitarian goods are of course passed through. Because of the severe threat of the bordercrossings and the large number of troops are they closed for heavy transports. We will keep this situation under control.

When I say "we" I mean KFOR, EULEX, but also the police. One must give the people more trust that the security organisations have the situation under control. And one must try to avoid any further escalation, and that is what we do. We will strengthen KFOR with the ORF battalion, an operational reserve from Germany and Austria. They will come here one of these days, not to escalate but simply to have more people. At the moment is everyone very tense, we are in essence with all people outside. I don't have any reserve left. That's why I welcome the step of NATO to send this battalion here.

The North of Kosovo was and is in fact a lawless zone. The government in Pristina doesn't control it. The influence of Serbia is limited. There are local kapo's, who are a mix of smugglers, businessmen and members of organized crime. Shouldn't one finally enforce the rule of law?

That should have been done long before. That is one of the causes of the present problems. It has much too long been allowed that radical structures arose. Those are specially very criminal structures, that by the way are multi-ethnic. These structures, radicals and criminals, are focused on keeping their power. It is about money, and they are the people that really have the power in the North. They are also the people that direct and pay the armed forces. They are the people that direct the roadblocks and they also pay the people that stand at the roadblocks. In essence they take the peaceloving population in the North to a certain extent as hostages.

This conflict in the North is not a direct conflict between Albanians and Serbs because there are very few Albanians there. How big do you estimate the danger that the tensions will spread to the South where the SErbs live in enclaves?

I am grateful that the population in the South of Kosovo looks very calm at the situation. I am grateful that they trust KFOR. We work on it and we keep also an eye on the South. We certainly cannot exclude incidents. But I believe that we don't have to expect larger incidents.

How do you judge the role of Serbia?

I believe that it is in the interest of Serbia that the situation in Kosovo, in the North of Kosovo, stays calm. In that sense I believe that the governmental actors - also in Pristina, also the international community - have a very high interest that the dialogue is continued and that as condition for that the situation calms down.

Kosovo is now more than 3 years independent. Formally, because it doesn't control its whole territory. Which security policy lessons should the European Union draw from these events, concerning the North? Shouldn't one inevitably conclude that this shouldn't continue.

I believe that this conclusion has been drawn, for a long time already. But I think that we must step-by-step also act: Law and order should also apply to the North, that is the deciding question. We have enough EULEX police in the country, that can act with support of KFOR. Law and order must there be enforce, so that subsequently the politicians can achieve political solutions.

Erhard Bühler (55) is major-general in the German army and since 1 september 2010 Commander of KFOR in Kosovo. The interviewer was Christian Wehrschütz.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Why Cooper is an improbable negotiator

I spent some time looking up who Robert Cooper, who mediates the negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia. He certainly is a heavyweight: He was the top advisor of Tony Blair (remember the "poodle politics") and now he is director general for External and Politico-Military Affairs at the Council of the European Union.

Cooper is best known as an intellectual who wrote several books and the article "The new liberal imperialism". In his vision we are living in a postmodern world where states cede more and more legislative power to international institutions. One quote: What is the origin of this basic change in the state system? The fundamental point is that "the world's grown honest". A large number of the most powerful states no longer want to fight or conquer. It is this that gives rise to both the pre-modern and postmodern worlds. Imperialism in the traditional sense is dead, at least among the Western powers.

His vision on failed states has been very influential. He calls these the "pre-modern world". In the past greedy colonial powers or contestants in the Cold War would have taken over power in such areas for their own benefits and created order in the process but that is no longer the case. According to Cooper: What is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values. We can already discern its outline: an imperialism which, like all imperialism, aims to bring order and organisation but which rests today on the voluntary principle..

One type of this imperialism is that by the institutions like the IMF and the World Bank that increasingly emphasize good governance. The other is "imperialism of the neighbors". This is what we see in former Yugoslavia: Instability in your neighbourhood poses threats which no state can ignore. Misgovernment, ethnic violence and crime in the Balkans poses a threat to Europe. The response has been to create something like a voluntary UN protectorate in Bosnia and Kosovo. It is no surprise that in both cases the High Representative is European. Europe provides most of the aid that keeps Bosnia and Kosovo running and most of the soldiers (though the US presence is an indispensable stabilising factor). In a further unprecedented move, the EU has offered unilateral free-market access to all the countries of the former Yugoslavia for all products including most agricultural produce. It is not just soldiers that come from the international community; it is police, judges, prison officers, central bankers and others. Elections are organised and monitored by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Local police are financed and trained by the UN. As auxiliaries to this effort - in many areas indispensable to it - are over a hundred NGOs.

On Kosovo his vision became clear in one of the Wikileaks Cables: Cooper stated that we have had some small successes in Kosovo and some failures. The Battle of Kosovo Polje anniversary passed without incident, with the Serbian royal family making some usefully anodyne speeches. But decentralization in Kosovo will not succeed. Serbian President Tadic has said that Serbia cannot call on Kosovo Serbs to vote in Kosovo,s elections. EUSR for Kosovo Pieter Feith thought we should think of 2011 as a deadline for bringing the ICO process to an end: according to Feith, once a state is up and running, the international community should step back. The "six point" agenda is largely dead. If one thing fails it means that you will have to try something else of course.

So what is my take on Cooper:

First of all he is a cosmopolitan, the kind of guy who has lived in so many countries and met people from so many countries that he no longer feels connected to one. He has become the kind of person that thinks that nation states are something primitive. The problem with this vision is that democracy becomes meaningless as there is no longer a feeling of common interests. And indeed Cooper is happy about the steady erosion of the powers of our national governments. Instead there are his "cosmopolitan values" like the ICC and the international treaties.

Cooper is wrong when he thinks that this is something new. The world's upper class has been international for many centuries. Even in the Middle Ages there numerous international marriages between members of the nobility. And where we face the power of the multinational cooperations people in the Middle Ages faced another powerful multinational: the Church. The international elite may now be a bit larger than in the past and have better means to stay in contact with its other, but they are still a very small percentage of the population. And that is unlikely to change.

Cooper is also wrong about the importance of the internationalization for peace. There are many other factors like the atom bomb and the fact that most wars are likely to cost more than they will ever deliver in booty and favorable treaties. And when one sees Western diplomats pummeling nations with threats of sanctions one gets the impression that the means have changed but the goals have stayed the same.

The cosmopolitan world view has been specially harmful in the Balkans. In the cosmopolitan world view nationalism is something for people like Le Pen and Wilders who thrive on fueling resentment against other groups. Any ethnic or nation identity is above their comprehension. So when they are confronted with a situation where these are very alive they try to reason them away. The favorite tactic is to assign one politician to the Wilders category and to assume that others are simply reacting.

This disability to see that ethnic groups have conflicting interests that have to be reconciled and this tendency to attribute demands of ethnic groups to racist attitudes is visible in the attitude of Cooper in the recent trouble in Norhern Kosovo too. That is why I think he should be replaced as negotiator.

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.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Rewarding violence in Kosovo

Does anyone remember how the violence in former Yugoslavia began? It was when Slovenia occupied its border posts. The violence was rewarded by the EU that in following 10-days war put enormous pressure on the Yugoslav Army to withdraw. Since then it has often been noticed that if the EU hadn't rewarded violence at that point the other Yugoslav conflicts might have been solved more peacefully too.

Now we see that after Kosovo's unilateral occupation of the border posts the EU and the US are again rewarding violence by insisting on a final outcome that is more to the liking of Pristina than the situation before their action. It can only be expected that this rewarding of violence will produce more violence.

Of course this is not the first time that our peace keepers have rewarded violence. They did the same after the march 2004 riots when they suddenly dropped their "standards before status" requirements.

Why border changes in former Yugoslavia are not a problem

In the Helsinki Accords of 1975 it was agreed that "frontiers can be changed, in accordance with international law, by peaceful means and by agreement." while "The participating States will respect the territorial integrity of each of the participating States.".

This makes sense. Border conflicts tend to last for many decades and have often been a major cause for wars. If all future border changes in the world are made in mutual agreement there will be no new border conflicts and the world will slowly become a more peaceful place.

However, strange things happened regarding Yugoslavia around 1990. Milosevic rose to power. As is so often the case with populists he had valid points but the ways he pushed them were not always helpful and he had a talent for rubbing both local and international elites the wrong way. Western anti-communists were horrified that communists were able to win elections and demonized Milosevic. Slovenian and Croatian nationalists grabbed this opportunity to promote their cause in the West. Western support went so far that they even supported Slovenia's and Croatia's opposition to national Yugoslav elections.

As a consequence when Slovenia declared its independence in June 1991 they got strong Western diplomatic support in the following 10-days war. As a result the Yugoslav army had to leave Slovenia. The West certainly crossed here the line when it came to non-interference in internal affairs and respect for the territorial integrity of states. And this certainly was not necessary to preserve the peace. In fact the West rewarded Slovenian aggression.

As is so often the case: one wrong step leads to the next. The next steps came in December 1991 and January 1992 when the Badinter Commission declared that Yugoslavia was in the process of dissolution and that from now on the republics were the successor states and their borders were just as sacred as Yugoslavia's had once been. Of course it is absurd that some EU advisory commission can define another state out of existence. If this should be possible at all it should be the privilege of the UN. Also the term "in the process of dissolution" was disingenuous: it allowed the commission to ignore a state that was still functioning quite well.

But the biggest problem was the statement that the borders of the republics were now protected by international law. One reason to respect existing borders is that they already have some legitimacy and that they have been proven to be viable in peace time. But that was not the case with the internal borders of Yugoslavia. In the course of its history Yugoslavia had several times completely changed its internal borders and while ethnicity had played some role in the present borders there were also considerations that shouldn't count when delimiting international borders - like the balance of power between the ethnic groups. In addition there was serious doubt whether the new borders were viable. The political troubles and the following wars indicated that those republics as they came out of Yugoslavia were unstable states that needed considerable changes before becoming stable. Even mono-ethnic Slovenia robbed 130,000 people of their citizenship.

Western politicians like to blame the following wars on Milosevic or on uncivilized Balkanians, but in fact it was they who created the instable and unlawful situation that was the main cause of the wars.

Since then Western politicians have resisted even mutually agreed border changes as they might produce a domino effect of border changes elsewhere. It is a typical case of being right for the wrong reasons. Having blocked negotiations when they were most easy to do - before independence - we now face situations where there is still no common vision. We can hold negotiations now under international supervision that takes care of fairness. But if we don't hold them the issues won't go away. Most likely they will jump up moments when the rest of the world is busy with other things and not capable of guaranteeing a peaceful outcome.

In fact the "sacred border" policy has worked nowhere:
- in Croatia it ended with a war and the permanent expulsion of 400,000 Serbs. The idea is that if you give one side all the power there is no problem. Unfortunately there are no minority rights then too.
The problem with this kind of "solution" is that they can poison mutual relations for a very long time. After 65 years Silesia and Sudetenland are still sore points in Germany's relations with resp. Poland and Czechia.

- in Bosnia it first led to a war and then to a state where many among the Serbs and Croats would want to leave. The Muslims claim to favor a multi-ethnic state but when one considers their results - how many Serbs and Croats remain in the Muslim-controlled area and how many are included in positions of power in local administrations - they seem at least as nationalistic as the others.
In the mean time some Western activists advocate the suppression of all nationalists in Bosnia. But that is what has been done the last 16 years and it hasn't helped. As soon as the Western pressure reduces the nationalists arise again as the issue of interethnic relations hasn't been solved. The recent troubles in the Federation show that it isn't the model for the whole of Bosnia that many Western idealists hoped.

- Macedonia was saved the troubles in the 1990s as the Albanians felt too weak. But after the Kosovo War they felt powerful enough to come with their demands. The situation is now stable but I won't be surprised when additional Albanian demands arise once Kosovo becomes international recognized.

- As Kosovo was no republic in Yugoslavia officially the "sacred border" doctrine did not apply here. yet out of fear for the domino effect the West has introduced it here as well.
If this continues the effect will most likely be similar to what happened in Croatia. After the 1999 war already over 200,000 people fled Kosovo and have never been able to return. Those remaining are mainly living in enclaves and subject to discrimination and pressure to sell their houses and land for cheap. As a consequence young minorities are leaving en masse and it is expected that many enclaves will die out in a few decades, a process sometimes called soft cleansing. Recently the US and EU are putting more and more pressure on Serbia to allow the same treatment for the Serbs who live in Northern Kosovo.

It is time that the West finally recognizes that the decision to declare Yugoslavia "in the process of dissolution" was wrong. Without that decision Yugoslavia might have dissolved anyway after a few years (it is hard to keep a country together when the north is four times as rich as the south) but it would have happened after the post-secession constellation of the new states had been thoroughly negotiated and necessary border corrections had been applied. The decision of the Badinter Commission prevented such negotiations and as a consequence there still isn't agreement among the ethnic groups of former Yugoslavia on how to live together. This has led to war and ethnic cleansing and the end is still not in sight. Let's finally begin to do the dissolution of Yugoslavia in a responsible way.

Pessimists like to claim that calls for border changes might happen everywhere in the Balkans. For example the Bulgarian minority in Serbia and the Albanian minority in Montenegro (that lives on the coast near Albania) might want to secede too. What they forget is that those borders have existed for many years without problems, are internationally recognized and without major problems. In contrast some of the borders between the former Yugoslav republics have a low legitimacy among the local population.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Ethnic noise to cover hard reality in Kosovo

Kosovo has reached an agreement with the IMF and the World Bank.

It looks like the Kosovo government has found this period of ethnic tension the perfect time to get an agreement with the IMF. Most probably the inevitable budget cuts will hardly be noticed by the local mass media.

It may have been one of the reasons to start the trouble.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Obama's demise

Since the budget agreement in the US the world's bourses are in falling fast. I think it is not so much the agreement itself as the disappointment in Obama that has caused this fall.

It started with the weak handling of the financial crisis. Obama pumped lots of money in the economy while it would have seemed more logical to push out the excesses first before starting to stimulate. Pumping to keep up leaking balloons is not a wise policy. But soon it appeared that Obama was really addicted to Wall Street when he passed nearly every opportunity to make Wall Street more accountable.

Obama got some credit for passing the health insurance legislation. But later on it appeared that it was an incoherent law that gave major benefits to special interests. And its lack of attention to costs make it doubtful that it will survive long in its present form.

Later on Obama passed the opportunity to raise taxes for the rich. The weak "concessions" he got in return from the Republicans raised the question what he was doing. Did he believe the Republican position? Was he a weakling who gave up in face of a bit of opposition?

The most recent agreement raises the same questions. It is full of points that have to be decided later - opening many opportunities for the Republicans to blackmail him again. No self respecting president would have accepted such conditions.

It is starting to look more and more like Obama's problem is weakness. This isn't about left or right. This is about (not) having a vision and defending it. It is starting to look like Obama's only loyalty is to the people who finance his campaigns.

This article {"Bruised, battered - and beaten?"} claims that the problem is that Obama is an idealist who believes in the power of words but who has no feeling for the dirty political handwork.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Labyrinthian International Geopolitics of the Libyan Conflict

Here is a nice article by Peter Lee on the Libyan conflict including the Western miscalculations like Sarkozy's advisors who thought Gadaffi would flee after the first bombs. It also pays some attention to the Kosovo precedent.