After trying to resolve Kosovo's status, diplomats have given up. The U.S and the EU now need to back the compromise proposed by UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari and re-affirm the region's European trajectory.
After months of negotiations to resolve the status of Kosovo, the Troika - of the EU, U.S and Russia - have now given up. Kosovars have made clear that their goal is independence, even if they are willing to wait a few months for it. Backed by Russia, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has spelled out his firm opposition. Last week his allies began threatening military action should the Kosovo government declare independence unilaterally.
Given this situation, the norm in international politics would be to freeze the status quo. That is what Serbia would prefer. It is also what Russia and Cyprus would prefer.
But this is no longer an option. Kosovo cannot be run from Belgrade again. Serbia may have been a different country under Slobodan Milosevic, but the ethnic cleansing of the 1999 cannot be washed away. The Kosovo government have played a savvy game, forswearing violence and unilateralism. But if the prospects of statehood are postponed, this could change.
What to do then? Behind the scenes, the EU and the U.S have been working hand-in-glove to pave the way for the compromise solution presented earlier this year by UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari. The so-called Ahtisaari Plan is based on a notion of internationally-supervised independence - much like in Bosnia-Herzegovina - combined with provisions for the Kosovo-Serbian minority. As part of this, UNMIK would hand-over to an International Civilian Office - most likely headed by Dutchman Pieter Feith, who negotiated peace in southern Serbia a decade ago - and a EU Rule of Law mission, currently being planned by Danish expert Kasper Clynge, but ultimately to be headed by the French former KFOR commander Yves de Kermabon.
The proposal was endorsed by the UN Secretary General, a majority of the UN Security Council and most European countries. Regrettably, the proposal was scupperred by fears of a Russian veto in the UN Security Council.
The EU's support for successive rounds of negotiations on Kosovo shows how seriously everyone has taken dialogue. But it is now necessary to resolve the province's status peacefully, once and for all, and with guarantees for the Kosovo-Serbs. That means putting Ahtisaari's plan back on the table. If the UN Security Council cannot agree to do so, then the U.S and the EU need to take their cooperation one step further and proceed alone. The alternative is worse.
As former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told an audience in Chicago in 1999 on the eve of NATO's intervention still stands today: "we need to find a new way to make the UN and its Security Council work if we are not to return to the deadlock that undermined the effectiveness of the Security Council during the Cold War." Moving ahead, even if it means circumventing the UN Security Council, is clearly the right thing to do in this case.
The only problem may be for the EU mission and the ICO, which, according to EU planners, are dependent on a UN resolution. However, if no UN resolution is forthcoming, the EU mission could probably be invited in, much like EU missions elsewhere such as in Albania and Macedonia. It would not have the force of a Chapter 7 resolution, but EU should still be able to do much of its work. Either way, it should be made clear to Russia and Serbia that the EU is willing to go down this route if what everyone prefers - a new UN resolution - is out of reach.
As a corollary to Ahtisaari's plan, the EU needs to bring the prospect of European integration back to the region. For years, the EU had assumed there would be an inexorable march of progress across the continent, driven by the distant lure of expansion. But many in Serbia - and parts of Bosnia - are now tempted to march to the beat of Moscow's drum instead. They too see the enlargement fatigue, which has come over France, Netherlands and other EU countries.
As Kurt Bassuener has argued on this website, "mixed signals" from the EU have not been helpful. Both NATO and the EU will need to forge ahead with expansion while maintaining the integrity of membership. In late November, Greece floated a proposal, which called for exactly this. It argued for the EU to sign Stabilization and Association Agreements with Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina. Such agreements have now been initialled. The next step is the signature and then both countries should be encouraged to apply for membership while the European Commission could present the avis on their applications in the fall of 2008.The December European Council of 2008 could then decide on whether to grant candidate status. At the same time, Albania, Croatia and Macedonia's entry into NATO in 2008 should be a priority.
The EU has an overriding commitment to the security and prosperity of the people of the Western Balkans, who have suffered for too long from wranglings over borders. In addressing not only Kosovo, but also the future of other countries in the region, the EU must be creative in offering economic incentives for stability and growth, yet firm in insisting on high standards on human rights, policing and political representation. Above all, the region's eventual EU accession - accepted by even the Russians (judging from their draft UN Security Council resolution) - must be made into a genuine prospect. Once Kosovo begins its moves towards statehood, a curtain can be drawn over the region's bloody past and its next act - one dominated by European integration - can begin
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The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.