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The Balkans After the Independence of Kosovo and on the Eve of NATO Enlargement

Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs
Testimony Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Washington, DC
March 12, 2008

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As prepared

Chairman Berman, Ranking Member Ros-Lehtinen, Members of the Committee, thank you for giving me this opportunity to discuss the current status of the political situation in the Balkans. Before I proceed, I would like once again to share our sense of loss at the passing of Chairman Lantos. His was a moral voice that will be deeply missed. We look forward to working with the new Chairman.

Geography places the Balkans at an edge of Europe; history puts it front and center. The 20th century began with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and ended with the dissolution of Yugoslavia. The two very bloody conflicts that sandwiched the last century were fueled by the same scourge: violent ethnic nationalism. It should not surprise that the noun associated with the region is “Balkanization”. The term was coined in 1919 and Merriam-Webster defines it as “to break up into smaller and often hostile units.”

Given this history, our efforts in the Balkans are based on one overarching objective: the integration of the region into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Over the decades, those institutions helped historical enemies in Europe to overcome their enmity and to shore up democracy where its foundations needed strengthening. After 1989, we saw the former communist states of Central Europe accelerate political and economic transformation as they entered NATO and the EU. Bulgaria and Romania succeeded under this model. The rest of the Balkans can follow.

For the past 15 years, three U.S. administrations have sought to stabilize the region and facilitate its post-communist transition, investing significant diplomatic capital and assistance funds. Three American Presidents — Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush—articulated and advanced the strategic objective of helping Europe become whole, free, and at peace.

Today as we take stock, we can see that several countries have turned a corner. Much work remains, but realism about challenges ahead should not obscure the prospects for success. I will start this overview with:

  • Kosovo, Europe’s newest democracy.
  • Then, I will address Serbia, whose path to Europe must be nurtured, even more so in the wake of Kosovo’s declaration of independence.
  • Following that, I will discuss Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is in need of reform.
  • Finally, I will discuss the so-called Adriatic three--Albania, Croatia and Macedonia and another newly independent state--Montenegro.

Kosovo’s declaration of independence was the last chapter in the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Whether Yugoslavia had its merits as one way to deal with that region’s ethnic mix is a matter for historians. Slobodan Milosevic’s ravages ended this multi-national effort.

The break up of Yugoslavia was nonconsensual and exceedingly violent. In 1989, Milosevic stripped Kosovo of the autonomy it had enjoyed within Yugoslavia. This act of nationalist chauvinism sowed the seeds of the entire Balkans conflict. Wars throughout the region followed. An apartheid-like system of ethnic rule in Kosovo and Milosevic’s policy of ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians necessitated NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999.

The United Nations, whose Security Council had issued seven resolutions on Kosovo, administered Kosovo since the end of the conflict acting under Resolution 1244. That same resolution authorized a NATO-led peacekeeping force to provide for a safe and secure environment. These could only be temporary arrangements.

International negotiations on Kosovo’s status lasted two years. Both the efforts of UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari and the EU-US-Russia Troika did not bring Belgrade and Pristina closer together. But President Ahtisaari nevertheless provided a blueprint for Kosovo’s future: a comprehensive plan to ensure protection of minorities and to foster Kosovo’s democratic development.

The people of Kosovo understandably refused to endure perpetual uncertainty about their status. On February 17, agreeing with the Troika that there was no prospect of an agreement with Serbia, they brought closure to the issue by declaring Kosovo to be an independent and sovereign state. In its declaration, the Kosovo Assembly committed to implementing the Ahtisaari Plan and invited the international community to supervise its implementation. In response, the United States and key European partners recognized Kosovo’s independence, in line with the recommendations of UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari.

We must deal with short-term challenges of security and longer-term challenges of Kosovo’s development. These are serious. Many things can go wrong and some things probably will. But leaving Kosovo in limbo under UN administration could not continue indefinitely. Instead, we have witnessed the birth of the world’s newest democracy.

Since independence, the Kosovars have moved swiftly to implement obligations under the Ahtisaari Plan to respect and above all protect minorities, especially the Serbs. The Government of Kosovo not only includes Serb ministers, but also has taken steps to reach out to local Serbs and assure them they are welcome in a multi-ethnic Kosovo. It is significant that Serbs have not left Kosovo to become refugees in Serbia. While these are still early days, that is a good beginning.

The international community now has a responsibility to assist Kosovo develop.

With its explicit consent, Kosovo will be “supervised” for a period by an International Civilian Office (ICO). This office will be European-led, but with strong U.S. participation. In late February, a newly formed International Steering Group for Kosovo appointed former Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith to be the International Civilian Representative for Kosovo to head the ICO. In this capacity, Mr. Feith will possess certain executive powers to ensure the Ahtisaari Plan is fully implemented.

The ICO deputy is a senior U.S. Foreign Service Officer, and the Administration also will second a number of other State Department staff and contractors to the operation. The United States will cover 25 percent of ICO operating costs, with the remainder coming from contributions from the European Commission, and other states.

The EU will deploy a rule of law mission, called “EULEX”, to Kosovo, with around 1,900 international staff and around 1,100 local staff. Its mission will include support and training for the Kosovo police and judicial system. The United States has made a commitment in principle to participate in this key European Security and Defense Policy mission with approximately 80 police, 2 judges and 4-6 prosecutors. The EU will bear the brunt of the 190 million euro annual operating cost of the mission.

NATO, through KFOR, has continued to provide security on the ground. It remains authorized to operate in Kosovo under UNSCR 1244. We expect that NATO will also play a key role in the establishment of a new Kosovo Security Force and a civilian agency to oversee it. Kosovo is eager to contribute to NATO, the organization that intervened to save the people of Kosovo during their darkest hour.

These three institutions: the ICO, EULEX, and KFOR will help put Kosovo on the right trajectory – toward Europe and away from the Balkan cycle of dictatorship, nationalism, and war.

Kosovo may not be a strong country now, but with our assistance, and the support of the World Bank and IMF, Kosovo will be viable. It has large lignite coal reserves; it has hydro-power potential. It has a young, motivated population, yearning to join the European family. We need, however, to focus international resources on realizing the economic potential of Kosovo’s industrious people.

To do this, the United States will participate in a major donors’ conference this summer. Although Europe will contribute the majority of assistance to Kosovo, the United States and other international partners will play a role to lift Kosovo out of the economic stagnation of the last decades.

We anticipate that the EU and its member states will provide roughly 50 percent of the significant assistance that Kosovo will need in its first few years.

Kosovo has been making good progress in the month since independence. A total of 32 countries have recognized or declared their intent to recognize soon, including most of the EU member states. More will follow in due course.

Serbia

I will now turn my attention to Serbia, which has opposed Kosovo’s independence. I need not tell you that emotions have run high over this issue in Serbia. We understand Serbia’s opposition to Kosovo’s independence, and for that reason have reached out to Serbian leaders during what has been a painful period for them.

This makes the mob attack on our embassy and other embassies in Belgrade all the more disgraceful. I have spoken on other occasions about this violation of the Vienna Convention and will not dwell on it here, except to stress to the Committee that we hold Serbian authorities accountable for the safety of our diplomats and facilities.

We cannot overlook acts of violence, such as attacks on our Embassy in Belgrade, but barring such lapses in civilized behavior, our diplomatic efforts must now be focused on bringing Serbia back to the trans-Atlantic family of nations. Serbia is an important country in that region and an ally in two world wars that has much to contribute.

The choice must be for the people of Serbia to make, of course. Serbia could have a great future as part of an undivided Europe, which has made clear that it will welcome Serbia. But Serbia’s leaders must resist the lure of nationalist demagoguery and forthrightly face their country’s war legacy.

Serbia’s own people deserve better, and many are demanding better. Much has been heard of the strong Serb feelings about Kosovo. And it is true that you will probably find very few people in Serbia who wanted to see Kosovo declare independence. It is also true, however, that polls show that more than 70 percent of Serbians want integration with the EU and cite unemployment as a greater concern than the fate of Kosovo. Keeping Kosovo’s status an open question would have continued to distract Serbia’s leaders from addressing the concerns of their citizens.

Serbia has a legitimate interest in the welfare of the Serbs in Kosovo. The Ahtisaari negotiations and other efforts have given Belgrade every opportunity to shape arrangements for their protection and support. But to exercise its influence effectively, it must put aside policies of disruption and destruction, and partner with the international community and the Kosovo authorities as a good neighbor.

Serbia can, if it makes wise choices, hasten the day when Kosovo and Serbia find themselves together within the EU. The EU has been the institution through which seemingly intractable national conflicts in Europe have been resolved, and it can be so for Serbia.

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Serbia’s attitude will also have an impact on its western neighbor, Bosnia-Herzegovina. There cannot be long-term stability in the Balkans without progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The reform process there lost momentum following the failure of constitutional reform in April 2006, and in place of forward momentum, we have witnessed an increase in divisive nationalist rhetoric. Politicians need again to exhibit political courage to compromise on key reforms needed to modernize the country’s governing structures and prepare it for further Euro-Atlantic integration. They cannot afford to be lured by nationalist demagoguery, but this temptation exists among all ethnic groups.

Without a resumption of progress, Bosnia and Herzegovina will regress along nationalist lines.

Some leaders of the Bosnian entity bordering Serbia, known as Republika Srpska (or RS), have claimed parallels between Kosovo and their own future, playing with the fire of secession. They need to stop rhetoric that can take on a dangerous life of its own, and instead promote the functioning of the Bosnian state government. In short, they must not undermine the Dayton constitution that is in fact the foundation of the existence of the RS.

By the same token, Bosniak nationalist calls for the abolition of the RS are also unacceptable and have contributed to political radicalization. Reforms may upgrade but cannot supplant Dayton, which stopped the fighting, established Bosnia and Herzegovina’s internal structures, reconfirmed its territorial integrity, and garnered the support of members from all three constituent peoples.

Given our concern over the stalled reform agenda in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United States supported the Peace Implementation Council’s February 27 decision to continue the Office of the High Representative and focus on completing key objectives to ensure BiH’s self-sustaining stability. These objectives, once met, will provide greater confidence that Bosnia is on an irreversible path toward Euro-Atlantic institutions.

The next few months will be critical for Bosnia and Herzegovina. If BiH’s leaders can enact legislation to reform the country’s police structure, it will open the door to a closer relationship with the EU. Brussels has indicated a willingness to sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement soon should Bosnia and Herzegovina meet this requirement, a process we firmly support.

Adriatic Charter

Encouragingly, the three members of the Adriatic Charter – Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia – are on a positive trajectory. They show that political reform, inter-ethnic reconciliation, and economic development are achievable in the Balkans. All are now net contributors to international security. All three have succeeded in creating workable democratic institutions and free market economies. All three are with us in Afghanistan. The United States wants to see the A3 join NATO as soon as they demonstrate they meet NATO performance-based standards, and the Alliance is now considering that question for the Bucharest summit. Experience shows that progress, reforms, and constructive regional and international behavior will only grow stronger once inside the Alliance.

Albania has made steady progress on corruption, with arrests of even high-level government officials, substantial progress on judicial reform, and progress on laws to increase transparency and efficiency within the court system. Albania has strengthened its multi-party parliamentary democratic system and has focused on building consensus for further reforms. Albania’s Constitution provides for pluralism and religious coexistence, and the Albanian government upholds these rights in practice. Increased tax revenue and central government staffing cuts from Albanian reform efforts have enabled the Albanian government to double its education and health budgets and boost infrastructure investment.

Albania has a full company of troops in Mosul, Iraq, now on its 10th consecutive rotation – committed to staying until the end of the mission. Albania increased its Afghanistan commitments last fall by a full company, up from a platoon.

Croatians have built a functioning democracy through a stable, multi-party democratic political system. For example, ethnic Serbs and Croats now work together in the new government, demonstrating that such inter-ethnic cooperation is indeed possible elsewhere in the Balkans, including in Kosovo. The Croatian Serb party is supporting the center-right Croatian Democratic Party (HDZ) party, and one of its members is a deputy Prime Minister, something unthinkable five years ago.

Croatia is a valuable partner of U.S. and NATO Allies in the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Croatia bears all of its costs for participation in operation and has no caveats attached to its forces. Croatia plans to increase its participation in ISAF in 2008.

Croatia is working to close remaining war-legacy issues, primarily concerning returning refugees. It has reported meeting its 2007 benchmarks on providing housing units to returning refugees. Satisfactory resolution of this and related issues are explicitly included among the EU’s criteria for Croatia’s eventual accession to the Union. Judicial reform and attacking corruption remain another challenge, but the Croatian government is making progress. On property restitution issues, the government has promised to, but not yet amended, legislation to put non-citizens on an even footing with Croatians. The government must consider and plan for how many claims there may be against Croatia, how it would pay for these claims without threatening public finances, and how it will adopt procedures for implementing the amended law.

The commitment of successive Macedonian governments to uphold enhanced minority rights under the 2001 Ohrid Accord has brought the country forward. These efforts have broadened domestic political consensus and strengthened ethnic minority participation in decision-making. Macedonia’s progress on economic reform and fighting corruption were praised by the World Bank and Transparency International.

Macedonia has expanded steadily its contributions to international coalition operations and has able troops fighting alongside ours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Public and government support for NATO and these deployments has been very high and steady. Eleven Macedonian soldiers died recently in a helicopter crash returning from peace keeping operation duty in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Although Macedonia’s practical, business, and people-to-people ties with Greece are good, differences over Macedonia’s name pose a serious problem. The Administration has repeatedly emphasized its support for the ongoing UN-facilitated talks on the name issue. It has pressed both parties to work with UN negotiator Matt Nimetz to use the time remaining before Bucharest to come to a solution – and not to allow this issue to prevent Macedonia from being invited to join NATO if allies so decide.

Montenegro is now approaching the second anniversary of its independence, its divorce from Serbia having been negotiated under international auspices and based on a free and fair referendum. Its new constitution was adopted in Parliament last October with widespread support. While Montenegro too has internal ethnic differences, its leaders and people have addressed them through legal and peaceful means, allowing reform and economic growth to accelerate. Significantly, the Montenegrins are not dwelling on the past but making up for lost time, including making the most of their membership in NATO’s Partnership for Peace and the Stabilization and Association Agreement signed with the EU last summer.

Institutions

Increasingly, the countries of Southeast Europe are working together to overcome common problems and finding they need less assistance from the United States and the EU. The Central European Free Trade Agreement created a small common market and aided economic growth in the 1990s for countries that have since joined the EU. The effort to expand this arrangement to the Western Balkans culminated when Serbia ratified it in September 2007. The Stability Pact for Southeast Europe was another initiative of the 1990s that sought to help integrate and stabilize the region through practical cooperation in fields like customs, investment, and law enforcement. While that organization was largely a U.S. and West European initiative, it has just passed the baton to a new Regional Cooperation Council. This new body is based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, while the predecessor was in Brussels. The new Secretary General is a Croat, while his predecessor was an Austrian. These developments are real evidence of the deepening stability and maturity of societies in Southeast Europe. They show that the glass is way more than half full and filling.

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I’ve given you today an overview of the policies of this Administration toward the Balkans. It is a key region for us and for our European allies. We have made progress helping this region move from war to peace, from disintegration to sustainable development, and from a European to a Euro-Atlantic future. We have much work to do, though we have already achieved much.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to come and share our thoughts with you. I will be happy to answer your questions.



Released on March 12, 2008

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