by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the conference “Kosovo – Security for All”

  • 30 Nov. 2007
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  • Last updated: 09 Jan. 2009 15:15

It is both an honour and a pleasure for me to participate in this event, and I would like to thank the Austrian Government for its initiative in bringing us together.

We are meeting at a critical time for the future of Kosovo.  In just ten days’ time, the Contact Group will report to the UN Secretary General on the Troika-led negotiations on the future status of Kosovo.  This is a significant event, with potentially wide-ranging implications for the future of the region and that of Europe more generally.  And so it is only natural that December 10 has become a date that attracts considerable international attention.

Indeed, I visited Pristina just this morning, where I met with the Kosovo Team of Unity, Kosovo Serb representatives, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General (who now is here with us!), and the Commander of KFOR.  In all my meetings I stressed NATO’s enduring commitment to the establishment of a stable, peaceful and democratic Kosovo, and our support for the Troika process.  COMKFOR assured me of KFOR’s resolve and readiness to respond resolutely to any attempts to disrupt the safety and security of any of the people of Kosovo, minority and majority alike.  No violence will be tolerated in the sensitive period ahead, nor at any time during KFOR’s deployment for that matter. 

To all the parties concerned it should be very clear that NATO’s commitment to a safe and secure Kosovo will not end on December 10.  NATO will still be around on December 11, December 12 or as long as necessary and will remain a critical stabilising influence in the region through this period of uncertainty. 

Regardless of the outcome of the status process, Kosovo will remain a place where Kosovar Albanians, Serbs and others must be able to live in peace together – free from fear, and free from intimidation.  That is the responsibility, first and foremost, of Kosovo’s elected leaders.  But it is a continuing responsibility, also, for Kosovo’s neighbours and the whole of the international community.

Since the Kosovo-crisis erupted almost ten years ago, the NATO Alliance has made an enormous contribution to bringing security and stability to this region.  Back in 1999, the mounting humanitarian tragedy in and around Kosovo compelled NATO to undertake a major air campaign to force the Milosevic government to stop its policy of ethnic cleansing. 

When the air campaign was over, and Milosevic had accepted the demands of the international community, NATO deployed 40,000 troops under a mandate provided by UN Security Council Resolution 1244.  Within only a few weeks, well over a million refugees were able to return to their homes, with high hopes for a better future.

But NATO’s efforts were never confined to just keeping the peace.  We have also engaged to address some of the root causes of the conflict and to facilitate progress more widely. We played a major role in disbanding the Kosovo Liberation Army.  We helped to clear mines and to re-build roads. We have worked together effectively with UNMIK, and assisted other institutions to carry out their work.  And we have encouraged Pristina and Belgrade to enter into a genuine dialogue.

Kosovo is now at a critical juncture.  Its future rests firmly in the hands of the people in the region.  The international community cannot impose self-sustaining peace and prosperity, but neither can they be imported.  For Kosovo to fulfil its dream of peace and prosperity, its leaders must fulfil their responsibility to promote, and to implement, a policy of moderation.  Kosovar Albanians and Kosovar Serbs must refrain from hasty decisions.  No one, whether in Pristina or in Belgrade, should let feelings of nationalism cloud their judgement.

Real, tangible progress will require all communities to refrain from provocative rhetoric, and to work together pragmatically.  And this is a challenge for the Kosovo Serbs as much as it is for the Kosovo Albanians.  The recent elections were a case in point.  The fact that there were no incidents during the campaign and on Election Day testifies both to KFOR’s preparedness as well as to the growing maturity of the political process in Kosovo.  Yet I will not hide my disappointment about the lack of participation – by the Kosovo Albanians and in particular by the Kosovo Serb community.  It is absolutely essential to their own future – and that of Kosovo – that all citizens participate actively in the political process.

Given the burden of history in this region, it will remain difficult for the people of Kosovo – ethnic Albanians, Serbs and others – to live side by side, in a spirit of cooperation.  No one underestimates this challenge.  After all that has happened, it means asking a lot from the people in the region.  But it is a challenge that absolutely must be met if the people of Kosovo and the wider region are to achieve democratic, prosperous and secure societies.

Building a democratic, multi-ethnic and secure Kosovo is not just a matter for the top leadership.  Reconciliation and cooperation must also take place at the local level.  Indeed, it is at the grassroots level that true communities are being built.  That is why local politicians and civil servants must be as committed to making progress as must be the leaders in Pristina or Belgrade. 

From the outset, NATO’s engagement in Kosovo has been part of a broader, regional approach to South-east Europe, and that is still the case today.  We are assisting Albania, Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia1 in their preparations for NATO membership, by helping them to meet the performance-based standards that are required to be invited into the Alliance.  We admitted Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia into our Partnership for Peace last year.  We will continue to insist on full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.  And we will continue to coordinate our policy vis-à-vis all the countries of the Balkans, and with regard to Kosovo, with that of other international actors.

Looking ahead, one vital requirement will be to keep open all channels of communication with Belgrade, and to use those channels to good effect.  That applies to the international community’s contacts, including those by NATO.  But it applies especially to the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade.  This dialogue has been difficult, but both sides must continue to talk with each other in good faith.  Both Pristina and Belgrade should realise that, ultimately, the success of their dialogue is not just essential to the future of Kosovo, but also to the reintegration of the entire Balkans region with the rest of Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The English philosopher Edmund Burke once said that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.  Eight years ago, the international community refused to stand idly by and do nothing.  Now, it is the turn of the people of Kosovo to grasp their future – firmly, but fairly.

That future should be the democratic, ethnically tolerant Kosovo.  And the international community has to help to make that possible.

I am confident that the choices made will be the right ones.  And that our common goal of the full Euro-Atlantic integration of all of Southeast Europe will be reached.

Thank you.

  1. Turkey recognizes the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.