Updated: 06-Dec-2000 NATO Review

Web edition
Vol. 47 - No. 3
Autumn 1999
p. 20-23

Reconstructing Kosovo:
On the right track - but where does it lead?

Matthias Rueb
South-east Europe Correspondent,
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Mr. Rueb argues that the response by NATO and the international community to the Kosovo crisis has been both a success and a failure. Most of the refugees have returned and KFOR has managed to restore order, but it remains to be seen whether the web of international organisations responsible for re-establishing civilian structures in Kosovo will work in harmony or at loggerheads. In the final analysis, he contends, a comprehensive regional approach, as foreseen by the Stability Pact, backed up by the threat of force, is the only way to ensure lasting peace in Kosovo and in the Balkans as a whole.

The balance sheet of success and failure

Tens of thousands of Kosovar Albanian refugees return to Kosovo in a 20 km long convoy of tractors and cars, along the narrow road leading from the northern Albanian town of Kukes on 16 June, only days after NATO-led KFOR troops began securing the province.
(Reuters photo - 67Kb)

One reason to consider NATO's air campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia a success is the mass return home of the Kosovar Albanian refugees. No sooner had the first troops of the NATO-led international security force (KFOR) moved into Kosovo on 12 June than the refugees started flooding back. By early September, more than 95 per cent of those who had been driven from the country or displaced within Kosovo had returned to their homes - a speed of repatriation unmatched in twentieth-century Europe.

Yet NATO failed in its declared aim of preventing a humanitarian disaster - genocide and expulsion - in Kosovo. A military objective of this kind cannot be achieved by air strikes alone, but only if ground troops are also used. It is true that the withdrawal of all Yugoslav troops and the arrival of KFOR created conditions in Kosovo where the effects of genocide and persecution could be at least partially reversed. Houses, roads and bridges are being repaired, and those driven from the country have been able to return. But, the loss of human life is something that cannot be put right. The fact that thousands of Kosovar Albanian civilians were killed by Serb soldiers and paramilitaries means that the "balance sheet" of the NATO and KFOR commitment in Kosovo will always be negative.

It is also too early to say whether the deployment of international troops in Kosovo under the auspices of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 10 June will be a success. Unfortunately, like the bombing campaign, the efforts of the peacekeeping force began with a failure: KFOR could do no more to prevent the expulsion of up to 200,000 Serbs and gypsies since June, than NATO was able to do to prevent the expulsion of some 1.5 million Kosovar Albanians in the preceding months. However, the chances of Serbs and gypsies returning en masse are poor, so, sadly, this second expulsion is likely to be more permanent.

In seeking to arrive at an interim balance, we must not lose sight of the fact that the root cause of the humanitarian disaster in Kosovo was the ruthless pursuit of a nationalistic apartheid policy by the Belgrade regime. The effects of that policy may have been exacerbated by Western hesitance and strategic miscalculations by the Allies during the air campaign, but the tragedies in the former Yugoslavia were primarily triggered by the repressive policy of President Slobodan Milosevic to which Kosovo was subjected for over ten years. Structurally incapable of compromise and an inevitable source of further violent conflict, this policy will not change as long as Milosevic remains in power.

Legal uncertainties

This provides serious food for thought. Under international law, Kosovo remains a part of Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia even if de facto, and probably for many years to come, the province will be under the control of KFOR and the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). The resulting legal uncertainty impedes the establishment of civil structures in Kosovo. The Serb dominion over Kosovo has collapsed, leaving nothing behind that can be put to any good use. The situation is one of relatively orderly anarchy. Which laws are supposed to govern the country? Who applies them? Which authority carries most weight? Who will ensure public order? Who will guarantee water and electricity supplies, waste disposal and road repairs? Who is going to maintain and improve infrastructure?

Kosovar Albanians rightly rejected the discriminatory legislation of the Serb regime, and judges and courts were still unable to function three months after the war ended. UNMIK and the interim advisory council that has been set up with representatives of the different ethnic groups in Kosovo have only a temporary borrowed authority with no democratic legitimacy. Already, there are clear parallels in Kosovo with the Western commitment in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Already, there is a danger that the same mistakes will be made.

The civil effort is lagging behind the military

A young captain from the British KFOR contingent pays her respects at the site of a possible mass grave of Kosovar Albanians in the village of Kacanik, Kosovo, on 14 June.
(Reuters photo - 32Kb)

Delivering humanitarian assistance is obviously the first priority. People need some kind of roof over their heads - even in September (at the time of writing), the nights in the uplands of Kosovo are noticeably chilly, and the bitter cold winter is not far off. Food supplies are also needed, since most of the harvest was lost. KFOR is making a major contribution in this area, alongside The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and many non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Unfortunately, as in Bosnia, the civilian aspects of restoring peace to Kosovo are lagging behind the military aspects. The withdrawal of the Serb forces and the deployment of KFOR went according to plan. Even the demilitarisation of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) was achieved on 21 September, despite a number of complications. But too little has been done to set up new civilian structures. If KFOR had not taken on some of the civilian and humanitarian duties, the present chaos would have been even worse. KFOR has had to act as a police force, arresting and incarcerating criminals, carrying out border controls, providing security for schools and public buildings and, where possible, protecting threatened minorities.

By early September, the new civil police force was only embryonic. The police officers, civil servants, judges, etc., which were promised by the international community, have been slow to materialise, if at all. Whereas a military organisation like KFOR can act and react swiftly, thanks to its command structure, civil bureaucracies take far too long to keep their promises.

A tangle of international organisations

A further complicating factor is the almost impenetrable tangle of international organisations, which are jointly responsible for establishing a new civil order in Kosovo. It remains to be seen whether Kosovo will actually benefit from the hoped-for synergistic effects, instead of suffering under the all too familiar rivalry between the various organisations.

Dr. Bernard Kouchner - a former French health minister, well known as the founder of the aid organisation "Médecins sans Frontières" - is coordinating the civil activities in Kosovo, which are divided into four main working areas.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), under Special Envoy Dennis McNamara from New Zealand, is responsible for humanitarian concerns, such as organising supplies for exiles and helping them to return home. The UNHCR is also wrestling with the task of coordinating the work of over 250 NGOs, which have offered to help with the reconstruction and democratisation of Kosovo.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Kosovo - headed by former OSCE Ambassador to Albania Daan Everts from the Netherlands - has the task of expediting the establishment of a democratic civil society in Kosovo. The most important task is the preparation and organisation of elections due to take place in April 2000. To this end the OSCE is currently engaged in the arduous task of registering voters - a task that is further complicated by the lack of personal identification papers, which were confiscated by Serb authorities during the conflict. The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is responsible for monitoring respect for human rights in Kosovo.

Working for the UN, German politician Tom Koenigs, previously municipal treasurer of Frankfurt, is responsible for setting-up civil administrative structures. His team's immediate priority is to restore the judicial system and the municipal and regional administrations.

Responsibility for the European Union's economic reconstruction effort in Kosovo lies with the British EU official, Joly Dixon. The main issue here is to learn from past mistakes in Bosnia, where the economy is still barely moving forward nearly four years after the end of the war. The problem there was that too much was spent on reconstructing infrastructure and not enough on supporting small- and medium-sized enterprises. In Kosovo, the international community's financial resources should, first and foremost, be used to help kick-start the economy, for example by providing loans at favourable interest rates to enable the people themselves to become actively involved in the reconstruction effort. This point needs to be borne in mind at the donors' conference on Kosovo and the Stability Pact due to take place at the beginning of October.

Stability in South-east Europe

The international community's commitment in Kosovo is an integral part of the overall efforts to bring stability and prosperity to the whole of South-east Europe. To this end, a high-level steering group was set up to coordinate the reconstruction of the entire region. The steering group, jointly chaired by the EU and the World Bank, includes the finance ministers of the G7 industrialised nations, Bernard Kouchner, as head of UNMIK, and the special coordinator for the "Stability Pact for South-east Europe", Bodo Hombach, former head of the German Federal Chancellery.

Launched by EU foreign ministers on 10 June, the Stability Pact is an attempt, ten years after the end of the Cold War, to finally end the division of the Continent and further the process of European integration. The Stability Pact intends to tackle this challenge through three distinct lines of action:
u developing a new pan-European security structure under the auspices of the OSCE, which calls for more effective instruments and institutions for the early identification and prevention of conflicts in the region;

  • providing more help with economic reform; and
  • strengthening the nascent democracies.

These initiatives are to be combined with genuine prospects of accession for those countries which wish to join the EU...which effectively means every state in the region.

Apart from discussions on the central issue of security, additional "roundtables" will focus on issues such as democracy and human rights, economic reforms, and cooperation between experts and government representatives in the countries concerned. The democracy "roundtable", for example, will be concerned with strengthening the institutions of a civil society, supporting independent media, evolving a legal system which conforms to EU principles, and restructuring the civil administration. Another explicit objective is to preserve the multinational and multi-ethnic diversity of the countries in the region.

The economic cooperation "roundtable" will discuss privatisation issues, structural change and tax systems. The main goals are to integrate those participating in the Stability Pact into the World Trade Organisation (WTO), to guarantee the free movement of goods and capital, and improve the investment and business climate. A further objective is to campaign against crime and corruption.

Kosovo: a test case for the Stability Pact

A British KFOR officer sifts through a pile of Kosovar Albanian passports and ID cards, which had been confiscated by Serb forces and were found on 13 June. The lack of ID papers is complicating the OSCE's task of registering voters.
(Reuters photo - 30Kb)

Kosovo can be seen as a test case for the Stability Pact as a whole. Without a stable post-war order in Kosovo, there is no prospect of lasting peace in the former Yugoslavia. The Stability Pact's economic cooperation "roundtable" has therefore been assigned a working group on reconstruction in Kosovo, headed by the Belgian Marc Franco and the EU Commission's reconstruction agency for Kosovo.

It is unclear as yet what institutional form the Stability Pact will take. The first summit meeting in Sarajevo on 30 July was largely symbolic, and while a final declaration in very general terms was issued, no concrete promises of aid were made. A separate donors' conference for the Stability Pact will be held in Italy during the autumn.

Experience gained in Bosnia and the wider impetus provided by the new Stability Pact could provide an opportunity for Kosovo. From Bosnia we have learned that UNMIK must push on more resolutely with setting-up civil structures and administering Kosovo almost like a protectorate until elections are held. Its coordinating role must be combined with comprehensive powers. Another lesson from Bosnia is that independent economic activity needs to be promoted during the process of reconstruction, in particular, by providing access to loans.

But, as the Stability Pact recognises, only a comprehensive regional approach can bring lasting peace to the Balkans, and growth and democracy to South-east Europe. Finally, as the wars in the former Yugoslavia have shown, the threat of force, or even the use of force, by NATO may sometimes be necessary in order to counter a militaristic policy by individual states that can destabilise the entire region.