Home Politics “Trigger wires” for peace in the Western Balkans – DW – 07/10/2023

“Trigger wires” for peace in the Western Balkans – DW – 07/10/2023

by admin
0 comment
Soldiers of the NATO-led international military mission, the Kosovo Force (KFOR), in Zvecan, KosovoImage: Erkin Keci/AA/photo alliance

THE recent attack by a Serbian paramilitary unit against Albanian police officers in Kosovo is the latest example in a chain of violent acts aimed at destabilizing the new European state.

Belgrade’s denials of their prior knowledge or involvement were made no less dubious by the massive deployments of armored troops it subsequently sent to Kosovo’s borders, even prompting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to intervene with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

Hopefully this incident has caused the remaining supporters of the policy of appeasement to rethink their position. Until recently, the popular fairy tale was that Serbian autocratic rule was the anchor of stability in the Western Balkans. But this is now completely discredited, even as Vucic continues to play games with his governors of Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

However, Washington had made Vucic a “guarantor of stability” the guiding principle of its Balkan realpolitik a year ago, in order to free Serbia from Russian control and integrate it into the Ukrainian alliance. But this “fantastic diplomacy” has finally reached its limits.

Weapons and ammunition seized from Serbian paramilitaries who ambushed Kosovar police officers in late SeptemberImage: Vudi Xhymshiti/VX/photo alliance

The images reaching us from the region these days look terribly like those of Croatia in the summer of 1990, when Serbian paramilitaries ambushed Croatian police officers. These attacks began just months before the start of the war in June 1991. A year later, in March 1992, it was again Serbian paramilitaries who cut off the Bosnian capital Sarajevo from the outside world. At that time, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic had developed a plan to unite all Serb-populated regions of Yugoslavia into a single state to create a Greater Serbia.

Serbian rearmament

Thirty years after the Yugoslav wars, a regime has been established in Belgrade which more or less openly seeks to carry out Milosevic’s project. President Vucic’s closest confidant is his powerful intelligence director, Aleksandar Vulin, the main protagonist of the Greater Serbia successor project “Serbian World”. In third place is Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, alongside whom Vucic headed Milosevic’s propaganda apparatus in the 1990s.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, during a press conference on September 24, denied any involvement of his government in the paramilitary incident in northern Kosovo.Image: Zorana Jevtic/Reuters

The Greater Serbia trio around the Serbian president has become a clear and immediate threat to Serbia’s neighbors, who are hopelessly outnumbered. From 2021, the British news weekly The Economist reported that Serbia’s “arms buying spree” was rattling border countries. Its arms budget doubled between 2015 and 2022, reaching nearly $1.5 billion (€1.4 billion), according to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Kosovo’s arms budget has also doubled, but in comparison it stands at just over $100 million. In a 2021 regional arms study, the Zurich Institute of Technology (ETU) concluded that Serbia’s arms expansion is undermining confidence in the Western Balkans.

The “Bosnification” of Kosovo?

It is therefore not surprising that Pristina refuses to implement the 2013 Brussels Agreement of a Serbian association of municipalities (“Zajednica”), which provides for a high degree of autonomy for the 10 Serbian-majority municipalities in the Kosovo. But it is worth mentioning that the Kosovo constitution guarantees extensive rights to minorities.

Although Kosovo’s numerous ethnic minorities make up just over 8% of the population, they are guaranteed 20 of 120 parliamentary seats, including 10 reserved only for Serbs, who make up between 3% and 5% of the population. . At the municipal level, the participation of minorities is also largely guaranteed as soon as they reach 10% of the population of the municipality concerned.

Albin Kurti, Prime Minister of KosovoImage: AFP via Getty Images

The Kosovo government, led by Prime Minister Albin Kurti, fears ending up with a sort of backdoor Republika Srpska 2.0 via the creation of a Serbian municipal union. The autonomy guaranteed to Bosnian Serbs in the Dayton Accords peace deal has brought Bosnia to the brink of war, with Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik pushing for Republika Srpska to secede from Bosnia – with the The assent, even approval, of Vucic.

Preventive deployment

What can the West do to defuse the situation? It should recognize that Serb aspirations for Serb-populated territories in Kosovo and Bosnia are real. Stabilization of a hot spot – currently Kosovo – is only useful temporarily. Especially if Bosnia is neglected, because that is where Belgrade will engage once it has been deterred by NATO in Kosovo.

In practice, a quick solution could involve strengthening military missions in Kosovo (KFOR) and Bosnia (EUFOR/Althea), both successfully carried out by NATO and the EU. This would be particularly true for EUFOR, which is overstretched with only 1,350 troops on duty.

A classic example of how the preemptive use of peacekeepers can effectively prevent war and deter a potential aggressor: Thirty years ago, in January 1993, the UN deployed a peacekeeping force of 1 000 men, half of whom were American soldiers, in northern Macedonia, along the border with North Macedonia. Serbia to prevent aggression by Belgrade against its southern neighbor. This small force, also known as the “tripwire,” actually managed to keep the peace in the country for many years.

A Bundeswehr vehicle near the EUFOR camp in Rajlovac, near Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 2005.Image: Lars Pötzsch/Bundeswehr/dpa/photo alliance

This now suggests the obvious option of protecting the areas of Kosovo and Bosnia bordering Serbia using KFOR and EUFOR units. If NATO and EU forces policed ​​the shared borders between Kosovo and Serbia and Bosnia and Serbia respectively, this would provide a watertight security guarantee, as would the peacekeeping mission of the UN in Macedonia in 1993.

Although it can be expensive, ensuring peace with a few extra units will always be a better alternative than having to drop bombs. It is difficult to imagine a less costly scenario for avoiding conflict and one that would better protect human lives.

Alexander Rhotert is a political scientist and author. A researcher on the former Yugoslavia since 1991, he has worked for the UN, NATO, OSCE and the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, among other organizations.

This article was originally written in German.

You may also like

Leave a Comment

@2030 All Right Reserved. Designed and Developed by zebalkans