Human Security Report Project’s newsfeed reports:

Serbia has promised NATO it would not use force against Kosovo if the breakaway province carried out a vow to declare independence early next year, a senior alliance commander said on Thursday. NATO has patrolled Kosovo since it bombed Serbia for nearly 3 months in 1999 to force the withdrawal of Serb forces accused of atrocities in a war against separatist Albanian guerrillas in the province. “Right now we have enough forces on the ground to protect the people of Kosovo,” said Admiral Mark Fitzgerald, a U.S. Navy officer.

This plus Belgrade’s attempt to seek redress through the ICJ, suggest I was right: NATO’s fears of renewed atrocities against Kosovar Albanians may hve been overblown. But this doesn’t mean there are not important reasons to prioritize the protection of civilians – only that assumptions about who should be protected may need to be reconsidered.

The danger comes not from the certainty that Kosovar Albanians are seceding from Serbia, but from the possibility that Kosovar Serbs will try to secede from a newly independent Kosovo.

Kosovar Serbs are likeliest to attempt secession if they have reason to fear persecution or violence from their newly empowered neighbors.

This has happened before – spates of revenge killings of Serb civilians accompanied the return of refugees from Macedonia in 1999. In such an instance Serbia will be not only inclined but possibly justified in “intervening” on their behalf. This precise dynamic triggered the 1991 war between Serbia and newly independent Croatia, which immediately began “cleansing” the Krajina Serb minority in Croatia.

If NATO wishes to contribute to maintaining stability in the region, the priority should be to provide immediate protection the 100,000 Kosovar Serbs in the northern regions, rather than deploying to protect Albanian civilians farther south from some feared JNA offensive. There would be no more helpful confidence-building measure in the next few months than to send the signal that NATO is biased in favor of stability and civilian protection, rather than in favor of Kosovar Albanians per se.