Tag: Kosovo

The Syria Endgame: A Way Forward

syrian-flag  Russia

With the increased likelihood that Assad will fall, even were he to hang on until a Gaddafi-style bitter end, pressure is mounting on the U.S., Europe, and Turkey inter alia to come up with a game plan for the post-endgame.   The good news is progress is rapidly being made:  stepped up aid from the U.S., aid from Europe, intelligence sharing among Turkey-Jordan-US-Europe, and direct training of Syrian opposition forces.

All of this may be enough to tip the balance against the Assad regime, leading to its end sooner rather than later.  But it is not nearly enough to handle the widely expected chaos once the endgame is reached.  What about playing the Russia card?  The greatest fear is that extremist al-Qaeda affiliated groups will get their hands on a variety of weapons caches in the capital and elsewhere, let alone a full-blown civil war that would seriously destabilize the entire region.  Special forces from the aforementioned countries will be needed, but they will likely be operating in an incredibly volatile if not thoroughly unstable environment.

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Libya: R2P or Regime Change?

On CNN this Saturday morning, the day after the United Nations Security Council voted for Resolution 1973 (2011) to authorize a “no-fly zone” in Libya, the debate has centered around whether or not the United States and its allies want regime change in Libya. After all, a few days ago President Obama said “It’s time for Qaddafi to go.” Similarly, British Prime Minister David Cameron has declared: “It is almost impossible to envisage a future for Libya that includes him. Gaddafi must go, he has no legitimacy.”

Yet, to me, this seems like a very odd and unhelpful framing of the situation.

Certainly, opponents of the no fly zone want to frame the debate around regime change in order to question the legitimacy of the intervention. For instance, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies asserts that “it’s widely understood that a no-fly zone is most often the first step towards broader military engagement.” However, I would challenge that view. The U.S. for many years helped enforce a no-fly zone in Iraq that was eventually controversial and certainly was not the key stepping stone that legitimized war in Iraq. The Bush administration likely would have pursued war on Iraq even without a no fly zone. And much of the world opposed the war in Iraq precisely because it violated international norms about the use of force.

Bennis also worries about the authorization of “all necessary measures..to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.” She sees this as a virtual blank check for broader military intervention, though she overlooks the last clause. Contrast this provision to the much broader language in UNSC Resolution 678 (1990), which authorized the Persian Gulf war:

Authorizes Member States co-operating with the Government of Kuwait, unless Iraq on or before 15 January 1991 fully implements, as set forth in paragraph 1 above, the above-mentioned resolutions, to use all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660 (1990) and all subsequent relevant resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area.

The more recent Resolution focuses narrowly on protecting civilians, not the far broader goal of restoring international peace and security. That goal seemingly required ground troops in Kuwait since that is where Saddam Hussein’s forces had gone.

Bennis blames the US for the inclusion of the “all necessary measures” language, as America worried that a simple no fly zone really would not protect civilians on the ground. She overlooks the fact that this is a completely valid point. The no fly zone in southern Iraq after the Persian Gulf war concluded did not stop Saddam Hussein from slaughtering civilians. In this case, simply keeping Libyan government planes out of the air might not protect any civilians. The new resolution authorizes air strikes against tanks or other government ground forces that would otherwise attack civilians.

Put differently, this is more like Kosovo 1998 than Iraq 2003. In that successful application of military force, NATO intervened with air power, but the UNSC did not pass a supporting resolution. Presumably, UN cooperation this time will help assure limits on enforcement actions. That’s hardly a blank check.

Indeed, as CNN analysts pointed out, the U.S., France and NATO partners know that the Arab partners in the military intervention — reportedly Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan — likely do not support external intervention to pursue regime change in Libya. Likewise, the 1991 enforcement action against Iraq did not include regime change exactly because the Arab member-states would have opposed it.

Moreover, President Obama himself has already said that U.S. intervention in Libya will be quite limited, which likely makes any regime change something that will be left up to competing forces within Libya.

I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing. The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya. And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal — specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya.

Could that be any clearer?

In the discussion I heard, some CNN announcers strongly implied that French President Sarkozy supports regime change. For evidence of this, they offered Sarkozy’s call for fairly direct intervention in support of the Libyan rebels:

“Our air force will oppose any aggression by Colonel Gadhafi against the population of Benghazi,” said French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking after an international, top-level meeting in Paris over the Libyan crisis.

“As of now, our aircraft are preventing planes from attacking the town,” he said. “As of now, our aircraft are prepared to intervene against tanks.”

Yet, this framing completely distorts the facts. Sarkozy explicitly does not advocate regime change:

“We are determined to take all necessary action, including military consistent with UN Security Council resolution 1973 to ensure compliance with all its requirements, ” Mr Sarkozy said.

He said the aim of intervention was not regime change but to “allow the Libyan people to choose their own destiny”.

“We are protecting the population from the murderous madness of the regime.”

That too seems fairly clear.

I think this entire discussion would be more useful if the U.S. and international media framed the debate around the Responsibility to Protect. UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon certainly used this framework:

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also said on Thursday that the justification for the use of force was based on humanitarian grounds, and referred to the principle known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P), “a new international security and human rights norm to address the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

“Resolution 1973 affirms, clearly and unequivocally, the international community’s determination to fulfill its responsibility to protect civilians from violence perpetrated upon them by their own government,” he said.

Though Obama did not use the R2P phrase, his speech about the latest UN action also largely used this frame.

Our decisions have been driven by Qaddafi’s refusal to respect the rights of his people, and the potential for mass murder of innocent civilians. It is not an action that we will pursue alone. Indeed, our British and French allies, and members of the Arab League, have already committed to take a leadership role in the enforcement of this resolution, just as they were instrumental in pursuing it. We are coordinating closely with them. And this is precisely how the international community should work, as more nations bear both the responsibility and the cost of enforcing international law.

The problem critics share, I suspect, is that the Bush administration often used humanitarian claims to justify its intervention in Iraq. R2P was not completely undermined by their rhetoric, but the recent experience does make some members of the the international community and many policy analysts skeptical of great power claims about R2P or humanitarian intervention.

Ultimately, I think some skepticism is healthy and will help assure the limits of the authorized intervention. Perhaps this would be a good time to recall the Blair Doctrine, if that is still helpful post-Iraq. UK PM Tony Blair specifically argued that this kind of international intervention might occasionally be necessary — but it should be strictly limited by something like just war principles.

First, are we sure of our case? War is an imperfect instrument for righting humanitarian distress; but armed force is sometimes the only means of dealing with dictators. Second, have we exhausted all diplomatic options? We should always give peace every chance, as we have in the case of Kosovo. Third, on the basis of a practical assessment of the situation, are there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake? Fourth, are we prepared for the long term? In the past we talked too much of exit strategies. But having made a commitment we cannot simply walk away once the fight is over; better to stay with moderate numbers of troops than return for repeat performances with large numbers. And finally, do we have national interests involved? The mass expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo demanded the notice of the rest of the world. But it does make a difference that this is taking place in such a combustible part of Europe.

Blair was calling for workable international action. “If we want a world ruled by law and by international co-operation,” he argued, “then we have to support the UN as its central pillar.”

I think that’s the case here. It would have been better if the states could have crafted a truly unanimous resolution, rather than one that led some key states to abstain. Nonetheless, the UNSC has authorized a limited form of humanitarian intervention into Libya in hopes of preventing government slaughter of civilians.

Similar timely action in Rwanda might have saved at least 100,000 lives — if not several times that many.

If the operational aims broaden or the implementation is bungled, then reluctant supporters like me are certainly free to demand fealty to promised limits.

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Going to court

Serbia is going to the World Court today to ask for an advisory opinion on the independence of Kosovo. The US and most of the EU has recognized a new Kosovar state; Russia, Serbia, and most of the rest of the world has not. The Serbian Foreign Minister observed that the decision to go to court marked a “paradigm shift…the first time in the history of the Balkans that somebody

has decided to resolve an issue of significance using exclusively peaceful means.” That’s a bit of a stretch. Serbia’s ambassador to France said that Kosovo’s declaration, as well as its recognition, “is a challenge to the international legal order, based as it is on the principles of state sovereignty and territorial integrity.” He’s right.

That’s really what’s at issue here. A Serbian friend of mine constantly reminded me during the Kosovo War that what NATO was doing was a violation of fundamental legal norms, and while he was right he never quite grasped that his point may be increasingly irrelevant. The norms are changing. What are the new norms, and how will they emerge? An advisory opinion of the ICJ isn’t going to settle these issues, but it might have some influence on the debate. Keep watching.

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Putin’s revenge

Because one good Kosovo deserves another (or two)?

Russia’s parliament has backed a motion urging the president to recognise the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Both houses voted unanimously in favour of the non-binding motion, which analysts say could help President Dmitry Medvedev in talks with the West.

The UK, Germany and Italy were among the nations expressing concern that the vote would further raise tensions.

The (rather unsurprising) move comes as the US and NATO “[step] up pressure” on Moscow to pull out of the territory it still holds in “Georgia proper.”

US destroyer carrying relief supplies arrived at a Black Sea port in Georgia, a sign of US support that provided a conspicuous display of NATO military might. The USS McFaul dropped anchor off Batumi, 50 kilometres south of the Russian-occupied port of Poti, the first of three ships carrying aid to help Georgia deal with about 100,000 displaced people.

A Russian general accused NATO countries at the weekend of using humanitarian aid as “cover” for a build-up of naval forces in the Black Sea, heightening tension. Russia withdrew tanks, artillery and hundreds of troops from their most advanced positions in Georgia on Friday, saying it had fulfilled all obligations.

But Russian troops still control access to Poti, south of the Moscow-backed rebel region of Abkhazia, and have set up other checkpoints around South Ossetia, where the conflict began. The peace plan negotiated by France has been interpreted differently by Russia and the West, with Russia saying it has the right to leave peacekeepers deep inside Georgia.

Indeed, a number of news services are reporting a “tense standoff” between Georgian and South Ossetian forces over the village of Mosabruni:

Georgian and South Ossetian forces were in a tense stand-off on Monday over control of a disputed village on the edge of the breakaway region, according to Georgian and separatist officials.

Georgian and Russian troops fought a brief war in the region earlier this month and are now observing a fragile ceasefire.

Georgian officials said the village of Mosabruni was not part of separatist-controlled territory and alleged the separatists were planning a provocation against Georgian special forces who had been deployed there.

The separatist administration said the village was within South Ossetia and the Georgian forces were there unlawfully. It accused Tbilisi of massing armed men in preparation for an attack.

“According to our information, South Ossetian militias want to take this village. Our forces got the order not to shoot, but if Ossetians start shooting they will have to return fire,” Kakha Lomaia, Secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council, told Reuters.

Lomaia said the atmosphere in the majority Georgian-populated village was “very tense”. He declined to say exactly when Georgian forces had returned there.

For good measure, the vice president’s coming to town.

… This has been your friendly reminder that it isn’t safe to go back to ignoring the Caucasuses, and that it certainly “isn’t over” when the fat Cheney sings.

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Serbian government dissolves

Ellie Tzortzi of Reuters:

The coalition government of Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica was formally dissolved on Monday, opening the way for an early parliamentary election.

The decision was taken at a brief cabinet session following Kostunica’s announcement on Saturday that the government could not continue in office owing to deep disunity over defending Kosovo versus pursuing a place in the European Union.

“The government did not have a united and common policy any more,” a statement said, “and this kept it from performing its basic constitutional function, to define and lead Serbia’s politics.”

The key question is whether Kosovo will usher in a less EU-friendly and more nationalist government.

President Boris Tadic must now disband parliament and set a date for the election, probably on May 11. It will be the most important election since voters ended the era of the late autocrat Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

The vote will be a close race between the Democrats and the nationalist Radicals, the strongest party.

Kostunica, whose party lies a distant third, quit after tacitly accusing his coalition partners, the Democrats and the G17 Plus party, of giving up on Kosovo, the 90-percent Albanian province which seceded last month with Western backing.

I don’t know enough about Serbian politics to make any predictions, but it strikes me that radicalization remains a strong possibility. One could argue that the benefits of an independent Kosovo outweigh a more nationalist Serbia. After all, the Serbs remain pretty hemmed in and international forces remain in Kosovo. Any thoughts from our better-informed readers?

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“Kosovo is no better than us….”

The fallout continues:

“If things are not going in the direction of actually halting settlement activities, if things are not going in the direction of continuous and serious negotiations, then we should take the step and announce our independence unilaterally,” Mr Abed Rabbo told Reuters.

Palestinian leader Abbas and Israeli PM Olmert in Jerusalem 19 February
Abbas and Olmert met but there is no news of progress

“Kosovo is not better than us. We deserve independence even before Kosovo, and we ask for the backing of the United States and the European Union for our independence,” he added.

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Kosovo declares independence

The BBC:

Kosovo’s parliament has unanimously endorsed a declaration of independence from Serbia, in an historic session.

The declaration, read by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, said Kosovo would be a democratic country that respected the rights of all ethnic communities.

The US and a number of EU countries are expected to recognise Kosovo on Monday.

Serbia’s PM denounced the US for helping create a “false state”. Serbia’s ally, Russia, called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting.

Correspondents say the potential for trouble between Kosovo’s Serbs and ethnic Albanians is enormous.

Serbia’s Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica blamed the US which he said was “ready to violate the international order for its own military interests”.

“Today, this policy of force thinks that it has triumphed by establishing a false state,” Mr Kostunica said.

“Kosovo is Serbia,” Mr Kostunica said, repeating a well-known nationalist Serb saying.

The Washington Post:

Kosovo’s parliament declared the disputed territory a nation on Sunday, mounting a historic bid to become an “independent and democratic state” backed by the U.S. and European allies but bitterly contested by Serbia and Russia.

Serbia immediately denounced the declaration as illegal, and Russia also rejected it, demanding an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

President Bush said the U.S. would work to prevent violence after the declaration and the European Union appealed for calm, mindful of the risk that the declaration could plunge the turbulent Balkans back into instability.

“Kosovo is a republic _ an independent, democratic and sovereign state,” Kosovo’s parliament speaker Jakup Krasniqi said as the chamber burst into applause. Across the capital, Pristina, revelers danced in the streets, fired guns into the air and waved red and black Albanian flags in jubilation at the birth of the world’s newest country.

Sunday’s declaration was carefully orchestrated with the U.S. and key European powers, and Kosovo was counting on swift international recognition that could come as early as Monday, when EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels, Belgium.

Doug Muir thinks independence is the “least bad” outcome. The Serbian Church disagrees, calling for a “state of war.” For once, the Georgians agree with the Russians.

And, in fact:

The breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are planning to ask Russia and the UN to recognise their independence following the declaration of independence by Kosovo, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

“In the near future, Abkhazia will appeal to the Russian parliament and the UN security council with a request to recognise its independence,” self-declared Abkhaz president Sergei Bagapsh was quoted as saying by Interfax.

“South Ossetia will in the near future appeal to the Commonwealth of Independent States and the UN with a request to recognise our independence,” South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity was quoted as saying by the news agency, referring to a grouping of ex-Soviet states that includes Russia.

Both leaders said the moves were prompted by Kosovo’s decision to declare independence today.

Who will recognize Kosovo?

Diplomats said about 20 EU nations — led by Britain, France, Germany and Italy — are keen to recognize Kosovo’s break from Serbia. However, Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Romania are vehemently against it. Slovakia, too, has voiced doubts but could move toward recognizing Kosovo’s statehood, diplomats said.

And over what timeframe?

Not very many advocates of national self-determination actually get states.I expect we’ll be studying this case, and dealing with its effects, for a while.

Chirol has pictures of the celebrations in Germany.

Sofia Echo has a decent backgrounder.

Thoughts?

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NATO Troops Should Redeploy to Protect Kosovar Serbs

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.

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