World Must Engage on Kosovo Now

Among the many difficult issues the UN is managing, the situation in Kosovo has been one of the most intractable. The Security Council has slated the much anticipated March session on Kosovo for the 19th, at which time it is expected that Secretary-General Ban’s Special Envoy for Kosovo’s Future Status, Martti Ahtisaari, will deliver the final draft of his proposal on the status of Kosovo. On March 2, Mr. Ahtisaari issued a statement saying that the two parties, Serbia and the ethnic Albanian government of Kosovo, remain “diametrically opposed” on the UN’s February proposal for the province, which would grant Kosovo the right to govern itself and conclude international agreements, including membership in international bodies, but would stop short of full independence. Mr. Ahtisaari continues to meet with the parties and has invited them, along with the so-called “Contact Group” of the US, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, and Russia, to a high-level meeting on March 10.The UN, through its Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and along with NATO forces, has worked tirelessly to maintain peace and security in Kosovo since the world body began running the province in 1999 after Western forces drove out Yugoslav troops amid ethnic fighting. Mr. Ahtisaari, working in parallel with UNMIK, has gone to extraordinary lengths to bring the parties to agreement on Kosovo’s future. All indications are that this will not happen, not now and probably not anytime in the near future. Without an agreement it will be up to the Security Council to develop a workable strategy, likely leaving one or both sides unsatisfied. However if the Security Council doesn’t act and retains the status quo under Resolution 1244 enacted in 1999 (which, unlike nearly all other Security Council Resolutions authorizing UN Missions, remains in force until the Council “decides otherwise”), the impatient Albanian Kosovars will likely declare independence, threatening renewed upheaval and bloodshed. This was foreshadowed during street demonstrations protesting the current UN plan.

The UN has always been in a difficult position in Kosovo, caught between two parties that refuse to budge, with a Security Council divided as to how and when to divert from the status quo, and with critics on all sides. Facing two seemingly intractable positions, the Security Council must send a strong message supporting the UN’s work in Kosovo, along with delivering a stern warning that violence will not be tolerated. While UN efforts in Kosovo have not been perfect, the organization has done very well under the circumstances. The parties, members of the Security Council, and all other nations and interests, need to support its long-standing work and ensure that the region moves forward in peace.