Expected Council Action
In November, the Council expects a briefing on the situation in Kosovo. The Special Representative and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Zahir Tanin, will brief on recent developments and the latest report by the Secretary-General. Serbia is likely to participate at a high level while Kosovo will probably be represented by its ambassador to the US.
Key Recent Developments
Resolution 1244, which established UNMIK in 1999, did not specify the Secretary-General’s reporting cycle, but the Council has established the practice of holding meetings on the situation in Kosovo at three-month intervals. During its presidency in August, the UK decided to omit the meeting on Kosovo, which would have been due according to past practice. At the presidency briefing to the media, UK Ambassador Karen Pierce emphasised that Kosovo did not require such regular Council consideration, given that the situation has improved significantly since 1999. She further noted that the Council should focus on other, more pressing, issues of international peace and security.
In a 9 October letter to the Secretary-General, Ambassador Nikki Haley (US) urged the Secretariat to initiate a strategic review of the mission and develop an exit strategy. Haley said that these actions would serve the Council in assessing and evaluating the UN presence in Kosovo. Haley’s letter drew a strong rebuke from the Serbian government, which stressed that it would oppose this initiative on legal and political grounds. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić pointed out that UNMIK’s withdrawal and the possibility that Kosovo would form its own armed forces would leave Serbia no choice but to protect its people in Kosovo.
For several months, the media have widely reported that Vučić and Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi were holding talks on reaching a final agreement on Kosovo. The agreement would include territorial adjustments including Serbia’s control of the Serb-dominated municipalities in northern Kosovo while Kosovo would absorb the mainly Albanian-populated Preševo Valley in southern Serbia.
During the European Forum Alpbach late August session in Austria, both Vučić and Thaçi confirmed publicly that they have been working on a possible agreement and called for support from the EU and the wider international community. They have not revealed any specific details of the plan, however.
The international response to the possible agreement has been mixed. At a press conference on 31 August, following the informal meeting of the EU foreign ministers in Vienna, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said that the EU would support any mutually agreed outcome as currently discussed if it is in line with international law. US National Security Adviser John Bolton said that the US would not stand in the way should both parties reach a mutually acceptable agreement even if it would involve territorial adjustments. German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected any possibility of a border change, however, saying that “the territorial integrity of the states of the Western Balkans has been established and is inviolable”. In both Serbia and Kosovo, the possible agreement has been met with opposition by the local population.
Mogherini had been scheduled to host a meeting between Vučić and Thaçi within the framework of an EU-facilitated dialogue on 7 September. Instead, she held talks with each separately because Vučić refused to meet with Thaçi amid renewed tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.
Key Issues and Options
Key among several issues facing the Council on Kosovo is maintaining stability and reducing tensions between Belgrade and Pristina. Another issue for the Council is what role UNMIK can play in facilitating the implementation of the existing agreements between Belgrade and Pristina.
The Council will continue to closely follow developments related to the possible agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, including the potential for territorial adjustments. An issue for the Council is whether this could have a destabilising effect on neighbouring countries and spark ethnic tensions in the region.
Several Council members, and the P3 in particular, have continued to question the usefulness of the current reporting cycle, and have also called for downsizing the mission in light of the relative stability on the ground. Given the growing number of Council members who share those concerns, an option for the Council would be to consider more formal proposals for changing the reporting cycle, including possibly changing the format of the meeting to consultations. In addressing the effectiveness of the mission, the Council could request the Secretary-General to conduct a strategic review to explore ways to increase UNMIK’s efficiency.
Kosovo remains a low-intensity issue for the Council, followed closely primarily by members with a particular interest in the region. Regional organisations including the EU, NATO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe now play increasingly prominent roles in Kosovo.
Deep divisions among permanent members have continued on the Kosovo issue. France, the UK and the US recognise Kosovo’s independence and tend to be supportive of Kosovo’s government while China and Russia do not recognise its independence and strongly support Serbia’s position. The P3 and some other members have become increasingly outspoken in advocating a lengthening of UNMIK’s reporting cycle and thus reducing the frequency of meetings on Kosovo. The UK’s decision to remove the Kosovo meeting from the August programme of work (POW) demonstrated that there is substantial support among members for lengthening the reporting cycle. While Russia and China opposed the omission of Kosovo from the August POW, it seems that they would not have been able to secure the necessary support to challenge the decision through a procedural vote.
The US has been the most vocal proponent of a drawdown and eventual withdrawal of UNMIK, citing the level of stability in Kosovo. It has also asserted that the mission remains overstaffed and over-resourced considering its limited responsibilities and that these resources could be put to better use in more pressing situations on the Council’s agenda.
Given the current emphasis on reviewing UN peacekeeping operations with the aim of reducing costs and increasing efficiency, the issue of modifying UNMIK’s mandate is likely to become more prominent. Unlike most other mission mandates, the UNMIK mandate is open-ended. Any attempt to change it would require a new resolution, which Russia would strongly oppose and likely block.
UN DOCUMENTS ON KOSOVO
|Security Council Resolutions|
|10 June 1999 S/RES/1244||This resolution authorised NATO to secure and enforce the withdrawal of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia forces from Kosovo and established UNMIK.|