Expected Council Action
In February, the Council is expected to hold 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. According to established practice, Serbia is likely to participate at a high level while Kosovo will probably be represented by its ambassador to the US.
Key Recent Developments
Growing tensions between Belgrade and Pristina marked the end of 2018 and have continued this year. In December, Kosovo’s parliament approved a series of laws that initiated the transformation of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF), which had until then addressed non-military tasks, into a more traditional army.
These developments prompted an emergency Council meeting on the situation in Kosovo on 17 December 2018, following a request by Serbia. Presidents Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia and Hashim Thaçi of Kosovo attended the meeting. Vučić condemned the move by the Kosovo authorities and emphasised that formation of a Kosovo army violates resolution 1244, which gave international troops led by NATO the responsibility for ensuring security in Kosovo. Thaçi said that the actions taken by Kosovo were in line with international law and were within Kosovo’s rights as a sovereign and independent state. Among Council members, Russia defended the Serbian position and said that the creation of a Kosovo army poses a threat to peace and security in the region. The US reiterated its support for Kosovo and stressed the need to coordinate its actions with NATO and ensure outreach to minority communities during the transformation of the KSF. Council members were generally united in calling on both parties to avoid exacerbating tensions and to engage in dialogue.
After a failed bid to secure membership of Interpol in November, Kosovo imposed a 100 percent tariff on imported goods from Serbia as of 21 November 2018, responding to what it perceived as a campaign by Serbia against its bid to join the police organisation. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini has called on Kosovo to reverse its decision on tariffs. The US, Kosovo’s main ally, also urged it to rescind the tariffs and avoid further escalation of tensions. Kosovo’s prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, has said publicly that the tariffs will be maintained until Serbia recognises Kosovo. Thaçi has ,called on Haradinaj to heed the US’s advice and abolish the tariffs, thus exposing some divisions within Kosovo over this issue. The row over tariffs has continued, and at press time the policy remained in place.
Over the course of the past two months, the prosecutor’s office of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) has conducted interviews with some former senior commanders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The KSC, a special court based in The Hague that operates under Kosovo law and is staffed by international judges, was set up to investigate alleged war crimes committed by the KLA during the conflict in Kosovo in the 1990s. The prosecutor’s office is expected to issue its first indictments this year.
Key Issues and Options
Given the volatility in relations between Belgrade and Pristina, the Council is primarily concerned with reducing tensions and maintaining stability in Kosovo. The Council will continue to monitor the implications of the decision by Kosovo’s legislature to initiate the transformation of the KSF into a regular armed force and whether this will have implications for resolution 1244.
The Council will follow developments related to the possible final agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, including the potential for territorial adjustments; such an agreement could affect neighbouring countries and possibly re-ignite ethnic tensions in the region. Dialogue on this agreement stalled amid growing tensions between Belgrade and Pristina in recent months.
The EU has been the main facilitator of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue which resulted in the 2013 Brussels agreement on normalisation of relations between the two. At the core of the agreement is the establishment of the Association/Community of Serb Municipalities in northern Kosovo. While there was progress in some areas, an issue for the Council remains the lack of implementation of main aspects of the agreement and what role, if any, UNMIK might play in facilitating its implementation.
Notwithstanding the recent tensions, several Council members, and the P3 in particular, have continued to question the usefulness of the current quarterly reporting cycle and have also called for downsizing the mission in light of the overall relative stability on the ground. A growing number of Council members share these views, and an option for the Council would be to consider formal proposals for changing the reporting cycle, and 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 of UNMIK.
Despite the recent developments that drew the Council’s attention to Kosovo, it remains a low-intensity issue for the Council and is followed closely mainly by members with a specific interest in the region. One of the factors that has contributed to this is the pre-eminence in Kosovo of regional organisations, including the EU, NATO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Deep division among permanent members has continued to characterise the Council’s consideration of 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. A simmering issue is that the P3 and the EU members of the Council have become more outspoken in advocating a lengthening of UNMIK’s reporting cycle and, with this, less frequent meetings on Kosovo. Presiding over the Council in August 2018, the UK took concrete steps to this end by removing the quarterly Kosovo meeting from the programme of work (POW). This also demonstrated that there is a substantial support among members for lengthening the reporting cycle. Russia and China opposed the omission of Kosovo from the August POW, but it appears 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. The US has also asserted that the mission is overstaffed and over-resourced for its limited responsibilities, and that these resources could be put to better use in more pressing situations on the Council’s agenda.
Given the ongoing 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. Alone among missions regularly discussed by the Council, UNMIK’s mandate is open-ended. Any attempt to change it would require a new resolution, which Russia would strongly oppose and most likely block.
UN DOCUMENTS ON KOSOVO
|Security Council Resolution|
|10 June 1999S/RES/1244||This resolution authorised NATO to secure and enforce the withdrawal of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia forces from Kosovo and established UNMIK.|
|1 November 2018S/2018/981||This was Secretary-General’s report on UNMIK.|
|Security Council Letter|
|14 December 2018S/2018/1111||This was a letter by Serbia requesting an emergency meeting on the situation in Kosovo.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|17 December 2018S/PV.8427||This was a Council emergency meeting on the situation in Kosovo prompted by a request from Serbia.|