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Kosovo: Possible Briefing under the “Threats to International Peace and Security” Agenda Item*

Tomorrow afternoon (25 March), the Security Council may convene for a briefing under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item. Russia requested the meeting to mark the 25th anniversary of the aerial bombing campaign carried out by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) during the Kosovo War in 1999. At the time of writing, it was uncertain if the briefing would take place as scheduled, since one or more Council members may request a procedural vote in an effort to block the meeting. If the meeting takes place, Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas Miroslav Jenča will brief, while Kosovo and Serbia are likely to participate under rule 39 and rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure, respectively.


The Kosovo War, spanning the 16 months from February 1998 to June 1999, was an armed conflict fought between the forces of the FRY, which controlled Kosovo before the war, and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a Kosovar Albanian separatist militia.

Beginning in 1996, the KLA intensified its attacks against Serbian security forces in Kosovo, employing what were described as terrorist tactics by Yugoslav authorities and international interlocutors. In February 1998, Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević responded by ordering a crackdown on the KLA, which led to a significant escalation in military operations in Kosovo, marked by the Serbian forces’ use of indiscriminate and brutal force. In response to these developments, on 31 March 1998, the Security Council adopted resolution 1160. Acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the resolution condemned “the use of excessive force by Serbian police forces against civilians and peaceful demonstrators in Kosovo, as well as all acts of terrorism by the KLA”. It also urged both parties to enter into a meaningful dialogue on political status issues, while emphasising that “a solution of the Kosovo problem should be based on the territorial integrity of the FRY” and “an enhanced status for Kosovo”.

As the conflict persisted, NATO increased its military presence in neighbouring Macedonia and Albania in June 1998 and began to threaten FRY with air strikes. On 23 September 1998, through Security Council resolution 1199, the Council demanded an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of security forces used for civilian repression, and unhindered access for humanitarian organisations.

By January 1999, the conflict had displaced an estimated 200,000 people and was increasingly resembling an “all-out civil war”, according to a 30 January 1999 report of the Secretary-General. Amid escalating hostilities and unsuccessful efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict, NATO initiated an aerial bombing campaign against the FRY forces on 24 March 1999, which it carried out without seeking the Security Council’s endorsement.

This prompted Russia to request an urgent Security Council meeting to “consider an extremely dangerous situation caused by the unilateral military action of NATO against the [FRY]”. The meeting, held on 24 March 1999, revealed deep divisions among Council members: some condemned the strikes as a unilateral use of force in violation of the UN Charter, while others supported the action as an intervention to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.

At that meeting, NATO members on the Council—including France, the UK, the US, and Slovenia (which served as an elected member at the time and is also currently on the Council)—argued that the Security Council’s resolutions on Kosovo had invoked Chapter VII of the Charter, representing an expression of the international community’s determination to assist in finding a resolution to the conflict and establishing a framework for action towards that end. The UK said that “as an exceptional measure on grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity, military intervention is legally justifiable”. Russia challenged this argument by referencing General Assembly resolution 3314 of 14 December 1974, which determined that “no consideration of whatever nature, whether political, economic, military or otherwise, may serve as a justification for aggression”.

On 26 March 1999, the Security Council voted on a draft resolution introduced by Russia, which called for an immediate halt to the use of force against the FRY, labelling it a “flagrant violation of the UN Charter”. The resolution failed to be adopted because it did not garner the requisite support, receiving three votes in favour (China, Namibia, and Russia), and 12 votes against. Slovenia, in explaining its vote against the resolution, argued that the draft failed to reflect the Security Council practice of opting to “remain silent at a time of military action by a regional organization aimed at the removal of a regional threat to peace and security”, suggesting that NATO’s intervention was seen as a European solution to a European issue and implying that such actions might not be replicated in other contexts outside the continent.

The war concluded 11 weeks after NATO’s military operation began, with the signing of a military-technical agreement on 9 June 1999 mandating the withdrawal of FRY forces from Kosovo, paving the way for an international presence. The following day, on 10 June 1999, the Security Council adopted resolution 1244, which authorised NATO to oversee the withdrawal of FRY forces from Kosovo and established the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

On 17 February 2008, Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence. At a Security Council meeting held on 18 February 2008, requested by Serbia with Russia’s support, Moscow argued that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was “incompatible with the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act”. (The 1975 Helsinki Final Act enshrined the founding principles of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe [OSCE], committing the organisation’s members, among other things, to refrain from the use of force and to settle disputes peacefully.) The UK argued that, while it was “not ideal for Kosovo to become independent without the consent of Serbia and without consensus in the Council…the unique circumstances of the violent break-up of the former Yugoslavia and the unprecedented UN administration of Kosovo make this a sui generis case that creates no wider precedent”.

Tomorrow’s Possible Briefing

Russia requested tomorrow’s briefing at the beginning of the month. On 6 March, at France’s request, the Council held a meeting under “any other business” to discuss Russia’s request. At that meeting, it appears that several Council members questioned the urgency of holding such a briefing since the situation in Kosovo had already been discussed on 8 February and the first regular briefing of the year is set to take place in April. Tomorrow, some members may reiterate this argument, while stressing the need for a more judicious management of the Council’s resources, especially in light of the austerity measures introduced last month due to the UN’s liquidity crisis. These members might also reference a precedent where the Council held a briefing on Kosovo just before the tenth anniversary of NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia, highlighting that this meeting was within the framework of the Council’s routine quarterly meetings on Kosovo at that time.

Some members might question the necessity of dedicating a meeting to an event that occurred 25 years ago. They may argue that the Council should instead prioritise addressing the wide array of current threats to international peace and security.

The Council has convened meetings on various occasions to reflect on historical events, often aligning these discussions with anniversaries. Given the politically sensitive nature of these cases, such meetings typically adopt informal formats, including Arria-formula meetings and meetings under “any other business”. For example, since 2019, Council members have held annual meetings on Georgia under “any other business” to mark the anniversary of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Similarly, anniversaries related to Ukraine have prompted several meetings. Between 2014 and 2021, Council members organised annual Arria-formula meetings in March to mark the anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Some meetings of this kind have been organised in formal formats. Since 2019, Russia has held annual meetings in February to mark the anniversary of the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements”, also known as the Minsk II agreement, adopted on 12 February 2015. (The Minsk agreements outlined steps for ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine through a political settlement.) In February 2023 and 2024, Council members convened meetings to mark the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022.

While the 2014 conflict in eastern Ukraine and the Russia-Ukraine war that started in 2022 were considered active situations on the Council’s agenda, the Council has also organised formal briefings to mark the anniversary of past, concluded events. On 16 April 2014, for example, elected member Nigeria organised a briefing on the prevention of and fight against genocide on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. Additionally, on 7 July 2015, the Council convened for a briefing to mark the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Notably, at that meeting, Russia questioned the need for such a meeting, arguing that the Council should “let historians analyse the vicissitudes of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia and its genesis, including the role of the various countries and alliances that took hasty decisions”, adding that the Council should not immerse itself in “historical events” for it faces “too many unresolved issues in the contemporary world”.

On 20 March 2023, Russia had planned to request a meeting under “any other business” to mark the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq. Instead of requesting the meeting as planned, however, Russia decided to hold a press conference that afternoon because of what it described as “procedural manoeuvring” by Western delegations.

Tomorrow, Russia is expected to argue that NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia and Kosovo’s subsequent unilateral declaration of independence should not be viewed merely as historical occurrences. Instead, Moscow views these events as root causes of ongoing divisions in the Balkans and the fragmentation of the post-World War II European security architecture. For Moscow, NATO’s intervention was the start of attempts to subvert the international law underpinning international relations with a subjective rules-based order.

In questioning the urgency of holding tomorrow’s briefing and its proposed format, some Western Council members may recall that the International Court of Justice determined in its advisory opinion of 22 July 2010 that Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence did not violate international law or Security Council resolution 1244.

At the time of writing, it seemed likely that there would not be sufficient votes in favour of proceeding with the meeting. (Procedural votes require a minimum of nine votes in favour to be adopted and are not subject to a veto by permanent Council members.) There are currently four NATO members on the Council: France, Slovenia, the UK, and the US. Among Council members, nine recognise Kosovo’s independence (France, Guyana, Japan, Malta, the Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Switzerland, the UK, and the US), while five do not (Algeria, China, Ecuador, Mozambique, and Russia). According to Kosovo, Sierra Leone officially recognised its independence in June 2008. According to media reports, in March 2020, Serbia claimed that Sierra Leone had withdrawn its recognition, citing a note verbale on the matter from Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Kosovo disputes the validity of the withdrawal.


Post-script (25 March 4:30 pm EST): The meeting to mark the 25th anniversary of NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia was blocked. France requested a procedural vote, which asked those in favour of adopting the provisional agenda “Threats to international peace and security” to raise their hand. It received three votes in favour (Algeria, China, and Russia) and 12 abstentions.

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