Kosovo’s call for NATO membership falls on deaf ears

Kurti has previously expressed his intent to increase Kosovo’s defence spending in order to bring it to 2% of the country’s GDP, as NATO requires of its members. [EPA-EFE / VALDRIN XHEMAJ]

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti continues to make the case for NATO accession, given the ongoing war waged against Ukraine by Russia and potential regional instability, but NATO and some members remain resolute that for now, it is not on the table.

Kurti told AFP that in the current circumstances, both NATO and EU members should make it easier and faster for countries to join.

“In this extraordinary situation, we cannot behave normally. Therefore both EU membership and NATO membership cannot be done in the old ways,” he said, adding that “It is imperative that Brussels, as the capital of both NATO and the EU, rethink a new way of enlarging in the Western Balkans.”

Responding to questions from EURACTIV, a NATO official explained that Kosovo’s membership must be subject to a unanimous vote.

“All decisions by NATO, including those related to membership, are taken by the North Atlantic Council, by a unanimous vote.” Furthermore, the NATO official said, the process of accession remains unchanged.

Kosovo, a former Serbian province which declared unilaterally independence in 2008 after a bloody war in 1999, is recognised by 26 out of 30 NATO members. It would be unthinkable that Kosovo got support for membership without being recognised as a state by all NATO members. As the official explained, any NATO member can veto decisions linked to the enlargement of the alliance.

The four NATO countries that are also members of the EU who do not recognise its sovereignty are  Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, and Slovakia. Cyprus, a member of the EU, but not a NATO member, also doesn’t recognise Kosovo. 

Moreover, Kosovo is seen as a “consumer” of security, rather as a provider of more security for the alliance, as a new NATO member should be.

The official added that “NATO’s engagement in Kosovo has not changed. We remain strongly committed through the NATO-mandated Kosovo Force (KFOR), which contributes to a safe and secure environment and to wider stability in the Western Balkans”.

KFOR is a NATO-led international peacekeeping force stationed in Kosovo since the end of the war, which will remain in place until Kosovo’s Security Force becomes self-sufficient.

Any changes to the position of NATO and KFOR remain conditions-based and not calendar-driven, the official summarised.

EURACTIV contacted the foreign ministries of Slovakia, Romania, Greece and Spain. Romania and Spain did not respond.

Slovakia dodged the question of NATO and said that “the Slovak Republic supports EU membership for all countries of the Western Balkans. However, many preconditions need to be met, including resolving political issues. One of them is the constructive dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, which the European Union is trying to mediate.”

The dialogue between the two countries has long been stagnant as Kosovo demands recognition while Serbia says this will never happen.

In Greece’s curt response, a spokesperson said: “Please also check article 10 of the Washington Treaty establishing NATO. Greece’s position on Kosovo remains unchanged.”

Article 10 refers to the requirement that all states vote unanimously in favour of accession to the alliance.

Despite little chance of a swift NATO membership, Kurti has recently announced his intention to bring military spending in the country in line with the 2% required by the alliance.

Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine on 24 February, Kosovo and other countries in the region, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, have been fearful of the already tense security situation being further destabilised.

Serbia, a staunch ally of Russia that has refused to enact EU sanctions, remains an influential behind-the-scenes force in both countries.

Neighbouring Albania and North Macedonia are both members of NATO and EU candidate countries, hoping to start negotiations in the near future.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kurti said, “will use the factors and actors he controls also in the Western Balkans. As they will target new conflicts, the Western Balkans in general and Kosovo, in particular, are at risk,”

“In the past, the Russian president mentioned us once a month. Now he mentions us several times a week.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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