Diplomat: Upcoming Kosovo ruling will be spun by both sides

Gerard M. Gallucci.JPG

Whatever the International Court of Justice (ICJ) decides in its imminent ruling on Kosovo, both Belgrade and Pristina will immediately try and spin the result in their own favour, Gerard M. Gallucci, former UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo, told EURACTIV Germany in an interview.

Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as director for inter-American affairs at the National Security Council.

He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 to October 2008.

He was speaking to EURACTIV Germany’s Daniel Tost.

There have been rumours that neither Pristina nor Belgrade will be happy with the ICJ decision this Thursday [22 July] concerning Kosovo's status. What are your expectations concerning the outcome and the reactions?

I don't see how the ICJ could simply rule against recognising Kosovo's declaration of independence, since the recognition of one state by another is a sovereign right and not subject to international law. On the other hand, the international presence in Kosovo – the UN and NATO – which allowed the Kosovo Albanians the space to make their declaration is there under the UN umbrella.

The ICJ would be setting a precedent unwelcome by any state with possible separatist movements if they simply threw UNSCR 1244 [the UN Security Council Resolution that established the international presence in Kosovo] out the window. So I suspect they will come down someplace between. Whatever they rule, both Pristina and Belgrade will immediately start spinning it in their own favour.

Is a UN resolution to restart talks on the status of Kosovo – as Serbia will probably propose – likely?

Discussions will probably precede any new resolution. I don't see how the two sides in the Security Council – the US favouring independence and Russia and China opposing – could agree on a new resolution until there was some agreement on the main outstanding issues.

What is your opinion on the recent media reports about Serbia planning to propose a territory trade-off with Kosovo? Is this a realistic solution?

I don't believe territory exchanges are a good or realistic option. I also do not believe that Serbia would give up territory clearly its own – Preševo for example – for other territory it already controls on the ground in northern Kosovo.

The EU's rule of law mission in Kosovo, EULEX, seems to be confronted with an unsolvable problem. Against this background, there is a lot of criticism that much has been left undone by the UN's Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK. What is your assessment of the work of [EULEX Head of Mission] Yves de Kermabonand [EU Special Representative in Kosovo] Pieter Feith?

Peacekeeping is difficult work. Kosovo's two largest national groups – Albanians and Serbs – have a long history, including abuse by both sides against the other. Kosovo remains trapped in a tribal conflict. UNMIK – with NATO's support – was able to keep the peace along the Ibar River until 2008 when it turned over responsibility for law and order to EULEX.

UNMIK could not solve the fundamental political questions, most basically the status of Kosovo. Neither can EULEX. But whereas UNMIK did its job in a neutral manner, EULEX – and at times NATO – sought to do more than peacekeeping. They also sought to impose Pristina's political rule on the Serbs.

In the south, where the Serbs live in isolated enclaves, they were finally able to succeed by cutting off electricity and telephones and allowing the Albanian side to use bullying tactics.

In the north, EULEX and the Albanians took or threatened unilateral actions to force the Serbs there to accept independence. But these have not succeeded because the northern Serbs have options that those in the south do not, as they remain fully connected to Belgrade.

Hopefully, Pristina and its international allies will not renew their provocative efforts after the ICJ decision. They may still want to pre-empt a diplomatic outcome by using force. But this could lead to renewed violence and further ethnic displacement. We'll see.

Washington has stated that no matter how the ICJ decision turns out, it would continue to acknowledge Kosovo's sovereignty. In the whole region of the Western Balkans, the US is considered to be the most important external partner. What is your assessment on the USA's current commitment in the region? What needs to be done differently?

The US is of course a major player in the Balkans. But Kosovo, probably, is not so high on [US] President [Barack] Obama's agenda. Washington is preoccupied by Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, the Mid-East, China, etc. This seems to have led the US to rely more on the EU. But despite the sizeable investment in the Kosovo mission, the EU – Feith's ICO [International Civilian Office] and De Kermabon's EULEX – have not been able to find the right formula for furthering ethnic reconciliation.

The ICO and EULEX should focus more on making Kosovo south of the Ibar into a model of multi-ethnic democracy and clean government. The US and EU should leave the issue of the north to be resolved through negotiations.

In a recent article you assume that the US is supporting Kosovo's unilateral approach to the north of Kosovo in the hope of scaling down or ending its military commitment to the Kosovo NATO force. For this to happen, the Kosovo problem would have to be 'resolved'. How is US support supposed to facilitate this?

The US effort to 'resolve' the Kosovo issue seems mostly to be reliance on the EU, support for Pristina's efforts to impose its rule on the Kosovo Serbs, diplomatic efforts to win more recognition of Kosovo independence and mostly quiet discouragement of corruption. The US also has a modest troop presence as part of the NATO force in Kosovo.

I am not sure that the current US approach will be enough to resolve the current impasse over status. The people in the State Department who guide US policy for Kosovo may know this too. Thus, I am concerned that the US may yet be willing to support Pristina's effort to bring the northern Serbs to heel through force.

What is your outlook concerning the region? Is there any saying as to what the situation will be like in 5-10 years?

One must be an optimist here. It ought to be possible for the EU to bring the whole Balkans into membership, and into the disciplines of EU membership, well before that 10-15 year horizon. After all, the region is not simply near Europe but it is in Europe.

If everyone uses the opportunity presented by the upcoming ICJ recommendation to the UN General Assembly to renew diplomatic efforts to find a compromise solution everyone can live with, then progress could come even faster. The US and Russia could form the core of a new international partnership to bring real peace to Serbia and Kosovo.

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