[Opinion] : Mea culpa, but not for calling ugly diplomacy ugly

Daniel Serwer - Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies


By Daniel Serwer

Washington/Prishtina, 20 February 2023, / –  Last Wednesday I published a popular piece on Ugly Diplomacy in the Balkans. The “hook” of the piece was a recent agreement to create liaison positions for Serbian diplomats in the State Department. I was critical of that decision because I assumed that Kosovo diplomats had not yet been offered the same opportunity. I was wrong.

Mea culpa

I have been informed that a Kosovo diplomat has been working in the State Department since early 2022. A second started working there in January 2023. That information is available in tweets from Embassy Pristina that I had missed. I welcome this news and hasten to acknowledge my incorrect assumption.

One of the Kosovars is working in Educational and Cultural Affairs. I haven’t had an answer to my inquiry about the other or the Serbs.

The Secretary of State is tweeting nonsense

None of that changes my view of the  current diplomacy pursued at State vis-a-vis Serbia. The State Department is anteing up goodies for Belgrade well before it has done what we would like on Ukraine and many other issues. I know of no backing for this tweet from Secretary Blinken:

“Had a productive conversation with Serbian President @AVucic today at the @MunSecConf. We discussed the importance of normalized relations with Kosovo and I conveyed our appreciation for Serbia’s continued support for Ukraine. We share Serbia’s desire for a future with the EU.”

This is nonsense. President Vucic, who has aligned himself increasingly with Moscow and Beijing, so far as I am aware has done little or nothing in the West’s favor on Ukraine, other than vote for a couple of helpuful but toothless UN General Assembly resolutions. He hasn’t done a whole lot on normalization with Kosovo or EU accession either.

The Americans don’t care

But the Americans don’t care. Witness Washington’s full-throated support for Serbia’s Open Balkans initiative and its much-vaunted proposal for an Association of Serb-majority Municipalities inside Kosovo. Many in the region perceive both these propositions as threats to the territorial integrity of neighbors.

Washington support for Belgrade contrasts sharply with the pressure Washington is bringing to bear on our friends in Pristina, who aren’t getting nice photo ops with the Secretary or full-throated praise for their successful anti-corruption efforts or their acceptance of the French-German proposal on normalization as a basis for negotiations.

Ugly is still ugly

So yes, I was wrong in my assumption about Kosovo diplomats inside the State Department. They are already there. But it is still ugly diplomacy when you reward people who refuse to do what you want and pressure your friends. I know it is easier to twist the arm of your friend than your adversary, but it is still ugly.


Daniel Serwer is a Professor of the Practice of Conflict Management as well as director of the Conflict Management and American Foreign Policy Programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. This opinion of his was originally published at his website.   

 The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of  

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