[To US and EU negotiators]:
” What will work with Serbia is fewer carrots and more sticks. What will work with Kosovo is fewer sticks and more carrots. Continuing with your current approach risks undermining normalization and causing serious regional instability. Bosnia is inching towards de facto partition. Montenegro is drifting towards subordination to Serbia.”
By Daniel Serwer , @DanielSerwer ,
Washington, 21 June 2023, dtt-net.com / peacefare.net – I sometimes daydream. Here is my daydream for what I would say to the US and EU negotiators with Kosovo and Serbia:
Gentlemen: The current crisis in Kosovo creates daunting challenges. I wish you well in managing those.
But you also face challenges in the broader normalization process you have embarked on.
Failure is an option
There I think you are failing.
I don’t mean with Prime Minister Albin Kurti. You are obviously failing with him.
But you are also failing with President Aleksandar Vucic.
I don’t see any evidence that he has moved one centimeter closer to the West in recent years, either domestically or internationally.
He is governing Serbia in increasingly autocratic ways and seeks to control Serb populations in neighboring countries.
He has continued to build a web of military and security relations with Moscow as well security and economic relations with Beijing.
He sits now on three stools.
Yes, Serbia is still vastly more dependent on the EU than on Russia or China for trade and investment, but the EU has done little to exploit its leverage.
It is hamstrung by its consensual structure and the five member states that don’t recognize Kosovo.
The U.S. has fed Vucic mainly carrots. We praise him as a partner, rarely mention his media manipulation or corruption close to him, refrain from asserting what we know about his control of thugs who dominate northern Kosovo and attacked KFOR, fail to criticize him for mobilizing military forces, and revivify National Guard cooperation.
We also pay him the honor of a visit from the USAID Administrator, a devotee of democracy and expert on war crimes and crimes against humanity, but he subsequently dines with a convicted war criminal.
Washington understandably appreciates Vucic’s allowing arms to go to Ukraine. That is hardly a sacrifice on his part.
The EU and US are pursuing Vucic’s main priority, the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities (ASMM) inside Kosovo, with missionary fervor. But they offer little in return but a promise of renewing already failed efforts at gaining international recognition for Pristina.
The EU claims there are 16 arrangements like the ASMM in Europe. Each and every one of them, however, is in a country recognized by its neighbors.
With recognition by Serbia, Kosovo should be glad to arrange an ASMM like those others.
Your current approach to normalization will not work: it aims too high and tilts too far.
Vucic is not ready to accept Kosovo’s territorial integrity, much less its sovereignty. You need to lower your sights and adjust your strategy.
What will work with Serbia is fewer carrots and more sticks.
What will work with Kosovo is fewer sticks and more carrots.
Continuing with your current approach risks undermining normalization and causing serious regional instability. Bosnia is inching towards de facto partition. Montenegro is drifting towards subordination to Serbia.
So my question is this: are you prepared, before the failure is complete, to do a thorough re-evaluation of your current strategy?
Will you consult broadly about how to press forward before you are pressed backwards?
Are you willing to rethink before you cause more problems in the Balkans than you solve?
PS: I did this interview for N1/BiH earlier last Wednesday.
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 was first published at his peacefare.net website.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of dtt-net.com .