If all of America’s foreign policy observers were ranked for their realism, honesty, integrity, and sound thinking, few could come close to Dr. Steven Meyer, a longtime CIA analyst and Professor of Political Science at Washington’s prestigious National Defense University. If his recommendations had held sway over the last quarter century, the world and especially Europe would be a much, much better place than what has resulted from listening to the inferior minds and deficient personalities that actually guided U.S. policy.
Dr. Meyer recently authored a critique of the Serbian government’s approach to negotiations with the «Kosovars» (sic) regarding the fate of Serbs in the occupied province of Kosovo and Metohija. His observations as why the current approach is unproductive and contrary to Serbia’s interest and those of the Serbs in Kosovo are entirely correct. But his recommended alternative — that Belgrade initiate an entirely new round of talks with an eye to partition on ethnic grounds (basically, along the Ibar River) — is ill-advised, in my opinion.
Dr. Meyer’s critique of Belgrade’s policy is spot-on:
«So far, the Brussels process has been a failure, just like every other effort since 1999, to find a just and equitable solution. As with past efforts, the Brussels process has failed because the questions of political legitimacy, and authority and mostly sovereignty are ignored. Until these questions are addressed honestly there will be very little — if any —progress on Kosovo.
«The Kosovars are working from the perspective that the Serbs will do anything to please the EU and that Pristina can continue to be difficult because time is on their side. Leaders in Pristina believe that they have the West, especially the U.S., on their side and that Serbia has never had the initiative and never will have it. To a large extent, Pristina is right. The Vucic government has been so determined to sacrifice Kosovo on the EU altar that Belgrade has put Serbia on the defensive. Belgrade says Serbs will never surrender sovereignty over Kosovo. But bit by bit that is exactly what Belgrade is doing. [...]
«Most recently, the Serbian government’s agreement to ‘bottom-up technical negotiations’ required by the Brussels process also has failed. In fact, it is a tacit surrender of sovereignty by Belgrade with nothing in exchange. To be clear, whenever Belgrade surrenders authority over even minor ‘technical’ areas, it is surrendering sovereignty — and this is a violation of the Serbian Constitution as well as being a detriment to Serbia’s national interests».
Truer words were never written. Dr. Meyer suggests that instead of continuing down this disastrous path, which only can result in losing Kosovo with nothing to show for it, Belgrade should quit the stacked game. Instead, he calls for Belgrade «to take a leadership role in the process, not assume the position of a weak supplicant», to set the stage for a «new approach [that] needs to establish a framework that actually engages the question of sovereignty».
The centerpiece would be partition, with Serbia exercising «full sovereignty north of the Ibar River, where Serbs constitute more than 90 percent of the population», while «the region south of the Ibar River should be under Kosovar sovereignty». Members of either ethnic group who didn’t want to live under the authority of the other could move to the other zone with humanitarian funding. International guarantees would protect those minorities that remain.
The sentiment Dr. Meyer’s proposal is admirable, certainly as compared with the policy Belgrade is now following. Unfortunately, there are two serious problems with Dr. Meyer’s recommended solution:
1. It is politically and morally wrong; and
2. It wouldn’t work.
The fundamental wrongness of Dr. Meyer’s proposal relates to the cornerstone issue on which his proposal rests: «questions of political legitimacy, and authority and mostly sovereignty». For Serbia, that question is definitively answered in the Constitution. If, as Dr. Meyer correctly observes, surrender of authority over even seemingly minor «technical» areas is «surrendering sovereignty», «a violation of the Serbian Constitution», and «a detriment to Serbia’s national interests», what can we say about the de jure renunciation of the large majority of the province? What kind of new negotiations can proceed on the rightful owners’ a priori concession to give up most of what is legally theirs as the basis of the negotiation? If you steal my car, do I «negotiate» by agreeing to let you keep most of it in the hopes of your giving me back one of the tires? By conceding the sovereignty question at the beginning, Serbia would lose her entire stakes before any talks could begin.
The practical defects are as fatal as that of principle. Belgrade has walked down the misguided path of «technical» negotiations while claiming not to have sacrificed principle based on two factors Dr. Meyer describes: that the current Belgrade leadership «will do anything to please the EU» and that the Albanians’ leaders believe, rightly, that «they have the West, especially the U.S., on their side». As long as all of Belgrade’s policies are governed by the mirage of EU membership, nothing in Dr. Meyer’s proposal will disabuse Pristina of their conviction that they need not concede anything, that time is on their side, and that their outside sponsors will back them up. That would not change just because the topic of discussion has shifted to one of territorial division, which the Albanians would almost certainly reject anyway while reaping the proceeds of Belgrade’s fatal concession of principle.
Perhaps the biggest defect in Dr. Meyer’s proposal is insufficient regard for the fact that the world, and Europe, are changing. He alludes to that indirectly by noting —
«Recently, according to the media, Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that he did not think that President-elect Trump would return Kosovo to Serbia. This is certainly correct. In the first place, Trump does not have the power, authority or right to return Kosovo to Serbia».
I agree, Trump will not return Kosovo to Serbia, though I expect he would have the «power» to do so if he wanted. As for whether he has the «authority and right», I suppose he has no less than Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had to take it away in the first place.
But that’s not really the point. Much more relevant is that the Washington foreign policy establishment is in full-scale panic over someone taking up residence in the White House who doesn’t burn incense before the same idols as the neoconservative and liberal-interventionist crowd for whom the 1999 Kosovo aggression was their first big «success», a template for later misadventures in the broader Middle East. Trump is someone who wants to get along with Russia, who says that NATO is «obsolete», who wants an end to idiotic nation-building, and who thinks fighting Islamic terror is actually a priority, not a cover for supporting jihadists as a policy tool. (It is for that very reason that there is right now a full-blown conspiracy in the U.S. to de-legitimate Trump, with the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, politicizes leadership of the intelligence community, and the major media all in confederation against him.)
At the same time, the European Union, the false god before which Serbia’s leaders grovel, is falling apart under the pressure of rising nationalism. How much will Belgrade surrender on the slim hope that by the time their country is invited there will still be an EU to join? Maybe time is not on Pristina’s side after all...
So, if Belgrade’s current approach is wrong, and Dr. Meyer’s recommendation is wrong, what do I suggest? In a word, patience. For the time being, a «frozen conflict» is not the worse state of affairs. Maintain the principle of sovereignty. Negotiate, to the extent possible, on small things, not for the purpose of «making progress» but with only one goal: how to keep as many Serbs in Kosovo, as safe as possible, for as long as possible. (With regard to Dr. Meyer’s suggestion that minority Serbs south of the Ibar in partitioned Kosovo could be protected by outside guarantees, as someone of Greek origin I have to ask how much that was worth for the Greeks of Constantinople and the islands of Imbros and Tenedos under the Treaty of Lausanne.)
Serbia needs to start thinking of the EU as already in the past tense, as a thing that has no future. Make friends with the patriotically oriented movements in Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, of course in the United States. Above all, stay close to Russia.
Dr. Meyer’s clinching argument is the «hard fact that Serbia will not get most of Kosovo back. Any attempt to do so would reignite war — a war Serbia could not win». Nobody is talking about a war but about a rapidly changing international context that may provide opportunities that are not apparent now.
The last time Serbia lost Kosovo seemingly forever it took half a millennium to get it back. This time it will not take as long.