Melanie McDonagh: Like it or not, we are needed in Kosovo

The PM must brace himself for another foreign military commitment to stave off a wider conflagration in Europe

Share

This is not, perhaps, the best time to add to the woes of the Prime Minister, but there is one element of the Blair legacy that he would probably prefer not to think about but which is becoming quite impossible to ignore – Kosovo. Remember?

This was the most successful instance of his predecessor's policy of humanitarian engagement in foreign affairs before it got a bad name, and it is now an issue that is likely, temporarily at least, to become as urgent as Iraq or Afghanistan. Moreover – and this is something Gordon Brown really will not want to hear – it raises the question of further British military engagement, this time back in Europe.

No one will want to contemplate yet another theatre for troops who are generally agreed to be overstretched. Particularly after a week when the generals in the Lords went out of their way to embarrass the Prime Minister on the extent of his commitment to the armed forces. The suggestion that British troops may return to Kosovo would make them even more worked up. But the reason why Kosovo is a matter that cannot be pushed down the Prime Minister's in-tray is that the question of its status – that is, whether or not it is to be an independent country – is meant to be resolved by 10 December.

That is the date the UN billed for bringing talks between Serbia and Kosovo to an end. These negotiations have gone on for two years and, to nobody's great surprise, they have got nowhere. There is no common ground between the Serbs' insistence that Kosovo return to Serbian control, at least in respect of foreign relations and defence, and the Kosovo Albanians' stubborn resolve that independence is non-negotiable. As the German in charge of the negotiations said, the international community has tried to square every possible circle to find ways of reconciling these positions and has failed.

At present, Kosovo is in the invidious position of being a failed state even before acquiring statehood. It is controlled by the UN's Unmik, and the performance of that body in administering almost every element of its responsibilities – particularly justice – should put paid to any further experiments on the same lines for years to come. Organised crime, chronic unemployment, poverty, corruption, infantile politics and impotent policing – that's what Kosovo is made of right now.

My husband is a Kosovo Albanian and I have seen moderate, rational Albanians – they do exist – becoming steadily more dispirited over the past eight years in an international protectorate. Privatisation should never have been attempted until the status of Kosovo was resolved. It has been a disaster, undervaluing state assets to the level of swag for the politically well-connected.

So far as the Serbs are concerned, the UN-approved plan by the former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, is generally agreed to offer them the best deal possible – independence for Kosovo conditional on a very high level of self-government for Serbian communities and, more importantly, international supervision of policing and the judiciary. For all its elaborate safeguards, that plan was rejected by the Russians, on the Serbs' behalf, at the Security Council a few months ago.

The stakes are very high indeed. If there is a unilateral declaration of independence, as the new Kosovo Prime Minister, Hasim Thaci, threatens, then there is a real likelihood that the remaining Serbs in Kosovo will simply leave the country. So too may the unfortunate Gypsy community, at the bottom of every Balkan pile, because they have been identified with the Serbs. There are shadowy paramilitary groups forming on both sides: Albanian extremists who want to expedite the exodus of the Serbs, and in Serbia paramilitary groups who want to destabilise the nascent Kosovo state.

That is why the question of British military involvement in Kosovo arises. If the Serb communities are not simply to flee from areas where they have lived for centuries, they need the reassurance of a credible military presence. And frankly, there is no armed force that has quite the credibility of the Brits. During the anti-Serb riots of March 2004, the response of UN troops ranged from cowardly (the Germans) to inadequate (the French).

Kosovo on the brink of independence is a febrile, dangerous place: its minorities need protection and so do its borders, beyond what the existing 16,000 international troops can provide. And no one is quite as professional as the Brits. They were withdrawn from the Balkans to concentrate on Iraq and Afghanistan – but it may now be time for 2,000 of them or so to return.

That, plainly, would have political consequences for relations between the generals and the Government. But it would be in a good cause. Leave out of account the question of organised crime – drugs, women, people-trafficking, money-laundering – that flourishes there. (If there is one area where there is inter-ethnic co-operation, it is between the mafias of Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia.) If there is a conflict, the repercussions may spread to the parts of southern Serbia where there is a significant Albanian community.

But there is another reality – the Serbs in northern Kosovo, chiefly in Mitrovica, closest to Serbia, will not recognise the writ of an independent government. There may also be greater instability in Macedonia, where the Albanians form at least a quarter of the population and are notably more Islamic in character than those in Kosovo.

But the argument that you often hear from the Serbian side, that independence for Kosovo makes for a dangerous precedent for other areas, won't run. Of course there are other areas in ex-Yugoslavia where minorities would very much like political unification with their ethnic brethren by redrawing borders – such as the Serb Republic in Bosnia – but they have no constitutional status. Kosovo, like Bosnia, was a federal unit of the old Yugoslavia and that means it has proper borders and a constitutional standing.

So what should Mr Brown do? First, he should acknowledge, as he has yet to do, that Kosovo is an international and European priority. Second, he should vigorously back the Ahtisaari plan as the sanest option anyone is likely to come up with. Third, he should support US pressure on the Albanians to delay independence until January. Fourth, he must seriously consider British military assistance.

But there is also scope for his favourite approach to foreign policy questions – the economy, stupid. About 60 per cent of Kosovo's external trade is with Serbia, something that will not survive a declaration of independence. The unemployment rate is more than 50 per cent – the country could not survive were it not for remittances from Albanians working abroad, many of them here. Giving aid in such a way as to circumvent politicians and support long-term investment is genuinely worthwhile. Mr Brown may not welcome being landed with the consequences of Mr Blair's foreign policy interventions – but Kosovo is, at least in part, Britain's responsibility and he must shoulder it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Barnardo's: Corporate Audit and Inspection – Retail Intern (Leeds)

Unpaid - £4 lunch allowance plus travel to and from work: Barnardo's: Purpose ...

Recruitment Genius: Content Writer - Global Financial Services

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Have you called the homeless 'the people you step over when coming out of the opera'? Then you too could get a peerage from David Cameron!

Lee Williams
The blurring of traditional social class lines is bad news for Labour as it prepares to elect a left-wing class warrior in Mr Corbyn  

Labour leadership contest: Can grey beard Jeremy Corbyn win the grey vote?

Andrew Grice
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future