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NATO Briefing on New Balkan Issues
On September 13th 2000 I introduced a discussion in the North Atlantic Council in Brussels, saying that Milosevic was likely to loose in Yugoslavia, and that our Balkan policy would enter into a completely new phase.

Remarks by Mr Carl Bildt to the North Atlantic Council, Brussels, September 13th, 2000.

It was more than three years since I last had the opportunity of addressing the NAC. Then, I was about to leave the Balkan affairs after two years that started as EU Special Representative during the final stages of the war in Bosnia and continued with nearly two years as the first High Representative in Sarajevo.

Now, my function as Special Envoy of the Secretary General of the UN for the Balkans since late spring last year is a different one. I have no operational responsibilities, but after having helped in the initial phases with the setting up of the Kosovo mission, have been asked by the Secretary General to concentrate on that often talked-about but much too seldom practised art of preventive diplomacy. In that function, I report regularly to him, and occasionally to the Security Council.

The basis for this is naturally the recognition that we are not likely to have seen the end of the dramas in the Balkans yet.

The last ten years have certainly been dramatic.

Ten years ago, there was still peace in what was still the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. There were tensions, and there had been some local skirmishes in the Croatian Krajina, but few if any knew what really laid ahead.

When the international community started to take an interest in the issues of the region, it was a question of assisting it in the transition from one order that was clearly not sustainable, to another order that would be.

Ten years down the road, we have gone through the wars in Croatia, in Bosnia and in and over Kosovo, and we are very far from achieving that objective.

There is no other region of the world in which the UN has been asked to undertake more peacekeeping operations than in this one. At the moment, there are three such ongoing, ranging from the massive complex Kosovo mission to the miniscule but critically important Prevlaka mission.

And if I see the region from your perspective, there are today app a quarter of a million young men and women in uniform committed to service in the region. We all know that if these troops were to be withdrawn today, there would in all probability be war tomorrow.

Clearly, we are far from the self-sustaining stability that we started out searching for a decade ago.

And the tensions are certainly still there.

I have often talked about the battle between the forces of integration or disintegration in the region. Between, if you like, the forces of Balkanisation or Europeanisation.

There is no doubt that the forces of disintegration are still substantially stronger than the forces of integration in most of the region. And there is no doubt that there is a very real risk for further conflicts in this very fact.

We know from bitter experience throughout all of the last century, its beginning as well as its end in the Balkans, that virtually every step towards disintegration has been associated with brutal conflicts of a sort we thought belonged to a by-gone era.

Up until the end of the war in Bosnia, we were dealing primarily with the wars resulting from the conflicts between the wider Serb and the wider Croat interests in the region, with the Muslims of Bosnia caught in between, and with large-scale ethnic cleansing used by both sides to secure more contiguous territories.

From the beginning of the acute conflict over Kosovo, we have been dealing primarily with the conflicts between the wider Slav and wider Albanian interests in the region, with Kosovo as its classical focal point, but with this fracture zone stretching over a considerably wider area.

And we are today in a situation were we have a semi-protectorate in the focal point of the first conflict and a full-scale protectorate in the present focal point of the other.

The critical difference between the two is, however, that while we have a Peace Agreement in the first case, we have nothing of the sort in the latter. All of the core issues of that conflict are still open, with the result that we are seeing that devastating circle of expectations on the one side and fears of the other at work throughout that part of the region.

You are all familiar with the situation in and around Kosovo. The UN and NATO is working hand in hand to make the best out of a situation that is truly demanding.

But the issue of Kosovo is only a part of the wider issue of the future of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – this “third Yugoslavia” of Serbia and Montenegro that was created in the early 1990’s as the other four republics sought and gained their independence.

In my opinion, the present structures of this present FRY are not sustainable, and the question of how and in what direction they will be changed the most critical and most immediate issue in the region today. This is a question both of the relationship between the republics of Serbia and Montenegro, and of the future status of Kosovo, as well and the relationship between these two issues, and between them and the other complex issues in the region.

This is the most critical and most immediate issue in the region. But I would like to stress that the most difficult and dangerous issues of the region has been, is and is likely to remain Bosnia and Macedonia. The way in which we deal with the most immediate issue of the future of FRY will have obvious long-term implications for the challenges we might fact in Bosnia and Macedonia.

In different ways, all of these issues will be affected by the series of important elections we will see in the region during the coming months, which indeed started with the local elections in Macedonia last Sunday. There will be the Serb local as well as FRY elections September 24, the Albanian local elections starting October 1, the Kosovo local elections October 28 and the Bosnian both country-wide as well as entity elections November 11.

All of these elections would deserve their own treatment, and we should be aware of the way in which they can interact with each other, demonstrating political trends across the artificial boundaries between different missions that international organisations, be they the UN or NATO, often have. Sufficient might be to note, that one of the most important, if not the most important, issue in the Macedonian election was the issue of Kosovo.

But the most important of these will obviously be the Serb and FRY elections in September 24. We might talk about a watershed event.

I have spent the past two weeks moving around Serbia and assessing the situation from all the vantage points possible – Skopje, Podgorica, Zagreb, Budapest – meeting with a variety of Serb representatives.

The most important of these is obviously the election of FRY president. This is the election Milosevic must not loose. But the question is whether he really knows how to win.

I believe that he will first loose the election and then steal it.

And that we will enter September 25 with Milosevic claiming over 50% of the vote while the opposition claiming that its candidate was in the lead.

After years of disputes and disarray, the opposition has managed to get its act together. In Vojislav Kostunica, they suddenly have a candidate with impeccable anti-Milosevic, anti-NATO and anti-corruption credentials.

There is today a momentum in the Kostunica campaign that, if it can be sustained, will force the regime to dramatically escalate its planned election fraud. But there are, even in a system like this, limits to how far this escalation can go without endangering the credibility of the exercise also in circles were close to and important to the regime.

This will be the issue in the morning of Monday September 25.

Will he get away with it? Or will we see the beginning of a chain of events that will lead to a change of regime in Serbia?

Either way, the international community will have to be prepared. We will be entering new territory.

Fears have been expressed that he will use the time after the election to strike against Montenegro. We should be aware of the possibility, although the logic of such a move is not apparent. The threat to Milosevic will be in Belgrade, in the streets and in the corridors, and turmoil in Montenegro doesn’t make that situation easier to deal with.

But September 24 and the immediate aftermath will see either the end of the hope for peaceful change in Serbia, or the beginning of a process of painful but peaceful change in Serbia. Both of these alternatives will have profound implications for policy in the wider region.

If he looses, the one way or the other, we are likely to see a lengthy and difficult twilight period for the regime. But it will mean the beginning of a crisis in which his machinery will soon start to crumble. And could do so in an accelerating way.

From our international point of view, this means that there will be opened up a golden window of opportunity for addressing a number of the key issues in the region. We must be ready to move rapidly from the anti-Milosevic mode in which we have been devising policies so far to a post-Milosevic mode which is likely to be far more demanding and difficult in strategic terms.

If we are to engage with a new Serbian political environment, we must be able to address Serb issues and concerns in the same way that we will expect them to address international as well as regional issues and concerns.

If we are not, there is a risk that the window of opportunity will close, and that we will slide into a situation where we are still in confrontation with Serbia, but now a Serbia without Milosevic.

Any consideration of these issues leads to the conclusion that virtually all of the issues of the region will have to be on the table. They are all interrelated.

We cannot get rid of the so-called outer wall of sanctions, which is an absolute necessity when it comes to helping its economy, without addressing the succession issues. These cannot be addressed without sorting out the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro. It will also be logical to seek the normalisations of relations in general in the region, entailing addressing a number of other difficult issues. And it is hardly possible addressing all of these issues while not having a clearer view of where we are heading in Kosovo.

I am not claiming that we are ready for sorting out all of the issues related to the Kosovo conflict. But I believe it might be necessary to make certain things more clear than they have been so far.

One is that there has to be a constitutional separation between the Republic of Serbia and the gradually and carefully evolving Republic of Kosova. The other is that the provisions in SCR1244 on the territorial integrity of the FRY are there to stay for the foreseeable future.

This will set the parameters for the future, without settling issues that will have to be left for later. I personally believe that these can not be addressed until the European Union is ready to set up structures and institutions for the region far more robust than has been discussed so far. There is no other way in which we can with hope of success face the forces of disintegration.

The way in which we are ready to handle these issues could well determine the question of war and peace in the years ahead.

It’s a question of trying to bridge that gulf that today separates the wider Slav and the wider Albanian interests in the region. If that effort isn’t done, that gulf is likely to widen, and NATO will over time find itself consumed by trying to handle a broad band of Mitrovica’s throughout the fracture zone between these wider interests throughout this part of the region.

And we might sooner or later be back to both of those two highly complex issues in the region I mentioned – the structure of Macedonia, and the structure of Bosnia.

It can be argued that nothing of this will happen since Milosevic will manage the situation in the one way or other. This could well happen, and in the near term we would still be in what I referred to as the anti-Milosevic mode with our policies.

In that case, the near-term challenges might well be different. We are then more likely to head for separation and conflict in Montenegro. This will profoundly affect also the future options for Kosovo. And this will sooner or later transform the scene in Macedonia, with Bosnia not unaffected either.

We are thus at the beginning of a critical period. I cannot predict the outcome. I can predict that it will be different from so far – and that either way we will face major political challenges.

We might, depending also on how comprehensive, coordinated and far-sighted our policies are, be able to move somewhat closer to our goal of self -sustaining stability for the region. But we might also be stumbling into even more wars.

Bildt Blog Comments

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