European Affairs

In U.S. View, Kosovo’s Independence Is Inevitable Now     Print Email

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Excerpts of remarks to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives in April 2007

The cornerstone of our policy in the region has long been the promise of integration of the Balkan countries with NATO and the European Union. This is surely the best way for the countries of Southeast Europe to rebuild their societies, see their economies grow and create new and peaceful relationships with their neighbors. Most of the countries that emerged from the disastrous and bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia are now on a path to membership in the EU and NATO. After years of conflict, our American vision is within reach.

Under the Ahtisaari plan [put forward by UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari, and has the support of the European Commission and is now tabled at the Security Council] Kosovo will become independent but will continue a period of international tutelage for a limited number of years…

After the violent break-up of Yugoslavia and the ethnic cleansing that Slobodan Milosevic conducted in Kosovo, any other outcome, we believe, would result in dysfunctional governance, strengthen the hand of extremists and lead directly to new conflicts. The reality is that ties between Serbia and Kosovo have already been severed since 1999 when the UN Security Council, in resolution 1244, decided to remove Belgrade’s authority over Kosovo and place the region under UN administration. Now, over 90 percent of the citizens of Kosovo are Kosovar Albanians. They will never accept continued rule by Serbia. They are manifestly pro-American, having been protected from slaughter and exile by our troops. They will accept nothing less than independence. In the past eight years, Kosovo has strengthened its local governing institutions, including by electing an Assembly, a President, and Prime Minister. We see no credible option for integrating these institutions with Serbia.

Independence for Kosovo will mark the definitive end of the breakup of Yugoslavia, thereby allowing all the states in the region to focus on their future. It will enable Serbia, in particular, to move beyond the tragic and bitter legacy of the Milosevic era.

Kosovo’s independence is a legitimate, fair and lawful outcome. While some have argued that independence would be a precedent for other separatist movements, we reject this notion completely. As with solutions to the other conflicts related to Yugoslavia’s collapse, the Ahtisaari proposals are tailored to local circumstances and bear no relevance to other countries in Europe or other continents.

The special factors involved in Kosovo – in particular the non-consensual and violent breakup of Yugoslavia, Milosevic’s policy of ethnic cleansing, NATO’s decision to intervene, and the UN Security Council’s decision that placed Kosovo under UN administration and envisioned a UN-facilitated political process to decide status – are found nowhere else and are unlikely to be duplicated... Although separatists elsewhere may seek to link their cause with Kosovo, we know of no situation that is comparable and expect that all responsible governments will reject such comparisons.

A new Security Council resolution [as tabled in draft form] will not actually confer independence on Kosovo. Rather, it will remove political and legal impediments to independence, as well as provide mandates for Kosovo’s post-status international supervision under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. We expect that Kosovo’s leaders will subsequently declare their independence. The U.S. and other countries will then recognize the new state. Our goal is to bring the Kosovo status process to a timely and successful conclusion by the end of this spring…

We have begun a series of discussions with the Russian government to encourage it to support this process, or at a minimum, not to block it. It has been the U.S. and Europe which have made, by far, the greatest commitment of troops, money and political involvement in Kosovo for eight years. It is our troops who will have to cope with the inevitable disturbances if independence is deferred by the Security Council. Therefore, the U.S. and Europe hope Russia will choose to work together cooperatively to maintain stability and peace in the region, which we believe will be realized best by a positive UN Security Council resolution. Second, any attempt to block Kosovo’s independence will not succeed as Kosovo’s independence is now, we believe, inevitable.

Kosovo will need help… Its new institutions are weak, lacking the ability to fight corruption, organized crime and ethnically-motivated violence. Recognizing this situation, President Ahtisaari has recommended a period of strong supervision of Kosovo’s independence by the international community…

The United States will participate in the establishment of a new International Civilian Office in Kosovo, which President Ahtisaari has proposed to supervise implementation of the settlement. This office will be led by a senior European official, with an American as his or her deputy. The head of the office will have executive powers to overturn laws, remove officials or take other action to ensure the Settlement is implemented. He or she will report to an International Steering Group composed of the current members of the Contact Group: France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, United States and Russia, as well as representatives of NATO and the EU…

A separate EU Security and Defense Policy Rule of Law Mission will be deployed to Kosovo to focus on the police and justice sectors. This mission will also have executive powers to carry out some of the most sensitive law enforcement functions, like war crimes investigations and the fight against organized crime. It will also focus on building the capacity of the Kosovo Police Service and judiciary…

NATO, which has been the prime stabilizing factor in Kosovo and the region, will remain.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 8, Issue number 2-3 in the Summer/Fall of 2007.


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