23 January 2007

Kosovo: The Next Yugoslav War

STRATFOR (USA), November 28, 2006 21 50 GMT




Approximately 3,000 ethnic Albanians protested outside the U.N. headquarters in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, on Nov. 28. The impatience illustrated by this protest is likely to precipitate another conflict in the Balkans after the United Nations grants Kosovo its independence.




U.N. police fired tear gas to disperse some 3,000 ethnic Albanian protesters who surrounded the U.N. headquarters of the Kosovar capital of Pristina on Nov. 28.


After getting NATO support in 1999 to secure their provisional break from Serbia, Kosovar Albanians have grown weary of waiting for full and official independence from Belgrade. Serbs consider Kosovo to be the birthplace of their national identity and view Kosovar Albanians as little more than a recent infestation, though the province's population is now more than 90 percent Albanian and less than 5 percent Serbian. The Albanians want nothing less than independence, and for the Albanians the Serbs want anything shy of it.


A final U.N. decision -- which will almost certainly recommend some version of independence for Kosovo -- has been delayed so as to not offend Serbian sensibilities. On Jan. 21, Serbia will hold national parliamentary elections in which the current (relatively) pro-Western government coalition will likely be trounced by the Serbian Radicals, the party that once formed the junior (and heavily nationalist) partner in the government run by former strongman Slobodan Milosevic. The U.N. hope is that if a decision on Kosovo is delayed from late 2006 to early 2007, the Serbs will elect anyone but the Radicals. That is, at best, a long shot, but for the international community it is really the only option for shaping the Serb environment.


The waiting, however, is not something the Kosovars are particularly appreciative of and protests like those of Nov. 28 are likely to be repeated -- often -- until the United Nations finally cuts Kosovo loose.


And that is when things will get interesting -- and probably bloody. At that point the Serbs will have lost control of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo, making their national humiliation complete. At that point they will also likely be sporting a government led by a party that Milosevic himself considered a bit too rabid, and whose leader is currently undergoing trial in The Hague for war crimes. Armed with the tools of state, it would be, well, radical for the Radicals to not take radical steps to address and compensate for these defeats.


In the past when Belgrade has intervened in (or initiated) conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, it has favored informal militias, a tool that certainly remains within the toolbox. The Serb-populated half of Bosnia -- Republika Srpska -- is vehemently pro-Serbia and packed with people who would be willing to take up arms for the Serbian cause. In fact, Republika Srpskan leaders have regularly threatened to secede from Bosnia proper and merge with Serbia should Kosovo be allowed to go its own way. The next logical step would be a conflict supported, or even initiated, by Belgrade to redraw Republika Srpska's borders to include Serbian lands that were lost in the 1990s.


A similar process could occur in Montenegro, where a referendum resulted in independence from Serbia in May. There, more than 40 percent of the population voted against independence, mostly among those who -- like in Republika Srpska -- still consider themselves ethnically Serbian.


Finally, there is Kosovo itself. There, the Serbs do not make up nearly a high enough percentage of the population to attempt any meaningful military or paramilitary operations. But Belgrade has means other than local militia to work its will in Kosovo. When Serbia decided in 1999 that the time had come to reassert full central control over the rebellious province, it did not support local Serb militia. It sent in the army.


Although European and U.S. forces maintain a presence in both Bosnia and Kosovo, those forces are a shadow of what they were years ago and are barely enough to assist in police actions, much less fight off a dedicated Serbian effort. The last time conflict wracked the region, in the 1990s, the carnage persisted for four years before the West managed to intervene and impose the Dayton Accords. This time around -- with most of the West's deployable forces bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq -- the question is much starker: Can NATO and/or the United States even attempt to counter what will likely be near-simultaneous Serbian moves in Bosnia, Montenegro and Kosovo?