NATO Secretary General And U.S. Warn Against Kosovo’s Army Move

On Wednesday, March 8, NATO warned Kosovo that they might decrease cooperation with the partially recognized state if the state proceeded with their plans to bypass the required constitutional change to create a national army. The President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, filed a draft law on Tuesday to transform Kosovo’s peacekeeping security forces, the Kosovo Security Force (KSF), into a national army, in response to what he views as growing threats from neighboring Serbia and its ally, Russia. The draft law would not require the two-thirds majority approval needed from both the ethnic Albanian majority and ethnic Serb minority in Parliament for the constitutional amendments to create an army from scratch, but would instead increase the personnel, firepower, and duties of the current security forces. If Thaci’s plan is approved, the NATO-trained KSF would expand from being a 2,500-strong force, which is currently responsible for crisis response, civil protection, and ordinance disposal to a heavily armed army of 5,000 active soldiers and 3,000 reservists.

On Wednesday, Thaci issued a statement saying that the creation of a regular army “aims at protecting territorial sovereignty and integrity, preserving peace and defending the Republic of Kosovo’s interests and also contributes in building up and protecting regional and global peace and stability.” The president emphasized that Kosovo is “an independent and sovereign state” and the move to bypass the required constitutional change was a response to his belief that Kosovo’s parliamentary ethnic Serb party would “never vote for the establishment of the Army of Kosovo,” as “its attitude is directly orchestrated by the Belgrade government.” The army would “be an army not only of the Albanians, but a multi-ethnic army in the service of all.” In addition, he said that the move was in alignment with future plans to join NATO.

However, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he told Kosovo’s leaders by phone “that unilateral steps such as these are unhelpful.” He warned that, if Kosovo goes ahead as planned, “NATO will have to review its level of commitment, particularly in terms of capacity-building.” A U.S. embassy statement said “adoption of the current proposed law would force us to re-evaluate our bilateral cooperation with and longstanding assistance to Kosovo’s security forces,” and went on to add that the move must be carried out through an “inclusive and representative political process.” But, in a Wednesday interview with Radio Free Europe, Thaci stated that “there is no turning back. The KSF will be transformed into Kosovo’s army. Western Balkans is endangered from the Russian military bases in Serbia, from Russia’s MIG jets in Serbia and from the Russian military exercises in Serbia.” A Parliamentary vote is expected this week, which the eleven members of the ethnic Serb party have said they would boycott.

Currently, the duties of the KSF are limited while national security primarily remains in the hands of a NATO peacekeeping mission of around 5,000 soldiers from 30 member and partner states. NATO arrived in Kosovo in June 1999 following a weeks-long bombing campaign to stop the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serbian forces fighting the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army, which was led by Hashim Thaci. According to the CIA World Fact Book, Kosovo’s population currently consists of an 88% ethnic Albanian majority and an 8% ethnic Serbian minority. NATO has said it has no plans to leave Kosovo for now.

Tensions have recently been strained between Serbia and Kosovo, who declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Serbia’s Prime Minister, Aleksander Vucic, said on Wednesday that he expects help and support from the European Union, the U.S., and Russia to oppose Kosovo’s plan that goes against the UN resolution that ended the war in Kosovo in 1999, and against Kosovo’s own constitution, which Serbia does not recognize. At the moment, Kosovo is recognized as a sovereign state by 114 countries, but not by Serbia or Russia. A move by Kosovo to expand the KSF would only worsen tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, and decrease stability in the Balkans.