Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office



  1.  NATO's action to halt Serbian repression in Kosovo in Spring 1999 was a serious reverse for the policies of violent ethnic extremism which have poisoned the Balkans region for the last ten years. As requested by the Committee, this Memorandum explores what can be learned from the experience of Kosovo in framing practical policies to promote peace and stability in the Western Balkans in the next century.


  2.  The model for the future of the Western Balkans is the example of Western Europe. Post-war reconciliation there was an evolutionary process, leading from political commitments through cooperation in trade to agreement that prosperity and security could be guaranteed in the long term only through promoting political and economic inter-dependence.

  3.  The challenge for the international community is to provide all the countries of the Western Balkans with a pathway towards integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, and to help them make the changes this will require, which are in any event in their own interests. The reciprocal challenge for the countries of the region is to break decisively with the politics and economics of the past. This process is under way in some countries, but much remains to be done. The potential of the region to produce crises is not exhausted.


  4.  Yugoslavia's reputation at the end of the Cold War had been that of a comparatively open, liberal state. Perhaps because it was less overtly authoritarian than other Warsaw pact countries there was not the same public pressure for democratic change. As a result, across much of the Western Balkans, albeit to varying degrees, successor states of Tito's Yugoslavia have failed to match the real reforms undertaken by other former Communist countries. The former Communist elites have largely perpetuated themselves in mono-ethnic structures, the worst of which are hostile to the values of tolerance and pluralism and indifferent to public opinion, indeed to human suffering. Systematised ethnic hatred, political gangsterism and mismanged economies continue to breed insecurity and instability. Far too much money is spent on defence and "security": far too little on education, investment and technology. Enterprise and free expression are stifled. This has fomented tensions within states and between states which have been at the heart of the conflicts of the last eight years and underlie the problems which remain.


  5.  Whatever their disagreements with each other, the countries of the Western Balkans share one aspiration: to move closer to, and ultimately to join "European structures", mainly the European Union, but also other international "clubs" (NATO, international financial institutions (IFIs), etc). This gives the international community leverage.

  6.  The success of Operation Allied Force in Kosovo has opened up a new opportunity. The international community broadly backed NATO's action, in response to a ruthless regime's attempt ethnically to cleanse part of its own country and to destabilise its neighbours. Milosevic rose to power a decade ago, proclaiming his ambitions for a "Greater Serbia". The end of the crisis in Croatia, the Dayton agreements for Bosnia and Herzegovina and now the establishment of the international presences in Kosovo has shown how Belgrade's policies have led only to isolation and impoverishment for the Serb people. His replacement by a more reasonable, democratic government in Belgrade is essential to transforming the wider region.

  7.  Change in Belgrade is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition. Across the region, our goal must be to promote and help empower moderate democratic forces committed to viable, tolerant, multi-ethnic politics.


  8.  Many international organisations are working to build a better future in the Balkans. We need to maximise the effectiveness of those efforts and to minimise wasteful duplication by ensuring an overall coherence of approach. The Government sees this as a central function of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe, launched in June 1999 in the aftermath of the Kosovo crisis. The Pact under the auspices of the OSCE, brings together the EU, NATO, G8, IFIs and, crucially, the countries of the region. It aims to promote stability and security by fostering policies which reduce tension, and promote good governance and economic development. Implementation is for the organisations and countries concerned. The government of the FRY cannot take part until it shows that it subscribes to the pact's values and objectives. But Montenegro does take part in the Pact's work, itself a message to the people of Serbia that we have no wish to exclude them from their share of a European future: it is their present leadership which imposes that exclusion.

  9.  The Prime Minister made clear at the Stability Pact Summit in Sarajevo in July that the Pact needs to deliver real change, not just become another bureaucratic process.

  10.  The Government has put forward two important initiatives. We have proposed an investment charter, setting out principles for a positive climate for inward investment in Pact countries, a motor for further reform. We are also working towards a declaration on free media, establishing modern legislative principles for the independence of the media sector. The Pact will develop further initiatives on strengthening civil society and the role of non-governmental organisations, and on the crucial areas of education and training. We want the Pact to put pressure on the countries of the region to end their unsustainable overspending on defence and internal security budgets, and to introduce normal standards of transparency and accountability.

  11.  The Kosovo crisis marked a decisive moment in the European Union's relationship with the Balkan states. The obligations of EU membership, not least the legal acquis, are heavy: membership is not an immediate prospect for most countries of the region. The European Union is therefore working up strategies to create a pathway towards membership that requires the countries concerned both to reform themselves and to transform their relations with their neighbours as they move towards the European mainstream.

  12.  The European Union has devised a new type of association agreement for Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and the FRY. These Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAAs) will be more comprehensive than the existing Trade and Cooperation Agreements which the Union has with Albania and Macedonia. They will provide for increased trade liberalisation (with the aim of a free trade area within 10 years), additional technical assistance and participation in certain EU programmes. Most important, they will offer the perspective of membership once key criteria (including stable democratic institutions, rule of law, human rights and a market economy) have been met.

  13.  Eligibility for SAAs will depend on a range of conditions: respect for human rights and democratic principles; electoral and media reform; commitment to regional cooperation. By October 1999, the European Union had decided that Macedonia was eligible. A feasibility study is being prepared on the prospects for Albania. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) in particular need to make a further progress before preparations for an SAA can start.

  14.  Even before SAAs are concluded, the Government want to see the European Union promoting trade and economic activity across the Balkans. Free access to EU markets, assistance with improving intra-regional commerce and support for building the infrastrucure to underpin it would all help the countries concerned focus on their common interests, not on what divides them.

  15.  Political and economic development depends on enhanced security. Experience in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo shows that NATO engagement in the region remains essential, while the conditions for eventual self-sustaining stability are being created. UK troops continue to play a leading role in SFOR and KFOR, the NATO-led presences in Bosnia and Kosovo. NATO forces in Albania and Macedonia, essentially in support of KFOR, contribute to those countries' security.

  16.  During the crisis, NATO Heads of State and Government launched a South-East Europe initiative. This involves intensified dialogues on security issues with states in the region, including Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in a new consultive forum, which met for the first time during NATO's Washington Summit in April 1999. The Alliance's Partnership for Peace activities in the region are focussed on working to develop Membership Action Plans and co-operation on defence planning and budgets, democratic control of the armed forces, and co-operation between the armed forces of regional states and with NATO on peacekeeping and other confidence-building initiatives.

  17.  The stability and health of the region will grow only as the countries and peoples involved embrace core democratic values, respect for human rights and the rule of law. This is the mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and of the Council of Europe. The OSCE's strength is that its members sign up to commitments, which its missions and institutions, such as the High Commissioner for National Minorities and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, help participants to realise. In the Balkans this is especially valuable in the field of elections monitoring. The Council of Europe, through its core Conventions on Human Rights, Minority Rights and the Prevention of Torture, sets binding standards for its member states. It monitors compliance with these obligations and provides practical assistance in law-making to the new democracies of central and eastern Europe.

  18.  Democratic and economic reform go hand in hand, as the EU's membership criteria recognise. The international financial institutions will help promote change with advice and support on macro-economic reform and longer-term reconstruction. In offering such support to the region the IFIs need clear commitments from the governments involved to economic reform and openness.

  19.  Peace can flourish only when justice is done and seen to be done. The UK remains a staunch supporter of the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The ICTY has jurisdiction throughout the former Yugoslavia. Its work is an essential moral but also practical underpinning to the wider international effort to rebuild the Balkans. In Bosnia and Herzegovina the indictment and arrest of numerous prominent extremists has made a considerable and positive difference to the political climate and encouraged the emergence of more moderate forces, particularly in Republika Srpska. The Tribunal's decision to indict Milosevic and other leaders of the FRY and of Serbia for war crimes means that Belgrade will remain outside the process of positive change in the Western Balkans so long as these leaders remain in public life.


  20.  The events of the last two years hold lessons for the international community in its general approach to conflict preventation, crisis management and conflict resolution, and have wider policy implications.

  21.  Conflict prevention is crucial but complex: it is hard to identify when the policy has succeeded, but all too easy to tell when it has failed. The FCO's Memorandum 020/99 set out the repeated diplomatic efforts over several years by the international community to engage Milosevic and the Kosovo Albanians in the search for a political solution. Milosevic was offered the prospect of normalisation of the FRY's relations with the wider world, particularly the European Union, if progress on Kosovo and other issues relating to the succession to the former state of Yugoslavia could be achieved. Milosevic chose to exclude any serious international involvement in Kosovo in the years leading up to 1998. Faced with NATO's determination to act to avert a humanitarian catastrophe he conceded an international presence in the form of the Kosovo Verification Mission. But his forces persistently violated the undertakings given in the KVM agreement. With the Racak massacre they showed their contemp for basic international norms. During the peace negotiations at Rambouillet and in Paris, FRY/Serbian forces were preparing a massive offensive against the UCK, which they had started before the Paris talks had ended.

  22.  Kosovo show that the international community needs to use all its diplomatic efforts, as we did in 1998-99, to bring parties to a dispute to agreement, or at least to negotiations. This should involve, as it did over Kosovo, even-handed diplomacy featuring the prospect of economic and other rewards as well as the threat and/or use of economic and other penalties. We put pressure on the Kosovo Albanians, who were slow to recognise the imperative to negotiate and the requirement to set to one side their goal of independence. But with Milosevic all forms of incentives and peaceful pressure failed.

  23.  In crisis management, there were paralled tracks: the diplomatic efforts, led by the Contact Group to promote a political solution; and the NATO track of preparations for, and conduct of, offensive military operations and deployments to support a negotiated settlement.

  24.  Kosovo showed that both tracks were needed; that they needed to reinforce each other; that the military tract had to be ready when it was clear that the political tract had failed; and that the political track had to be ready again once it was clear the military track was succeeding. NATO and the European Union shared this view throughout the crisis. The cohesion and determination of the 19 governments of NATO and the 15 governments of the EU was fundamental. British Ministers invested much time and effort in promoting this. It was an important lesson from the Bosnian experience, where, at times, trans-Atlantic divisions had bedevilled Contact Group policy. Extensive, direct diplomatic coordination was invaluable, throughout the year leading up to the conflict, during the 11 weeks of the airstrikes and thereafter.

  25.  Russia took a different view about the military track. But that did not prevent full Russian participation in the diplomatic activity throughout 1998, which climaxed with the peace negotiations in France in February/March 1999. Russia's opposition to NATO airstrikes did not prevent Russia playing a leading role in the diplomatic end-game in May/June 1999, first through Foreign Minister Ivanov's contribution to the G8 diplomacy which provided a framework for the resolution of the crisis and also through the efforts of President Yeltsin's special envoy, Mr Chernomyrdin, with his EU and US counterparts, to secure Milosevic's agreement to the stated objectives of the international community. Kosovo reminds us that when the West and Russia work together their collective diplomatic weight can greatly enhance the prospects for progress, in the Balkans as elsewhere.

  26.  Kosovo showed the importance of a rapid, but balanced, response and clear, shared goals. As EU Presidency, the UK was well placed to orchestrate this when the crisis erupted in Spring 1998. The Foreign Secretary confronted Milosevic in Belgrade within days of the violence breaking out in Kosovo. His message was firm but balanced: it set out our demands of Milosevic, but also made clear that we condemned terrorism and provocation from the Kosovo Liberation Army. On 9 March 1998, the UK convened a meeting of Contact Group Foreign Ministers to agree a common strategy for handling the crisis, calling an end to violence, terroism and repression and for the urgent opening of a political process on Kosovo's future.

  27.  Some commentators criticised the alleged side-lining of the United Nations over Kosovo. Nothing could have been further from the wishes of this Government. We led much of the work in New York and in capitals to prepare and pass the three Security Council resolutions on Kosovo in 1998. These set out the international community's demands on the parties and expressed its legitimate interest in resolving the crisis.

  28.  Given the consistent opposition of two of the five permanent members it would have been impossible to secure a resolution authorising the use of force against the FRY. But the 12-3 vote in the council against a Russian draft resolution condemning the airstrikes reflected the convincing balance of international opinion in favour of the action NATO had been driven by Milosevic to take. As our previous Memorandum explained, this action was consistent with international law.

  29.  We sought throughout to maximise the involvement of the UN Security Council, particularly in conflict resolution. We strongly welcomed the Secretary-General's statement on 9 April 1999 setting out the requirements on Belgrade to resolve the crisis. We played a leading role in achieving SCR 1244, which established the post-conflict presences, including the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). but, however keenly we all wanted to involve the United Nations, no NATO ally was prepared to accept that failure to agree in the Security Council should allow the return of the practices of 1940s fascism to late 1990s Europe. This determination was supported by many other UN member states.

  30.  As the Prime Minister noted in his speech in Chicago on 22 April 1999, Kosovo throws up fundamental questions about the balance between states' rights and individual human rights as regards international intervention. Kofi Annan and other world leaders have made the same point. This debate will take time to answer the fundamental questions which it raised. Britain is already making a leading contribution.

  31.  Overall, NATO's crisis management was a success. The Alliance achieved its objectives over Kosovo. It also played a significant part in maintaining stability in the states around the FRY. The governments of NATO recognised early in the campaign the importance of countering the Milosevic regime's propaganda. The UK and others contributed to strengthening NATO's media operations. The Alliance and individual governments are undertaking extensive exercises to review the lessons learned in terms of military operations and internation crisis management. The Ministry of Defence's October 1999 Memorandum to the House of Commons Defence committee deals in more detail with this. One aspect underlined by the air campaign was the Europeans' heavy reliance on US military capability. US forces deployed 80 per cent of NATO aircraft and delivered 85 per cent of NATO precision-guided munitions. European Allies need to rethink their defence needs and improve the quality and flexibility of their forces. This is being addressed through the NATO Defence Capabilities Initiative and in the European Union by the initiative launched by the Prime Minister to strengthen the effectiveness of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy, including by strengthening European defence capabilities. The appointments of Lord Robertson, Javier Solana and Chris Patten are welcome reinforcements at a crucial time.

  32.  The experience of Kosovo has shown the need for rapid civilian deployments to match those of which the military are capable. This was an important lesson of the humanitarian crisis provoked by the mass explusion of the Kosovo Albanians into neighbouring states. The need has also been particularly acute in the deployment of international police and administrators for the UN Mission in Kosovo. The UK has responded to the UN Secretary-General's request that standby arrangements, where states declare military forces potentially available for UN missions, should be extended to civilian and police personnel. We signed such an agreement with the United nations in June 1999 and plan to follow up with a further agreement increasing the number of UK police officers available for UN operations. The UK is working within the OSCE and EU to ensure that both organisations are able to respond more effectively in future to civilian aspects of crisis management.

  33.  A central lesson of Kosovo is the importance of encouraging modern and moderate civic societies and political movements. The international presences in Kosovo have been set clear goals for reconstruction and refugee return, institution-building, democratisation and economic reform. The people of Kosovo have to play their part. A parallel process is needed in the rest of the FRY, particularly in Serbia. International involvement there is necessarily less direct, but through our support for Montenegro and for the democratic opposition in Serbia we are seeking to empower moderate opinion in the FRY. Without empowering moderates, there will be no reasonable government in Belgrade. Without such a government, no lasting, self-sustaining setlement in Kosovo will be possible. The Government has established a £3 million fund to support projects to help the democratic opposition and civil society in Serbia.


  34.  The further interdependency of Western Europe over the last 10 years has been accompanied by an extreme "Balkanisation" of the Western Balkans, the tendency of selfish ethnic elites to use violence to promote mono-ethnic statelets. The lesson, not just of Kosovo, but of Bosnia, and the wider experience of former Yugoslavia, is that such a reactionary emphasis on division, exclusion and repression can acheive nothing but human suffering and backward-looking policies. The only way forward is to follow the modern European example of reconciliation, progress and co-operation. That is the path ahead for the Western Balkans that the British government and its partners are seeking to create.

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