The future of the Kosovo Security Force: a challenge for the new government

On May 10th, the government of Prime Minister Isa Mustafa was dismissed, following a no-confidence vote by the majority of the Kosovo Assembly. Today, more than a month after the snap electionsof June 11th, Kosovo remains without a government, as none of the candidates won the necessary majority to form a government. Yet, while no one can say with certainty what the composition of Kosovo’s new government will be, it is clear that the new Prime Minister and his cabinet will immediately have to dive into very deep waters. The standstill in the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, the pending ratification of the Demarcation Agreement between Kosovo and Montenegro, the Association of Serb Municipalities and the future of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) are only a few of the open issues that will demand the new government’s immediate attention.

The debate on the transformation of the KSF into Kosovo’s national army is hardly new. In fact, it was initiated immediately after the end of Kosovo’s supervised independence, late in 2012, and has further intensified as of July 2013, following the North Atlantic Council’s declaration that KSF had reached full operational capability. Yet, as the transformation of the KSF requires a constitutional amendment based on a double two-thirds majority, the process has been in a deadlock, since Kosovo Serbs firmly reject the idea of KSF becoming an army. Earlier this year, in March, President Hasim Thaci attempted to bypass this deadlock by submitting to the Assembly a Draft Law for the transformation of the KSF into an army. This initiative aimed to remove legal restrictions on the KSF’s capabilities, leading to its de facto militarisation, without changing its name. Thaci’s move was severely criticised and objected to, among others, by NATO and the U.S., resulting in President Thaci withdrawing the draft bill in fear of alienating some of Kosovo’s most powerful international supporters. However, the issue still remains open, and it has remained at the centre of Kosovo’s public debate. Early in June, Thaci claimed that the issue would be resolved by the end of the year, while Ramush Haradinaj, who seems most likely to be the next Prime Minister, had argued during his electoral campaign that, if he were to win the elections, Kosovo would have an army within 90 days.

In principle, whichever the next government of Kosovo will be, there are three scenarios to choose from regarding the future of the KSF. The first scenario is the prolongation of the existing status quo. In this case, the government of Kosovo, in order to avoid taking any difficult decisions, will not take any initiative for the transformation of the KSF into the KAF, rather assuming a position waiting for future opportunities to act. This scenario could possibly contribute towards the appeasement of concerns among the Serbian community in Kosovo, providing motivation for their faster and better integration in Kosovo’s formal state structures, with a positive effect on the ongoing Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. In addition, it could appease international concerns, especially from those countries that are still worried of the possibility that Kosovo could destabilize the region through unilateral decisions. However, this scenario would bring the new government of Kosovo under heavy internal pressure, as the long-unsatisfied expectations for the establishment of the KAF have made all Kosovo Albanian political parties, and in fact the Kosovo Albanian community as a whole, grow weary and restless.

The second scenario is the transformation of the KSF through the amendment of legislation, based on a simple majority vote that does not depend on the support of the Serbian MPs in the Kosovo Assembly. This scenario could be chosen as a smart way out of the current political deadlock on the future of the KSF, serving as a moderate compromise between the internal demands for the establishment of a national army and the risk of increasing tensions with Serbia, in the event that KAF was to be established before the conclusion of the ongoing bilateral negotiations. Yet, as Thaci’s attempt to implement this scenario failed under severe international pressure, the next government will have to be extremely well aware of the repercussions that might follow a second, similar attempt.

The third scenario is the transformation of the KSF through constitutional amendment. The hypothesis supporting this scenario is that a formal transition form KSF to KAF will not only complete Kosovo’s statehood, given that an army is the only core element of statehood that the country is still missing, but will also send, both internally and internationally, a strong symbolic message in support of Kosovo’s sovereignty. The establishment of KAF, free of any restrictions that currently apply to the KSF, would essentially mean that Kosovo could assume full responsibility for the defense and security of its territory and its population, especially in anticipation of NATO’s full withdrawal from Kosovo sometime in the future.

In practice, the unresolved issue of the KSF is a highly challenging puzzle that the new government of Kosovo will have to handle, sooner or later. Maintaining the existing status quo of the KSF, as per the first scenario, does not seem to be a viable solution for much longer, as the more time goes by without Kosovo establishing an army, the more pressure on the government to act will increase. Opting for the second scenario could possibly be a way to overcome the current stalemate, yet the new government should seriously consider the potential international implications. Indeed, recent developments indicated that NATO is strongly supportive of any transformation being the result of a constitutional amendment, in close collaboration with the country’s Serbian minority. Finally, the third scenario, which is clearly that favoured by NATO, seems for the time being a rather far-fetched one, given the multitude of open issues between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo and taking into account that it cannot be realised without the consent of the latter.  Thus, the only available course of action for the new government of Kosovo seems to be the intensification of dialogue with the Kosovo Serbs and Serbia itself, in order to find a meaningful and sustainable modus vivendi that will allow for the KSF to be transformed into Kosovo’s national army through a constitutional amendment and with NATO’s full support.

This opinion piece builds on the findings of the research project “Building Knowledge of New Statehood in Southeast Europe: Understanding Kosovo’s Domestic and International Policy Considerations”, which is supported by the Kosovo Foundation for Open Society. The project’s complete research findings will be published soon.

Giorgos Triantafyllou

Giorgos Triantafyllou is a Research Fellow with the South-East Europe Programme of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP). He holds a Ph.D. in International Conflict Analysis from the University of Kent, UK, with a particular focus on the provision of military and human security during peacebuilding operations. His main research interests are: International Security, Conflict Analysis and Resolution, Security Sector Reform in the Balkans, International Institutions and Peace Operations, International Security and Migration, Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, and NATO.

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