How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
Report 174 / Europe & Central Asia

An Army for Kosovo?

The international community is just months away from decisions that are expected to make Kosovo a state, but planning for the security ramifications has not kept pace. It must avoid creating a weak state; the future Kosovo needs adequate institutions to ensure the rule of law and the inviolability of its borders, and to combat transnational organised crime and terrorism.

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Executive Summary

The international community is just months away from decisions that are expected to make Kosovo a state, but planning for the security ramifications has not kept pace. It must avoid creating a weak state; the future Kosovo needs adequate institutions to ensure the rule of law and the inviolability of its borders, and to combat transnational organised crime and terrorism. Elements important for building a sustainable state must not be traded away to achieve recognition of Kosovo’s independence. A key component of post-independence security structures should be an army built in part upon the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), albeit a small one oriented to international missions like peacekeeping and subject in the first years to strict NATO control and limitations on its size and capabilities.

An independent Kosovo’s security needs are clear. It requires internal stability and safety from external attack but at the same time, it must not be a threat to its neighbours. Existing formal security structures must be placed under the control of the new institutions of democratic government. Existing informal armed structures, both the legacy of the insurgent Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and those linked to organised crime, must be minimised. Ethnic minorities – particularly Kosovo’s Serbs – must be protected, not threatened, by the state’s security structures.

NATO should be prepared to maintain its Kosovo Force peacekeepers (KFOR) in the state for a long period to provide external protection and, to a lesser extent, contribute to internal stability, resisting pressures to reduce and then eliminate it altogether before the new state’s relations with Serbia are fully normalised and both states have become members of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program.

Some will argue that with KFOR there, a poor and divided place like Kosovo does not need its own military, but full demilitarisation is impracticable. There is insufficient trust to sustain it. It would become a façade, behind which unofficial paramilitary groups would coalesce, making the new state – and its neighbours – less rather than more secure, and less amenable to the rule of law. A small official army, developed under NATO oversight, is the most appropriate tool, both to prompt the gradual demilitarisation of society and to enable Kosovo’s entry into regional collective security arrangements, which are the key to sustainable demilitarisation and security.

If managed well, an army can help develop a stable, multi-ethnic or at least ethnically neutral, identity for the new state. Fashioning a united, representative and professional army for a state deeply divided between the Albanian majority and the rejectionist Serb minority requires a careful choice of building blocks. Unwilling elements cannot be forced to cohere but such an army also cannot be created without regard to existing institutions and the expectations of the majority, who invest hope and authority in the KLA-derived civil protection body, the KPC.

Steering Kosovo’s post-status identity away from exclusively Albanian markers is going to be an uphill task. The international community should be realistic and use the levers available to it in Kosovo society. With its partial evolution from paramilitary roots, dependency on NATO expertise, and willingness to undergo substantial change, the KPC offers it an opportunity to exercise a free hand in moulding the army that it should not refuse.

That army should be a small, lightly-equipped, multi-ethnic force of between 2,000 and 3,000 personnel, trained by a dedicated NATO mission to a transparent plan and schedule, and brought to operational capability by 2011-2012. It should not duplicate any police functions but should instead be constructed with an outward orientation, to take its first operational steps in regional initiatives and international peacekeeping operations, and eventually gain membership in PfP and NATO itself. An opportunity should be found as early as 2007 for the first deployment abroad, drawing upon expertise built up in the KPC, like demining. The army’s internal security tasks should be severely limited, not much beyond the KPC’s present civil protection, engineering and reconstruction mandate.

All this should be framed by accords reached as part of Kosovo’s final status settlement. These should also specify a range of limitations on the army’s numbers and capabilities, and NATO’s role in its governance. Not necessarily negotiated with Pristina and Belgrade, this could even take the form of a conclusion of NATO’s North Atlantic Council, or of the six-nation Contact Group guiding the status process. It is better, however, to use the leverage the international community possesses during the final status settlement to create clarity on this sensitive issue, than to leave it hanging, to be dealt with afterwards. The aim should be to graduate Kosovo into the PfP, together with Serbia, when the accords should be superseded by new treaty arrangements. PfP mechanisms can be used to prepare the army to take over security roles from KFOR, eventually allowing for KFOR’s complete withdrawal.

NATO and the EU should maintain pressure on Pristina to be creative in bringing Kosovo Serbs on board, in the security sphere and army in particular. Serb tradition should be represented in the army, complementing the Albanians’ KLA and KPC tradition. NATO and the EU should also work together to create a supportive environment for Pristina’s initiatives. Serbia’s pace of accession to the EU and NATO should be partially dependent upon how it treats its southern neighbour, in particular whether it encourages or discourages Kosovo Serbs from integrating into the new state’s structures.

Pristina/Belgrade/Brussels, 28 July 2006

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

Online Event to discuss Crisis Group's report "Relaunching the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue", in which we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

Thirteen years after Kosovo broke away from Serbia, the two countries remain mired in mutual non-recognition, with deleterious effects on both. The parties need to move past technicalities to tackle the main issues at stake: Pristina’s independence and Belgrade’s influence over Kosovo’s Serbian minority.

In this conversation, we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue (Online Event, 28th January 2021)

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