Monitoring the Northern Ireland Ceasefires: Lessons from the Balkans
Monitoring the Northern Ireland Ceasefires: Lessons from the Balkans
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
The Western Balkans: Fragile Majorities
The Western Balkans: Fragile Majorities
Briefing 30 / Europe & Central Asia

Monitoring the Northern Ireland Ceasefires: Lessons from the Balkans

This briefing compares the mandate of the Independent Monitoring Commission for Northern Ireland (IMC) with those of two recent European examples of the monitoring and enforcement of compliance with peace agreements: the unsuccessful Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) of 1998-1999, and the much more fruitful mission of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1995. It attempts to identify lessons from those earlier experiences that may help the IMC carry out its mission in the context of carrying forward the Good Friday peace process.

I. Overview

This briefing compares the mandate of the Independent Monitoring Commission for Northern Ireland (IMC) with those of two recent European examples of the monitoring and enforcement of compliance with peace agreements: the unsuccessful Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) of 1998-1999, and the much more fruitful mission of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1995. It attempts to identify lessons from those earlier experiences that may help the IMC carry out its mission in the context of carrying forward the Good Friday peace process.

The IMC in Northern Ireland has two significant advantages over the Kosovo mission. The broader range of sanctions available enables it to recommend penalties appropriate to the seriousness of the violation, creating a more sophisticated deterrent, and it enjoys direct links to military and police intelligence on both sides of the Irish border. However, like the KVM, it is not fully accepted by some key local political actors. The IMC should establish lines of communication with all political parties and paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland as a matter of priority.

The Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina has many tasks, but among them is the power to impose sanctions on those local actors it deems to be obstructing the implementation of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, including measures similar to those which the IMC in Northern Ireland may recommend. The exercise of OHR’s powers has had a generally positive effect on the Bosnian political situation, and the IMC has similar potential in Northern Ireland. However, it is important that the procedure by which it exercises those powers is as open and transparent as possible.

In both Kosovo and Bosnia, the crucial question was not so much the efficacy of the procedures for monitoring the security guarantees given by the parties, but the presence or absence of the political will to sustain a peace process: lacking in Kosovo in 1998-1999, but increasingly visible in Bosnia. The IMC’s success or failure will depend on the wider political picture in Northern Ireland, over which it has little influence and no control.

Brussels, 23 January 2004

The Western Balkans: Fragile Majorities

Political instability keeps growing in the Western Balkans amid geopolitical contests and increased tensions with Russia. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – First Update early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to engage intensively to ensure the political space for avoiding more serious crisis does nto entirely vanish in the Western Balkans.

This commentary is part of our Watch List 2017 – First Update.

Mounting political instability in the Western Balkans has the potential to spark new crises on the EU’s immediate borders. Political tensions are particularly high in Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Kosovo. Many EU policymakers are concerned that Russia aims to exacerbate this disorder, a worry that has intensified since elements of the Russian intelligence service were implicated in a failed coup in Montenegro last year. But the region’s crises are rooted in a prevalent winner-takes-all party politics and flaws inherent in the political settlements forged to end the Yugo­slav wars. While Russia has deep-seated interests in the Balkans, its interventions are more opportunistic than strategic.

[T]he EU [...] should concentrate on local sources of instability, which often are linked to ruling parties’ refusal to give up power despite losing elections.

The Balkans are a part of the ongoing geopolitical contest, but local sensitivities are much stronger drivers of events and risks in the region than geopolitics: the EU therefore should concentrate on local sources of instability, which often are linked to ruling parties’ refusal to give up power despite losing elections. Regional states – including those discussed below – have endured on-and-off political tensions since the 1990s, so far without sliding back into secessionist wars. But the political space for avoiding more serious crises is narrowing, and the EU must engage intensively to ensure it does not entirely vanish. This will play out differently in each context but at its core the EU should seek to impose meaningful financial costs on, and slow down the pace of EU accession for actors who violate basic norms, and in particular on parties that obstruct a peaceful transfer of power.

Macedonia

The risk of a serious crisis is highest in Macedonia. National elections in 2016 failed to restore stability after a period of political turmoil and sporadic violence. The incumbent right to far-right VMRO-DPMNE party has refused to cede power to a majority coalition of parties led by the Social Democratic SDSM party. A central point of contention is the SDSM’s willingness to make some political concessions to the Albanian minority, which VMRO claims threaten the state’s existence. This invalid claim has resulted in daily anti-Albanian rallies in the capital, Skopje, as well as in growing alienation among ethnic Albanians. While the Macedonian Albanian minority’s leaders generally have remained committed to working within Macedonia’s political structures since the country came close to civil war in 2001, the current crisis could undermine this uneasy bargain.

Civil society groups have called for targeted sanctions against senior VMRO officials, and the European Parliament’s rapporteur has echoed these calls. The EU should use the threat of possible sanctions to press the VMRO to accept its electoral defeat and play the role of responsible opposition. Leaders of the European People’s Party (EPP), of which VMRO is a member, should use their contacts in Skopje to insist that VMRO stop blocking the transfer of power; if it does not the EPP should consider suspending VMRO.

Kosovo

The political climate in Kosovo has been poisonous since the ruling PDK party refused to cede power after losing elections in 2014. The nationalist opposition party – VV – has responded with public protests and accusations that the PDK is too generous to the ethnic Serb minority. The PDK subsequently reached a power-sharing arrangement with another part of the opposition, the centrist LDK, though this political deal failed to bridge deeper societal divides. While the EU previously coaxed Belgrade and Pristina into constructive talks, relations have worsened and there were tensions this winter over a Kosovo Serb plan to build a wall in the divided city of Mitrovica. Although EU officials keep a close watch on the situation, inter-ethnic tensions are liable to recur if the PDK and opposition exploit them as part of their standoff.

Domestic and international civil society groups have launched a dialogue between the PDK and opposition, and the EU should continue to support this. In particular, it should encourage these civil society efforts to bring ethnic Serb minority parties and representatives into the dialogue, while using its leverage with Belgrade to persuade Serbia not to obstruct the process.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

BiH potentially faces a decisive test of its sustainability as a state in 2018-2019. The country could be unable to replace the current legislature and executive when their terms expire in October 2018. The constitutional court has struck down elements of the electoral law, and all major Bosniak, Croat and Serb parties will have to agree on amendments to the law if state-wide polls are to take place next year. Given the polarisation of BiH politics, there is a significant danger that this will prove impossible.

Failure to hold elections in 2018 would result in the state’s gradual paralysis. In a worst-case scenario this would allow Republika Srpska to press anew for its secession from the federal state. The EU, supported by BiH’s neighbours Croatia and Serbia, should use the leverage of the accession process and related assistance to push all sides to amend the electoral law as quickly as possible, and emphasise its long-term focus on the country by, for example, committing to keep in place EUFOR, the small EU-led peacekeeping force, for as long as necessary.

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