The debate on Kosovo's future status has reached a crucial point. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has begun to consider elements of a draft resolution to determine the entity's future, which could be put to a vote in the coming weeks. The best way of ensuring regional peace and stability and lifting Kosovo out of an eight-year-long limbo, with a tired, temporary UN administration and an undeveloped, low-growth economy, is a resolution based squarely on the plan of UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari. This would supersede UNSC Resolution 1244 (1999), define Kosovo's internal settlement and minority-protection mechanisms, mandate a new international presence and allow for supervised independence.
Ahtisaari presented his plan in mid-March 2007 - in the form of a short "Report" and a lengthy "Comprehensive Proposal" - to the Secretary-General, who forwarded it to the Security Council, with his full support, on 26 March. This followed fourteen months of negotiations - a process the Council had authorised with Resolution 1244 mandating "a political process designed to determine Kosovo's future status" - which failed to forge a compromise between Serbia and Kosovo Albanians.
The Ahtisaari plan is a compromise that offers Kosovo Albanians the prospect of independence, Kosovo Serbs extensive rights, security and privileged relations with Serbia, and Serbia the chance to put the past behind it once and for all and realise its European future. It is the best recipe for the creation of a multi-ethnic, democratic and decentralised society and fits within the European Union's multi-ethnic project for the Western Balkans, which ultimately offers the prospect of accession. The EU is already the largest donor in Kosovo and plans to assume the lion's share of responsibility for the post-status Kosovo civilian mission. Ultimately, Kosovo is, and will remain until resolved, a European problem.
The alternative is bleak. Forcing Kosovo Albanians back into a constitutional relationship with Serbia would reignite violence. Belgrade has offered little beyond proposing that Kosovo remain an integral part of the Serbian state. It has done nothing over the past eight years to try to integrate Kosovo Albanians or to offer them meaningful and concrete autonomy arrangements. Instead it has tried to establish the basis for an ethnic division of Kosovo and partition along the Ibar River, which runs through the northern city of Mitrovica. It has done so by trying to delay the adoption of a Security Council resolution in the expectation that this would trigger a Kosovo Albanian overreaction, including violence, and so create the conditions for such partition. Partition, however, would not only destroy the prospect of multi-ethnicity in Kosovo but also destabilise neighbouring states.
Implementation of Ahtisaari's Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement will pose significant challenges. The key to a peaceful transition lies in its extensive decentralisation measures, which offer a way to secure buy-in to a new Kosovo state by its Serb minority, especially the majority of Kosovo Serbs who live in enclaves south of the Ibar. The Ahtisaari Proposal is wisely ambiguous with regard to the powers and duration of the EU mission that will oversee this settlement, ensuring that the international community will retain the final word in Kosovo through its formative years of statehood.
There is strong support from the major Western countries for the adoption of a resolution based on the full Ahtisaari plan. But it is also important to exhaust all reasonable opportunities to achieve the greatest unity possible within the Council, and most importantly, to avoid a Russian veto.
Russia has opposed a quick timetable, strongly criticised the Ahtisaari plan, raised concerns about the international precedent Kosovo may create and hinted that it might veto a draft that does not take its position into account. Nonetheless a compromise solution may be possible and should be attempted, possibly with the inclusion of additional elements of conditionality in the two-year period before review of the international supervisors' mandate, and the reaffirmation of the need for more progress on minority rights standards. A resolution which does this and endorses the Ahtisaari Proposal but does not explicitly support Kosovo's independence may achieve the necessary support.
To Members of the United Nations Security Council:
1. The United Nations Security Council should as soon as possible adopt a resolution under Chapter VII of the Charter which, optimally, would:
(a) supersede UNSC Resolution 1244;
(b) endorse both Ahtisaari's Report on Kosovo's Future Status, and his Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement;
(c) mandate specifically the new international presences in Kosovo described in the Comprehensive Proposal, including the International Civilian Representative (ICR), the International Civilian Office (ICO), the EU European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) Rule of Law Mission and the International Military Presence (IMP), as well as the International Steering Group (ISG), which will review the mandate of these presences after two years; and
(d) recognise the specific circumstances of the violent break-up of the former Yugoslavia which make Kosovo a unique case.
2. The U.S. government should engage with Moscow in good faith negotiations, while coordinating closely with the EU, and offer Moscow opportunities to retreat gracefully from its anti-Ahtisaari plan rhetoric, for example by being prepared to:
(a) modify aspects of the Ahtisaari plan, by creating a Special Envoy for Minorities, and setting a two-year moratorium before Kosovo can apply for UN membership; and/or
(b) adopt a resolution which endorses Ahtisaari's Proposal but not his Report.
To Kosovo Albanian Leaders:
3. The Kosovo Albanian leadership, pending adoption of a UNSC resolution, should:
(a) refrain from making a unilateral declaration of independence;
(b) consolidate the administrative and legislative preparations for independence;
(c) agree on multi-ethnic symbols for the future state; and
(d) deepen coordination with international partners and design a strategy to protect the Kosovo Serb community during the first weeks of independence.
Pristina/Belgrade/New York/Brussels, 14 May 2007