Illustration by Granit Mavriqi/BIRN.

‘Final Deal’ does not guarantee UN membership for Kosovo

The notion that Kosovo will secure a UN seat in the event an agreement is reached with Serbia is a falsehood, with few explanations offered on how to overcome potential vetoes from Russia and China.

Since the summer of 2018, it has become generally assumed that the final agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, aimed at settling long-standing disputes, is beginning to take shape. This push toward a conclusion is being led by the U.S., as a result of the EU’s failure to finalize a deal between the two countries, who are now being pressured to reach a deal that would resolve their fragile peace.

President Trump has made a surprising move, sending personal letters to Presidents of both countries urging them to reach a compromise, and offering the possibility of a joint White House invitation. “Failure to capi­tal­ize on this unique opportunity would be a tragic setback, as another chance for a comprehensive peace agreement is unlikely to occur again soon,” Trump wrote to Kosovo President Hashim Thaci.

The people of Kosovo are being told that a deal must include a compromise (such as borders being ‘adjusted’ or ‘corrected’), and in return, Kosovo would gain recognition from Serbia as well as UN membership, bringing an end to this conundrum once and for all.

The idea of border changes sounds parsimonious and easily implemented. Kosovo can trade part of its northern territory, which is mainly populated by Serbs, with the Presevo valley, which is mainly populated by Albanians.

Moreover, the people of Kosovo are being presented with a sense of emergency; that a deal must be completed otherwise a catastrophe awaits. Thaci’s rhetoric only heightens the sense of emergency accompanying the final talks. “If we do not reach the final agreement this year, we will enter a dangerous zone,” he said in February.

However, the so-called “deal” is amorphous, and there is nothing on paper. Ambiguous phrases and terms fill the air, perplexing people’s minds, and instilling fear and insecurity. Meanwhile, politics, the media, civil society and citizens in general are all becoming ever more polarized and cacophonous, voicing strong stances either in favor of or against a possible agreement that would involve a change to the current borders.

President Thaci is intensely focused on reaching a deal while he is still in power and completing his legacy. Thaci, the biggest exponent of this theme of ‘border correction’, using tautological phrases and repeating them over and over for the last couple of months. Listening to Thaci’s interviews is like listening to a scratched record; no argument, merely endless repetition of slogans. He thinks about reaching a deal — border correction — and never about the consequences.

The idea of border adjustment is not popular in Kosovo. A recent survey published by the Research Institute of Development and European Affairs shows that approximately 60 percent of Kosovars are against border adjustment even if that means recognition from Serbia and UN membership.

And that UN membership is far from guaranteed. Although the UN charter is clear that the UN “is open to all peace-loving states,” it is its member states that decide whether a state should be admitted or not. Hypothetically, if Kosovo manages to finalize a deal with Serbia, the first step Kosovo would undertake is to apply for membership.

Next, it is upon the UN Security Council to consider the application. In order to pass the first phase, Kosovo would need at least nine out of 15 votes.

The biggest struggle here would be to avoid a veto from two permanent UN members, China and the Russian Federation. If Kosovo manages to get the recommendation from the Security Council and proceed to the General Assembly, Kosovo would need two-thirds of the required majority, or 127 out of 193 member states in order to proceed with admission.

While it is true that a good final deal with Serbia would lessen the barriers for Kosovo and provide the opportunity to gain more state recognition and legitimacy; any deal does not necessarily translate into UN membership. The ongoing visa liberalization saga has shown how the state of domestic politics can affect Kosovo’s place in international organizations, even among so-called friendly states. To present the reach of final deal with Serbia as automatically meaning to secure a UN seat is, at least, deceptive.

The timeline to reach such agreement is likewise ambitious. While Greece and North Macedonia resolved their 27-years-old name dispute this year with an agreement over a name from antiquity, Kosovo and Serbia’s situation differentiates substantially. Two decades after the war approximately 1,600 people remain missing, with Serbia having neither apologized nor shown any empathy for the tragedies that occured in the Kosovo war.

The geopolitical state of the world has also moved on considerably since the Kosovo war. The U.S. of 1999 is not the U.S. of 2019. While the U.S. remains a superpower, the world is slowly shifting from unipolarity towards multipolarity. The newly emerging nations are non-Western, and do not necessarily share liberal democratic values.

Nations such as China are rapidly increasing militarily and economically, with which comes political power. The ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China may exacerbate Kosovo’s chances to gain a UN seat, as China could utilize Kosovo as a display of strength towards their American rivals. Sometimes these clashes become a matter of national pride, and if there is no clear consensus or something offered to China, they might quite easily reject any possibility of UN membership for Kosovo.

For Russia, the fate of Kosovo is seemingly a win-win situation. A deal between Kosovo and Serbia could allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to use his veto as leverage in order to reopen Moscow’s other geopolitical interests in the Crimea, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. On the other hand, no deal could also mean that Putin continues to maintain a close relationship with Serbia, which has consistently proved that it remains Russia’s best friend in the Balkans. As well as cultural ties, Putin has been visiting Serbia quite often recently and has supplied the latter with military armaments.

While it is generally proclaimed and understood that a final deal with Serbia would open the way for UN membership for Kosovo, there are no signals whatsoever from China or Russia regarding this. Most importantly, there is no proposed option or explanation on how to overcome this challenge.

The opinions expressed in the opinion section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

Visar Xhambazi is a research fellow at Prishtina Institute for Political Studies (PIPS). He holds a Master’s degree in International Studies from Old Dominion University in Virginia, specialising in US foreign policy and international relations.

02 March 2019 - 10:58

Visar Xhambazi

02/03/2019 - 10:58



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