The Next Big Test in Kosovo


The two United Nations officials peer intently at the Albanian woman, who shifts uncomfortably in her seat. Then come the questions. "What," asks one official, "are human rights?" The woman responds quickly: the right to work, freedom of religion, the right to be with your family. Pausing briefly, the examiner circles a number on the sheet in front of him. The questions become more specific. "Do you feel the common citizen can contribute toward the efficient working of the Kosovo police force?" The list of questions on the table helpfully instructs the examiner to look for "the candidate's knowledge regarding democratic policing."

Just weeks after the NATO air campaign successfully forced the Serb regime out of the province, the UN is hard at work on the new Kosovo. In a province suffering from a distinct absence of law and order, the effort to recruit and train a local police force has the highest priority. But it will be policing under the watchful gaze of foreigners. Looming through an open window in the back of the interview room is the wrecked headquarters of the dreaded Serbian internal police (MUP). A NATO bomb put a violent but precise end to the MUP headquarters during the air campaign. The wreckage now stands as an unspoken warning to Kosovo's aspiring police officers: human rights or else.

A few days later, two NATO helicopters land at one of the MUP's former training centers. From the helicopters emerge several of the international bureaucrats now responsible for Kosovo. Together with their entourages, they traipse into a dilapidated gymnasium building, where they watch police candidates—those who survived the interview stage— attempt a makeshift obstacle course. The candidates and their foreign sponsors applaud awkwardly as one trainee gasps his way through the course. After 10 minutes, the international delegation sweeps out, leaving the candidates alone with their instructors.

The entity often called the "international community" has arrived in Kosovo. The blizzard of white jeeps that is a sure sign of its presence has descended on Pristina, the province's capital. The heart of the international effort in Kosovo is military force, and more than 40,000 NATO troops are now in the province. Working under the umbrella of security they provide are a host of international and nongovernmental organizations that have taken responsibility for projects ranging from political party development to media monitoring and human rights instruction. Dozens of international relief agencies scramble for contracts to feed, house, educate, and counsel the province's population.

Kosovo is in practical terms a trusteeship. Its guardians are the same group of Western states that forced the Serb regime to relinquish its hold on the province. The scale of the international involvement is obvious; whether these states and the international organizations they support will be effective as guardians is not. Recent history indicates that, despite establishing a huge presence and spending vast sums, the international community often has difficulty altering the trajectories of the countries it attempts to run. Modern trusteeships have a decidedly mixed record.


Trusteeship, Again

"Kosovo can be either Hong Kong or Somalia," Naser Grajqevcin tells me as we sit in his empty office. The young man calls himself the president of the town of Kosovo Polje, a position he holds by the grace of the Kosovo Liberation Army. After handing me a freshly minted business card, he explains that while he is grateful for NATO's assistance, he is concerned that the peace-keepers are moving too slowly in apprehending Serb criminals. The success of the mission, Grajqevcin makes clear, is not assured. Hyperbole aside, the analogies that he proffers for the province's future point to very different types of international involvement with very different outcomes. The British administration of Hong Kong was old-style colonialism: prolonged, comprehensive, and anchored in a strong sense of national mission and interest. It produced a remarkable economic rise, a gradual political liberalization, and an orderly (if troubling) reunification with the mainland.


From Somalia to Kosovo

Somalia was one of the new generation of foreign custodial efforts. Launched by television images of famine, it was the product of fleeting horror rather than sustainable commitment. For today's interventionists, the name itself is a warning. What began as a humanitarian relief operation in December 1992 turned into a wider effort to reconstruct a Somali government—an effort often derisively termed "nation-building." When 18 U.S. soldiers died on the streets of Mogadishu, the mission collapsed. The ignominious retreat by the international community, not long after the Mogadishu fire fight, has become a favorite reference for the local opponents of recent peace-keeping missions. When the United States tried to land peace- keepers on Haiti in October 1993, a mob on the dock shouted threats of "another Somalia," and when NATO troops began arresting war criminals in Bosnia, leaflets appeared threatening retaliation that "would make Somalia look pleasant."

The generation of ambitious international peace-keeping missions, of which Kosovo is the most recent example and Somalia the most disastrous, was born of the Cold War's end and the spate of ethnic conflicts it unleashed. As the perceived need for international involvement in these areas grew, the international community's political flexibility expanded. The UN Security Council, long moribund, came alive and authorized a slew of ambitious missions, many of which had the power to use force in pursuit of their goals. The internal affairs of states, long protected by the doctrine of state sovereignty, became the legitimate business of the world body. As then-UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali wrote in 1992, "[T]he time of absolute and exclusive sovereignty has passed; its theory was never matched by reality."

But an understanding of how to intervene lagged far behind the impulse to do so. The problems the new international interventionists were grappling with were not those of the Cold War. The peace-keeping machinery that the UN cobbled together in the 1950s typically dealt with state-to-state, rather than civil, conflict. Cold War peace-keeping missions generally had as their highest priority the avoidance of superpower involvement; strict neutrality was their watchword. Abruptly, this skeletal peace-keeping system found itself with the tasks of delivering humanitarian aid in the midst of civil strife, organizing elections, and ultimately trying to prop up so-called "failed states." Unsurprisingly, the blue helmets—logistically and doctrinally ill-equipped—stumbled under the weight of their new burdens.

Realizing the immensity of the post-Cold War peace-keeping challenges and the inadequacy of the international community's methods, thinkers and practitioners from both ends of the political spectrum gravitated toward the notion of international trusteeship. Conservative historian Paul Johnson argued that some states are not yet fit to govern themselves and that "the civilized world has a mission to go out to these desperate places and govern." While the tone of more liberal commentators differed, the message was much the same. Legal scholars Steven Ratner and Gerald Helman proposed in 1992 a system of UN administration that would help failed states back to their feet. "From Haiti in the Western Hemisphere to the remnants of Yugoslavia in Europe, from Somalia, Sudan, and Liberia in Africa to Cambodia in Southeast Asia," they wrote, "a disturbing new phenomenon is emerging: the failed nation-state, utterly incapable of sustaining itself as a member of the international community." Focusing on the plight of several African states, columnist William Pfaff argued in 1995 for a "disinterested neo-colonialism."

The idea of international governance is not new. The Covenant of the League of Nations created a class of non-self-governing territories, which it defined as those areas "inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world." The drafters of the UN Charter, recognizing the stench of condescension about the definition, created a trusteeship system but defined its beneficiaries as only those who have not attained "the full measure of self government." Reanimating this dormant institution in any formal sense has never been in the cards. The states of the developing world—always jealous guardians of sovereignty—are naturally chary of institutionalized neo-colonialism. The powerful Western states that would presumably lead the effort have little incentive to create a system demanding vast expenditures and messy foreign entanglements.

Yet, in a haphazard way, a modern trusteeship model has emerged. In Cambodia earlier this decade and in Bosnia and Kosovo today, agents of the international community (acting through the UN and other regional organizations) have begun to govern. The model has been used to serve a variety of geo political goals and to address quite distinct political problems. Considered ground-breaking at the time, the UN mission to Cambodia (UNTAC) had the task of creating a "neutral political environment" for national elections. Though the force entered Cambodia with the consent of the major political factions, cooperation soon broke down. The notorious Khmer Rouge ended its participation in the disarmament process, and whole swathes of northern Cambodia became off- limits to the UN. Meanwhile, the UN civilian administration proved unable to control the activities of the central government, which launched a campaign of intimidation in the weeks preceding the vote. To the surprise of many, the election itself was a success; the vast majority of the population braved threats of violence to cast ballots. But time has dimmed even that achievement. The regime of strong man Hun Sen, in power before UNTAC arrived, still clings tenaciously to office, often intimidating and attacking its opponents.

The UN's tentative trusteeship in Cambodia was followed by a more robust version in the Balkans. It was in December 1995 that American troops first crossed the Sava River into Bosnia's frozen mud as part of a 60,000-strong force charged with implementing the Dayton Peace Accords and replacing an impotent UN force. The international civilian authorities in Bosnia, led by an official dubbed the "high representative," have step by step acquired the power to dictate decisions to the country's divided politicians. When the feuding Bosnian political parties could not agree on a national flag, the high rep re sentative chose one. The office of the high rep resentative—nicknamed the "presidency" by many in Sarajevo—now regularly drafts legislation that it expects the Bosnian political institutions to adopt.

Jacques Klein, the voluble American who now heads the UN's mission in Bosnia, has been a key proponent of this more aggressive approach. Unlike some American officials, he is unafraid to admit that nation-building is the task in Bosnia. "We're trying to turn a province into a country," he told me last year as he gestured vigorously with his trademark unlit cigar. Halfway through the interview, he took a call from the State Depart ment's top Balkans specialist. Together, the two Americans plotted a response to a parliamentary maneuver by hard-line Bosnian Serbs. The new assertiveness has produced a Bosnian flag, a national anthem, and a currency but, as of yet, no durable political solution. Bosnia remains stubbornly divided into three ethnic ministates.

Parallels between the international missions in the Balkans and earlier imperial efforts are irresistible. Comparing the peace-keeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo to the attempts by the Austrians to govern the region from 1878 to 1914, scholar Fouad Ajami recently has dubbed the Americans "the new Hapsburgs." The similarities are striking. Just as Austrian Minister Benjamin von Kallay tried to forge a common Bosnian identity that would isolate the province from the irredentism of its neighbors, so is today's Austrian High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch trying to cement Bosnian statehood and curb the influence of neighboring Serbia and Croatia. Hapsburg officials supported moderate newspapers in Sarajevo in an effort to cultivate new leaders; their modern counterparts have funded an independent television network.

If many of the goals are the same, the style of the new imperialists is quite different. As Ajami writes, the new Balkan trusteeships are "an empire without swagger, and with a heavy heart." Kallay was confident of his role as the agent of advancement in Bosnia and had no qualms about marginalizing local politicians. The moral certainty and administrative absolutism that characterized the Austrian mission are gone; international administrators are now often torn between handing power back to local officials and making decisions themselves. The political commitment of the outsiders, particularly that of the Americans, is also uncertain. In part because of a hesitance to govern fully, the outcomes of these new trusteeships have been ambiguous at best. As the Kosovo operation establishes itself, the question of whether the inter national community is good at running other countries remains unanswered.


Filling the Vacuum

One of the last outposts for Serbs in Pristina is a nongovernmental organization where a dozen young Serbs offer assistance to the few, mainly elderly, Serbs who remain in the city. On a warm evening in August, a Serb woman who works at the center ventured past its NATO guards and onto the crowded street nearby. Within minutes, she was attacked by a young Albanian (who, it later emerged, was carrying a KLA identification card). A nearby British soldier heard her cries and intervened to stop the beating. Albanian residents in nearby buildings crowded onto their balconies to watch as the British soldier dragged the attacker into his sandbagged guardhouse, which shook as he thrashed and cursed. An Albanian watching from his apartment locked eyes with a Serb in the compound and slowly drew a finger across his neck. Running pell-mell from nearby quarters, other soldiers dispersed the turbulent crowd that had gathered and escorted the Albanian into less public surroundings for interrogation. A few minutes later, an armored vehicle rolled to the front of the center and parked. What might have become a dangerous confrontation ended quietly.

Staunching the stream of attacks against Serbs and other minorities has been the first task for the UN and KFOR. The violence thrived in the vacuum created by the Serb departure. NATO has had recent success in curbing the violence, and the UN is slowly deploying the international administrators who will serve as de facto mayors while a new local government is created. In the meantime, the KLA has set up its own provisional administration, which—like most ordinary Albanians—is none too friendly or sympathetic toward remaining Serbs.

On a bus from Pristina to the Drenica region, where the recent conflict started, I speak with several old Albanian men who recently returned from camps in Macedonia and Albania. When asked about the future of Serbs in the province, the men are in agreement: all Serbs who committed crimes must leave. Are any innocent Serbs in Kosovo? The man pauses to consider. "I heard about one in a village where some relatives live," he offers. But, he quickly reveals, the man was recently found guilty of a massacre. The innocent Serb is an elusive character for most Albanians in Kosovo.

The attempts by NATO and the UN to protect Kosovo's minorities in the face of the pervasive rage make the peace-keeping effort here delicate. Most Albanians have trouble understanding how protecting their erstwhile tormentors has become the international community's chief concern. Demobilizing the KLA is an even trickier task, and tension between it and NATO is simmering. This worries some NATO officials, who fear that its troops might soon become "surrogate Serbs" to Albanian hard-liners. The coming months will determine whether this most serious of Kosovo pitfalls can be avoided. In early September, NATO announced plans for turning the KLA into a civil guard, an effort to simultaneously appease and demilitarize the organization. In the meantime, the varied and often mundane chores of administering the province beckon. In an effort to deal with Pristina's growing trash problem, the UN recently launched the "I love my city—Pristina" beautification program. Kosovo's borders will soon be controlled by customs officials recruited and trained by the European Union. From civic boosterism to border control, there are signs that the international community has become more skilled at the trusteeship game.

As our car rounds a turn on the road from Urosevac to Gnjilane in northeastern Kosovo, the sprawling American complex dubbed Camp Bondsteel appears on the next hillside. "The Americans," my Albanian colleague exclaims excitedly, "are here to stay." It certainly appears that way. What seems like miles of bulldozed earth is carpeted by rows of trucks, jeeps, and heavy building equipment. My guide, an earnest Army major, takes me down the hill to witness the feverish construction of permanent quarters that will soon replace the tents. A small army of mainly Albanian laborers works around the clock on symmetrical plywood and plaster buildings that will house much of the American contingent in Kosovo.

The American military has jumped into Kosovo with both feet; there has been little of the temporizing that characterized the beginnings of the Bosnia operation, when U.S. com manders insisted on rigid limits to the mission and a one-year limit on the deployment. It took months for American commanders to allow their troops to become involved in what were termed "civilian" tasks—the return of refugees, the arrest of war crimi nals, and the protection of ethnic minorities. In Kosovo the Americans have taken on these tasks with little protest. In the town of Urosevac, two soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division guard the house of one of the town's remaining Serbs. As they struggle to fit their enormous jeep into the woman's narrow driveway, a knot of young Albanians gathers to watch. With smiles on their faces, they chant "U-C-K"—the Albanian initials for the KLA—in the direction of the woman's front window. Without protection, the soldiers estimate, the woman would not last for more than a day in the town.

The pervasive fear of casualties that marks all American military deployments has not dissipated. While soldiers from other national contingents often wear light berets and T-shirts, Americans are always found in "full battle rattle"—helmets, body armor, and weapons. Even inside the capacious Camp Bondsteel, GIs are required to carry weapons whenever they leave their tents. American commanders are still uncomfortable in the peace-keeping role and lack the subtlety and political astuteness of their more experienced British colleagues (almost all of whom have served in northern Ireland). But the continuing learning curve cannot disguise the transformation that has taken place in American military policy: once fundamentally hostile to peace-keeping duties, today's Army has accepted the role and is steadily gaining proficiency. Indeed, it can be argued that Western militaries have adapted to the demands of modern trusteeship more effectively than their civilian counterparts, who are still struggling to create standard procedures and who lack the logistical skill that is at the core of modern militaries.

U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen leveled similar criticism against the UN in congressional testimony several weeks after NATO troops deployed, and his frustrations are shared by many in Kosovo. "Why can NATO bring in 30,000 troops while the UN cannot bring in 1,000 policemen?" asks Agrom Bajrami, an editor at the Albanian daily Koha Ditore. The civilian side of the operation has established itself slowly, and the UN police officers charged with policing the province have trickled in late and often unprepared. Several detachments had to be sent home because of inadequate training, and many of the doughy American officers dispatched look incapable of strenuous policing. ("Would the American cops please lose weight, if only out of courtesy?" pleads one senior UN official.)

Yet there is learning on the civilian side as well; the mission in Kosovo is more hierarchical than was the initial structure in Bosnia and has the authority and the will to impose solutions. In early August, the top civilian official in Kosovo signed Regulation Number Two, which gave international police the right to temporarily detain anyone who "threatened public order." Shortly after that, the UN announced a comprehensive review of Kosovo's legal code in an effort to expunge apartheid-era laws. But Kosovo's foreign administration is still in a honey moon period; when the real challenges to its authority come, as they will, success will depend not only on its administrative competence but also on its responses to the ethical dilemmas the mission will present.


Occupation Ethics

Nothing highlights the tension between foreign rule and self- government in today's trusteeships like elections. Shortly before the bombing campaign in Kosovo began, the unelected high representative who administers Bosnia fired the legitimately elected president of the Bosnian Serb Republic. Nikola Poplasen was voted into office in internationally run elections, despite Western support for his more moderate rival. The reasons for his dismissal, according to the high representative's office, were obstruction of the Dayton peace process. Poplasen had resisted efforts to move more power to the central government in Sarajevo and had spoken of his desire to merge the Serb part of Bosnia with Serbia—heresy to Dayton enforcers.

In the wake of the dismissal, a senior U.S. diplomat offered this explanation: "We believe in democracy. [Poplasen's] election was a result of the people's will. We tried. But the international community is not going to accept people who are flagrantly flouting the Dayton agreement." Poplasen reacted with predictable anger and raised the specter of foreign occupation in a speech to his followers: "On taking over the post of president of the republic, I saw a humiliated and divided Serb Republic and an army placed under the control of [NATO] and of the [high representative] without any resistance from my predecessors."

The attempts by Poplasen to trigger a popular backlash against the foreign presence fizzled, but the fundamental dilemma remains very much alive. Long-term political success in places like Bosnia and Kosovo may require international administration willing either to delay the vote or to dispense readily with its results. A number of international adminis trators will admit sotto voce that the Bosnia mission might have progressed far more quickly had the West not pushed for early elections but instead had blacklisted those known to oppose the peace process. Such an approach would have more closely approximated that taken by the Americans in postwar Germany and Japan, where General Douglas MacArthur, the military governor of occupied Japan, issued orders like Directive 550—"the Removal and Exclusion of Undesirable Personnel from Public Office." With tools like these, the American occupation force was able to exclude from public life many of those involved in the old regime. In Japan some 200,000 were purged; in U.S.-occupied Germany, the total was over 400,000.

As it turned out, the Clinton administration pressured the responsible international officials to proceed with countrywide elections in 1996. As predicted, the vote returned the old nationalists to power, some of whom are still thorns in the side of the international peace effort. Subsequent elections have been a bit more helpful, but often only because of heavy-handed Western involvement and the willingness to fire those—like Poplasen—unhelpful to the peace process, while cultivating the scattered moderates able to win.

How tolerable these rough methods will be to liberal Western societies is unclear. While Poplasen's firing brought little discomfort, other measures have raised eyebrows. Monitoring and curbing the excesses of the mass media has become a focus for administrators in both Bosnia and Kosovo. In the summer of 1997, NATO troops made headlines when they seized transmitters under the control of hard-line Serb political parties. The tactic drew a nervous response from media watchdog groups in the United States. The current plans to establish a media commission in Kosovo that would have the power to penalize those inciting ethnic tensions have also become controversial. Calling the approach "overkill," The New York Times opines that "the monitors and regulators are also a bad idea. The best way to combat hate speech is not to ban it, but to insure that Kosovo's citizens have access to alternate views."

The marketplace of ideas, in this view, will expose, and presumably defuse, vitriolic nationalism by shining on it the light of reason. It is not surprising that this argument is not persuasive to many familiar with recent Balkan history. In a radicalized Kosovo, as in Bosnia, there remains a powerful demand for ethnic hatred. The simple availability of other, more moderate discourse may not be enough; active measures to root out the hate may be required.

The uncomfortable reality is that fostering liberalism in a radicalized society may, at times, call for illiberal methods. There is no escaping the paternalism inherent in the trusteeship approach. It is in part because these missions may involve compromise with democratic practice that they should be undertaken selectively but pursued with determination. In both Bosnia and Kosovo, the international community is coaxing moderates into the open in societies often hostile to them. A premature departure might do little more than leave them exposed. Halfway trusteeship may be worse than none at all.

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