Kosovo has had a longstanding dream of becoming a NATO member state. The country’s leaders have been calling for an immediate NATO membership for Kosovo since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 (EWB, 2022). In early March, the government formed an inter-institutional operating committee on Kosovo’s NATO integration. Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti stated that the major purpose of this committee would be to promote NATO membership, increase Kosovo’s representation in international bodies and systems, global security, and collaboration with critical allies (EWB, 2022). Kosovo’s future in NATO is very improbable owing to a lack of agreement among member states, and there are no protocols in place to expedite the exercise.
The NATO Founding Agreement
Article 10 lays out the rules for NATO expansion, which must be agreed to by all NATO members. The Article states that NATO membership may be acquired by any country in Europe that satisfies the requisite criteria (Olsen, 2020). Most importantly, the decision to expand organizations is decided unanimously. Additionally, the founding agreement establishes the membership criterion, including seven stages in the admission procedure. According to the Article above, “the member states may invite any European country that is in a position to benefit from this Treaty and contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to the Treaty” (Olsen, 2020). Under existing NATO guidelines, a NATO member state can’t nominate Kosovo as a potential member of the Alliance. NATO nations Spain, Greece, Slovakia, and Romania currently do not consider Kosovo a sovereign state (Bytyçi, 2015). Without a doubt, this is the biggest hurdle to Kosovo’s admission to NATO.
Further, notwithstanding its explicit devotion to NATO, Pristina does not satisfy other requirements at the moment. Kosovo, for instance, lacks a military, and its security personnel does not satisfy NATO requirements (Hehir, 2019; Triantafyllou, 2018). With respect to NATO membership, the Kosovo Government has shown a great deal of political goodwill, but there has been little movement in this direction so far. Undoubtedly, KFOR will play a crucial role in influencing Kosovo’s integration into the Alliance.
KFOR’s Role in Regional Peace
It has been over two decades since NATO first arrived in Kosovo. NATO launched the Kosovo Force (KFOR) 23 years ago following an aerial bombardment against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Leurdijk & Zandee, 2018). KFOR comprises multinational peacekeeping troops commanded by the Alliance. They are responsible for maintaining peace and stability in Kosovo after the hostilities and withdrawal of Yugoslav forces, namely Serbia, from the country. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) and the Military-Technical Agreement between NATO and the FR Yugoslavia and Serbia provide it the authority to carry out its mission (Hehir, 2019). Due to the Ukrainian conflict, Kosovo’s aspirations for participation in various international organizations (such as the United Nations and the Council of Europe) and the attainment of EU member designation have been reignited. More importantly, a lasting peace in Kosovo requires the attainment of the 1999 goals, as well as steps to assure their full enforcement, which the Alliance has insisted upon during the war.
Kosovo independently proclaimed sovereignty in 2008, escalating regional unrest in the Balkans, particularly with Serbia. Kosovo’s proclamation marks a watershed point in the country’s interaction with NATO. The Alliance needed to react to the changing landscape and took many steps to do so. It began progressively transferring immigration enforcement responsibilities to Kosovo’s nascent security organizations. In addition, NATO began working with the newly formed Kosovo Security Force (KSF) to strengthen its capabilities. The North Atlantic Council (NAC) opted to recast KFOR’s role as a preventative measure to reflect an enhanced security situation (Leurdijk & Zandee, 2018). Currently, KFOR is fulfilling its initial objective of providing order and stability in Kosovo11 and ensuring full free movement of people in the region.
Kosovo and Serbia’s military ties are still dependent on NATO’s influence. Furthermore, Serbia’s reluctance to recognize KSF is evidence of the Kosovo Serbs’ suspicion of them. There is concern among Kosovo Serbs over the KSF’s occupation in the Serb-occupied districts (Leurdijk & Zandee, 2018). KFOR is now regarded as one of the essential military forces in Kosovo because all factions recognize it. Kosovo Albanians see KFOR as the state’s revolutionary movement, while Serbia and Kosovo Serbs see it as their primary security custodian (Leurdijk & Zandee, 2018). For example, it safeguards Serbian-Orthodox religious and cultural landmarks in Kosovo and offers safety to the Serb minority.
Consequently, any weakening of the KFOR mission can destabilize the delicate ceasefire between Serbia and Kosovo. Accordingly, until Kosovo and Serbia reach an agreement, KFOR’s continued presence in the area is critical to regional peace. Nonetheless, the Alliance between KFOR and Kosovo, and hence NATO, appears to be problematic (Olsen, 2020). That is, the Kosovo Force imposes greater collaboration between NATO and Kosovo. In contrast, the mere presence of KFOR puts a stop to any future developments in that connection. Given that NATO has established a presence in Kosovo via KFOR, there is no need for the Alliance to formalize ties as long as UN Security Council Resolution 1244 is in effect and the Serbia-Kosovo conflict continues to be a source of contention.
Kosovo’s government moved on with the formation of its state military forces in late 2018. NATO openly stated that it would not accept the idea unless it were implemented via legal reforms since this would need the permission of a two-thirds consensus of parliamentarians (Mirel, 2018). The EU agreed with NATO that the KSF’s mission could only be altered in conformity with the country’s constitution through a participatory and progressive mechanism. This was an agreement reached by all groups engaged in the Ahtisaari Plan, officially known as the Comprehensive Proposal for the Resolution of Kosovo’s Status (CSP) (Hisari & Fouseki, 2020). Getting the needed two-thirds of non-Albanian lawmakers, encompassing Serb Parliamentarians, would have been difficult. Serbia and other global organizations quickly criticized Kosovo’s leadership for moving through with its backup plan. According to Leurdijk and Zandee (2018), this was accomplished by adopting new laws to establish a national army (that could retain the name KSF) and a defense ministry. Ultimately, this resulted in amendments to the KSF’s purpose, mandate, and authority, particularly regional defense.
The action strained ties with Serbia and was criticized by the rest of the world for jeopardizing the EU-led Serbia-Kosovo Dialogue to improve bilateral ties. Nonetheless, negotiations between Coalition partners on this subject are underway, and no new resolutions have been adopted (Bytyçi, 2015). Regardless of NATO’s geopolitical response, KFOR has continued to assist the KSF through development programs, education, and operational cooperation. In turn, this has become the Alliance’s longest-serving operation to date.
More than two decades have passed since NATO troops landed in Kosovo. KFOR’s increased military worth has been made evident and cemented by the widespread backing. On the other hand, Kosovo has found it difficult to establish an official connection with NATO. The primary impediment is NATO’s impartiality toward Pristina, as four countries in the Alliance have refused to recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty. This obstacle is far too great since it precludes any possibility of NATO inclusion and must be addressed expeditiously.
Kosovo’s Future in NATO Remains Unclear
Kosovo has several militaries and political-institutional options to position itself for eventual official NATO membership. However, the issue lingers as to the degree to which innovative means of reinforcing links to the Alliance are possible in the present environment. Mirel (2018), opines that Kosovo must show its political desire to strengthen ties with NATO. Although it is implausible shortly, the Kosovo authorities might expressly request the establishment of a policy negotiation. It is unlikely that this would instantly result in a cooperative agreement. However, at the very minimum, Kosovo’s goals might be known, and a certain type of political contact may occur.
NATO’s bases in Brussels and Pristina are currently disconnected. Kosovo might attempt to develop diplomatic connections with NATO’s head office by authorizing its consulate in Belgium to communicate with its command center. In addition, it can strengthen its political ties with NATO nations that do recognize Kosovo. Countries like the United States have previously attempted to de-escalate tensions between Kosovo and NATO (Thomas, 2020). Kosovo can develop its diplomatic connections with NATO allies by aggressively pursuing engagement with countries recognizing Kosovo’s independence. This includes contacting the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. In the long run, this may impact the non-recognizers of the country.
NATO must maintain its presence in Kosovo via KFOR to maintain peace. This will continue to be a source of opposition to Kosovo’s security reforms, just like the situation with implementing new legislation for a defense force. Meanwhile, as a gateway to cooperation programs and a potential future membership procedure, NATO may explore strengthening collaboration under the ‘increased interaction model’ from their perspective. The Alliance may be able to assist Kosovo in modernizing its system of government and entities as a result of this relationship.
To join NATO, countries must demonstrate that they have a working system of governance and institutions. In this area, Kosovo may show development without jeopardizing the possibilities of the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue. Both NATO and the establishments of Kosovo are to blame for the slowness of advancement in the NATO-Kofi Annan dialogue. Presently, Kosovo’s government has made just one public proposal for strengthening relations with NATO in 2016: the establishment of increased engagement (Connolly, 2017). Participation in international organizations requires a well-functioning bureaucracy.
Currently, the government lacks a sufficient number of skilled diplomats and specialists to augment its workforce and promote dialogue. The Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue dominates Kosovo’s foreign policy, and the goal of intensifying ties with NATO appears to have been pushed to the wayside. Pristina may form a NATO Steering Committee to get officials started on their goal of strengthening ties with the Coalition and its participating countries. Maybe after that, it would be possible to engage in more suitable dialogue with NATO.
- A commitment to democratic changes, especially improving the legal system and combatting corruption. Kosovo may determine whatever changes are required to fulfill NATO guidelines and practices by adopting the model of the ANP procedure between Ukraine and NATO.
- Training programs and aid to KFOR and devotion to regional and global peacebuilding allow KSF members to participate in foreign missions. Regardless, NATO countries’ differing views on military capability growth must be known to Kosovo.
- The ‘increased collaboration framework,’ which includes the Building Integrity initiative, might be used by NATO to evaluate strengthening collaboration. The Alliance may be able to assist Kosovo in modernizing its democratic structure, governance, and legal system and likewise combating corruption as a result of this relationship. This would make Kosovo’s prospective assimilation objectives easier to achieve.
A good resolution of the EU-supported Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue will undoubtedly lower NATO membership’s political and legal hurdles. The issue then becomes if any further actions are taken to prepare for this crucial time. Thus, Kosovo may strive toward being a viable future ally or candidate by meeting NATO standards. The Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue is Kosovo’s greatest long-term hurdle, and NATO membership is uncertain unless a compromise is found. Pristina must be mindful of the political-military nexus, which means any big military move might have political ramifications.
Conversely, Kosovo may effectively pledge vital democratic changes. Under the given situation, Kosovo must likewise strive to find methods to enhance connections with the Alliance, such as by expressly requesting the establishment of a political conversation. On the other hand, NATO might think about intensifying collaboration inside the ‘enhanced cooperation framework.’ Within this dialogue, the Alliance may be able to assist Kosovo in changing its democratic system, paving the way for the country’s future membership goals.
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Hisari, L., & Fouseki, K. (2020). Post-war cultural heritage preservation in Kosovo: Rethinking the implementation of ahtisaari plan annex v. Heritage, 3(1), 98-115.
Leurdijk, D., & Zandee, D. (2018). Kosovo: From crisis to crisis. Routledge.
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