BELGRADE – News organizations from Serbia and Kosovo have once again reported on the possibility of the creation of Army of Kosovo, galvanizing the public in the region. The cause for these reports were tied to the attention that arouses new Trump administration, perceived foreign policy realignment that are expected to gradually take place, and in the atmosphere of rising tensions between two sides. This was after one of the less successful rounds of Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, when Kosovo Prime minister Hashim Thaçi said that the Assembly of Kosovo urgently needs to decide on the formation of the Armed Forces of Kosovo, stressing that there is “no more time to waste”. One must acknowledge that Kosovo PM statements are not anything new, since he has been calling for their establishment for years.
Western Balkans is not the top priority of new United States administration. Namely, on the occasion of Advance Policy Questions Senate hearing for James N. Mattis, which were one of the triggers for mentioned headlines, Trump’s Nominee for the position of Secretary of Defense answered only two questions which were related to the security on Kosovo.
The questions were not asked in the framework of international security and further intensification of NATO cooperation, but were related to further reduction or elimination of U.S. and NATO presence in Kosovo and increasing of European Union’s significance in Kosovo. This is in line of political pressures from the USA public for reduction of military personnel in foreign countries, popularly named “boots on the ground”. Approximately 650 U.S. troops are currently in the Balkans only as a part of the Kosovo Force (KFOR) that is now comprised of over 4,600 personnel from 30 countries.
Mattis said that he “would recommend (that) reductions (of military personnel) commensurate with the security situation on the ground, but that his understanding is that the Force remains critical to ensuring the stability of the region. Moreover, before it would be prudent to reduce the U.S. military presence, the Kosovo Security Forces must receive a mandate to conduct domestic security and territorial defense, a shift that will require constitutional change with parliamentary support”. He also acknowledged the European Union contribution to stability in Kosovo through the European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo.
This answer is in line with US policy of supporting Kosovo independence, but within the framework of negotiations process. Kosovo Armed Forces can be formed through legislative changes. USA recognizes institution building efforts in Kosovo, but not at the price of stability. The head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, said that NATO supports the transformation of the Kosovo Security Force, but only within the existing mandate, and expressed his beliefe that the future of the entire Western Balkans is accession to the EU and NATO.
Lack of support from the “Serbian List” for constitutional change needed for full fledged transformation, which is seen as the only obstacle, prevent the transformation of the Kosovo Security Forces into Armed Forces, but it seems that Albanian parties also cannot reach the political consensus on the issue.
One of the conditions set by the Serbian delegation during the Brussels negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade was a guarantee that the Kosovo Security Force will not deploy in Northern Kosovo without the approval of NATO and the local authorities.
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