Foreign Policy: Territorial exchange possible, but only under certain conditions

Western Balkans countries' flags during Berlin process
Western Balkans countries' flags during Berlin process

Territorial exchange between Serbia and Kosovo could lead to the destabilization of the entire Western Balkans, but the consequences could be contained if the United States and Germany work together and agree on the prerequisites, writes Edward P. Joseph, adjunct professor and senior fellow at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

In his analysis for Foreign Policy, titled “How to Restart War in the Balkans”, he states that  three conditions would make “even the most short-sighted proponent of a territorial swap think through the implications”.

“First, there can be no deal on swapping Kosovo territory until negotiations on the Dayton Agreement Constitution for Bosnia are reopened and concluded. The West cannot afford to allow a reckless deal on Kosovo to destabilize the country that saw the bloodiest fighting”, argues Joseph, adding that, in this case, Belgrade must “first engage with its Serb brothren and guide them to negotiating the long-awaited fundamental reforms”.

In his opinion, second prerequisite is that the parties accept the principle that no territorial exchange can occur without a “majority of the minorities”, which actually implies that a referendum requires “majority approval by those left behind under a proposed territorial swap”.

“Third, there must be extraordinary arrangements for new EU entrants, like Serbia, that prevent it from impeding the entry of any other state in the region… The EU will also have to insist that the five members that do not recognize Kosovo do so in the wake of a Belgrade-Pristina territorial swap”, Joseph concludes.

His analysis was a reaction to recent statement of the U.S. national security advisor John Bolton, namely that “(US administration) doesn’t exclude territorial adjustmentsWe think they’ve got to solve it for themselves”.

According to Joseph, this attitude threatens to undo the ensuing more than two decades long international effort to make peace in the Western Balkans, and is squarely aimed at current rumors about private talks between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo to swap territory as a means of ending their standoff, but also hints of a change in U.S. policy.

He underlines that the process of ethnic teritorial delineation cannot be contained, because “the same alluring appeal of allowing unhappy people to depart one ethnically mixed country for a homogenous one also intrigues the Serbs of Bosnia, the Albanians of Macedonia, and pretty much every minority in the region with an axe to grind and a population concentrated enough to advance a bid for territorial secession”.

“The timing of Bolton’s policy statement is ironic. Washington helped mediate the recent breakthrough between Greece and Macedonia that can actually resolve century-old tensions—without resorting to territorial division. The two sides made historic and far-reaching concessions, a reminder that painful compromise—the essence of true peacemaking—is possible. The carefully drafted, comprehensive July agreement on Macedonia’s name still faces intense political opposition in Greece and Macedonia, which holds a referendum on it this month. Unfortunately, Bolton’s untimely remarks about Kosovo have injected new uncertainty, encouraging those who would like to torpedo the deal”, Joseph remarks.